Career Center

Interviewing

two people interviewing

Interviewing is a conversation that utilizes your persuasion and communication skills to demonstrate your personality, knowledge, skills, abilities, and fit to an organization. Organizations employ different kinds of interview formats and questions to find their perfect candidates.

Steps to Success

This guide will provide steps and resources for each recommended before, during and after the interview.

Before the interview

Case Interviews

Case interviews are a specialized type of interview common in the consulting industry. In a case interview, the interviewer presents a dilemma, and the candidate must analyze and discuss the problem and propose a solution. 

Employers use case interviews as a way to evaluate a candidate’s qualitative, problem-solving, and analytical skills and often their business acumen. In addition they will evaluate the communication skills, listening skills, enthusiasm and non-verbal cues, e.g., eye contact, of the candidate. The way in which a candidate arrives at a solution to the question, which demonstrates to an employer how the candidate thinks through a dilemma, is as important as the actual solution the candidate provides, if not more.

Case Question Types

Typical case questions fall into four categories:

Calculations/Computational Scenario – Devise a solution given a problem statement, data elements, and possibly a formula

Business Operation Scenario – Devise a solution given a problem related to operational effectiveness. 
Example: How can you increase efficiency of Starbuck’s ordering process by decreasing wait time during peak hours?

Business Strategy Scenario – Devise a solution given a problem related to strategy and new markets. 
Example: How will airlines remain competitive with rising fuel costs and increased regulations?

Brainteaser – Two primary types including the estimation case, How many golf courses exist in Wisconsin? and the random fact analysis, Why are manhole covers round?

Resources for students preparing for a case interview are the following: 

Case In Point: Complete Case Interview Preparation by Marc Casentino 

Mock interviews through the Career Center

Practice cases and interactive online cases on employers’ websites

Phone Interviews

What you can expect

Phone interviews can be a quick screening interview. They may not develop as a conversation and interviewers sometimes use a set list of questions. There will likely be  long pauses, especially if multiple interviewers are trying to decide who asks the next question.

You will not have the benefit of facial/body cues that you are used to when you can see your interviewer. You have to work harder to make yourself stand out over the phone.

Scheduling

Make sure you have at least 30 minutes before the interview starts to get everything situated and go over your notes. Some interviewers call 5 minutes early, so be prepared.

Put yourself in the right frame of mind for a professional interview

Dress as if you were interviewing in person. Watch your posture. Sit up straight as if you were in a face-to-face interview and smile while you answer. It will help you to engage in the conversation, builds your confidence, lifts your mood, and helps emoting (improves tone of voice).

Cut out distractions

Choose a location that is private and quiet and be sure to sit at a clean desk or kitchen table. Keep pets in another room to prevent unwanted noises and distractions and be sure to turn off your computer if you’re tempted to surf the net or check social media.

Have on hand

  • Job description
  • Application documents (resume, cover letter, etc.)
  • Relevant, brief notes on company
  • Paper and pen for writing notes and questions
  • Water

Greeting and speaking

When answering the phone, introduce yourself (“Hello, this is [your name].”

After the interviewer introduces themselves, express your interest and gratitude (Hi, [interviewer’s name]. It’s nice to meet you. Thank you for taking the time to speak with me today.”)

Pause for a couple seconds before answering a question

This prevents accidentally cutting off the interviewer and gives you a chance to collect your thoughts.

Speak slowly and enunciate clearly

Keep track of who is on the line

Write down names of interviewers as they introduce themselves. You can place their names into a seating chart around a table if it helps put you in the right frame of mind.

If you are experiencing a bad connection

Let the interviewers know that you are having technical issues or that bad weather in your area may affect the connection. That way if your connection is lost, they were forewarned ahead of time.

Offer to call back to see if that can establish a better connection. It can be better to try this and possibly have a clearer conversation than to let a poor connection make the interview more difficult.

Have back-up plans, such as other mobile phones or landlines to use, other spaces with better reception, or setting up a phone/video interview virtually (Skype, Google Hangout, etc.)

