Interview Skills

Interview Skills

Interviewing is probably the most important and most nerve-wracking step in the job hunting process. To aid in preparing for this experience, we at Career Services have prepared this document to advise you in this process.


One of your most important steps in the job search process is the interview. This face-to-face meeting gives the company representative the opportunity to discuss your qualifications in terms of the job requirements, as well as the opportunity to observe you as a person and a prospective employee.

Your role in the interview process is to be thoroughly prepared. You need to know the employers and the type of position you are seeking. Additionally, you must be able to communicate your answers to questions in an accurate and relevant manner.

The Purpose of the Screening Interview

Your first meeting with an employer has three fundamental functions. First, the employer needs information about you that cannot be obtained by examining your resume or application form. Secondly, as an applicant, you wish to make an informal decision about your choice of employer and probably need more information than what you have obtained on the employer through research. And finally, a bridge of contact is established between the organization and the prospective employee through the interview process.

Preparation for the Interview

While each interview has the potential of being different from the others, most employers will pursue a line of questioning designed to determine your qualifications in three general areas: (l) technical experience, (2) personal attributes, and (3) level of maturity and organizational "fit." With this in mind, your preparation for the interview should include the following:

Self Knowledge What skills and abilities can you offer an employer? What type of experience has helped discover and develop those skills? Can you identify and communicate your skills?

Job Knowledge Where do these skills and interests lead you in terms of positions? What are you looking for in working conditions, location, job type, opportunity for advancement?

Which of these factors are most important to you?

Employer Knowledge Are you familiar with the employer's products and services? What is the market outlook for these products or services and what is the reputation of the organization?

Are you informed about the typical jobs in which you might begin your career with the organization?

The Interview

What should I expect in an on-campus interview, and how should I prepare? On-campus interviews, whether at Penn State Harrisburg or at University Park, are normally 30 minutes long. Although the interviewer will have a copy of your resume from the Nittany Lion Career Network, you might want to offer a copy of your resume and an unofficial copy of your transcript. The resume helps to present your qualifications in a unique manner to the employer, and the transcript provides them with documentation of your academic abilities and grade point average.

You may best prepare for on-campus interviews by carefully selecting the organizations with which you wish to have interviews. You should be knowledgeable about each organization and its operation, and you should be able to discuss your employment goals as well as your qualifications and assets with the interviewer. The Career Library, located in the Career Center, (Susquehanna Building), contains reference materials to assist you in this matter. Workshops on interviewing are conducted by Career Services personnel each semester.

The recruiter's primary responsibility in the interview is to evaluate you in an effort to determine if you merit employment consideration. Thus, it becomes your responsibility to demonstrate that you are a good prospect for employment.
Often, it is the initial contact with the employer that is a determining factor of the screening process; the first impression you make on the interviewer will set the stage for the interview. Therefore, please keep in mind the following:

Timing Arrive early for your meeting. Late arrival for a job interview is inexcusable!

Readiness Psychologically prepare yourself for the interview. It is normal to be nervous before an interview, however, try to use this extra energy to your advantage. Anticipate questions you may be asked during your interview, as well as practice responses to these questions.

Appearance/Personal Physically prepare yourself for the interview. Get a good night's rest before your interview. Shower and groom yourself appropriately (not too much cologne or makeup). And, dress for the position you are applying for (a good rule to follow is to dress the way you would expect the person interviewing you would dress.

Interview Closure...Key

How can you determine that your interview went well?

It all happens at the conclusion of the interview.

Listen carefully to an interviewer's words and actions. If you had a good gut feeling about the meeting, you felt like you liked him or her, you'll probably be asked back. But also pay close attention to the exact words used. At the end of the interview, what does the interviewer say before he/she says goodbye?

They may say, "Thank you very much, we have a number of other people to see over the coming weeks. We'll call you." Translation: "You did OK, but we're going to look around and see if there's anyone better."

A more positive statement would be, "We really enjoyed talking to you. We are going to talk to a few more people, but I feel confident that we'll call you back for another meeting."

Obviously a better statement: "I enjoyed the interview and I look forward to working with you when you're on board."

Sometimes the candidate can prompt a more positive response. A confident and positive statement by the candidate may do wonders for his or her chances. Example: "This have been an exciting interview for me. I feel I can add a lot to your company and be successful. I'm very interested in this position. Where do we go from here?"

You have expressed a very clear interest in the job and an enthusiasm for the company. Many times, if the interviewers are on the fence, this positive attitude will convince them that you are right for them. Also, the last sentence will drive them to give you a specific response.

Another method is to lead the interviewer toward a positive statement, for example: "Which areas of my background are most valuable for success on this job?" Other options are: "How do I stack up?" or simply, "How do you think I fit in?"

