Applying for a Job

24 Interview Strategies

Interviewing is the phase of the job search process where you go from being an applicant on paper to a real, three-dimensional person. Essentially, you will be evaluated on your verbal communication skills through this face-to-face (or video or phone) interaction. Employers want to see whether you match up to the qualifications described in your résumé and they want to see whether you have good interpersonal communication skills to get a sense of how you would function as part of their team.

Interviews also give employers a chance to see if you can think on the spot, answer questions that a person with your professional background and education should be able to answer, and demonstrate a professional level of preparation.

“One important key to success is self-confidence. An important key to self-confidence is preparation.” (Arthur Ashe)Interviews are often intimidating for job seekers who feel the pressure of being evaluated and feel uncomfortable with the interview format. While the nervousness may never go away, effectively preparing for the interview can make you feel more confident and, with practice, you will be better able to stay in the moment and treat the interview like a two-way conversation.

This chapter focuses on general interview preparation. Do bear in mind, though, that different disciplines and industries have different interviewing techniques. For instance, the technical interview or “code day” has become standard for many computer science-related fields. You should always do research on standard practices in your industry, but also keep in mind that interviews can be surprising. In fact, some employers try to surprise interviewees to get a sense of how they think and react in unfamiliar situations. Part of your challenge is to stay open-minded and relaxed so you can project confidence, even in unexpected or unfamiliar situations.

Preparing for the interview

Good preparation before an interview is based on understanding who your audience is—understanding the employer and the industry. This is not the type of information that you can memorize the night before. Take as much time as you can to read and absorb information from a variety of sources to get a thorough sense of the company—not just the basic information you find on the “About” page of their website, but the tone and personality they broadcast in social media, their past and current projects, their achievements, their community involvement, and so on.

Job interview types and techniques

Every interview you participate in will be unique: the people you meet with, the interview setting, and the questions you’ll be asked will all be different from interview to interview.

The various factors that characterize any given interview can contribute to the sense of adventure and excitement you feel. Nevertheless, feeling a little nervous about the process is normal—even expected. With so many unknowns, how can you plan to “nail the interview” no matter what comes up?

A good strategy for planning is to anticipate the type of interview you may find yourself in. Common formats for job interviews are described in detail below. By knowing a bit more about each type and being aware of techniques that work for each, you can plan to be on your game no matter what form your interview takes.

Screening interviews

Screening interviews might best be characterized as “weeding-out” interviews. They ordinarily take place over the phone or in another low-stakes environment in which the interviewer has maximum control over the amount of time the interview takes. Screening interviews are generally short because they glean only basic information about you. If you are scheduled to participate in a screening interview, you might safely assume that you have some competition for the job and that the company is using this strategy to whittle down the applicant pool. With this kind of interview, your goal is to win a face-to-face interview.

For this first shot, though, prepare well and challenge yourself to shine. This type of interview should be treated like a real interview. This may mean dressing for the interview and having a résumé in front of you so that it can be referred to. Another suggestion is to make sure your cell phone is fully charged and that the screening interview takes place in a location that is free of distractions. Try to stand out from the competition and consider following up with a thank-you note.

Phone or web conference interviews

If you are geographically separated from your prospective employer, you may be invited to participate in a phone interview or web conference interview, instead of a face-to-face meeting.

Technology, of course, is a good way to bridge distances. The fact that you’re not there in person doesn’t make it any less important to be fully prepared, though. In fact, you may wish to be all the more “on your toes” to compensate for the distance barrier.

Make sure your phone or computer is fully charged and your internet works (if possible, use an ethernet connection instead of wifi). If you’re at home for the interview, make sure the environment is quiet and distraction-free.  If the interview is via web conference, try to make your background neat and tidy. If using a simulated background, choose wisely, as they often look silly, unsuitable, or make the employer feel (even if subconsciously) that you are trying to hide something. Also, just because you’re meeting via video phone, that doesn’t mean you should dress casually. Aim to dress the way your interviewer’s supervisor would dress at work. That’s often a good benchmark: how does the interviewer’s boss dress at work? That’s probably the mark you need to hit.

