Interview Guide

An interview for an internship or job is usually a conversation between at least two people: a hiring and an applicant for a position at the hiring manager’s company. This conversation usually involves the hiring manager asking multiple questions of the applicant. As an applicant, your goal is to help the employer see the value you would bring to the company and the skills you would bring to this particular role. However, you should also ask questions to evaluate whether the company is a good fit for you.

  • Some job interviews happen in-person, but some take place via telephone or video conference (i.e., Skype, Zoom, etc.).
  • Sometimes a candidate may have to go through several steps in an interview process, perhaps starting with a phone interview and then progressing to a second or possibly even a third video or in-person interview.
  • While some interviews are a conversation between two people, other interviews involve more than one person from the company interviewing the candidate; other times, a group interview may involve a few candidates interviewing at the same time with one or more individuals from the company.
  • The interview starts when you pull into the parking lot.
    • Are you early – not just on time?
    • Are you ready to smile and make good eye contact?
    • Are you prepared to engage in small talk?
    • Are you friendly and respectful to everyone with whom you come in contact?
    • Are you dressed for success?
    • Is your phone silenced?
    • Do you have a pad of paper and a pen to write down notes, names and other important details?
    • Do you have extra copies of your resume to offer?
    • Are you ready to extend a great handshake?
  • If you have a lengthy interview…
    • Bring your toothbrush and toothpaste to freshen up after a meal.
    • Bring a water bottle to stay hydrated.
    • Wear comfortable shoes.
  • Body language is very important. Besides having good eye contact and a smiling, relaxed face, be sure to rest your hands casually in your lap; arms folded across your chest indicate that you are less open and more guarded. If you normally move your hands around a lot when you talk, tone it down a bit. Sit up straight in your chair so you convey a poised, confident persona. Consider asking your trusted friends if you have any traits or habits you should curtail for an interview.
  • Practice introducing yourself in a concise and confident way. Some hiring managers start an interview with the request: “Please tell us about yourself.” Open-ended questions are your opportunity! Have a brief but thoughtful response ready that tells the hiring manager the most relevant aspects of who you are while answering the question, ��Why should we hire you?”

“The question I always ask when I interview candidates is, “Given all the many candidates who have applied for this position, why should I hire you over anyone else?” You need to have a ready answer to this question. Think through what makes you special, what makes you so unique that a hiring manager should hire you over everyone else.”
Lisa Quast, Career Woman, Inc.

  • Before your interview, be sure you can answer the question, “What do you know about this company?”
  • Spend time on the company’s website, Googling the company, checking out its official social media pages, and/or talking to people who have worked there. Learn as much as you can about the organization’s history and background, services or products, locations, and future growth prospects.
  • Be prepared to share 1 to 2 things you admire about the company, its mission, its values, or its culture.
  • Also do some research on the field/industry. All Northwestern students have access to the IBISWorld database through the NWC library. Browsing this database can provide helpful information about the industry to which you have applied, and it even offers sample questions you might want to ask about the industry in your interview. Reach out to a Compass Center staff person for more help navigating IBISWorld.
  • As you prepare for the interview, consult the job description.
  • Whenever possible, PROVE you have the skills and background highlighted in the job description.
    • Instead of saying that you are hardworking, prove it by telling a story about your job as a forklift operator or as a door thrower in a warehouse.
    • Instead of saying that you value teamwork, describe your experience on an athletic team or as part of a theatre troupe.
    • Instead of saying that you have strong writing skills, talk about your experience working as a Writing Fellow for First-Year Seminar students.
    • Instead of saying that you have great leadership experience, tell about your role as a Resident Assistant, a Discipleship Group leader, or a founder of the Business Club.
    • Instead of saying that you are enthusiastic and approachable, tell about the time you worked at a children’s party and kept the kids entertained all day!