It's also good to try to nail the company down as to when you will be contacted again. Try to be specific in holding the interviewer to a date, because the most frustrating part of looking for a job is waiting interminable for a reply. Also, you are showing your confidence and professionalism by making the interviewer accountable.

Plant/Office Visits

A candidate being seriously considered by a prospective employer is usually invited to visit an organization at one of its locations for further interviews. One purpose of the plant/office visit is to provide you with an opportunity to observe the prospective working environment Another function is for the employer to give you an opportunity to meet other staff or plant personnel, and to give additional interviews to help determine whether a good match is developing. Remember that such an invitation is not a job offer, but it is a very important step in the process of evaluation, both by the organization and by you.

If for some reason you are unable to make a plant/office visit at the time suggested, call or write the representative as soon as possible to arrange an alternate date for your visit. All invitations should be acknowledged promptly, even when you are not interested.

Your interviews at the plant or office will be in-depth and you will be competing with other candidates. Depending upon the position for which you are being considered, the location, and company policy, you will usually meet and be interviewed by several people representing a cross-section of the firm and department in which you would be employed. As a rule, you are asked to report to the personnel department. You may meet with one or more coworkers and higher level executives. One of the most important interviews will be with your prospective supervisor.

What are Some Basic Principles That I Should Follow?

Whether your interview is on-campss and/or at a plant/office, it is often difficult to rehearse your role as an employment candidate. However, you will find that a good source to rely upon during the interview session is your own native courtesy and good sense. The following principles are offered as a guide for you to use during the recruiting process.

Select your interviews with care. Don't make appointments in which you have no interest. You will find yourself in an extremely awkward position and you will stand to lose the confidence of everyone involved.

Take your cues from the interviewer. Take your cues from the interviewer at the start. If he/she moves to shake hands, do so but not unless the recruiter makes the first gesture. Don't chew gum or smoke unless invited to do so. Be ready for at least one surprise question at the start. A few interviewers favor such openers as:

What can I do for you?

Tell me about yourself.

Why are you interested in this company?

If you think those are easy questions to answer without some previous thought, just try it. This is where preparation will count.

If you are asked, "What can I do for you?", tell the recruiter that you would like to apply for a job in a certain operation of the organization, with an idea toward progressing into some more advanced phase -- or say anything that will demonstrate your interest in progress with that organization. Be as specific as you can.

If you are asked to talk about yourself, tell those things about yourself which you feel will relate to the particular job for which you are applying. Learn to articulate your personal strengths and assets. Be informative without boasting or telling your troubles.

As for the third question, if you have studied the company's literature you will not be at a loss for words. Company literature is available in the Career Services Library.

Know your career objective. Try to avoid giving the impression that you have come in to look over the possibilities and that you are not yet sure what you want. Don't say, "I'll do anything if I'm given the chance to learn," or, "I don't know what I want to do; I hope you can suggest something." Whenever possible, apply for a specific job or field of work. If there is no opening in the line you suggest, the way you present what you have to offer may well lead the interviewer to suggest another job or department, perhaps even better than the one you were seeking. For this reason, it is not advisable to get too far out on a limb by saying you will not consider anything but one certain job.

If the courses you took have not led you into preparation for a specific field of work, do not pass up chances for interviews on that account. Research on a company will help you present your broad qualifications in light of the company's needs.

Develop your communication style. Look your interviewer directly in the eye and keep doing it from time to time during the conversation. This is important; nearly every interviewer is conscious of it. Your mannerisms should be professional, but don't tense up -- be relaxed.

A few interviewers like to do most of the talking and judge you by your reactions, i.e., the interest, comprehension, and intelligence you show. Others hardly speak at all, and for an amateur these things are the hardest to deal with.

Most interviewers will follow a rather structured question and answer format. If such is the case, your ability to answer quickly and intelligently is of great importance. If your answers are confused and contradictory, your cause is lost. The greatest prevention against contradictory answers is the open and honest response. A "frank" answer, even if it seems a little unfavorable to you, is better by far than an exaggeration which may tangle you up in the next question.

Highlight your strengths. Make sure your good points get across. The recruiter won't know them unless you tell him/her but try to appear factual and sincere, not bloated with conceit. If you can mention your best qualities in relation to something concrete, so much the better. For example, saying "I paid for 75% of my college expenses," is better than saying, "I am a hard worker and I want to get ahead." The first establishes the point more convincingly than the second.

Even if the recruiter does much of the talking, remember that you can lead the conversation by asking questions which call in turn for a question you want to answer. Example: You have worked hard in extracurricular organizations. The interviewer has not mentioned that point and you want to go into a little detail you couldn't fully cover in your resume. You simply watch for an opening and ask, "Are you interested in my extra-curricular activities?"