One-on-one interviews

Many job interviews are conducted with just you and a single interviewer—likely with the manager you would report to and work with. The one-on-one format gives you both a chance to see how well you connect and how well your talents, skills, and personalities mesh. You can expect to be asked such questions as, “Why would you be good for this job?” and “Tell me about yourself.” Many interviewees prefer the one-on-one format because it allows them to spend in-depth time with the interviewer. Rapport can be built. As always, be very courteous and professional. Be ready to add to your candidacy with a portfolio of your best work, list of references, or something else you can give them at the end of the interview to “top up” your application.

Panel interviews

An efficient format for meeting a candidate is a panel interview, in which perhaps two to five coworkers meet at the same time with a single interviewee. The coworkers comprise the “search committee” or “search panel,” which may consist of different company representatives, such as human resources, management, and staff. One advantage of this format for the committee is that meeting together gives them a common experience to reflect on afterward. In a panel interview, listen carefully to questions from each panelist, and try to connect fully with each questioner. Keep track of the names of the people in the room and use them at least once in the meeting when responding to their questions. At least once, make eye contact with each person on the panel.

Serial interviews

Serial interviews are a combination of one-on-one meetings with a group of interviewers, typically conducted as a series of meetings staggered throughout the day. Ordinarily, this type of interview is for higher-level jobs when it’s important to meet at length with several major stakeholders. If your interview process is designed this way, you will need to be ultra prepared, as you will be answering many in-depth questions.

Lunch interviews

In some higher-level positions, candidates are taken to lunch or dinner, especially if this is a second interview (a “call back” interview). If this is you, count yourself lucky and be on your best behaviour because, even if the lunch meeting is unstructured and informal, it’s still an official interview. If all persons interviewing you are ordering an alcoholic drink, you can order one, but only one, along with a glass of water. Drink slower than the interviewer to show restraint and patience. Your best approach is to avoid alcohol, though. Even one drink slows your reaction time and impairs your judgment (albeit only slightly with one drink consumed slowly). You are not expected to pay or even to offer to pay, but use your best table manners.

During the interview

Once you have prepared mentally and gathered the information for your interview, it’s time to prepare for the interaction during the interview.

Dress the part

Let’s keep this simple—dress your best. In most business cultures, dressing professionally is a sign of respect, conveying that you care about the position, that you want to make a good impression.

Here are the basics:

  1. Wear your best professional clothing. The total budget for your interview attire should be about 2% of the annual salary of the job you’re going for. Applying for a job that pays $50,000? That means your shoes are probably $200+, your shirt is probably $100, the clothing over your shirt and legs probably costs $300-500, and accessories (tie, belt, earrings, make-up, and so on), are another $100-300. This may sound expensive, but it’s an investment in yourself and your employment. If it’s too much for you, try to find something that looks like those higher-end products and make the most of them. (Hints: Dark colours can hide lower quality on shoes and clothes. Simple white dress shirts and blouses can often be found for a lot less. One knock-out accessory can hide a lower price suit or jacket. At a distance, fake pearls and cubic zirconia look almost as good as real pearls and diamonds. However, once you land this job, invest in a quality wardrobe to help move forward.)
  2. Try on the complete outfit (including shoes) to make sure you’re comfortable. Does it fit? Does it stay in place? Can you sit down, shake hands, and move comfortably? You don’t want your clothing to distract you or the interviewer.
  3. Clean and press your clothes and shoes. Prepare your outfit the night before and hang it up (no wrinkles).
  4. Manage your hygiene. Bathe the morning of the interview (or even later if you have an afternoon interview). Use unscented deodorant and avoid perfume and cologne. If you tend to sweat, wear an undershirt or use something else to catch sweat. Brush your teeth after the last meal before your interview.

Even if you know the work environment is casual, you should dress “up” for the interview—more professionally than you would if you worked there. The exception would be if you are explicitly told not to—for instance, if the recruiter specifies that you should dress “business casual” or if it’s a job in the trades where you might be working with heavy equipment or outdoors during the interview.

