Interview Prep – As easy as 1, 2, 3, 4

Author name
Nathan Wilson, M.Ed., Assistant Director, Duke University Career Center

Whether vying for a job, an internship, a scholarship, or even admission to graduate or professional school, interviewing is likely to be part of the process, and for many, the most difficult part. After all, how can you prepare to answer questions when you don’t know what they are? Any interview will require a degree of improvisation, but that doesn’t mean you can’t prepare. In fact, preparing and finding the confidence to ace your interview is as easy as 1, 2, 3, 4.

  1. What is one thing unique to you? Find a way to talk about it

Standing out from the rest of the applicants is key in an interview. What is something that is unique about you? This could be an interesting experience from your past, or even an unusual hobby. It doesn’t have to relate to the role as long as you can make connections to qualities they will be looking for. Did you learn an unusual musical instrument? It took persistence and patience to do that. Are you a trivia fanatic? You’re probably a fast learner. Have you lived in many different parts of the world? You must be quite adaptable.

  1. Prepare answers to these two questions

If you can confidently answer these two questions, you’re well on your way to a great interview:

a.) Tell me about yourself.

b.) Why should we hire you?

Many people view “tell me about yourself” as the hardest part of the interview, and understandably so. It’s incredibly vague. I always recommend speaking about yourself as a person first, and let them ask about work later. If you can get them to warm up to you on a personal level right away, then you’re already winning them over before they’ve even asked about the job. You could discuss your background and why you are pursuing a given field, but try to avoid jumping right into your resume.

Not to say that you shouldn’t be prepared to talk about your professional credentials in detail, but you can be certain that they have looked at your materials and that they will ask you job-specific questions throughout the interview. If you jump right into talking about your professional credentials during this portion of the interview, then you run the risk of becoming redundant later on.

You may not be asked “Why should we hire you” directly, yet, you should be prepared to answer it. You will have considered this question and reflected on your qualifications and strengths in writing your cover letter, but being able to articulate what makes you a fit for the position is crucial. If you’re having trouble identifying which qualifications to focus on, go back to the job description and see what they’re looking for. If the job description has ten qualifications, you won’t have enough time to make a strong case for all ten so pick three or four that you can make the strongest case for having.

  1. Have three stories to tell

Behavioral questions are an important part of most interviews, and usually start with “tell me about a time…” These questions require you to produce an anecdote, which is challenging even if you’re a gifted orator.

The STAR method offers a great framework for how to answer these questions, and you may include an L at the end of the STAR to address what you Learned in the process. If you can walk into an interview with three stories, then it’s simply a matter of waiting for them to ask the right question to fit your anecdote. In brainstorming these, circle back to the job description and identify any themes or job functions that relate to your previous experiences.

If you’re interviewing for a position that involves event planning, for example, think about previous events you’ve helped put together, as well as some that may have involved challenges. By walking your interviewers through these past experiences, you’re giving them a glimpse into how you would react to challenges that will arise in the position for which you’re interviewing.

  1. Prepare four (or more) questions for them

Interviewers almost always allow for questions, so you better be ready with them. This is still part of the interview. You may not end up asking all four, but it’s imperative to have more questions than you may need depending on how much time they give you. Speaking from experience, it is brutally uncomfortable if you can’t fill the time they’ve allotted for questions. It’s okay to ask interviewers questions about themselves, such as what their favorite parts of working for the company are or how they ended up in their current position. There are many directions you can go with this, but avoid asking questions that you could easily find the answer to, or should already know based on the job description and/or previous communication.

Get more helpful advice--review the Career Center’s Interviewing Guide.