Research the organization before you head to your interview. Make sure you can speak knowledgeably about key products or projects, past successes, its mission, and its leaders. Explore the website, look at industry publications, read news items, ask people you know, and collect as much information as possible.
Arrive promptly and wear clothing appropriate to your field. Bring the following with you:
- Multiple copies of your résumé in case you need to hand them out to committee members
- Your cover letter and the job ad so that you can discreetly refer to them while you talk
- Your research notes
- Questions about the organization and position
- Possible responses you can supply for common topics that may arise during the interview
- Your portfolio to display and discuss—you may also want to have smaller printed versions to hand out
- A laptop loaded with your presentation plus a backup plan in case your technology doesn’t work with the projection equipment on hand
- Samples of your work—like a card you designed or a product prototype—that you’re prepared to leave behind
- Personal business cards if you have them
It’s helpful to have tissues and mints available to use before you meet the interviewers.
Could you answer these questions?
- How many airplanes are in the sky right now?
- If you were a tree, what kind would you be?
Those may seem unfair, but they’re from actual interviews. If you’re stumped, check out this LinkedIn Learning video (log in with your NetID) for help.
Fortunately, most employers won’t try to trip you up with tricky questions that you can’t answer correctly. Brain teasers and oddball inquiries like these are meant to uncover how you reason, how you respond under pressure, and how you would tackle a difficult problem. Employers are really seeking candidates who not only meet a position’s requirements but also fit the work culture. They want someone enthusiastic about their field and seem like they will succeed in the position.
No matter the question, stay calm and think before you respond. One way to keep your cool is to be prepared for classic interview subjects. Use specific examples to help paint a picture of your experience with the following typical topics:
- Addressing criticism
- Handling conflict
- Problem solving
- Time management
- Working under pressure
Common Questions & Responses
Tell us about yourself.
This comment really means that you should provide an overview of your professional background.
Good answer: “I’m a junior in architecture at Illinois. This summer I interned at RATIO, where I worked on AutoCAD drawings for an aquatic center. I’m eager to do some fieldwork and learn about your innovations in sustainability.”
What is your greatest strength/weakness?
Strength: Read the job description. Answer truthfully, but select one of your strengths that aligns with the position’s needs. Back up your claims with an example. If you’re feeling humble, ask classmates, friends, or instructors for input. This is your chance to claim your stellar interpersonal skills, strong work ethic, ArcGIS expertise, or impressive leadership experience.
Weakness: Employers want to hear about real flaws, and they will often ask for more than one. Do mention challenges you’ve faced, but combine them with how you’ve addressed your shortcomings.
Good answer: When I first got to college, time management was difficult for me. I learned to break up projects into subdeadlines using Outlook. Now I depend on this calendaring tool.
What are your long-term goals/where do you see yourself in five years?
It’s fine to have multiple answers or an inexact notion of where you’ll be. Employers want to know how ambitious you are but also if you have a realistic idea about the pace of your career.
How do you measure success?
Use your research from the company’s website as the basis for listing key values you share: sustainability, efficiency, originality, high quality. Success may also include having meaningful interactions with co-workers or meeting professional goals such as selling your artwork in your own Etsy store or earning a certificate in database management. Avoid mentioning private personal goals or financial goals like buying a house.
What do you like/dislike about your previous position or coursework?
Likes: Talk about people you worked with, the organization’s culture, the type of teamwork style you used, the leadership structure, the skills you learned, or individual projects.
Dislikes: Be honest, but focus on positive elements: you determined that the position didn’t allow for enough growth, you’re ready for new challenges that are unavailable in a small company, you want to move into a different area of your field, you’re better suited to writing taglines than budgets. Even if you didn’t get along with your internship advisor or a faculty member, don’t discuss problems in those relationships. Steer the conversation toward your ability to thrive under different management styles or how that relationship stretched you to try a new approach to coursework. Be careful to avoid topics you prefer not to discuss.
Why should we hire you for this position?
Using the job ad to guide your answer, explain precisely why you’re a great fit for the job. Your answer is often your last chance to make your case. Note what sets you apart from other candidates. Would you hire you? Make sure you would—and try to convince the interviewer that you’re the right choice.
Sample General Questions
You’re not an expert in your field yet, but come across as knowledgeable, engaged, and eager to learn. Convey who you are, and let the interviewer know that you’re interested in the arts, other cultures, current events, different hobbies, or the broader society. Think about how you might respond to questions like these with detailed descriptions and reasons.
- Why did you choose this field?
- Who is your favorite [designer, architect, performer, educator] and what makes that person stand out?
- What motivates you to put forth your greatest effort?
- What roles [leader, organizer, motivator, administrator, visionary, laborer] do you play on a team?
- What strategies do you have for working well under pressure?
- What two or three accomplishments have given you the most satisfaction?
- How would your references describe you?
- What was the last book you read/movie you saw/concert you heard and what was your impression of it?
- How do you spend your spare time?
Questions for Employers
- What would you like the person in this position to accomplish in the first six months? The first year?
- How would you describe the ideal candidate for this job?
- What qualities do you look for most in your employees?
- What are your favorite things about working here?
- What are some of the challenges about working here?
- What growth opportunities exist for the person in this job?
- With whom will the person in this position be working?
- What happens on a typical day at the office?
- What is the next step in the interview process?
- When can I expect to receive information on the hiring decision?
Write a note (on paper or by email if necessary) within 24 hours of your interview to thank everyone for their time and inquire (if you didn’t already) about the hiring timeline. Following up through email every two weeks or so is reasonable if you don’t receive a specific time frame for the rest of the process. Connecting on LinkedIn is appropriate, but connecting on Facebook is not.