Don’t come empty-handed

Arriving at the interview with important documents and notes shows that you are prepared and thinking ahead. Organize all your materials in a nice folder or folio—presentation matters!

Print out at least one copy of your résumé and any other documents you might want to reference, such as the job or internship description or your references. You should also bring a few samples of your work, if possible—documents you’ve prepared or artifacts from projects.

Make the most out of all of that research and preparation by bringing notes. A nice notebook or paper and a pen are perfectly acceptable for you to have in the interview and they can help you feel more focused by getting some of the information out of your head and organized on paper.

Follow these guidelines:

  1. Be organized. Re-write or type and print your notes so you can easily find the information you need. You don’t want to be shuffling through scraps of paper.
  2. Keep it simple. Write down keywords, brief phrases and ideas that will jog your memory, not a complete script.
  3. Prepare questions for the interviewer (see examples below). You typically have the opportunity to ask these questions at the end of the interview, when it can be difficult to remember what you were going to ask.
Pro Tip: Take notes during the interview! The interviewer will likely reveal information to you during the conversation—write down anything that you want to remember for later or anything that you want to come back to later in the conversation.

Interview questions

For most job candidates, the burning question is “What will I be asked?” There’s no way to anticipate every single question that may arise during an interview. No matter how well prepared you are, you may get a question you just didn’t expect. Not to worry! Prepare as much as you can—doing so will build your confidence in your answers and help you to be ready for unexpected questions. Also think of questions you wish you were asked, as many interviewers will invite you to pose such questions (effectively to yourself) at the end of the interview.

To help you reach that point of sureness and confidence, take time to review common interview questions. Think about your answers. Make notes. Conduct a practice interview with a friend, a family member, or a colleague. Speak your answers aloud. Below is a list of resources that contain common interview questions and good explanations/answers you might want to adopt.

1 100 top job interview questions—be prepared for the interview (from This site provides a comprehensive set of interview questions you might expect to be asked, categorized as basic interview questions, behavioral questions, salary questions, career development questions, and other kinds. Some of the listed questions provide comprehensive answers, too.
2 Interview Questions and Answers (from BigInterview) This site provides text and video answers to the following questions: Tell me about yourself, describe your current position, why are you looking for a new job, what are your strengths, what is your greatest weakness, why do you want to work here, where do you see yourself in five years, why should we hire you, and do you have any questions for me?
3 Ten Tough Interview Questions and Ten Great Answers (from CollegeGrad) This site explores some of the most difficult questions you will face in job interviews. The more open-ended the question, the greater the variation among answers. Once you have become practiced in your interviewing skills, you will find that you can use almost any question as a launching pad for a particular topic or compelling story.

The video below asks different hiring managers what they want to hear from candidates in interviews.

Questions to ask the interviewer

At the end of nearly every interview, applicants are often asked if they have any questions they would like to pose to the employer. Do you have a question ready to ask?

In addition to revealing your knowledge of the company, these questions are also an opportunity for you to figure out if the employer and the company culture is a good fit for you. Think carefully about what matters to you, what would allow you to do your best work, and try to ask questions that will give you insight into those factors. Always have at least one ready. These are some useful examples:

  • How would you describe the organizational culture here?
  • What is the orientation or training process? (only for an entry-level job)
  • What are the goals/priorities for a person in this position? How will success be measured?
  • How does the company support professional development activities?
  • How does this position fit within the team/department? What is the reporting structure?
  • Does this position function alone or within a team setting?
  • What are the company’s overall goals and priorities and how do those affect someone in this department/position?

NOTE: The end of the interview is not typically the best time to ask about salary and benefits. This is your opportunity to learn about the workplace and the position—the environment, how it’s structured, employee support programs.

From Donnie Perkins, Chief Diversity Officer, College of Engineering. Learn more here.

Following are some questions students may ask prospective employers about their diversity, inclusion and equity. Company recruiters who can provide factual and reasonable responses to these questions are on a positive path to advancing diversity and inclusion in ways that truly benefit employees, the company, customers, and the community, while promoting innovations, strategic thinking and active engagement.

