The University Network

10 Steps to a Successful Interview: Tips from Stony Brook University Career Center

1. Know Yourself

Who knows you better than you? Who knows your strengths and weaknesses, skills and abilities, goals and dreams, setbacks, bounce-backs, and accomplishments better than you?

Take time to think deeply about these aspects of yourself. Recall experiences where you demonstrated those skills — at school, on the job, at the internship, within a community organization, and yes, even at home!  Enlist help from people who know you well, such as family members, supervisors, teachers, mentors, coaches, and peers.

Being prepared for the interview means that you have a strong sense of who you are and what you’re made of! But adjectives and personality attributes aren’t enough; you must be ready to share examples of you using skills, demonstrating strengths, and recovering from a failure or set-back. And yes, be prepared to briefly describe a weakness, making sure that you share the ways you’re working to improve.

2. Know The Industry

Answering interview questions is so much easier when you know something about the career field, or industry. If you’re interviewing with a retail bank, what can you learn about the retail banking industry? Retail banking is not the same as investment banking; you need to something about both types of financial institutions. If you wish to work for a college, what are the issues facing higher education institutions and specifically the type of college or university you interview with? How might those challenges impact or influence the work you do in that organization?

3. Know The Employer

There is no way you can successfully explain why you would make a good employee for a specific employer if you haven’t done your research on that employer!  Start with the basics: What does the company do? What size is it? What are its values? Who are its customers? Is the company a good neighbor? How does the company brand itself? What news can you learn about the company? Your research on the company will help you get to know it and feel more comfortable with your interview. It will also prompt questions (see # 9 below) as you’ll be curious about things you read about.

4. Practice

Why go to an interview cold? Practice telling your stories and answering interview questions. You can also practice in the shower, in the mirror, in the car. Where you practice is less important — that you practice verbally speaking about yourself is what is important. If you’re a college student, check with your career center: most colleges offer practice, or mock, interviews.

5. Rest & Overdress

Most people feel energized after a great night’s sleep. Even if your sleep routine is 6 hours, give yourself 8 hours of sleep before interview day. Eat a healthy breakfast and drink water. That prepares your insides! On the outside, you can ask about dress code when you schedule the interview. When in doubt, dress up! Professional dress typically includes a suit with a jacket. Even if you are invited to dress business casual, you can still dress it up by wearing a quality blouse or shirt, jacket, and shined shoes.  

6. Arrive 10 Minutes Early

Set your phone/watch to ensure that you arrive at the interview about 10 minutes before schedule. That gives you wiggle room if there is a delay in transportation and, frankly, it also allows you to get settled, relax, and be ready mentally to engage in the conversation.  Recall what it feels like when you’re late for something important — you feel anxious, you might be sweating, you are probably not going to feel as confident if you’re upset about being late — even if it wasn’t your fault. Remember: on time = 10 minutes early.

7. Be Ready for Anything

While on site, you may be introduced to several people in the organization. You might find yourself in a panel interview, where you are interviewing with not one, but four or five team members. Don’t get nervous – get excited that the team members want to get know you.

Occasionally something will go wrong. The supervisor or the vice president may be late for your interview. A fire drill may occur while you’re mid-sentence. Your stockings may rip, a heel may break off your shoe, you split your pants (it’s happened), someone calls you by the wrong name. Don’t worry. Go with the flow. Keep an open mind, stay positive, and show off your talents in managing through uncertain situations. The way you deal with challenges during your interview says a lot about how you might deal with challenges and uncertainty on the job.

8. Be Confident

If you aren’t so sure that you’re so terrific, how will you convince an employer? By preparing yourself with knowledge of you and research on the industry and company, you will naturally feel more confident in your ability to explain why you are a great fit for that opportunity. Almost everyone are a little nervous during the interview, and it is expected. Turn your nervous energy into something positive — use it to fuel your performance!

9. Ask Questions

As you did your research, you must have found that you were curious about something related to the position, the people, or the company, right?  Prepare 5-8 questions that demonstrate your interest in and curiosity about the company. What else would you need to know to determine if this organization is a good fit for you? Caution: Do NOT ask about salary or benefits; these should only be discussed after a job offer is made.

10. Follow Up with a Thank You

Always follow up your interview with a thank-you note. This should not be a text 10 seconds after you leave the interview; give yourself a couple of hours to reflect upon the conversation and the extent to which you presented your best self.  A thank-you note can remind the interviewer about your qualities and skills, and it also can be used to explain something you may not have clarified well during the conversation. Even if you are not overly enthused by the position, a thank-you note can still demonstrate your follow through and professionalism.  

This piece, written by Marianna Savoca, has been adapted from content on the Stony Brook University Career Center website, originally developed by Jonathan Lewis.