 

Online or Virtual Interviews, General Advice

Scheduling

Make sure you have at least 30 minutes before the interview starts to get everything situated and go over your notes. Some interviewers call 5 minutes early, so be prepared.

Configure your technology and space

Watch this video for examples of preparing your space

And make sure you have a reliable internet connection. Test out camera positions and keep the camera at face level or a little higher. Use books or stable boxes to lift the camera up as needed.

Prepare your background. Make sure you have no clutter and good lighting. The wall behind you should be empty or have minimal items. You can reserve interview rooms at the Duke Library or in the Career Center.

Dress the same as if you were interviewing in person

Cut out distractions

Choose a location that is private and quiet. Sit at a clean desk or kitchen table. Keep pets in another room to prevent unwanted noises and distractions.

You may want to turn off or hide the image box of your own video feed. Watching yourself on screen will be distracting.

Have on hand for reference but out of view of the camera (don’t rely on them)

  • Job description
  • Application documents (resume, cover letter, etc.)
  • Relevant, brief notes on company
  • Paper and pen for writing notes and questions
  • Water

Eye contact

Look directly at the camera when speaking so it feels like you’re making eye contact with the viewer. Also, move the interview video window to the top of your screen near your camera so you’re more likely to engage in strong eye contact.

first slide of presentation

 

 

Technical Interviews

Read our blog post on Coding Interviews, Coding Interviews: What you need to know.

 

 

Virtual Interviews, Recorded (Asynchronous)

Practice using the system beforehand

Systems like HireVue allow you to practice a few questions before starting the interview. Many will also have tutorials you can watch about how their system works.

Understand the guidelines

You may be allotted a certain amount of time to think about your response before answering a question and you may be allowed to re-answer a question so read the instructions thoroughly.

Set aside a dedicated time of day when you are at your best

 

Online Interviews, Live Conversation (Skype, Zoom, Google Hangout, etc.)

Greeting and speaking

When answering the call, introduce yourself (“Hello, this is [your name].”)

After the interviewer introduces themselves, express your interest and gratitude (Hi, [interviewer’s name]. It’s nice to meet you. Thank you for taking the time to speak with me today.”)

Pause for a couple seconds before answering a question (this prevents accidentally cutting off the interviewer) and always speak slowly and enunciate clearly. Be patient if there’s a communication lag.

If you are experiencing a bad connection

Let the interviewers know that you are having technical issues or that bad weather in your area may affect the connection. That way if your connection is lost, they were forewarned ahead of time.

Offer to call back to see if that can establish a better connection. It can be better to try this and possibly have a clearer conversation than to let a poor connection make the interview more difficult.

Have back-up plans, such as moving the interview to a mobile phone, landline or other spaces with better internet connection

Social Events/Mixers/Happy Hours/Dinners

During an employer visit or an on-site interview, you may be invited to socialize with current employees and other potential candidates. Even though this social setting may feel more relaxed, you are still being evaluated on how you interact with others.

Interact with both employees and other candidates

Employers want to see you engage with everyone, not just the hiring managers

Show interest in other candidates’ backgrounds and career goals

Ask questions to show your curiosity about other attendees and relate similar experiences that you’ve had

Take cues from the employees

Listen to conversations to know the expected topics and tone for the event

Do employees ask about others’ personal interests? Are they telling funny stories or jokes? Or do they continue to focus on business topics?

At a large dinner table with open seating, sit toward the middle of the table

Sitting in the middle affords you more options for conversations to join compared to sitting toward one of the ends

Limit your alcohol consumption to one drink for the night

martini glass

You want to remain aware of your actions and behavior. If you prefer not to drink alcohol, consider how you will respond to offers of drinks. For more details, see this article, Unhappy Hour: Non-Drinkers Devise Strategies to Navigate Booze-Centered Work Events  https://news.ncsu.edu/2014/12/unhappy-hour/

If you’d like to blend in with the drinking crowd, you can order a soft drink or tonic water and lime in a short glass with a small straw.

 

 

Presentations

Some employers may ask you to give a presentation on your research or to demonstrate your ability to teach or speak in front of a group.

