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10 Most Common Interview Mistakes
September 27, 2002
You've made it through the first hurdle - the resume screen - and now
it's time for the interview. Cal recruiters share the 10 most common mistakes
and how to avoid them.
For many, the interview is the single most stressful part of the job search
process. Any number of things can go wrong, and a big part of being successful
is avoiding simple mistakes. Recruiters at Cal offer their Top 10 list.
10. Failure to research the company: Cal recruiters say that
they expect candidates to spend at least one hour doing research on their
website and reading about their company via other websites such as
Reports. Do your homework before the interview; really know what the
company does and who their competitors are. Said one, "If students have not
taken the time to review the employer website and understand what we are
recruiting for, they reduce their chances of continuing on through the
9. Not clear on what interviewing for: Be familiar with the job
description so you can draw on your experiences, talents, strengths and
abilities to connect with company needs. Highlight how you're suited to that
8. Not marketing self: Define yourself. What makes you different
from others? Know your major strengths and accomplishments as they relate to
the job you are applying for and the company.
7. Not asking meaningful questions: Have at least 3-4 intelligent
questions to ask the recruiter. It's OK (it actually leaves a positive
impression with the recruiter) to have them written down in advance and to
reference them at the appropriate time. Interviews are an exchange of
information, and not coming in with questions shows that you did not prepare
for the whole interview.
6. Under-dressing for the interview: Professional attire and
attention to detail still count. You can never be too professional. Remember
that everything - your appearance, your tone of voice, your conduct -
contributes to the impression (positive or negative) that you make. Be
presentable - wear a pressed suit and shirt and polished shoes.
5. Trying to wing the interview: Practice! Get a list of general
interview questions, a friend, a tape recorder, and a mirror and conduct an
interview rehearsal. Practice until your delivery feels comfortable but not
4. Not being self: Be yourself and be honest! Don't pretend to
understand a question or train of thought if you don't. The interviewer will
pick up on this. If you don't know an answer, say so. Relax and be yourself.
Remember you're interviewing the company as well as vice versa.
3. Not listening: Focus on the question that is being asked and
don't try to anticipate the next one. It's OK to pause and collect your
thoughts before answering a question.
Pay special attention to technical or work process related subjects that
are unique to a given firm or organization. The interviewer may have provided
information you will need to answer the question earlier in the conversation.
Employers will be looking for your ability to assimilate new information,
retain it, and, most importantly, recognize that information as useful to you
later in the interview.
2. Not providing enough details: When answering case questions,
technical questions or solving technical problems, take the time to "talk
through" your thought process. Recruiters are much more interested in seeing
how your mind works and how it attacks a given type of problem, than the
In their discussions with us, interviewers consistently placed a high value
on students who articulated their problem-solving process. These individuals
got offers more often than those who could solve the problem but failed to
verbalize their thinking.
1. Lack of enthusiasm: Maintain eye contact, greet the interviewer
with a smile and a firm handshake (not too weak, not too strong), and show
common courtesy. Don't be afraid to display your passion for the job/industry
and to show confidence.
September 28, 2001
If you're on the job market this fall, chances are most of your
interviews will contain a healthy chunk of "behavioral-style" questions. D'Lorez
Dumas-Aris of Deloitte & Touche LLP explains what she's looking for.
Past as Prelude
Behavioral interviews are based on the premise that your past behavior is
the most reliable indicator of your future response in a similar situation.
Utilized by most firms, behavioral-style questions shy away from hypotheticals
like "How would you deal with an angry customer?" or "How would you
communicate to your boss that you disagreed?" Instead, they ask you to draw on
your actual life experiences - e.g., "When you've had to juggle numerous
projects at once, how did you ensure that nothing slipped through the cracks?"
or "Tell me about a time when you had to work with someone you didn't like or
There is no right answer to a behavioral question. Interviewers posing such
questions are not trying to elicit information about your writing or technical
skills, rather about your temperament. Most organizations have a clear sense
of their organizational culture and the kinds of people who will succeed in a
given type of job in that environment. They ask
behavioral questions to help determine - whether or not you're a good fit.
