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Interview skills

Interviewing can be tough, but being well-prepared can make all the difference in the world. These tips will help you develop great interview skills. 

For a more in-depth explanation on how to properly prepare for an interview, please review our CAPS interview guide.
For additional help, you may also review our French interview guide.

You can also access the following technical interview resources at the Career Resource Centre in H-440:

  • Ace the IT Interview, by Paula Moreira
  • Ace the Programming Interview, by Edward Guiness​
  • Cracking the Coding Interview: 150 Programming Questions and Solutions,
    by Gayle Laakmann McDowell
  • Elements of Programming Interviews, by Adnan Aziz, Amit Prakash, Tsung-Hsien Lee
  • Oracle Job Interview Handbook, by Andrew Kerber
  • Programming Interviews Exposed, by John Mongan, Noah Kindler, Eric Gigiere

Smile, be enthusiastic and arrive early

The outcome of many interviews is decided during the first 10 seconds of the introduction. Greet the employer with a firm handshake, eye contact and a smile. Project an enthusiastic and professional image from the start. Characteristics that contribute to a professional image are:

  • Business-like attire
  • Self-confidence
  • Maturity
  • A sense of humor
  • Warmth
  • Prompt, concise answers to questions

Arrive early to make a good impression, and start off on the right track. This show’s appreciation for the employer's time and allows you enough time to complete paperwork if required.

Ask the employer to describe a typical day on the job

Take an active part in the interview. Ask the employer to describe the position or a typical day on the job. Listen carefully and mentally note each duty mentioned. Focus on your related experience and training in your responses.

Explain how your past experience and qualifications make you an ideal candidate

Try to relate your background and experience to the questions being asked. To fit the employer’s specifications, include factors that qualify you for the position.

  • Have you held a similar position before? 
  • What were your responsibilities in the previous position. 
  • How do you see this experience translating into this new opportunity? 

Using examples of special achievements will help the employer get a sense of how successful you will be at handling the job.

Pay attention to your body language

A major factor in hiring is how well the employer gets along with the applicant. To develop a good rapport, speak clearly, listen carefully and show interest by smiling, nodding agreement, or commenting after the employer has finished speaking. Maintaining eye contact while the employer is talking is also very important. Pay attention to your body language, the employer is! 

Ask meaningful and relative questions about the job 

Many employers evaluate applicants by the questions they ask. Employers like specific questions about the nature of the job, the company’s plans and goals, and the nature of the position you're being interviewed for.

"Tell me about yourself"

Employers ask this question for a number of reasons. They might want to see how well the candidate can express themselves, they might want to gage your personality or to know important information about you. Treat this as an open-ended question that could lead to specific questions later. Instead of talking about your childhood, family or personal ambitions, keep it professional. Mention specific accomplishments that show your abilities and determination to succeed in the position. Your answers should tell the employer why you would be an asset to the company, not why you need a job.

If you want the job, ask for it

Many employers feel that a strong desire for the position is just as important as your ability to do the job. A very effective interviewing technique is to simply ask for the job. One way to do this is to ask the employer if they see you performing the job. If the answer is yes, say “Great! When can I start?”

Salary reality

An employer might bring up the salary question in an interview. If they ask how much you are looking for, a safe response would be “I’m very interest in the position, I’d like to earn as much as I am qualified to earn. How much would you offer a candidate with similar qualifications?” If the employer makes a firm offer and you want the job, you can accept on the spot. If you’re doubtful or undecided, ask for a day to think about it. Never refuse any offer of employment until you have had time to think about it.

Common interview questions

Employers often ask common questions. Find out what they are, why they ask them, and what they're looking for.

Q. Tell me about yourself.

The question behind this question may be:

  • Are you prepared?
  • Can you organize relevant information and express it concisely?
  • How does your background relate to the job?

Suggestions:
Keep it brief, avoid getting into details. You can quickly cover your youth, education, work experience and present situation. Focus on the skills you have developed that are relevant to the job.

Return to questions

Q. Why should I hire you?

The question behind this question may be:

  • Can you convince me you are the right person?
  • Help me decide on the best candidate

Suggestions:
Show how you could solve a problem for the company by using a relevant example from your past. This will help the interviewer “see” you in action. If you have little experience, sell your education and give examples of situations that demonstrate your key strengths (motivation, energy, positive attitude,…).

Return to questions

Q. What are your major strengths?

The questions behind this questions may be:

  • What important qualities and traits would you bring to this job?
  • What is your level of maturity and self-knowledge?

Suggestions:
Choose from your top five self-management skills [PDF] (Qualities, Traits) those that you believe are most important for the job and the organization.

Return to questions

Q. What are your major weaknesses?

The question behind this question may be:

  • Are you aware of your weaknesses?
  • What is your level of maturity and self-knowledge?
  • Can you handle difficult questions?

Suggestions:
Never say you have none! Never admit a weakness that could affect your ability to do the job well. Never disclose personal issues. Choose your weakness before the interview. Limit your answer to one weakness and say what you did in order to overcome it. Overcoming a weakness is actually developing a strength.

Return to questions

Q. What salary do you expect to receive?

The question behind this question may be:

  • Are you too expensive for our budget, or would you still feel motivated with a lower pay?
  • Are your expectations too low for what we wish to invest in this position?
  • Are you prepared, well-informed about your market value?

Suggestions:
Find out in what salary range the job is situated. Never discuss salary before you receive a job offer. Mention that you trust that if an offer comes, it will be reasonable. When the interviewer insists, answer the question using a range.

Return to questions

Q. What prompted your decision to apply for this position?

The question behind this question may be:

  • Do you know what motivates you?
  • How much do you really want this job?
  • Do you really understand what it takes to be successful in this job?
  • Why us? How do you know you would be happy in our organization?

Suggestions:
If you apply for positions that match your true needs, this should be an easy question. Link your interest and enthusiasm to the skills and knowledge that are most relevant for the position. Mention what you like about the organization and the people who work there.

Return to questions

Q. Could you please give me an example from your past that describes when you took initiative?

The question behind this question may be:

  • Show me evidence that you have initiative
  • Can you prove with facts that you really do have initiative?

Suggestions:
Prepare for behavioral questions by compiling key moments from your past that describe well how you handled different situations. For example, other possible behavioral questions might be:

  • Tell me about a great decision you made.
  • What about a decision that proved to be a mistake?
  • Give an example of a time when you handled a difficult customer.
  • What was one of the most difficult goals you had to reach? How did you go about meeting that goal?

Return to questions

Q. Where do you see yourself five years from now?

The question behind this question may be:

  • Can we depend on you?
  • Are you focused?
  • Can we offer you what you really want?
  • How long do you intend to stay with this company?

Suggestions:
Focus on tackling the challenges within the job to which you are applying. For the longer term, you can underline how you wish to develop your career by developing new skills and knowledge that are meaningful both to you and to the organization.

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