Preparing for the Interview

Basic Tips

The following suggestions were culled from a variety of sources.

Practice the Interview

It is strongly recommended that you practice being interviewed.

Practice with friends, family, in the mirror, on a tape, in front of your dog. Practice, practice, practice!! Remember you are representing yourself but are also a reflection of the university.


Wear clean, neat professional clothes. Usually dress pants and a dress shirt are appropriate.

Be well-groomed.

Be prepared and well rested. Know where you're going, where you're parking, and with whom you will be meeting. Know the basics of the organization: mandate, services provided, basic organizational structure etc. The organization's web site and/or annual report are good sources of information.

Prepare the questions you want to ask; limit your questions to a maximum of about three. The questions can be written on a sheet to which you may refer. Don't overextend the length of the interview.

The Day of the Interview

Bring a copy of the application materials that you have submitted (cover letter, resume, conditional letter of acceptance and transcript(s)). This makes you prepared for the unlikely event that the interviewer does not have one of these items.

Bring a small notepad and a pen. A binder, portfolio, or clipboard are all acceptable.

Bring a list of references to the interview session -- only offer the sheet if requested. You should have 3 references. On the sheet list the name of the reference, contact information, how you know the reference; and what the referee is able to comment on about you. Have the referee's permission to use him or her as a reference. Be certain to include your name and contact information on the sheet as well.

Arrive about 10 minutes early to the interview - notify the receptionist who you are by first and last name, and who you are there to meet with. Use the person's surname (e.g. Mr. Jones, Ms. Smith, or Dr. Frank). Be polite and pleasant. Take a seat or stand, but be alert for the interviewer. When he or she arrives, say "hello" (not "hi", or "hey"), extend your hand and clearly state your first and last names while maintaining eye contact. A professional handshake says a lot about you. Try to have a firm grasp with minimal up-and-down movement. Practice the handshake and eye contact with as many people as you can! Really.

Smile and try to appear confident. Calm yourself -- remember this is an opportunity for them to learn about you but also for you to ascertain whether the job is right for you.

Maintain a regular breathing rate. The tendency is to breathe rapidly and shallowly. Correct this by breathing way out and holding your breath for 30-50 sec a couple of times.

Think positive thoughts about yourself. Don't compare yourself to other candidates or to past interviews.

Don't smoke or chew gum. Don't bring coffee or other drinks. Bring a water bottle only if you expect you'll not be able to speak without hydration. Water bottles provide an opportunity to fidget and you don't want to fidget.

In the Interview Room

Remain standing until you are offered a chair; sit up straight, don't cross your legs, keep your head upright.

Don't fidget! Set your hands together and lay them in your lap or on the table. Don't flick a pen/pencil, play with rings/earrings, play with a water bottle/cap etc. Keep your hands away from your face and hair.

Be pleasant, honest and sincere with everyone. When asked a question try to maintain most eye contact with the person who asked the question but divert your gaze to the other interviewers as well. Be natural, don't stare. It's okay to look away at times as well.

Be honest -- don't just say what you think the interviewers want to hear. If you don't know the answer -- don't fake it. Interviewers know that you may not know the answer to every question but they'll be looking for your poise in how you answer all questions. A faked answer is much worse than admitting you don't know. If you honestly know how you might find out the answer then say so. Otherwise, it's acceptable to say "that's a really good question and I don't know the answer".

You may want to use personal experience to emphasize answers to situational questions. Follow the interviewer's lead. Listen to the entire question before answering.

At the end, ask questions if given the opportunity. Be respectful, there may be minimal time for you to ask questions.

Offer your references sheet only if the interviewer has asked.

Shake hands firmly with the entire interview panel and state their names only if you are certain you remember them. It's best to use surnames. Thank them for their time.

Immediately After the Interview

Send a brief "thank you" note by fax, e-mail or mail within 24 hours after the interview. The note should be a genuine reflection of gratitude for the interview and a re-affirmation of your interest in the job (but only if you are truly interested in the job!).

The Week After the Interview

The tough part is then waiting to hear from the employer. Most employers will give you a reasonable time that they'll get back to you -- usually a week. Wait. If you don't hear from someone a couple of days past when you expected a call, call the contact person. That's reasonable and will re-affirm your interest. He or she will probably tell you that they are still interviewing or haven't made the decision yet and you'll probably be asked to wait some more. If after the next deadline has passed and you still haven't heard it's okay to call a final time. It's difficult to be patient, but don't upset the employer by calling too often or before a couple of days have passed since the day you expected to hear back.