You should have an interview plan that lets [the interviewer] know the following: ‘I believe these are the needs you want met. These are the accomplishments in my background that make a strong case I can meet those needs.’ Be positive and focus on how you can deliver value to them.”
Mark Grimm, Mark Grimm Communications

  • Do not underestimate the experience you have gained from volunteer work, church involvement, campus activities, and even hobbies. Experience is valuable regardless of whether someone paid you for it.
  • If you are short on experience, stress your potential—your ability to learn and be trained.
  • Go into an interview with the 5 to 7 stories you want to share about yourself. Then make it your goal to share all of these stories before the interview ends. Some human resource managers even suggest that you should be able to tell a story about every point of experience listed on your resume.

“In PR, before we promote a new client or project, we develop our key messages: what we absolutely want to get across in all communications. It’s important to identify your own key messages when going for a job. Write down what’s unique about you, your best assets and what you would bring to this position. Then narrow it down to the top three messages you want to convey in your interview and let them drive your conversation with the interviewer.”
Jessica Kleiman and Meryl Weinsaft Cooper, co-authors, Be Your Own Best Publicist

  • When thinking about your 5 to 7 stories, consider picking something from these categories:
    • Your most significant work experience
    • A challenge you overcame
    • An accomplishment of which you are proud
    • An award you received or a commendation given by a supervisor, professor or mentor
    • Something that shows what you are like outside of work, i.e., what you do for fun
    • An experience of being mentored or empowered by someone
    • Your most significant leadership experience
    • Your most satisfying academic experience: a class, being mentored by a professor, or a particular paper or project
    • An experience that led to your interest in this particular position

“Give examples in your interview of how you stayed motivated in difficult situations, figured things out without formal training, and stayed motivated and productive in times of great change. Think creativity vs. complaining and resilience vs. resignation…. [A] VP of HR recently told me: ‘If they can’t adapt to change, we don’t want them.’”
Kate Nasser, The People-Skills Coach, Founder/President, CAS Inc.

  • A behavior-based interview is a common interview style. Hiring managers ask candidates to describe specific situations when they exercised particular skills (i.e. teamwork, decision-making) or responded to particular situations (i.e. a work-related challenge, a difficult coworker).
  • Have a story to share about each of these behavior-based topics:
    • Communication or interpersonal skills
    • High-quality service
    • Teamwork
    • Innovation
    • Problem-solving
    • Conflict management
  • Examples of behavior-based interview questions:
    • Describe a situation in which your results were not up to your professor’s or supervisor’s expectations.
    • Tell me about a time when you had to go above and beyond the call of duty in order to get a job done.
    • Describe a situation when you experienced conflict with a supervisor, family member or peer. How did you handle that conflict?
    • Talk about a time when you collaborated with a group to complete a project or achieve a goal. What role did you play?
    • Describe a situation in which you utilized strong communication skills to present an idea or explain a concept.
    • Describe a time when someone requested that you to solve a problem.
  • The SHARE Model is a good way to answer behavior-based interview questions:
    • S – Describe a specific Situation.
    • H – Identify Hindrances or challenges.
    • A – Explain the Action that you took.
    • R – Discuss the Results or outcomes.
    • E – Evaluate or summarize what you learned.

Brainteaser questions

  • Brainteaser questions are less common than they use to be, and today’s interviewers rely more on behavior-based interview questions. Nevertheless, the occasional brainteaser may come up in an interview. For instance, Compass Center staff members still remember past interview experiences when interviewers asked them: “How many basketballs will fit inside a Boeing 747?” and “Why is a manhole cover round?”
  • The trick is not to sweat these questions. Stay calm, and continue smiling. The interviewer is most likely interested in seeing how you handle a small challenge and learning whether you can think on your feet and bring your best problem-solving and critical-thinking skills to the task. Talk through your answer so the interviewer can see how your mind works, and just give it your best shot.

