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Simulation & Gaming:
An Interdisciplinary Journal



All articles from  Career Center, University of California, Berkeley  http://career.berkeley.edu/


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 Fortune Magazine, Bloomberg, Wetfeet Press and Vault 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 interview process."

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 particular job.

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 canned.

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 answer itself.

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.

Behavioral Interviews
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 agree with?"

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 organization's website, published & other web-based resources, and, especially, opportunities to talk with current employees and representatives at 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 yourself.

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 yourself.
  • 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 you.

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 stories aloud, 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 get.

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."

Your Resume

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 recruiter responses 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 interview.

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 potential."

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 received."


It's not simply what you say; your manner and presence often count more than your words.

"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 below.

Skills From Examples
Technical/Specific - Knowledge-based Education, Training, On the job experience Typing
Lab Skills
Computer Language
Economic Analysis
General - Transferable/Functional Ability, Aptitude (defined by education and experience) Managing
Mechanical Aptitude
Personal - how you interact in a work environment Life Experience (often personal traits/attitudes) Flexibility
Decisiveness Leadership

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 leadership skills?

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 terminology.

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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 Interviews
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.

Visualizing Success

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 job.
  • 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 Job Search Guide. As the interview comes to a close, tell yourself, "That went very well."

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 Questions
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 Chemical Company.

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 industry?"
  • 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 are interviewing.

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 to be.
  • We also look for clear and organized thought process as well as aptitude and enthusiasm for their engineering discipline.

Final thoughts:

  • 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 abilities).
  • 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 were doing.
  • 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 know.


For on-campus interviews you will want to wear professional attire or business casual. If you're unsure about the details, check out the Interview Attire 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.

Technical Questions

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 many ways.

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.

Behavioral Questions

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 services.
  • Where are the company headquarters, divisions, and plant operations?
  • What articles are being written about the organization? How are they doing financially?

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 Engineer.

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 interviewer.
  • 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 you.

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

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