Ace the Interview
Congratulations, you earned yourself an interview! Here's how to achieve an effective interview experience that highlights your interest, qualifications, and strengths:
- Do Your Research. Learn about the company you're interviewing for by reading news articles, websites, and press releases. Consider reaching out to people you know who work or have worked at that company for an inside perspective--you can even set up informational interviews with MIT alumni who have connections to the company through the Alumni Directory. Having this background information will allow you to speak more intelligently about the company, frame your experiences through its lens, and determine your fit--skills, values, strengths, you name it. You'll be seen as a professional with a strong work ethic who takes these opportunities seriously.
- Practice, Practice, Practice. Practice answering sample interview questions out loud with others--our office offers mock interview appointments with Career Development Specialists for just this purpose. We also offer the service InterviewStream (MIT login required) for practicing interviews online. InterviewStream uses webcams to record you answering interview questions and then allows you to playback your responses for self-evaluation. You can access InterviewStream by logging into CareerBridge and looking for the link on the lower left corner of the home page.
- Plan Ahead. Make sure your interview day is as stress-free as possible:
- Develop a list of questions to ask the employer. The interview is the perfect opportunity for you to figure out if the company is a good fit for you. Some sample questions include: What skills so you see as most important in order to be successful in this position? What types of on-the-job training do you offer? What is the most significant challenge facing your staff now? See our Career Development Handbook for more examples.
- Know the logistics for your interview: location, time of interview, parking, public transit, estimated commuting time, etc. Give yourself plenty of time, just in case.
- Select appropriate clothing for your interview. Professional attire is generally recommended but you should learn as much as you can about the industry you are interviewing with to select the most appropriate clothing.
- Are you interviewing virtually using video conferencing technology? Remember to secure a quite space in advance, and test your internet reception, webcam, and microphone quality. Check out this video for more tips on how to look your best during a video interview:
How Do You Actually Answer Interview Questions?
Use a strategy like the STAR format for behavioral and traditional questions. Be sure to include specific information about the experience--this will help you be more memorable after the fact and will also serve to support your experience. The percentages indicate approximately how much of your answer should be dedicated to each section.
Situation: Give an example of a situation you were involved in with positive outcome. 10-15%
Tasks: Describe tasks involved in that situation. 10%
Actions: Talk about specific actions you took (use strong action verbs!) 60-70%
Results: Discuss the results that followed. 10%
Types of Interview Questions
An interview is aimed at finding out three main things: Whether a candidate is smart enough for the job, interested in the job, and a good person to work with.
Technical questions help an employer decide whether or not you have the skills necessary to complete your day to day work. The technical questions asked should reflect the experience you’ve put on your resume, so, in a sense, this is an employer’s verification of what you’ve listed on your resume. Technical questions can incorporate drawing and sketching, coding, or even a written test.
Here are some tips for answering technical interview questions:
- Don’t oversell your skills. If you state you are an expert in something, expect to be asked expert-level questions.
- Think out loud. Sometimes getting to the right answer isn’t as important as having your interviewer understand your thought process or approach to the question.
- Take their advice. If you are offered a suggestion, take it or offer a very good explanation for why you don’t think it would work. Show them you can work collaboratively.
- Ask clarifying questions. This can show them that you understand what else you need in order to solve a problem.
- Manage expectations. If you tell them at the start that you don’t have a lot of experience in an area, they may make the questions easier and won’t be disappointed if you don't provide a "perfect" answer.
These questions can be broad to get at factual information about your experiences as well as subjective information about your interests and personal goals. They're often used to determine your level of interest in the position or company you’re interviewing with, which is important because organizations want to make sure candidates will be engaged in the work and stick around.
Here are some sample traditional/motivational questions:
- Tell me about yourself? Why did you choose your major?
- Why are you interested in our company/this position?
- Tell me about your past work experiences/research.
Focusing on your actions and responses, behavioral questions can reveal insights into what you are like to work with. Your answers can show employers how you have interacted and communicated with the people around you, which can indicate whether or not you will fit in with the rest of the team.
- Tell me about a time when you demonstrated leadership.
- Give me an example of a time you faced a challenge. How did you deal with it?
- Tell me about a conflict you had with a professor, lab mate, or boss. Why was there a conflict? What did you do?
Case Interview Questions
Case interviews are usually a component of the interview process for positions in consulting or business. In a case interview, the applicant is given a question, situation, problem, or challenge to resolve. The case problem is often a situation the interviewer has worked on in real life. Case interviews aren't focused on the candidate's proposed solution; rather, interviewers use the exercise to assess his or her thought process and analytical skills
Some sample case interview questions include:
- Should airlines sell fee services like travel insurance?
- Estimate the market for light bulbs in Australia.
- You are contacted by ABC Pizza to help them develop a plan for entering the home delivery market in a community where XYZ Pizza has the dominant position. As lead consultant to ABC, what would you do?