“When given a brainteaser, case study or any type of thinking problem, talk your way through it. Candidates often fall silent not wanting to say something stupid. Rather say, “I'm going to think out loud as I go to help you see how I think...” That's what you're really being judged on, less so the right answer and more so how you approach it. I've hired people who didn't get the right answer but thought through the problem well.” - Mark Herschberg, White Knight Consulting

Case study or technical questions

  • Case study interview questions present applicants with a challenging scenario you must evaluate and solve. Case interviews test your analytical and communication skills within a realistic business context. Interviewers analyze the steps you take and how you think critically about the issue. There are many online resources available on case study interviews, so practice in advance.
  • Technical interview questions present applicants with a chance to show your industry-specific skills, like coding or engineering. Be prepared to solve a complex issue and show your work. You can find practice problems online.
  • In addition to evaluating your professional potential, a hiring manager is judging your attitude and personality during an interview. Are you the type of coworker with whom they want to work?
  • Furthermore, are you convincing the hiring manager that you would enjoy being at this company and doing this kind of work? Even if you have all the right answers, you still need to convey enthusiasm and a positive, sincere attitude.
  • Additionally, when it comes to an entry-level job, are you conveying the idea that you would be willing to do a little grunt work to climb the ladder?
  • Dress professionally for the job and company for which you are interviewing. For most interviews, men and women should both wear a suit. However, some industries are less formal, and employees tend to dress casually; if this is the case, still aim to dress more formally than your interviewers, but do not wear a suit if everyone else will be in jeans.
  • Professional grooming is imperative. Your hair should be neat and stylish, and your nails should be well manicured. If you choose to wear nail polish or accessories, keep them subtle. Avoid fragrances and heavy makeup.
  • An interviewer will often ask you, “Do you have any questions for me?” You should always have a list of questions you are prepared to ask. Here are some examples:
    • Can you tell me more about the day-to-day responsibilities of this job?
    • What 2 to 3 skills are most important for succeeding in this role?
    • What would you like to see me doing 3, 6 or 12 months from now?
    • What does success look like in this position, and how do you measure it?
    • Are there opportunities for professional development? What do they look like?
    • With whom will I be working most closely?
    • Please describe the culture of the company.
    • Where do you think the company is headed in the next 5 years?
    • What are the biggest opportunities or challenges facing the company/department right now?
    • What do you like best about working at this company?
    • What is the typical career path for someone in this role?
    • What are your next steps for filling this position?
  • An interview goes two ways! Just as someone is interviewing you, you are simultaneously evaluating the hiring manager, the position, and the company to determine if they are the right fit for you. Just because you apply for a job and accept an interview, this does not mean you are obligated to accept a job offer. Therefore, ask questions that are important to you, especially if you may need to choose between two or more job offers:
    • Does this company offer educational or training programs? Tuition assistance for graduate school for employees? Teleworking options?
    • What is the typical promotion track like?
    • Do you offer mentoring or peer-to-peer programs?
    • To whom will I directly report (if not listed in the job description)?
    • What will be the biggest challenge for the person who takes on this role?
    • What are the two best things you like about working at this company?
    • What two things make your CEO most proud?
  • Go to a very quiet place where no one will be able to interrupt you. If having a telephone interview, consider using a landline to ensure a good connection. Similarly, if interviewing via video conference (i.e. Skype, Zoom, etc.), make sure you have a stable internet connection.
  • If the interview is with a company that is not local, confirm the time of the call and the time zone.
  • Wait 2 to 3 seconds after the interviewer stops talking to make sure you do not interrupt.
  • For a video conference or recorded interview, remember these tips:
    • Dress as professionally as you would for an in-person interview—all the way down to your shoes!
    • Be sure to position the camera on your computer in such a way that the camera is between you and your primary light source. You do not want to sit right in front of a window so your face is shadowed.
    • Download any necessary software (Zoom, Skype, etc.) ahead of time. Also, be sure to test the audio and video.
    • Sit in front of a neutral background for your interview. Consider reserving a small group study room in the DeWitt Learning Commons, or choose a background that is not too personal or distracting for the interviewer. You want their focus to be solely on you and what you are saying.
    • Consider covering your own image with a post-it note so you can focus on maintaining eye contact with the camera.
    • Silence your cell phone and computer notifications.
    • If you are submitting a recorded interview, practice recording your answers as many times as possible before sending the final version to the employer. Also, confirm the interview “rules” (i.e. how long your responses can be, how many recording attempts you have, etc.).