What is a company looking for? Information you can gain from an
published & other
and, especially, opportunities to talk with current employees and
Employer Info Sessions or
Career Fairs can tell
you a lot about how a potential employer views itself, its culture, and the
qualities it looks for in a new hire. There are no right answers, but there
are helpful strategies. Your goal is to use stories about past experiences to
illustrate aspects of your personality that interest them. The content of the
story itself is not important, rather what does the story say about you, how
you respond to pressure, what motivates you, etc. The stories need not have
anything to do with business or the kind of task the job involves. They can be
drawn from academic, volunteer, as well as social experiences. The story is
the vehicle or means by which you communicate important information about
Professional Advice from D'Lorez Dumas-Aris
- Use one event or story per question with specific examples.
- You may not have a large repertoire of experiences to draw on. It is
acceptable to use the same event to illustrate more than one point.
- Structure your story according to SPARE. That is, describe the:
S - Situation
P - Problem
A - Action
R - Result
E - Experience, what was learned?
- Listen and respond to the question.
- If you don't understand it, ask them to repeat or clarify the question.
- Interviewing is stressful for both sides. Try to have a good time. Be
- Finally, she advises, be proud of your experiences. Tell what you gained
from them. You're not expected to be perfect. Don't be afraid to relate
experiences that did not have an optimal outcome. Use them to show that you
have the ability to overcome obstacles, learn from your mistakes, and apply
that knowledge the next time around.
Prepared Stories with a Purpose
The first time you try to use a past experience to illustrate some aspect
of your personality, it's not likely to flow very easily or smoothly. You want
to go into an interview having thought ahead of time about how you might draw
on your past experiences to answer the kinds of behavioral questions commonly
asked. Always keep in mind the point of the story. What is it about yourself
that you are using the vignette to illustrate or demonstrate? You don't want
to come off overly scripted, but you want to walk into the interview having
practiced the art of using your past to communicate to your audience the value
you have to offer them in the future.
9 Common Behavioral-Style Questions
1. Describe a time you were given a task with specific instructions and you
chose not to follow those instructions?
2. What have you done to prepare for this interview?
3. How do you typically handle criticism? Give an example.
4. Describe a situation where you feel you were unfairly criticized. What
did you do?
5. What have you learned from your previous boss?
6. Tell me about a project you initiated and carried out.
7. How do you respond to failure? Cite an example.
8. When you are supervising people, how do you motivate them?
9. What's your favorite website?
Don't Be So Nervous
October 17, 2003
Company reps participating in recent Mock Interviews were asked what
Cal students needed to work on. They all said, "tell them not to be so nervous!"
It's normal to be nervous for a job interview. In fact, a slight case of
nerves can help you do well in an interview if it causes you to prepare in
advance and strive to do your best. If you're too relaxed you can come across as
aloof, whereas if you're slightly nervous, you'll probably convey interest and
will seem like you give a darn.
But being too nervous makes it difficult to be your best in an interview. If
you're sweating, shaking, stuttering or staring at your shoes, the interviewer
is going to be distracted and won't understand how you'll be an asset to the
organization. You want the interviewer to connect with you, not feel sorry for
The irony is, if you worry about being nervous, that's just going to make you
even more nervous! The key is to work on being more self-confident, instead of
trying to be less nervous.
A Confident Approach
Here are some suggestions to help you build confidence and make a good
impression in your interviews:
- Prepare for your interview in advance. Make sure you understand
what the company does and what the job is about so you can convincingly
describe why you're interested in the position. You will inevitably be asked
to talk about this. You will also be asked to talk about the information you
put on your resume, so make sure you review your resume and can easily speak
about everything you included in it, even that job you had four years ago!
Another important way to prepare is to think about the experiences you've
had that you want the interviewer to know about. What accomplishments are you
most proud of? What unique and interesting things have you done? How have you
contributed to the organizations you've been a part of? Recall these kinds of
experiences you've had, practice telling these
and you will sound more polished and prepared in your interview.