  • How does [Company] define diversity, inclusion, and equity? Provide an example of how diversity, inclusion, and equity benefits [Company].
  • What are the racial, ethnic, and gender demographics of [Company’s] company-wide, leadership, and manager levels?
  • As a national and/or multinational company, describe your cultural competency training program for employees who will take assignments in [specific countries or continents where the company does business].
  • Describe the role and responsibilities of women and persons of color on [Company’s] leadership team.
  • Give me an example of how [Company] values people of colour, women, its LGBTQ employees, and employees with disabilities.

Body language & interaction

As a general rule, you need to be observant and take your cues from the interviewer. Reflect their tone and pay attention to the dynamic they set—are they very formal and professional or more conversational? Small talk is okay, especially at the beginning and end of the interview, but you want to follow the lead of the interviewer.

Be conscious of your posture. You will want to sit up straight (no leaning or lounging) and avoid crossing your arms in front of your chest (it can seem defensive or withdrawn). Don’t point at anybody with your finger, but use an open hand to gesture to people in the room, as when connecting back to a previous question somebody asked earlier.

Make eye contact. Look at the interviewer(s) while they ask you questions and give them non-verbal cues—smiling, nodding—when appropriate. Make it clear that you are listening and understand what they’re saying.

Speak clearly and thoughtfully. Adjust your volume for the environment and make sure the interviewer can hear and understand you easily. Don’t rush yourself and take time to deliver thoughtful responses. Ask for clarification if you don’t understand a question.

Project calm. Fidgeting and extra movement can make you seem nervous, even if you aren’t. Be aware of your tendencies and try to minimize them. If you know you fidget, try to keep your hands folded and avoid clicking or tapping the pen. Don’t wear jewelry that you will play with or that will make noise while you move. Wear your hair in a way that will not tempt you to touch or play with it constantly. If seated at a table, sit towards the front of the chair and plant your feet on the floor—it can help keep you steady. Think of something you can do to productively channel your nervous energy, such as taking notes.

Be yourself. With all of the previous tips in mind, you also need to feel comfortable. If you are enthusiastic, if you talk with your hands, if you are shy, that’s fine; you just need to be the most engaged, professional version of yourself you can be in order to show the interviewer what you are capable of in the workplace.

After the interview

At the end of the interview, you will want to ask the interviewer what you can expect in terms of next steps or when they might make a decision about the position. This will help set your expectations and allow you to prepare for future interactions; they might have multiple rounds of interviews or they might have another week left of meeting with candidates, for instance.

There is a debate about whether to send thank-you notes after an interview. Some interviewers see this as a positive indication of interest in the job and communication skills. Others see it as a pathetic attempt to gain unearned points towards getting the job. I have literally heard recruiters say they never hire somebody who doesn’t send a thank-you note and, with just as much certainty, recruiters who say that a thank-you note ends your candidacy. There is no way to be sure.

One half-measure that I’ve used (unsuccessfully, I should note) is to send a follow-up email with a point of information that came up during the interview. For example, if the interview included some conversation about something you’d previously written that wasn’t in your portfolio (and presuming you felt good about what you’d written), you could send that to the interviewer—and simultaneously express thanks for the interview.

If you plan to send a thank-you note, email is a standard and expected vehicle for this message and you will likely have already been in contact with them via email or will have their business card from the interview.

The formula for this message is simple, but choose your words carefully and try to extend their good impression of your written communication here:

  • Relevant subject line
  • Gratitude for their time and the opportunity
  • Your continued interest in the position
  • Something specific from your conversation (this is where taking notes comes in handy)
  • Positive and forward-looking conclusion

You will want to reflect the overall tone of your interaction—try to make it consistent with the person they met the day before.

Subject: Design Engineer Internship – Thank you

Ms. Tanner,

Thank you for the opportunity to meet with you yesterday. I feel like I learned a lot about the Design Engineer Internship role at ABC Innovations and I remain very interested in the position.

