An employer will invite you for an interview if they believe that you have the skills to succeed at their company. In the interview, they will seek to evaluate your genuine interest in the company and the role, your preparedness for the position, and your potential to add value to their team.

Your answers to the questions they ask will help them assess your skills, experience, and motivation.

Below, you will find suggestions on how to prepare for the interview, show yourself in the best light during the interview, and follow up after the interview.

Before the Interview

Research the company and industry

Employers gauge your interest and motivation by how much you know about their organization. Do your research on the position, company, and industry.

  • Reread the job description and think how you can communicate why you would be a good fit for the position.
  • Review the organization’s website and social media activity.
  • Learn about current trends and events that might impact your future employer.
  • Try to get insider knowledge of the organization by speaking with LinkedIn contacts, alumni, peers, faculty, family, or other contacts who may have a deeper understanding of the organization.

prepare the key points you want to communicate during the interview

Prepare responses around these themes so that you will be ready for a wide variety of questions. 

  • Why are you interested in this position? Evaluate how your past experiences (academic, professional, co-curricular, personal) have contributed to your interest in this role. Think about why you want to do this kind of work at this particular organization.
  • Why are you a good candidate for this position? Assess for how your work experience, personal qualities, academic accomplishments, and co-curricular activities make you qualified for the position. Identify the transferable skills and knowledge that you would bring to the position. Be prepared to demonstrate your skills with examples using the SARA method (Situation, Action, Result, Application)

Practice your interviewing skills

Many people practice for an interview by writing answers to common interview questions. While organizing your thoughts on paper is helpful, you should supplement it with verbal practice, alone, or with a friend, mentor, or career counselor. You can schedule a practice interview with a career counselor to get feedback on your interview responses and presentation. We also host a Practice Interview Program each semester that allows you to practice and get feedback from a Columbia alum.

For independent practice in a virtual format, we recommend Big Interview, which you have access to for free through our office. You can practice answering interview questions by industry or job function, record yourself, and use their tool for self-assessment or share any video with a mentor for feedback.

The interview is also a chance to learn more about the employer and the position. Think about what you’d like to learn more about the role, division, organization, and industry. Identify questions to ask the employer that will help you determine if this is the right position for you. 

    Day Before the Interview Checklist

    1. Review your notes, resume, cover letter, job description, and company/industry summaries.
    2. For an in-person interview, know the route you will take to the interview location and how much travel time you will need. Build in additional time to ensure you will not be late.
    3. Prepare an appropriate interview outfit. Our Clothing Closet is a resource for students in need of professional attire for an interview, career fair, or professional networking event.
    4. Make note of the name and title of the interviewer or the person you will check-in with.
    5. Have the following items prepared: copies of your resume, a list of references, a notepad, and pens.
    6. Get a good night’s rest.

    The Day of the Interview

    before the interview begins

    • Be on time! Aim to arrive at least 10–15 minutes early.
    • Bring the supplies you prepared the night before your interview.
    • Be considerate and polite to all staff members. 
    • Put mobile devices on silent.
    • Avoid any scents that may be distracting to the employer.
    • Enter with a positive attitude.

    during the interview

    • Listen carefully to the interviewer and make sure you answer the question your interviewer is asking.
    • Relate your skills, accomplishments, and objectives to the needs of the company.
    • Provide specific examples when possible using the SARA method (Situation, Action, Result, Application).
    • Focus on the positive aspects of your training and experience. You don’t have to apologize for any perceived lack of experience or background.
    • Use clear and direct language. Avoid using filler words such as “um” or “like.” Make your point and don’t ramble.
    • Maintain eye contact with your interviewer(s). If there are multiple interviewers, remember to engage with all of them.
    • Be aware of your body language. Convey confidence and engagement with your posture. 
    • Observe the people and office space to get a sense of the company’s culture.
    • If you do not have the interviewer’s contact information, request a business card so that you can send a thank you note.

    After the Interview

    • Send a thank you note within 24 hours of the interview. Check out a sample thank you note for inspiration.
    • Evaluate your performance. Did any questions stump you? Consider how you can improve your answers for the next interview.
    • Think about what you learned about the position and employer during the interview. Assess how the position would meet your priorities and goals.
    • After a first round interview you may be called back for additional rounds of interviews depending on the employer’s process. Check out our resource on what to expect at a second round interview to help you prepare.
    • If a job offer is provided on the spot, which is uncommon, it is appropriate to thank the employer and to tell them that you need more time to consider the offer. Ask about the company’s timeline and deadline for your answer. 
    • If you do not hear from the employer after the hiring timeline they initially indicated, follow up once. Call or email the interviewer or human resources contact. Reaffirm your interest in the position and inquire about the new hiring timeline.