Recalling your accomplishments should give you confidence. Interviews are
not a time to be modest. It's okay to be proud of what you've done. Go ahead
and give yourself that pat on the back and bring that good feeling with you
into your interview.
- Understand that the interview is a two-way street. If you approach
an interview like a puppy in the dog pound with a mindset of "I hope they pick
me," that attitude is going to make you more nervous. Instead, remember that
you are evaluating them as much as they are evaluating you.
Before your interview, think about what you're looking for in your first
job, and what you're seeking in an employer. Make sure you prepare your
questions in advance and bring them to the interview. As you're talking with
the interviewer, try to ascertain if that organization and opportunity fits
your aspirations. Remember you're probably going to be working in that
organization for at least a couple of years - is the position likely to
sustain your interest? Do you like the people you've met? Do you understand
the rewards and challenges of the position and are they acceptable to you?
- Build rapport with your interviewer within the first 5 minutes.
First impressions count and set the tone for the rest of the interview. When
your interviewer comes into the waiting room and calls your name, walk toward
that person with confidence, make eye contact, smile, extend your hand for a
handshake and say, "Hello I'm (insert your name here)." If your interviewer
makes small talk with you on the way back to the interview room, participate
fully - don't just give yes or no answers. And it's okay for you to make small
talk too - ask him if he's having a good day at Berkeley, etc.
Interviewers are humans too, and they like to know you're interested in
them. So it's usually okay to ask your interviewer questions about their own
experiences with the company, about their role in the organization, and such.
Of course you have to take cues from your interviewer - just like with other
humans, some are friendlier than others, and you have to work with what you
Tend to be Shy?
If you're a normally shy person, it may help you to remember that UC Berkeley is
your turf. The recruiter is coming to your house in a sense. Treat them like you
would treat a guest to your home, with the same warmth and graciousness. They
will respond positively to this attitude and it will help you build rapport.
Another technique shy people can use to increase confidence is to focus your
attention outside of yourself. If your focus is on that little voice in your
head that's shouting, "Don't blow this!" you're going to be nervous. You can
focus on the interviewer instead - think about the first impression she makes on
you. What do you notice about her? You can also focus on the opportunity to
learn more about the company and the position. Think about how you're looking
forward to getting good information from the recruiter. When you're focused on
the other person you will come across as enthusiastic and you will seem more
interesting and confident too.
Interview Advice from Employers: Part I
March 1, 2002
We asked corporate recruiters interviewing at Berkeley, "If you could
give Cal students one piece of advice on interviewing, what would it be?"
"Nothing is more of a turn-off than a candidate who knows nothing about
the company and asks you to tell them about [it]."
The most common piece of advice offered was: Do your homework and be
prepared to talk in specific terms about your interest in the job and the
employer. This may seem obvious, but it is amazing how many students come in
to an interview and do not know what the job they are interviewing for
entails. One question I ask is, "Why are you interviewing for this position?"
I want to hear a well thought out, articulate response. Not, "I thought it
looked interesting and you are a top tier company."
The student who has read about our firm on the website and has put some
thought into it ("I really identified with a few of your business principles
and it made me feel as though I would be a good fit for your firm because...")
is the one I'll remember.
Research both the company and the position before the
interview. As a recruiter, this extra step impresses me because it shows
motivation and interest in my company and position. When a candidate comes in
and just says, "Oh, I just want to work in a bank, it doesn't matter what I
do," it turns me off immediately.
"What have you done to prepare for the interview?"
Answers that interviewers like are ones that show that the student is
really thinking of how to be resourceful and ferret out information beyond
that readily available on their website. Initiative and resourcefulness are
critical skills that most employers view as key desirable attributes.
People who look up alumni and make contact with them, attend presentations,
read the Wall Street Journal, watch the markets, are involved in
investment or other business-related clubs on campus or possibly even invest
in their own portfolio are the ones that show the necessary dedication to
really get noticed in an interview. "When I do interview workshops," said one
interviewer, "I tell students that none of what I am telling them is terribly
difficult -- but it does take time and dedication. So the students who take
the time to do these things have an increased chance of coming out ahead."
