Six Tips for Preparing a Successful Interview

Jill Stephenson, Student Services Counselor

The job interview can be stressful. Your palms may sweat and your heart may race. Questions will certainly fly at you. By following these six tips for preparing your interview, you’ll leave the hot seat feeling you’ve put your best foot forward.

Tip 1: Tell Me About Yourself
This question may be the most dreaded by interviewees and the most frequently asked by interviewers. But dread not! If you have an elevator pitch about yourself that is concise, meaningful to the position for which you are applying, and well-practiced then this question is setting you up to shine.

When crafting your “tell me about yourself” response, it is crucial to understand what is really being asked. It’s great that you like yoga, have a Shiba Inu named Ralph, and just planned your parents’ retirement party. However, the interviewer is not inquiring about your personal life. Interview time is limited, so optimize it by showcasing what interviewers need to know: how your skills and professional narrative align with their goal of making the right hire.

Remember that “tell me about yourself” is most likely the first question you’ll be asked and your response sets the tone for the remainder of the interview, making it is exceedingly important to be prepared. It’s also paramount that you remain positive in your “tell me about yourself” pitch — and, for that matter, in all your answers and comments during the interview. True, you may be unhappy in your current position, but bad mouthing your organization and colleagues is a sure-fire way to land on the “do not hire” list.

Tip 2: Use “CAR” (Challenge, Action, Result) to Structure Answers
Having a road map for answering questions ensures that you don’t get lost in your stories. Try following the “CAR” (Challenge, Action, Result) structure:

Challenge – What was the challenge you faced?
Action – What was the action you took to face the challenge?
Result – What was the (positive!) result of your action?

Consider the traditional interviewing question, “What are your weaknesses?” Using CAR, you can deliver a cohesive answer while simultaneously spinning this negatively-premised question into a positive response. For example:

[CHALLENGE:] My greatest weakness is that I was always shy when speaking up in front of groups and therefore had trouble speaking up in class and at student government meetings. [ACTION:] I was aware of this shyness when embarking upon my semester abroad and made a conscious decision to work on it, figuring if I can speak up in front of my peers in a foreign language then surely I can do it at home in my own language. [RESULT:] Once I had made the decision to try, I really went for it. I raised my hand a lot and, though I stumbled, speaking often in class boosted my confidence. I learned the importance of making and learning from mistakes and, when I returned to my home country, my class participation excelled and my student government leadership skills grew.

Tip 3: Have Talking Points
Your role in the interview is not that of a passive respondent. Rather, be proactive by knowing the job description and arriving to the interview with talking points that highlight your skills and applicable experiences. Draw on these talking points when answering even the most unpredictable of questions.

When premeditating your talking points, remember to include examples; never wait to be directly asked for an example, because you may not be! Additionally, think about including relevant and memorable stories, because stories have a way of sticking in people’s minds and you want the hiring committee to easily recall your interview when decision time rolls around.

Tip 4: Research the Company
Just as important as knowing the job description is knowing the company as well as the function and activities of the department in which the position resides. Since much of this information can be easily gleaned on any organization’s website, candidates who fail to convey this knowledge send a strong, damaging message: I don’t really want this job.

Additionally, when provided names of your interviewers in advance, research the roles of these individuals. Doing so allows you to ask informed questions about how your roles and work would interface.
Tip 5: Have Questions
Having questions is another way to convey a strong interest in the position and in the company itself. Most interviewers dedicate time to an interviewee’s inquiries, which they expect to be thoughtful and informed. Write a list of questions down ahead of time and feel free to consult it in the moment.

Tip 6: NYU Wasserman Career Center – Use Your Resources to Practice!
Most importantly, once you’ve crafted your “tell me about yourself” response, CAR statements, and talking points, you need to practice, practice, practice! The NYU Wasserman Career Center is an invaluable resource for NYU students to hone interview skills. Sign up for a mock interview to obtain feedback for improvement. Connect with a professional in the Mentor Network who can shed light on what interviewers in your field seek in an interviewee. Make an appointment with a Career Counselor to learn best practices in the job search. The more you practice, the more natural, confident, and comfortable you will be in the interview.