Young Alumni: How to prepare for (and ace) your next interview

Summer is finally upon us! While it’s definitely a time for some well-earned rest and relaxation, you may be using the summer months to polish your resume and apply for jobs. Whether you just graduated and are seeking your first position or are familiar with the job market and looking for something new, a key part of your application process will be interviewing.

The ability to interview with confidence and composure is a muscle that can be strengthened with practice. Knowing how to prepare and putting the work in ahead of time will make you more comfortable and set you up for success. So, what is the best way to prepare for a job interview? 

First, it’s important to know what interview format you’ll be walking into.  Perhaps the most common is the one-on-one interview, often with a hiring manager, but you may also find yourself in a panel situation (multiple interviewers), a group interview (multiple interviewees), or a presentation (the interviewee presents a topic to the interviewer(s), usually to demonstrate speaking skills). Specific industries also have their own models. Ask your contact what structure you should be prepared for and with whom you will be speaking. Having this information will help to ease nerves as you minimize the unknowns that you’ll be facing.

Once you know what to expect from the format of the interview, you need to do some homework. If you’ve gotten to the interview stage, you probably have already done a little research on the organization; now, it’s time to dig deeper. What does this organization do and in what landscape are they working? What is their role in the market? What are the current trends in the industry? Who are their main competitors? Don’t just look on their website — seek out press releases, news pieces, and market reports. Explore the LinkedIn profiles of those who will be interviewing you; you might have a connection with them that could be relevant. Knowing more about the organization and its recent trends will demonstrate your dedication and prepare you for industry-related questions. 

Then there is the interview itself. Being familiar with standard questions can help you anticipate what you will be asked. It may be helpful to practice your answers in a mock interview setting. Common questions in a one-on-one interview include: 

  • “Tell us about yourself” or “Walk us through your resume.” It’s important to make a strong impression in the first five minutes. With your introduction, you don’t need to detail your entire resume; your interviewer has it right in front of them. Instead, pick the salient points, telling a story of what you’ve done in the past, how it has brought you to where you are now, and what you’re hoping for your next steps. This past-present-future model communicates your awareness of the organization and how you can fit into their current and future needs. 
  • “How did you hear about us?” This question can take a variety of forms, but is often intended to reveal what you know about the organization and why you are interested in the position. This is where your research will come in handy! Demonstrating industry knowledge that is not readily available on the organization’s website will help you stand out. 
  • “Tell me about a time when …” Every interview will have behavioral questions, in which the interviewer wants to understand how you react and perform in certain situations. It can be easy to ramble or get lost in your examples, so the CAR model is a helpful tool: Context, Action, Results. Set up the situation, explain what you did to solve the problem, and demonstrate the outcome. You may be asked about your strengths and weaknesses; in this case, explain how a weakness has allowed you to grow. 
  • Questions about diversity, equity, and inclusion. DEI questions are becoming more and more important in the interview room. Be prepared to discuss your past advocacy efforts or your personal experience in diverse settings.

Finally, have your own questions prepared. Remember that you are also doing some interviewing: you need to determine if the organization is a good fit for you just as much as you are a good fit for them. Having in-depth questions will also demonstrate thoroughness and a genuine interest in the role. Once the interview is complete, send a thank you note to everyone you talked with, referencing specific points from the conversation.

At the end of the day, there are lots of variables during the interview process. No matter how much you prepare, much of the interview will require you to think on your feet and create a genuine connection with your interviewer. To manage your nerves: do your preparation, wear something that makes you feel confident and professional, arrive early (on-site) or test your internet connection ahead of time (virtual), and trust yourself. Take a deep breath, and remember that the interviewer wants you to succeed — they picked you for a reason! If you go in with your homework completed and with a mindset to learn from and connect with them, you will be well on your way to landing that new job. 

To learn more about the interviewing process or to set up a mock interview, reach out to Associate Director of Alumni Career Services Jenele Grassle in the Piper Center at