Don't become discouraged. If you get the impression that the interview is not going well and that you have already been rejected, don't let your discouragement show. You have nothing to lose by continuing the appearance of confidence and you may gain much. The last few minutes often change things. Once in a great while, an interviewer who is genuinely interested in your possibilities may seem to discourage you in order to test your reaction. If you remain confident and determined, you have probably made a good impression.

Probably no two interviewers will evaluate you on exactly the same criteria, and in each case the evaluation process is complex. The interview results in evaluation of a number of individual characteristics. Some criteria evaluated are basically objective such as grades, work experience,and activities. Many others, however, are very subjective and involve the personal aspects of the individual. This would include, but not be limited to, maturity, poise, attitude, judgment, and interpersonal skills.

If you have answered the two questions uppermost in the interviewer's mind -- (1) Why are you interested in this company, and (2)What can you offer -- you have done all you can in the initial interview. If you don't connect immediately, remember that interviewers, companies,and jobs differ greatly. You will learn much from your first interview, and you will almost certainly do better in succeeding ones. The important thing is to keep trying.

Questions To Be Answered

Yes, the interview day can be exhausting. But this day affords an excellent opportunity for critical observations by both parties, you and the employer. When you walk away from the interview, you should know the answers to the following points: specifics of the position and how you will fit into the organization; if you were employed and performed above expectations, where would this job lead you, what company policies and practices affect you, and are they compatible with your values and objectives? What about the people with and for whom you will be working? Remember, if you are on a plant/office visit, you will have the opportunity to tell the company executives in greater detail just what you have to offer and why you are interested in their company. So be prepared. Know your previous accomplishments and strengths; reflect upon your immediate and longer range career goals. And have a good night's sleep prior to the interview day, not a night on the town!
Following your on-campus interviews or plant/office visits, a letter to the appropriate employer representative expressing your appreciation is good practice and part of job hunting etiquette.


Unless the organization states in its invitation that it will pay the expenses incurred in a plant/office visit, you may expect to pay your own. Any questions you have concerning payment of expenses should be discussed with the employer.

If paid by the employer, legitimate expenses are those which are necessary to get you there and back, covering the basic items of transportation, food, and lodging. Be certain you understand whether you will receive an advance, immediate payment at the plant/office location, or reimbursement at a later date. Also, unless clearly outlined, determine whether the employer prefers you to travel by air, bus, or auto.

If you are visiting more than one organization on a single trip, your expenses must be pro-rated. The invitation to visit an organization is extended as a courtesy and must not be abused.

Offers and Acceptances

Be prompt in corresponding with employers. Acknowledge receipt of offers of employment; then, take time to make a thoughtful decision. As soon as possible, write the employer of your decision. After accepting an offer, notify those organizations whose offers are being rejected.

Examples of Questions Frequently Asked During the Employment Interview

  • What made you decide to attend Penn State Harrisburg?
  • What specifically have you done while in college that has enhanced your leadership qualities?
  • In what extra-curricular activities have you participated?
  • What courses have you enjoyed the most? The least?
  • What percentage of your college expenses did you earn? How?
  • Why did you choose your particular field of study?
  • In what type of position are you most interested?
  • Why do you think you might like to work for our company?
  • What qualifications do you have that make you feel that you will be successful in your field?
  • Are you willing to relocate for the company?
  • Do you have any geographic preferences?
  • Are you willing to travel for the company?
  • What type of professional literature have you read?
  • What are your strengths? Weaknesses?
  • What are your career objectives?
  • Where do you envision yourself five years from now? Ten years?
  • Tell me about your previous employment.
  • How were your positions obtained and why did you leave?
  • Which position did you enjoy most? Least?
  • What have you learned from your employment experience?
  • What is the greatest challenge you've had to face, and how did you handle the situation?
  • I see many students with good credentials like yours. Why should I hire you?
  • Sell yourself to me.

What Reasons do Recruiters Give For Rejecting Candidates?

No Enthusiasm Answers often short. Tone of voice lacks interest or color.

Vague Answers No details given, words are general and not relevant to the type of job.

Very Fidgety Very little eye contact, many nervous mannerisms, such as playing with hair, rubbing hands, etc.

Know-it-all Attitude Lack of sincerity. Try to show off all they know about the field. Makes superficial remarks to impress the recruiter.

No Career Direction Have no idea what they want in a job. Unable to show how their skills and experiences prepared them for work in any field.

More Interview Information

Interview workshops conducted by Career Services are offered each semester at a variety of times. Watch the bulletin boards and Career Services News for workshop announcements.

For viewing, the following videotapes are available:

"Dynamic Interviewing"

"How to Get the Job You Want"

"The Campus Interview"

These videotapes may be reviewed in the Student Assistance Center or they can be checked out for viewing at home (deposit required). Contact Career Services to make arrangements.

The Career Services Library and the Penn State Harrisburg Library reference section include several interview technique guide books. Ask a reference librarian for assistance.