Preparing for Your Interview

Interviewing can be intimidating, but with some research and preparation, you can go in feeling as confident as possible. Plus, you can start preparing even before you have an interview lined up!

This page has the basics to get you started. For our interactive guide with videos, activities, and new virtual mock interviews with alumni professionals in your career areas of interest, check out our Interviewing Tips & Tools Canvas module.

Start the Module

Before Your Interview

Preparation is the key to interviewing with confidence. Taking time to prepare can help you anticipate questions and plan your responses, not to mention calm your nerves! And don’t forget to practice, practice, practice. Whether your interview is by phone, online, or in-person, here are some things you want to make sure you do ahead of time.

This is an accordion element with a series of buttons that open and close related content panels.

Research the Employer & Position

One huge way to stand out in your interview is by doing your research! Look up as much info as you can about the employer ahead of time. A great first step is checking out their website and any news articles you can find about the company online. Using similar language or prioritizing the same values as the organization in your interview can help show that you’d be a great fit for the employer.

You can also see if you know anyone, through family, friends, classmates, who has worked at the organization and would be willing to chat with you ahead of time.

Also, make sure to familiarize yourself again with the position description from the job posting you applied to – make sure you understand the role, the responsibilities, and what you want to highlight in your interview to show that you’re a great fit for the job.

Prepare for Interview Questions

It’s no secret that there are many common interview questions that you can often expect, so the key is doing your research, planning, and practicing ahead of time for the questions you’re likely to be asked.

There are three main types of interview questions:

  1. Screening / general questions:
    • “Tell me about yourself and why you’re interested in this position.”
    • “What is your greatest strength?”
    • For these questions, try to tell a concise story that displays your skills, experiences, and interests relevant to the job. You can often craft your answer using present, past, and future – what you’re currently doing now, what you’ve done in the past, and what you’re intending to do in the near-future.
  2. Behavioral questions:
    • “Tell me about a time when….”
    • Respond using the S.T.A.R method: Situation, Task, Action, Result.
      • Situation/Task: Describe the situation or the task you were given. Describe a specific event or situation, not a generalized description of what you’ve done in the past. Be sure to give enough detail for the interviewer to understand. This situation can be from a previous job, from a volunteer experience, or any relevant event.
      • Action: Describe the actions you took to address the situation or task with an appropriate amount of detail and keep the focus on YOU. What specific steps did you take and what was your particular contribution? Be careful that you don’t describe what the team or group did when talking about a project, but what you actually did. Use the word “I,” not “we” when describing actions.
      • Result: Describe the outcome of your actions and don’t be shy about taking credit for your behavior. What happened? How did the event end? What did you accomplish? What did you learn? Make sure your answer contains multiple positive results!
  3. Technical questions:
    • “Please explain how you create a pivot table in Microsoft Excel.”
    • Show your expertise by answering with detail! Not sure about your answer? That’s okay, but avoid saying “I don’t know.” Every interview question is an opportunity – don’t give a non-answer. Talk about what steps you would take to get the right answer, and show positivity, enthusiasm, and initiative.


Finally, make sure you prepare some questions to ask the interviewer! This is a great way to show your genuine interest in the position, and also gather information for yourself to decide if the job is right for you.

Example questions to ask:

  • What opportunities exist for professional growth? 
  • What do you enjoy most about working for this company?
  • How do you define a ‘successful performance’ on your team? 
  • What qualities are you looking for in a new hire? 


Questions to avoid

  • Basic information that you could find on their webpage
  • Salary/benefits questions can wait until you have an offer!

Sample Interview Questions

The more questions you think about and prepare for, the less you have to worry about being put on the spot during an interview. You may not get these exact questions, but chances are that you will have thought about a wide enough variety of topics with this list, that you should be ready for whatever the interviewer throws at you!

  • Tell me about yourself.
  • Why are you interested in this position?
  • How has your college experience prepared you for your career?
  • What do you consider to be your greatest strengths and weaknesses?
  • What are your short-term and long-term goals?
  • How do you work under pressure?
  • How do you work as a member of a team?
  • Can you tell me about a time you dealt with a challenging person and how you handled that situation?
  • When was the last time you thought “outside the box” and how did you do it? Why?
  • If you were unable to meet a commitment or deadline, what would you do?
  • How would a friend or professor who knows you well describe you?
  • Why should we hire you?
  • What qualifications do you have that would make you successful in this field?
  • Describe your ideal supervisor-staff relationship.
  • In what kind of work environment are you most comfortable?
  • What qualities, skills, attributes do you think it would take to be successful in this position?
  • Tell me about a specific accomplishment which you are proud of.
  • Give me an example of a problem you faced, how you solved it, and what was the result?
  • How do you handle stress?
  • Are you willing to relocate/travel?
  • What areas would you need training in?
  • Do you have any questions for me?

