This is the sixteenth in a series of blogs supporting the College to Career Calendar available for downloading at Today’s blog discusses strategies for preparing for an interview. This week we are going to focus on two interview basics: understanding what an interview is and how to use a job description and your resume to prepare. Over the next few weeks, we will discuss different types of interviews and the challenges they present.

An interview is a conversation during which an interviewer and interviewee decide if the job they are discussing is the right fit for the interviewee. Many new graduates think of an interview as a test. A logical conclusion since during most interviews the interviewer asks most of the questions. The difference is that when a professor develops a test she knows the answers and is trying to find out if the student does. In an interview the person who knows the answers is you and the interviewer is using questions to find out more about you.

Even though you know all about the topic of the interview: your skills, abilities, education, and experience, it is as important to prepare for an interview as it is to prepare for a test. And you will use many of the same skills.

There are three documents you will use to prepare for an interview: your resume, your cover letter, and the job posting.

Interview questions can be dividing into four types: job qualifications, your unique qualifications, generic, and off the wall. We will cover the first two types in this blog and the other two next week. Preparing for generic and “off the wall” questions do not require using a job description or resume.

Job Qualification Questions

Let’s begin by using the job description to determine the type of job specific questions the interviewer is most likely to ask. If you are not in the process of applying for a specific job, find a detailed job listing on a job board like Look at each requirement and responsibility, develop a question, then prepare an answer for each question by using the mnemonic SAR.

S=Situation you found yourself in

A=Action you took

R=Results of your action


Let’s say one of the job requirements is to be able to work with difficult people (good customer service skills). Turn this requirement into the following question:

Have you ever had to deal with a difficult person/overcome someone’s objections? If so, what did you do?

One response could be:

(S) I was responsible for organizing the annual campus food drive and the person who scheduled the building where the event was to be held kept telling me the drive was not worth the effort. He did not want to approve the use of the building and do the work required to open and close the building for the food drive.

(A) I told him that I understood how much effort it would take on his part and how much I appreciated the work he would have to do. I then shared that the previous year we had collected over 5000 pounds of food, enough to feed 50 families for a month.  Many of those families lived within a few miles of campus; they were students and part-time campus employees who needed help feeding themselves and their families. For that reason, I was asking him to help these families who were depending upon the food drive.

(R) He agreed to work with us. After the event, I had a picture taken of the food and my team of volunteers. I mounted the picture and had everyone write a personal thank you message on the matting. We framed the picture with the notes and presented it to him in front of his boss.  I don’t think future groups will face the same scheduling challenges I did.

Write a SAR story for each requirement/job duty. The first time you do this it will be very time- consuming. The good news is that you will find most jobs in your field will have the same requirements/job duties, so preparing for subsequent interviews will take less time.

Your Unique Qualifications Questions

Use your resume to prepare for this type of question. The interviewer will use items on your resume to develop questions that will help her determine if you are a good fit for the job. Prepare by looking at each item in your resume and turning it into a question. For example, if you resume shows you were a member of your campus Economics Club, the interviewing may ask: What did you gain from being a member of the Economics Club? Using the SAR technique for answering this question you might respond by saying:

(S) The club met each week to discuss current economic issues and plan events.

(A) I attended regularly and actively participated in discussions ranging from regional to national issues.

(R) I discovered the value of sharing and discussing ideas before forming conclusions.

Besides talking about your participation this answer lets you showcase your ability to work with other in coming to a consensus about issues.

Do the same thing with your cover letter. For example, if you mentioned a project you worked on, be prepared to answers questions about it.

Record your answers

Keep notes on the answers you develop. You will use those notes to prepare of your interview the same way you use notes to prepare for an exam.



We have created several resources you may find helpful as you complete this and the upcoming assignments on interview preparation. The first is our free tip sheet on interview preparation: Don’t Panic: Interview Prep in 60 Minutes, a tip sheet on converting you academic achievements into job-

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