The Interview Process

Most professional interviews are completed by a panel (i.e. two or more people). Usually one person is the direct supervisor, one person has interest in the job (e.g. manager, owner), and one person is from the Human Resources department. One person from the panel is usually designated as the lead interviewer; he or she will usually greet you in the waiting room, introduce you to the panel, outline the structure of the interview, ask the majority of questions and indicate when the interview has concluded. He or she will likely also ask whether you have any questions at the end of the interview. Ask intelligent questions about the job responsibilities and limit the number of questions to a maximum of 3.

Usually the lead interviewer will come to the waiting room to greet you. When he or she introduces himself to you, introduce yourself by first and last name while shaking the person's hand and say something like "it's nice to meet you". You will be brought to the interview room where the rest of the panel will be waiting. When you come into the room, the lead interviewer will likely introduce you to the members of the panel. If it's not awkward shake each person's hand and say something like "it's nice to meet you [person's name]".

Most often the panel sits at a table in front of the candidate who is seated at another table. Sometimes the candidate is offered something to drink but may not be. It's okay to accept a glass of water if offered, but remember you're likely nervous and you don't want to draw additional attention to yourself so be careful while drinking!

Typically one of the first questions is something general, like "tell us about yourself", "what qualifications do you think make you suitable for this job", or "why are you interested in this position". Depending on the interview style, additional questions could be situation-based (questions that require you to outline how you would act/react in particular circumstances e.g tell me about a time when a co-worker was not handling his fair share of the workload and how you handled it. Describe a time when you took it upon yourself to accomplish something at work without having been specifically asked.), fact-based (questions relating to definitions or descriptions e.g. what is your GPA? How would a professor describe you? Would you rather work with information or people?), or skill-based (questions relating to how you would go about performing tasks e.g. tell me how you would go about developing a program proposal? What are the specific things you would do to implement a change in organizational policy? How would you go about prioritizing your workload?).

If you don't understand the question, ask for clarification. Don't over-answer questions; answer questions honestly, positively and succinctly. It's okay to pause before you answer a question, this shows poise and a propensity to reflect before you speak. Just don't pause too long or on every question.

Typical Interview Questions

Practice, practice, practice!

The most important aspect of answering all questions in the interview is to be honest, succinct, clear, positive and most importantly: sincere to yourself. Remember that you should come out of the interview with a sense of whether you really want the job, so it's important to learn about the organization and the job as well.

About You

Tell us about yourself. (For general questions like this -- give a brief answer - something special about yourself re the job. Otherwise keep it short allowing for follow-up questions).

What are your career goals? (Be positive emphatic, even if you are not sure). Good to clarify your own goals -- midterm and long term beforehand.

What do you consider your most important skills, your strongest knowledge areas? Touch on personal, professional and scholarly skills and knowledge. Describe your most significant contributions to society.

What accomplishment has given you the most pride?

What are your weaknesses or areas to be improved?

What five words would you say describe you best?

Tell us how you react to instructions and criticism.

What motivates you?

Do you prefer working with others or by yourself? What kind of work environment do you work best in (e.g. team, individual). Give us an example or describe a situation illustrating how you exemplify personal quality x noted in your resume. (e.g. persevere in difficult situations -- this type of question is based on the rule that past behaviour is best predictor of future behaviour).

In your resume, you indicate you have skill y or knowledge of x. Give us a couple of examples.

About the Job

What is the nature of the job and the company? (You are strongly advised to check this out beyond what the job description provides). How would you fit in?

Our company deals with clients who have x or who are y. What can you tell us about them? E.g. What is an autistic child like? What is the difference between a federal and a provincial offence in the correctional service? Why did you apply for this job? (Talk about short as well as long term goals.) How has your work or volunteer experience prepared you for this job? (Get ready for this by listing each part of the job description and your relevant experience).

Why should we consider you for this position given that you don't meet a lot of our requirements? (Talk about your can-do attitude, your perseverance in response to challenges, and your ability to learn quickly, ability to handle job stress). Note - many jobs require a police security check, first aid, etc.

What supervisory experience have you had?

About the Future

What kind of jobs do you intend to seek when you graduate?

Do you plan to go to graduate school?

Where do you see yourself in 5 years? In 10 years?

What do you think will be the significant research trends in area x?

How do you describe success?

How will you know when you have been successful?

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