Keep your audience in mind

What is their level of understanding of your topic? What is their perspective? What are they interested in?

Promote yourself and your skills

A job presentation is different than a presentation you’d give at a seminar or conference. Be aware of what skills or qualities the employer looking for? Are there particular techniques or knowledge? As you give the presentation, be sure to include these details.

Do Your Research 

This can be done via online information as well as conducting in-person, informational interviews.  

          Learn about

          • Company culture
          • Interview experiences
          • Salary

          Tools for online research

          Informational interview ideas

          Determine a salary range you expect in case they ask 

          Be ready to answer with an acceptable salary range and a single salary that you’d want to start with in case they use it for future negotiation.

          Use our Networking GuideGlassdoor.com and network contacts to research salaries

          Prepare for small talk

          Start with this LinkedIn Blog Post and practice.

          Create business cards

          While not required, business cards can be an easy way to exchange contact information at interviews, career fairs, conferences, networking events, or other social situations. Plus, offering your business card can be a good prompt for an employer to offer theirs in return.

          Plan your attire

          Make sure you feel confident and comfortable to be on your feet for a couple of hours. Wear your clothes a few days early if you are not accustomed to that type of attire. Gauge if the types of companies you will talk to would prefer not to see facial piercings or tattoos, and choose attire accordingly. 

          • Look at pictures from the company’s website and social media to see how employees dress
          • Match employee’s attire, and err on the side of dressing a little nicer if you are unsure
          • Avoid using hygiene products with strong scents

          Guides for what to wear

          Consider logistics for the interview

          Start with

          • How will you get to the interview? What mode(s) of transportation will you use? How long will it take at that time of day?
          • If driving, where will you park?
          • If the interview is virtual or by phone, does all of your technology work?
          • What will the weather be on the day of the interview? Does that affect the way you will dress or the items you need to bring (such as an umbrella)?
          • If giving a presentation, what technology will they provide and what will you bring? Do you need adapters? How many copies of handouts should you make?
          • If you are unsure of answers to these questions, you can email the interviewer or administrator who is coordinating the interview to ask questions?

          Plan your questions

          Consider who you will talk to and what questions they may best be able to answer about the role or organization. You are also interviewing them, so ask questions that will help you make a decision if you want to work for this organization or not.

          • Prepare questions for each interviewer based on your interests and values as well as the interviewer’s background
          • As you finish the interview, plan to ask about the next steps in the process or if the organization has a timeline for interviews.

          Practicing Your Answers

          Make a list of the experiences you want to talk about. Pick which ones are the most relevant and most important to use during the interview.

          • Practice telling your stories in response to interview questions
          • Tell me about yourself
          • Why this field, organization, or role?
          • Ask friends to help you practice

          STAR is formula for creating your best response to behavioral-based questions. Interviewers expect you to present your thoughts and experience in this manner. Don’t worry, however. You’ll see that the STAR method is no different than the basics of any good story composition.

          Situation -set the scenario

          “Last semester I took a psychology course that required a group project to examine motivation. The professor assigned each student to a 4-person group. My group decided to look at what motivates college students to participate in community service activities.”

          Task -describe the specific challenge or task

          “As a group, we developed a plan to distribute the work between us. However, after the first few weeks, it became apparent that one of our team members was not completing her part of the project and she missed one of our group meetings. The rest of the team decided that we needed to reengage her.”

          Action-what you accomplished

          “I took the initiative to set up a meeting with her where we discussed her interest in the project as well as the other academic responsibilities. After talking with her, it was clear that if we changed her contributions to tasks that better fit her skills and interests, she would most likely contribute at a higher level.”

          Result -what followed because of your action

          “It turned out that the team could redistribute tasks without compromising so every member got to work on the pieces of the project that were of most interest to them. In the end, we completed the project and received positive feedback from our professor.”

          A few important for using the STAR method:

          • A strong STAR response will last one to two minutes.
          • Be brief in your set-up. Give just enough background or contextual information for your story to make sense.
          • The result is critical. Everything in your example builds towards this component. 
          • Use the structure of the acronym for direction if you forget what you were saying. If all else fails, skip to the R, result.

