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The Interview


If the prospect of the interview makes you nervous, understand that it’s perfectly normal. Use that nervous energy to your advantage. Remember that interviewing is a skill, not a talent that you are born with.

The purpose of the interview is two-fold. It is meant to determine if

  1. the candidate is qualified for the position or program and
  2. if the position or program is what the candidate is really interested in.

The Roles of the Interviewer and the Candidate


The person who is doing the interviewing is interested in discovering what you, the candidate, can offer to the organization or institution. The interviewer’s role is to ask questions which are related to the position/program, your skills and experiences, and your career goals to determine whether you are the best candidate. The interviewer generally is the one who controls the interview.


As the candidate, you are interested in making a good first impression that will lead to an offer. Your role is to appear attentive and interested and to respond effectively to the interviewer’s questions. It is also necessary to ask questions of the interviewer. Well thought out questions indicate to the interviewer that you have given this position/program serious thought and researched the opportunity prior to the interview. You will want to learn specifics that will help you decide whether this position/program is worth considering, should you get an offer.


“A winning interview is the result of not only what the candidate does during the interview, but also what he or she has done before it.” Deborah P. Bloch, Ph.D., How To Have A Winning Job Interview

Knowing yourself is your first task. You will need to articulate your career goals, related skills and experiences, personal traits and why you’re interested in the position/program and the organization or school. Interviewers are most impressed with candidates who are focused and can discuss their goals and qualifications. You do this by being well-prepared to answer various interview questions.

Know the organization/institution. You will create a favorable impression if you are able to converse intelligently with the interviewer about the organization or school. Researching an organization requires time and effort but has big payoffs. Your knowledge of the organization/school may set you above the competition. You should know something about the industry, market, career field in addition to facts about the specific organization with which you’re interviewing. Much of your research can be done online using sites highlighted in this guide. Nonprofits and some graduate schools may be a bit more difficult to research, but the Piper Center has several print resources that may be helpful. At the least, you should know the size, mission, philosophy, job or grad program components, management (or teaching) style, research opportunities (for grad school), and products/services the organization of interest has to offer.

Prior to the interview:

  • Read recruitment brochures, promotional materials, annual reports from the company/organization (job interview). Contact them directly to request these materials as well as the job or program description for which you are applying.
  • Use the organization’s website to learn as much as you can about them.
  • Search Glassdoor  to find resources and information on jobs and companies
  • Use the Employment Research resources at Rolvaag Library to learn about the industry and the organization. Piper Center web and print resources are also available to use.
  • Talk with people within the organization or institution – perhaps Oles (use the Online Alumni Directory)
  • Use VAULT.com to read large company profiles and to learn more about various industries.
  • Use Lynda.com for tips on acing your interview.
  • Use Professional Associations’ websites to learn more about career fields and required educational background..
  • Brush up on your communication skills.
  • Understand interview do’s and don’t’s at Lynda.com

12 Key Steps to Winning an Interview

  1. Understand the interviewer’s point of view.
  2. Develop your own information goals.
  3. Get all the interview appointment information you need (e.g. time, place, office number where you’ll be meeting, the interviewer’s name, how many people you will be interviewing with…).
  4. Assess your own strengths and weaknesses.
  5. Learn all you can about the job/program and the organization/institution.
  6. Match your skills to the job or program requirements.
  7. Plan how you will look as carefully as you plan what to say.
  8. Turn nervous energy into positive energy through relaxation, visualization, and rational thinking.
  9. Know the types of interviews and their general format.
  10. Know the kinds of questions you will probably be asked.
  11. Be prepared to answer a wide variety of questions.
  12. Know the questions you want answered and when to ask them.

There are many books in the Piper Center resource library to assist you in preparing for an interview. VAULT.com also provides practical advice and sample interview questions under the Job Advice tab.

Dressing for the Interview

During an interview, you have limited time to make a first impression. Your appearance and dress can reflect how you present yourself as an employee. Follow these guidelines when selecting what to wear for interviews, and networking opportunities with alumni or prospective employers.

Phone Interviews

Phone interviews are often used to screen candidates in order to narrow the pool of applicants who will be invited for in-person interviews. They are also used as way to minimize the expenses involved in interviewing out-of-town candidates. Here are some tips for successful interviewing over the phone.

  • The same preparation rules apply for a phone interview as a face-to-face one.
  • Select a quiet, private room to take the call. Turn off the stereo, computer, and the TV. Close the door.
  • Unless you’re sure your cell phone service is going to be perfect, consider using a landline rather than your cell phone to avoid a dropped call or static on the line.
  • Dress as though the interviewer could see you. This will help you focus and feel more confident- which will come across in your voice.
  • Stand up while talking. You will feel more alert and be able to speak with more energy.
  • Convey enthusiasm through your tone of voice. Remember, they can’t see you to read your body language, so your passion needs to be heard in your voice. Also keep in mind that a smile can be heard!
  • Speak slowly and enunciate clearly. Many phone interviews are conducted via speakerphone on the interviewer’s end which can make it more difficult to hear. Don’t be afraid to ask them to repeat a question if you aren’t sure you heard it correctly.
  • Use pauses after a question is asked and when you are finished speaking so that you don’t interrupt anyone.
  • Have notes and your resume in front of you to keep examples and your experiences fresh in your mind- make sure to bullet ideas to common interview questions so as not to sound scripted.
  • Print off and highlight key phrases from the job description and their organizational literature or website for quick reference.

Practice Interviews

A practice interview allows you to practice your interviewing skills. You prepare for it as you would an actual interview. Focus on a specific position or program, research the organization and its competitors (or similar agencies), anticipate questions, prepare questions for the interviewer, and dress professionally. Review interview questions from this website, other websites, or interview books available at the Piper Center.

To make an appointment for a practice interview with a Piper Center staff member please visit Handshake. Please e-mail with any other questions at piper.center@stolaf.edu.