Don't claim any expertise or skill on your resume that you do not feel
comfortable discussing in an interview. Be aware of all the information you
have included on the resume that you submitted for a given job (you likely
have more than one version) and be prepared to explain it.
Show Interest by Asking Good Questions
I would recommend that students come to an interview prepared with a series
of questions that demonstrates their interest in the type of work that the
company performs as well as their personal knowledge about the field. Good,
informed questions indicate that they've researched the company ahead of time
and have an idea about how they might contribute to it.
Interview Advice from Employers: Part II
March 8, 2002
Corporate recruiters respond to the question: "If you could give Cal
students one piece of advice on interviewing, what would it be?"
Last week we showcased
to the question above in the areas of preparation, resume, and asking
appropriate questions. This week's topics include: how much of yourself to show
through an interview, how to frame effective answers, and what to do after the
What do "You" Have to Offer?
Employers aren't simply in search of a specific "bundle of skills." A number
of interviewers responded that students should think hard about what they want
out of the job and how they can contribute outside of a specific set of skills
or competencies. What other qualities such as initiative, attention to detail,
and reliability do you bring to the table? Said one,
"Be prepared to have a conversation with the interviewer detailing your
experiences and accomplishments working with people, projects, and events
during [your] academic and extracurricular activities. Technical and
professional skills are only one of the dimensions that we evaluate candidates
on, and [they are] not the only aspect [we use] to guage the individual's
Expand on your Answers & Give Examples
Short answers are rarely effective answers. They may answer the specifics
posed by the question but they don't shed any light on the larger issue of what
kind of person you are and whether you're a good fit for a certain
organizational style or culture. Recruiters suggest that you:
"Have five stories about your resume that you would like to talk about in
the interview that demonstrate some of the qualities that we are looking for -
teamwork, leadership, etc. Don't memorize them. Just have them in mind to
discuss with your interviewer."
"Expand on your answers. Do not answer a recruiter's questions with as few
words as possible; instead, offer examples without being asked for them. Don't
answer questions in one sentence; use the answer period as an opportunity to
tell the interviewer anything you want about yourself. Personality is what
distinguishes one candidate from another, not how he or she appears on paper."
"Think out what your goals are, and where you would like to head with your
career. The most disturbing thing to happen in an interview of a very young
person is for them to have no idea of where they are headed or what they want
to accomplish in their career. Those who have set goals are much more well
It's not simply what you say; your manner and presence often count more than
"My advice would be to be confident, exude energy and enthusiasm. We know
that we are going to have to train new hires in the basics of their
profession, and so while grades and subjects studied are important, there is
not much a candidate can do at the interview stage to change them. However, an
enthusiastic person who demonstrates that he/she wants to learn the profession
and to contribute will do a lot to convince an employer that he or she is
worth investing in. A candidate who can 'engage' the interviewer has a good
chance of getting the job offer."
"Attitude is always the best seller. An applicant with a positive attitude
will rate higher than others. In general, your resume gets you the interview
and tells the employer you can do the job. For employers, the decision-making
factor after the interview is not only qualifications, but the 'right' fit for
the position and department."
Don't be shy or worried that recruiters are much too busy to want to hear
from you. They can't guage your level of interest or readiness to follow through
unless you show them.
"My best piece of advice would be to ALWAYS follow up. If I don't hear from
a candidate after I have interviewed them, that will significantly impact my
desire to make them an offer. I personally don't mind if the follow up comes
in the form of an email or a written note -- although I know there are very
distinct opinions about this -- just as long as it comes."
Get the Offer
"I would tell students that all interviews should have one common goal -
getting the job offer. Regardless of the company, regardless of the position,
regardless if the student decides within the first two minutes of the
interview that the job is not right... you should leave each interview with
the interviewer saying 'Wow, I want to hire that person.' They should remember
that they always want to be in the decision-making position. They can only
achieve that position if they receive a job offer first."