After hearing about the project I would be assigned to, I did some further research on your prototyping process and I can see interesting connections with the work I did in my previous internship. It would be exciting to build on that knowledge with your team.

Please feel free to contact me via phone at xxx-xxx-xxxx or email if there is any additional information I can provide. I look forward to hearing from you.

Thank you,

J. Buckeye

Networking, elevator pitches, and unplanned interviews

Responding to a job posting can be an effective way of lining up a job interview and landing a job, but there are other powerful tools available to job seekers, notably networking.

Employers are constantly looking for new talent; they keep their eyes open for potential hires, even when they don’t have any active job postings in their organization. If a candidate is appealing enough, there is an opening in the organization. Employers will create a position for the right person.

Knowing that, you want to maximize the amount of face time you have with potential employers. Opportunities to network with potential employers are numerous, such as at job fairs or trade shows. As an example, the Vancouver Enterprise Forum is an amazing opportunity to speak to companies, many of whom are actively recruiting. The Vancouver Enterprise Forum is a mix of business-focused public lectures from industry leaders and purpose-built networking opportunities. Wherever you may live, you can find such opportunities at your local chamber of commerce, trade shows, job fairs, or sometimes charity or political events. You’ll need to look for these opportunities, but doing so will set you apart from your competition.

Once you find yourself face-to-face with a potential employer, you need to be ready to pitch yourself in a quick, clear, concise, and impressive fashion. This is known as the elevator pitch.

Elevator pitches

The famed elevator pitch is named for the idea that a person may serendipitously find themselves in a short elevator ride with a person who could change their career path. How long is an elevator ride? Most are one or two minutes in length, so that’s how long an elevator pitch should be.

An elevator pitch is an opportunity to introduce oneself and highlight one’s own merit as a potential employee. If done well, it begins a conversation that could lead to a job (or perhaps an investment). You never know when these opportunities may arise, so being prepared is essential.

These are the building blocks of an elevator pitch:

  • Polite greeting
  • Introduction of self
  • One clear, meaningful credential (such as where one studies or works)
  • One clear, meaningful connection to the other person (such as an interest in their organization or a mutual acquaintance)
  • A request to extend the conversation, either immediately in person or at a later time (which invites an exchange of contact information)

This is what an elevator pitch might sound like for one of my students:

Hello Ms. Bains. I’m Roquan Abede, a business student at Douglas College. I was at your guest lecture about angel investors and was really impressed by the way you pursued investment opportunities for your company. I’m not sure if you have a minute now, but I’d love to get your business card so I could talk to you about this more or we could chat now if you have a few minutes.

This elevator pitch has two opportunities for success: an immediate conversation or receiving contact information to allow for follow-up with “Ms. Bains.” In all likelihood, the speaker will graciously invite “Roquan” to contact her or will invite him to walk and talk with her for a few minutes.

Not every elevator pitch is ultimately successful; some people will offer a business card, but never return a phone call or respond to an email. However, some people will appreciate the effort you’re putting in and agree to meet for coffee. If you can impress in that meeting, you’ve basically passed the first round of a job interview. They might point out a job interview in the organization, an opportunity to volunteer or intern, or suggest that you apply for future jobs, as they become available.

Even if you don’t secure a job immediately, this investment in relationships and goodwill is invaluable and can get you ahead of your competition.

My advice is this: always be ready for an unplanned job interview. If somebody takes an interest in you, be ready to show that they’re right to be interested by being ready to speak about yourself as a prospective employee.


This chapter was adapted from Effective Professional Communication: A Rhetorical Approach by Rebekah Bennetch, Corey Owen, and Zachary Keesey, which is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

Bennetch, Owen, and Keesey adapted their chapter from “A Guide to Technical Communications: Strategies & Applications” by Lynn Hall and Leah Wahlin (on It is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.

Bennetch, Owen, and Keesey also adapted their chapter from “Blueprint for Success in College and Career” by Lumen Learning and Linda (Bruce) Hill (on Rebus Community). It is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.



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