          Practice with basic interview questions

          1. Tell me about yourself.

          2. What are your strengths?

          3. Give me an example of a time when you showed initiative or leadership.

          4. Can you give me an example of a time you were able to identify a small problem and fix it before it became a major problem?

          5. Give me an example of a time you were most proud of your own work.

          6. Tell me about a time you were working on a project or task and it did not go as planned, what did you learn from it?

          7. Describe a specific situation in which you had difficulty getting along with peers, team member, or others at work. How did you handle the situation?

          8. Tell me about a time you had to do something differently than you expected, planned, or usually do. What was it? What did you do?

          9. How do you decide what gets top priority when scheduling your time?

          10. Tell me about a time you failed at a project or task.

          11. How do you cope with stress?

          12. Tell me about your experience working with people who have different backgrounds than you.

          13. We all have strengths and challenges, what would you say is one of your challenges?

          14. Give me an example of a time when you effectively used presentation skills.

          15. How would your previous supervisors, group members, or professors describe you?

          16. How have you brought a group together to solve a problem?

          17. Have you ever had to deal with irate customers? Give an example and explain how you reacted.

          18. What is missing from your resume that you’d like me to know about?

          19. Why should we select you over other applicants?
           

          Sample Questions to Ask Employers

          1. What motivates you in your work here at _______________________ ?

          2. How would you describe communication with leadership within the organization? Are entry-level employees encouraged to interact with leadership or only through defined channels?

          3. How does your organization show that it values its employees?

          4. What are the company’s strengths and weaknesses when compared to other companies in the market?

          5. How will my work be measured and evaluated? How often will this take place?

          6. How have other entry level employees (or interns) significantly contributed to your organization?

          7. What is one of the most difficult writing assignments you’ve had? Explain.

          8. Tell me about one or two presentations that you’ve given to your superiors or peers.

          9. Have you ever communicated in a high stakes situation? What happened?

          10. Give me an example of how you successfully handle multiple demands.

          11. Tell me about a time when you had to do something different than you expected, planned or usually do. What was it? What did you do?

          12. Tell me about a time when you were accountable for the completion and success of a very important task. How satisfied/dissatisfied were you with that? Why?

          13. Tell me about a time when you had difficult goals in your work. How satisfied/dissatisfied were you with that? Why?

          14. Tell me about a time when you worked on a low-profile assignment for which you did not receive a lot of attention from others. How satisfied/dissatisfied were you with that? Why?

          15. How do you decide what gets top priority when scheduling your time?

          16. What do you do when your schedule is suddenly interrupted? Give me an example.

          17. Tell me about a time when you had to request help or assistance on a project because it turned out to be more that you could handle by yourself ?

          18. What is the most difficult business decision you have had to make? What factors did you consider when making that decision?

          Industry Exploration Guides and Resources for Exploring Careers  [in the right hand column navigation]

          Attend an interview prep workshop.

          Check the events calendar during the fall and spring semesters to find opportunities to practice discussing your experiences and qualifications in an effective way. Career Center Events Calendar

          Schedule an interviewing appointment or practice/mock interview with a career adviser.

           

          The day of the interview

          Remember

          • Proper attire
          • Nice folder, notebook or padfolio with a pad of paper and a pen
          • Sample documents or portfolio
          • Questions for interviewers
          • Business cards (if you have them)
          • Copies of your resume
          • If giving a presentation, bring all of the technology, files, and handouts

          Prepare yourself for small talk

          Small talk is an opportunity to build rapport and show that you fit on their team. In addition to questions about the organization and role, you can ask more personable questions, such as:

          • How do you like this part of the country?
          • Do you get a chance to go see the (sports team) play?
          • I’m getting dinner later before my flight. Do you have any recommendations?

          Ask for business cards of interviewers after each interview if you don’t already have their contact information
          Example: “Thank you for interviewing me today. Could I have your business card in case I have further questions that I’d like to ask you?”