Translating Your Study Abroad Experience to
the Job/Fellowship Interview
October 8, 2004
You spent an incredible, unforgettable, life-changing year (or at least
a semester) studying abroad. Wondering how you can incorporate
your study abroad experience in a job or a fellowship interview?
In order to describe your experiences most effectively, you want to identify
the skills and strengths that you have gained that are relevant to the job or
fellowship and organize your stories so that you focus on the most relevant
elements of your experiences.
Different types of skills
Three types of skills are generally recognized: technical/specific, general,
and personal. Although you should not get locked into categorizing skills, it's
a useful way of organizing and thinking about your skills and abilities.
Examples of these three types of skills and where they come from are listed
|Technical/Specific - Knowledge-based
||Education, Training, On the job experience
|General - Transferable/Functional
||Ability, Aptitude (defined by education and experience)
|Personal - how you interact in a work environment
||Life Experience (often personal traits/attitudes)
Why skills are important
You need to develop skills and abilities that will help build a satisfying
career and will be valuable throughout your life. Some people have a single
great talent or a personal characteristic that they are depending on to give
them an advantage when seeking employment, but this can be very dangerous.
Talents wane, and circumstances change - often unexpectedly. Knowing you possess
a broad array of skills can give you peace of mind and self-assurance in your
career search. To be successful in reaching your professional goals, you must
first identify your skills and abilities.
How to get information about your skills
Did you use research skills, organizational skills, initiative, and/or
A thorough self-assessment is needed to help identify your skills. Writing
out some simple stories about things you did in the past can help you find key
skill words. For example, write down the two or three successful experiences you
had while studying abroad that you feel most proud of. Describe in detail what
you did, with whom, or with what equipment, why you did this, the results or
outcome of your actions, and what positive benefits you gained from the
experience. Quantify the results, if possible, and use commonly understood
From these stories, identify what type of skills you utilized or gained. For
example, did you use research skills, organizational skills, initiative, and/or
leadership skills? Were you fully immersed in your study abroad program: Were
your classes taught in a language besides English and were you living with local
students in the dormitory versus other Americans?
C-A-R Framework for Behavioral Interviews
A majority of employers will ask behavioral interview questions.
Once you have identified those skills or strengths you gained from your study
abroad experiences, you can confidently talk about them in your interviews. A
majority of employers will ask behavioral interview questions. What this means
is that they want to know when you used a particular skill in your past because
that past behavior is the best predictor of future performance in the work
environment. For example, if you were resourceful and independent when studying
abroad, then you'll probably display similar skills at work.
So, structure your answers in an interview by framing your answers in C-A-R:
- C-context: Tell the context in which you exercised a desired skill
or strength. What was the problem, need, or concern? Include obstacles that
had to be overcome.
- A-action(s): Explain the actions(s) taken. This does not mean what
the group did, but what you did. Use "I" instead of "we" statements; assume
ownership of your accomplishments.
- R-result(s): Describe the results and positive benefits that you
achieved. Quantify the results and relate skills, actions, and results to the
employer's needs when possible.
Once you have identified a few positive experiences from studying abroad,
it'll become easier to choose which story to tell in order to demonstrate your
successful use of a particular strength or skill. Practice interviewing with
friends and note if you are answering the questions using the CAR framework.
Your enthusiasm in sharing your study abroad experiences and what you gained
will not be lost on the employers or the fellowship committee.
Using Mental Rehearsal to Prepare for
April 23, 2004
You're hyperventilating in that itchy suit you almost forgot to pick up
at the cleaners and can't recall a single fact about your employment history.
The worst part is you haven't even set foot in the employer's lobby yet.
Sound familiar? Sometimes the prospect of a job interview inspires such
feelings of anxiety and dread that we anticipate every conceivable aspect of the
process going wrong as soon as we utter the words, "I'm looking forward to
meeting you." Most of us have envisioned ourselves committing dozens of
interview sins long before we attempt the process live.
Rather than allowing your imagination to work against you, think about
employing a tactic sports psychologists have used for decades to ready athletes
for competition. Mental rehearsal is a simple technique in which your visualize
your desired performance in high-pressure situations. Research supports that
mental rehearsal can effectively alleviate anxiety while increasing desired
performance behaviors and outcomes.