“Phone interviews aren’t like talking to a good friend (though, wouldn't that be nice!). The conversation can be awkward unless you’ve planned accordingly, so try practicing with a friend over the phone. For the real interview, you’ll want to demonstrate your ability to interact well over the phone without body language or other social cues to go by. Pick a quiet spot to have the interview, and remove any distractions (turn off your computer, put away random objects on your desk, etc.). The only things you need are a copy of your resume, a list of talking points and answers to common interview questions, a list of important info about the company and your interviewer, and a phone. Smile and use your voice to convey enthusiasm. Don’t be afraid of pauses or short silences, and just try to relax. The more relaxed you are, the better the interview will go!”
Sara Sutton Fell, CEO/Founder, FlexJobs

  • If you know who your interviewer(s) will be, do some research on them so you can engage in impressive small talk about their interests or background if the opportunity presents itself.
  • Do not bring a parent with you.
  • Show your enthusiasm, but do not overdo it.
    • If you are usually a calm and laidback person, you might want to do some jumping jacks before walking into an interview or logging onto a virtual interview to get a surge of energy.
    • If you are usually someone who talks fast or gets over-excited, you might want to consciously slow down, take a deep breath, and remind yourself to “listen more, say less.”
  • A first job interview is not usually the time when you want to ask about salary and benefits. Save this question for after you have received a job offer or in a follow-up conversation.
  • Do not be afraid to pause before answering a question. It is also fine to say, “Hmmm…. That is a good question. Let me think for a moment.”
  • If you do not understand a question, say, “I’m sorry. I don’t think I understand what you’re asking. Do you mind repeating or rephrasing the question?”
  • Do not be afraid to say, “ I don’t know the answer to that;” but explain how you could go about finding the answer.
  • If the interviewer asks you about problem areas in your background, always try to answer in a positive way. Never speak negatively about previous bosses or coworkers.
  • In case an interviewer asks you about your greatest weakness, be prepared with an honest answer. Nevertheless, choose something that is harmless and can be turned into a positive.
  • If a potential employer asks you about one of the following topics and then makes a hiring decision based on your answer, this is illegal: race/color/national origin, religion, sex/gender identity/sexual orientation, pregnancy status, disability, age or genetic information, citizenship, and marital status or number of children. If an interviewer asks you a question about any of these topics, simply state that the answer is unrelated to your ability to do the job.
  • Be sure to shake everyone’s hand and thank them at the end of the interview.


Call-out box on handshakes? Handshakes: Be sure to practice your handshake with your peers before your interview. You want a strong handshake that denotes confidence because a "dead fish" handshake makes a terrible impression. On the other hand, you do not want to break anyone's finger bones. Practice until you get it right!

“When talking about weaknesses (which many interviewers refer to as ‘developmental opportunities,’) provide better examples than the clichéd ‘I work too hard’ or ‘I’m too detail-oriented.’ When I’m conducting interviews and someone is unwilling to admit any weakness, it gives me the impression that they are either lacking self-awareness or are being disingenuous. To answer this question effectively, pick something you are truly working on, talk about what you are doing to address it or how you monitor it, and give examples of the progress you have made. Hiring managers do not expect you to be perfect, but they do want to know that you are well-suited to the job.”
Patricia Thompson, Ph.D., Corporate Psychologist and Management Consultant

Practicing ahead of time is the best way to go into the interviewing feeling prepared and confident! Make one of the following appointments with a Compass Center staff member through Handshake:

  • Mock interview
  • Videotaped mock interview in which the staff member plays back the video and debriefs your responses and body language. This exercise can be helpful if you know you need to work on removing extra “Um’s” from your speech, want to minimize nervous habits, or need practice with good eye contact or posture.
  • A meeting to talk through your interview preparation
  • Immediately after your interview, send a hand-written thank you note to everyone who interviewed you. However, if you know the hiring manager is making decisions about candidates before a mailed note will reach them, at least send a thank you email.
  • This follow-up provides a good opportunity to briefly remind the interviewer how your skills and achievements can help the company meet its goals.
  • You cannot send a thank you if you do not know the names of the persons with whom you interviewed. Make sure you have this information before you leave the interview.
  • If you have not heard back from the hiring manager within two weeks of your interview (or within the timeframe the hiring manager described for making a decision), follow up with an email or telephone call in which you reiterate your interest and qualifications for the position. Without being overly aggressive, inquire into when you should expect to hear back.

Even though spending time thinking through your 5 to 7 stories is probably a better use of your time, it can still help to review a list of common interview questions and consider how you might respond. You should also anticipate industry-specific or position-specific questions. Consult the staff of the Compass Center if you need help finding sample interview questions geared toward your desired role or field.

  • Please tell me about yourself.
  • Why are you interested in this position?
  • What are your long-range goals? Where do you see yourself in 5/10/15 years?
  • What do you know about our company?
  • Why do you think you would like to work for our company?
  • Why are you leaving your present position?
  • What has been your most rewarding accomplishment?
  • If you could do so, how would you plan your college career differently?
  • Tell me about a major problem you recently handled. Were you successful in resolving it?
  • How have you dealt with high-pressure situations?
  • What personal weakness has caused you the greatest difficulty in school or on the job?
  • Which college classes or subjects did you like best? Why?
  • Describe the type of professor who has created the most beneficial learning experience for you.
  • Do you think that your grades are an indication of your academic achievement?
  • Give an example of a time in which you had to be relatively quick in coming to a decision.
  • Give an example of a goal you set in the past and your success in achieving it.
  • When did you go above and beyond the call of duty in order to get a job done?
  • Sometimes it is easy to get in “over your head.” Describe a time when you had to request help on a project or assignment.
  • Describe a situation in which you found that your results were not up to your professor’s or supervisor’s expectations. What happened? What action did you take?
  • What are your strengths?
  • What are your weaknesses?
  • Tell of a time when you worked with a colleague who was not completing his or her share of the work. Who, if anyone, did you tell or talk to about it? Did the manager take any steps to correct your colleague? Did you agree or disagree with the manager’s actions?
  • We can sometimes identify a small problem and fix it before it becomes a major problem. Give an example(s) of how you have done this.
  • Recall a time from your work experience when your supervisor was unavailable and a problem arose. What was the nature of the problem? How did you handle that situation?
  • Recall a time when you were assigned what you considered to be a complex project. Specifically, what steps did you take to prepare for and finish the project? Were you happy with the outcome? What one step would you have done differently if given the chance?
  • What kind of supervisor do you work best for? Provide examples.
  • How do you determine priorities in scheduling your time? Give examples.
  • Tell of the most difficult customer service experience that you have ever had to handle—perhaps an angry or irate customer. Be specific and describe your actions and the outcome.
  • Give an example of when you had to work with someone who was difficult to get along with. Why was this person difficult? How did you handle that person?
  • Tell about a difficult situation when you had to keep a positive attitude. How did you do it?
  • Tell about a time you had to handle multiple responsibilities and how you organized the work.
  • What is the biggest mistake you’ve made?
  • Describe a time when you put your needs aside to help a co-worker or classmate understand a task. How did you assist him or her? What was the result?
  • What was the last book you read? [or] What books are currently on your bedside table?
  • What are your salary expectations?
  • Why should we hire you?