Have Your Materials & Clothing Ready

What to bring to your interview:

  • Printed copies of your (tailored) resume and cover letter
  • Your references
  • Transcripts (only if requested)
  • Your portfolio (if you have one)
  • It’s generally a good idea to bring a professional padfolio where you can put these documents, plus a pen and blank paper for taking notes!


Dressing for your Interview

It’s best to dress conservatively and to be overdressed rather than underdressed. Wear clothing that is appropriate for the organization with which you are interviewing! It’s good to do some research ahead of time.

A conservative look is best for most interviews — a suit and tie or dressy skirt and a jacket can usually work well. Convey an image of professionalism and confidence. And know that you may end up being the best dressed person in the room…and that’s okay!

Need professional clothing for your interview but don’t have the budget? Visit our Career Closet for up to four free items each semester!

Know Your Logistics

Learn as much as possible about your interview logistics. Areas to consider are as follows:

  • Location (make sure you know exactly where to go. If you need to, make a trial run in advance.
  • Make sure you know about the length and number of interview(s)
  • Type of interview (one-on-one, interview panels, etc.)
  • Know names of contacts, the organization, and the job title for which you are applying
  • Ask if you can find out who will be interviewing you
  • Arrive 10 to 15 minutes early for your interview


For Phone Interviews:

  • Be ready in a quiet location with good phone service a 10-15 minutes before you’re expecting the call
  • Make sure your voicemail message is set up and professional (in case you miss the call)


For Online Interviews:

  • Download the software (if needed) well in advance of the interview
  • Practice makes perfect. Conduct test calls with your family or peers to become more comfortable with using virtual software such as Zoom, Google Hangouts, Microsoft Teams, WebEx, FaceTime, and Skype
  • Create a professional username in advance
  • Conduct a quick test the morning of the interview to make sure the lighting looks OK, your face is visible and the camera and the microphone are working correctly. And make sure to still dress professionally!

Interview Practice

Here are a few ways you can practice interviewing now:

  • Big Interview: This is a great tool that can help you learn all about interviewing and practice your interview skills. It’s easy to sign up, and it’s free for UW-Madison students!
  • Mock Interviews on Canvas: After completing our Interviewing Canvas module, you’ll be able to connect with alumni professionals working in a variety of industries and roles to practice interviewing (and make networking connections while you’re at it!).
  • Upcoming Mock Interview Events: Each semester we offer mock interviews with employers.
  • Make an Appointment: Meet with an advisor to practice interviewing and get personalized advice.

During Your Interview

This is an accordion element with a series of buttons that open and close related content panels.

Smile, Body Language, & Focus

One of the easiest rules to remember when interacting with anyone is simply to smile. There is nothing more engaging than smiling throughout your interview with a friendly expression. Also, try to make eye contact a good amount (aim for 50% of the time). When you scan the room or look away a lot, you might appear untrustworthy or indifferent, but you also don’t want to seem too intense by making direct eye contact the entire time! The person with whom you are speaking deserves your full attention so make sure to stay focused and friendly! Additionally, try to sit up straight and avoid fidgeting to show that you’re engaged.

Be a Good Listener

Answer the questions they’re asking. If you’re unsure of what was asked, it’s alright to ask that they clarify the question or rephrase it again in other words. If you are caught off guard for an answer, pause and think – you don’t have to respond immediately. Think of the interview as a conversation. The more dialogue, the better.

This is an accordion element with a series of buttons that open and close related content panels.

Show Your Personality

Remember that your interviewer isn’t just looking for an employee, they’re looking for a future colleague and team member!

Be authentic, real, and genuine.

Use Your Notes Strategically

If you choose to bring bullet points or notes, glance at them sparingly as needed, but don’t read from the page.

This is easier to do on a phone or even virtual interview, but try to continue maintaining eye contact as much as possible.


After Your Interview

It’s always a good idea to send a thank you note after your interview! Nowadays, that can usually just be a brief email. Here are a few tips for doing that:

  • Try to send a thank you message to everyone who interviewed you, but if you’re unable to get their contact info, send a thank you to your host or the highest ranking manager you met and extend appreciation for others through them.
  • Make sure to send them as soon as possible after the interview – within a few hours is best, but definitely within 24 hours!
  • Remind the interviewer of who you are and when you had your interview.
  • Include some specifics about how you feel about the job and the company. 
  • Reaffirm your interest in the position.

This is an accordion element with a series of buttons that open and close related content panels.

Thank You Note Example

Dear Dr. Foster:

I want to thank you very much for interviewing me yesterday for the associate engineer position. I enjoyed meeting you and learning more about your research and design work. My enthusiasm for the position and my interest in working for RES were strengthened as a result of the interview. I am confident my education and cooperative education experiences fit perfectly with the job requirements, and I am sure that I could make a significant contribution to the organization. I want to reiterate my strong interest in the position and in working with you and your staff. You provide the kind of opportunity I seek. Please feel free to contact me at (608) 555-1234 or if I can provide you with any additional information. Again, thank you for your time and consideration.

Chris Johnson