Atlanta Braves' pitcher John Smoltz experienced a turnaround in his career
when he learned to visualize his past successes on the mound. Jack Nicklaus,
championship golfer, visualizes his ideal body posture and how he will execute
the perfect putt. Likewise, mental rehearsal for interviews requires that you
envision how the ideal interview will unfold. The more detailed our vision, the
more effective your rehearsal will be. Find a quiet space where you're unlikely
to be disturbed for 10-15 minutes and use these basic guidelines for practice:
- Get into a comfortable position, either lying down or reclining. Take a
few deep breaths, and as you exhale imagine all of the tension slowly leaving
your body. Allow your mind to focus.
- See yourself in the waiting room before your interview. Notice the color
of the walls and the style of the furniture as well as the sounds you would
normally hear in this environment.
- Remember not to act as a passive observer-you are in your own body. Notice
what you are wearing. Make sure you select clothing that makes you feel
confident and comfortable.
- Imagine the interviewer approaching you in the waiting room. You smile and
extend your hand, thinking to yourself, "I am a terrific candidate for this
- You walk into the room where you will be interviewed. This time, focus on
the questions you will be asked. Imagine yourself answering the questions
intelligently and confidently. If you're not sure what kinds of questions they
might ask, check out the list in the interviewing section of our
Guide. As the interview comes to a close, tell yourself, "That went very
Consider some of the thoughts and feelings that emerged during the rehearsal
process. Try to combat negative self-perceptions with upbeat self-talk, such as,
"I have terrific communication skills," or, "I have a wonderful eye for design."
Personalize your statements so that they make the encounter seem more realistic.
As you become more accustomed to the visualization, try adding scenarios that
have been anxiety-provoking during past interviews (for example, being asked a
question to which you don't have an answer) and practice thoughtful ways of
responding to them.
Words of Caution
No amount of visualization will be effective if you haven't bothered to
research the employer or if you neglected to set your alarm clock. Mental
rehearsal is a supplementary tool intended to reduce anxiety and promote
confidence; it isn't a panacea for interview preparation. Mental rehearsal has
been proven to be more effective if you practice on a daily basis -- just don't
let your practice run over 20 minutes. Research has shown that if the
visualization lasts too long, the law of diminishing returns kicks in, and you
are doing little more than practicing mental Feng Shui.
Engineers: Prep for Technical Interview
January 16, 2004
Looking for a job? At some point in your search you will likely
encounter technical questions. Learn from recruiters what they look for and
suggestions on how to prepare.
The advice below comes from sources at ALZA - a Johnson & Johnson Company,
ChevronTexaco, Applied Signal Technology, ExxonMobil, Schlumberger, and The Dow
What are some basic strategies for answering technical questions?
- If you know the answer, then go ahead and do your best. Be sure to use
pictures and diagrams if it will help. Use the white board, or draw on a pad.
When you finish, ask if that was what the interviewer was looking for.
- Often, technical questions will be asked and you won't know the answer.
The interviewer will direct the candidate to go ahead and try to answer.
Remember, that the interviewer is evaluating your process for approaching a
problem just as much as your answer.
- For technical questions be direct, solid and assertive.
- Most important is how you answer the question in addition to what you say.
We try to assess your thinking process and delivery of the answer. Logical and
reasonable thinking is preferred over a one-line response.
Would you be able to give some examples of technical questions?
- Questions can range from, "Please explain the concept of polymorphism in
an Object Oriented development." to viewing a selection of C++ code with an
error in it and being asked what will happen when this code is compiled and
run, to something as seemingly innocent as, "Why are manhole covers round?"