           

          After the interview

          Send thank you messages via email within 24 hours of the interview and an additional thank you card in the mail will also be a nice touch.

           

          Resources 

          Duke Career Center

          • Interview coaching appointments
          • Mock (Practice) interviews
          • On-campus recruiting and interviewing for particular companies

          Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) and Other Concerns

          Shaking hands is a norm in American working culture for greeting and saying goodbye. It starts by extending your right hand toward the person you are greeting, making sure your thumb is up and your fingers are straight. Clasp hands with the crook between your thumb and fingers, sometimes referred to as the “web,” touching the web of the person you are greeting. Give your hands 2-3 pumps before releasing the handshake. Make sure to keep eye contact as you shake hands. For an illustration, watch this video.

          If you are concerned that your hands are often cold, clammy, or sweaty, you can take some steps right before a handshake. For cold hands, before a handshake try to warm your hands in a pocket or casually held against your body (such as when you cross your arms). For clammy or sweaty hands, you can discretely rest your hands against your leg or hip to dry them slightly, or you can put them in a pocket right before a handshake. There are some lotions that are marketed toward helping to prevent sweaty hands, so you can also give those a try.

          Shaking hands is not customary in many global cultures. If you are unsure of the customs of a culture you are visiting, see GoinGlobal.

          If you are uncomfortable shaking hands in general or with the opposite sex, you have a couple options:

          1. Practice with American peers to become more comfortable with shaking hands and what it means as part of American culture. For most Americans, a handshake is the most typical greeting when meeting someone for the first time or between business associates.
          2. If you decide not to shake hands with interviewers you meet, you should let them know ahead of time or as you meet them. You can explain that you do not typically shake hands in your culture, and instead offer your customary greeting. Being proactive in the situation can minimize awkwardness in the moment. Depending on the culture of the company you’re interviewing with, this approach could be problematic as it may tell the interviewers that you are an outsider who may not be comfortable with typical American business culture.
          3. When it comes to shaking hands with the opposite sex specifically, there is an expectation in American business culture that men and women are treated equally. If you greet one sex with a handshake but abstain from shaking the hand of the other sex, it could put opposite-sex interviewers in an unexpected situation where they feel less equal. As in option 2 above, if you decide to greet men and women differently, it is best to explain ahead of time or in the moment so that they know this is part of your culture.

          Sometimes nervousness can be handled by making sure you are adequately prepared ahead of time. Have everything ready (clothes, resume, questions, directions, etc.) at least a day in advance. Practice answering questions with friends, colleagues, family, or the online tools above. Arrive to the interview with plenty of time to use the restroom and have a few moments to relax.

          Think of the interview as a conversation. You want to make sure that you will like working for them as much as they want to make sure that they want to hire you. Engage with what they tell you, and ask questions to show curiosity. Smiling or keeping a friendly face can also help the interviewer treat this as a conversation.

          If you doubt yourself, think about the skills and unique qualities you are bringing to the positing. Consider your accomplishments during the past 4-10 years. Remember that they would not have asked you for an interview if they were not already impressed and interested in hiring you. Also keep in mind that most people feel nervous during an interview, sometimes even the interviewer.

          When answering questions, take a breath or a pause before answering. This can help you gather your thoughts and formulate a stronger answer. Answer questions slowly and clearly.

          If you make a mistake, it will be okay. Rarely does one off answer or one misspoken sentence mean they won’t hire you. Acknowledge the error and move on to the next opportunity to wow them with your experience and skills.

          Try to deflect the question about salary: “For now, I’d prefer to talk about how my experiences match the responsibilities of the job and the company culture.”

          If they persist, give them a salary range that you’d expect to make: “Based on my qualifications and the research I’ve done into salaries, I’m expecting to earn between $65,000 and $85,000.”

          If they persist again and ask for a single number, tell them the salary that you’re expecting (they may keep this number for later or negotiate down, so take that into account before deciding what salary you want to ask for).

          You can always ask the interviewer to repeat the question or phrase it in a different way. It’s better to feel slightly awkward in asking them to repeat or rephrase instead of answering a different question than the one they asked.