- It is impossible to predict what type of technical question you will be
asked. The best way to prep for technical questions is to review the skills
you listed on your resume that relate to the job. It's likely the technical
question will come as a result of what kind of work or research experience is
on the resume; therefore, prepare by reviewing any kind of project or
experience that is in the resume. It is almost a given that the questions will
come from it, such as, "Could you tell me more about your role in the 'X'
intern program? How could you apply this research to the oil and gas
- Another way to prepare is to read industry specific magazines, internet
sites, or even talk to people in the industry; e.g., if interviewing for the
Pharma sector, be sure to have an understanding of what's going on with the
pharmaceutical business and most importantly with the company with whom you
What do you do if you don't know the answer? What will recruiters think of
applicants who don't know the answers?
- First, be sure you understand the question and what the interviewer is
trying to find out. If you are not sure, ask the interviewer for
clarification. If you don't know the answer, be honest. "I don't know" is
always preferred to erroneous information in an engineering environment.
- Come clean; don't try to BS. If you do, the interviewer will lose
confidence in your ability to contribute positively to the engineering team.
Erroneous answers are more harmful to product development than, "I don't know,
but I'll find out and get back to you."
- I recommend if you don't know the answer to simply say, "I don't know." It
is better than making something up. It shows honesty - which is a trait all
employers highly value.
- If it is a "difficult" question, ask for some time to think about it. If
you do not have an answer, be honest about it and let the interviewer know
that you really don't have an answer, maybe because you have never been in
such a situation, etc. Remember, for the recruiter there is no WRONG answer;
each candidate has their opinion and perspective on a question.
What do you look for when students answer technical questions (qualities,
skills, etc.)? Can you offer suggestions on what to emphasize?
- Good communication skills are a necessity in an engineering environment
where we work in teams and must communicate our designs to team members. This
includes written as well as oral communication skills. In the workplace,
engineering concepts must be captured, documented, and presented.
- Other key issues include an ability to understand the question being
asked, to think clearly "on your feet," and to be able to explain a technical
solution clearly at the appropriate level of technical detail. Keep in mind
the background of the interviewer, e.g. if the interviewer is technical or
non-technical, if the interviewer has a PhD in Engineering, etc. If uncertain,
the student may want to ask the interviewer how detailed they wish a response
- We also look for clear and organized thought process as well as aptitude
and enthusiasm for their engineering discipline.
- Make sure you do your homework before going into an interview. Read the
posted job requisition and if it calls for a skill that you may be rusty on,
brush up on it before the interview. For example, if the job requires
proficiency in C++ and Object Oriented Methodologies, you should read up (even
if it means picking up a book, or downloading articles from the web) and
practice some examples.
- Understand the job description and technical expectations of the job. Have
a good ability to explain your technical strengths and how they match the
position. Prepare yourself to answer this question: "Why should we hire you?"
An interview is a sales pitch and the product is you, so be able to sell
yourself and your value-added features (i.e., knowledge, skills and
- Target your resume for the job you are applying for. If the job posting is
for a Software Engineer, don't put in your Objective (yes you should have an
Objective), "To find a Software or Test Engineering position."
- Do not put anything in your resume that you are not prepared to talk
about. If you are asked to elaborate (and you will be asked) and you can't,
you will lose confidence points. Often the reviewer is looking for what your
contribution was on projects. If you can't talk about it in depth, it will
appear that you weren't a key contributor or you didn't really know what you
- My best advice is, "be prepared, be yourself and use your common sense."
Engineers: Preparing for Interviews
September 7, 2001
Are you ready for OCR interviews? Do you know what to wear? The job
market is more competitive - even for technical majors. Here's what you need to
For on-campus interviews you will want to wear professional attire or
business casual. If you're unsure about the details, check out the
section of this website. If you're not sure about what a given firm considers to
be "appropriate," email or ask the recruiter. First impressions are critical!
Take the extra time to be sure you are neat, well groomed and that your clothes
look good. When in doubt, err on the more conservative side.
As an engineer you will likely be interviewed by someone in your field who
will ask knowledge-based questions covering the fundamentals. When asked such
questions, recruiters are prompting you to think outside the box and assessing
your problem solving abilities.
Dr. Gary Baldwin, a 20-year veteran with HP and Agilent, recently commented
that in the work place, you don't always immediately come up with right answer.
It's not so much the correct technical solution that recruiters are seeking but
how you approach problems and how you communicate. Some questions have no
single, correct answer; e.g., how many times does a ball bounce? Recruiters are
looking for evidence that you know how to think about a problem that is
presented in a format other than a problem set or quiz. He suggests that a good
approach when asked a technical question is to ask a counter question to
determine the parameters and then to go through a logical thought process. Don't
just focus your preparation on running through different kinds of technical
issues in your field, Baldwin suggests, but spend some time practicing, honing,
and refining your communication skills as well - they will serve you well in
In sum, recruiters are not so interested in the right answer but rather:
- Do you fully understand the problem? Are you asking intelligent questions
to gain a further understanding?
- How do you solve problems? What approach do you take?
- Do you understand technical theories and concepts and can you apply them
in an appropriate manner to solve problems?
- Are you able to communicate effectively?
- If you don't know the answer to a question, it's OK to say you don't know.
Honesty is greatly appreciated.
As an engineer or other technical major, most of your interviews will also
include a significant proportion of behavioral-based questions. According to
Doug Fauth of Cap Gemini Ernst & Young, recent studies indicate that traditional
interview questions are not very effective in their ability to predict the
candidate's ability to do the job and that about 65% of interviews by companies
are behavioral-based. The underlying premise behind behavioral interviews is
that what you have done in the past is a good indicator of what you will do in
the future. Instead of being asked, "What would you do if you and a fellow team
member didn't get along?" (traditional type), you would be asked, "Tell me a
time when you had to work in close coordination with someone you didn't like.
What did you do to forge an effective working relationship, what was the
outcome, and what did you learn from the experience?" (behavioral approach).
Other examples of behavioral type questions include: tell me about a time when
you took the initiative to solve a problem or tell me about how you handled a
situation where you disagreed with your boss or PI.
To prepare for these types of questions:
- Write 1-2 pages about 5-6 experiences you've had where you detail the
situation, actions that were taken and the results. Many times this is
referred to as SAR - Situation, Action, Results. Draw from a variety of
settings including class projects, work experiences, school or community
activities, or travel.
- Practice telling these stories out loud in 1-2 minutes. Make it sound
interesting and provide details. Remember, the point of the stories is to
convey something about how you think and operate, as well as important aspects
of your personality and manner.
Every year, we receive feedback from recruiters indicating that many more
students have confidence in their ability to "wing it" in an interview than is
warranted by their actual performance. In today's job market, skills, grades,
and experience are only part of the package. Employers will be seeking a high
level of interest in their position(s) and company, enthusiasm, confidence, and
reassurance that you are good match. You need to demonstrate to your interviewer
that you are serious about your interest in working for their company, and that
means arriving at your interview well prepared.
Before you interview with a company,
Research the company
and learn about:
- Key products or services and become comfortable discussing them. If
possible, determine the technology used to produce products and who their
customers are, i.e., what industries/settings utilize their products and/or
- Where are the company headquarters, divisions, and plant operations?
- What articles are being written about the organization? How are they doing
Analyze the job description:
- Are you being interviewed for a specific position? If so, do you
understand the nature of the position? Is this interview for a rotational
program and, if so, do you have an understanding of the goals of this program?
- Do you have a clear sense of what skills are unique to this position and
how it differs from other engineering positions? For example, a Design
Engineer draws on a specific set of skills that are different than a Project
Assess your background:
- Think about courses you've taken, projects you completed, and areas of
knowledge you developed in your curriculum that can be applicable to the type
of position or industry and be ready to discuss these.
- Think about your skills, strengths and personal qualities that you would
bring to a work environment and how you would articulate these to an
- Be ready to discuss what you learned from your work experiences.
Become familiar with the typical types of questions you may be asked. If you
do not fully understand what is being asked, it is OK to ask the interviewer to
repeat or re-phrase the question; ask for clarification for terms unfamiliar to
Practice your responses:
- With a friend
- In front of a mirror, so you can see your facial expressions
- Attend a video-practice or other interview workshop