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Interview Basics

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Interviewing is a skill and it takes time to build up your proficiency. The more you practice, the more comfortable you’ll be when it’s time to shine. Begin your preparation reviewing these tips:

FAQ:  Interview Preparation, Presentation, and Follow-up 


  • Research the organization and the role, reflect on their needs, how your background fits and what you can contribute to the organization and the position.
  • Reflect on your skills relevant to the role and prepare thoughtful answers and examples you can use to answer questions on your qualifications.
  • Practice general and behavioral interview questions.
  • Prepare and practice telling your story.
  • Reflect on your strengths and weaknesses.
  • Prepare questions for the interviewer.
  • Use the mock interview tool in the Yale Career Link, powered by Symplicity to customize a practice interview.

Professional Presentation:

  • Both your verbal and non-verbal messages matter to an interviewer. The tips below will help you make that positive first impression.
  • You only have one chance to make a first impression; make sure your attire sends the right message and is appropriate for the field in which you’re interviewing.
  • Turn your phone off before the interview.
  • Bring extra copies of your résumé, along with your questions for the interviewer(s), in a professional portfolio.
  • Practice your handshake to make sure you’re comfortable and confident when engaging in this common greeting.
  • Eye contact and posture play an important part in interviewing. Make sure you sit up straight, make regular eye contact with all interviewers, and avoiding wild gestures.
  • Avoid filler words such as “um,” “like,” and “you know” which take away from the confident, polished communication skills you’re trying to demonstrate.
  • Avoid chewing gum during an interview.


  • Just as important as what you do during an interview is what you do afterwards.
  • Send a thank you note to everyone you speak with during the process. Failure to do so indicates disinterest and may be viewed as a lack of professional courtesy.
  • At the end of the interview, ask about the hiring timeline and next steps.
  • After the interview, reflect on what went well, and on any questions you should practice more for the future.
  • Online Interviewing Skills Workshops

FAQ: Interview Attire

You only get one chance to make a first impression and how you dress sets the initial tone for the interview. Below are some tips for choosing your interview attire.
  • Do your research in advance to learn about the culture of the organization, and the dress code. For an interview, dress one step up from the dress code. For example, if the interview is with Abercrombie & Fitch, do not show up in a three-piece suit, but do choose jeans and a blazer rather than cut-off shorts and a tee-shirt.
  • Even for casual fields you are likely expected to dress up for the interview. Most faculty at Yale do not wear suits to the classroom or lab, but most wore suits when they were being interviewed.
  • Choose clothes that fit properly, are comfortable and durable. Always make sure your outfit is clean and ironed.
  • In general, most students choose to wear a suit for an interview. Choose conservative colors, such as charcoal grey or navy. Suits made of wool blends tend to last longer and wrinkle less.
  • Skirt and pant suits are both appropriate. If you choose a skirt suit, make sure the skirt is long enough to cover your thighs when seated. Avoid skirts with high slits.
  • Button dress shirts and ties or blouses should be worn with your suit. Choose neutral colors. Avoid shirts that are too form-fitting or sheer.
  • Footwear should compliment the outfit. Dress shoes and dress socks should be worn with a suit. Shoes should be clean and shined. If you choose to wear heels, select a pair that you can easily walk in.
  • Keep jewelry and accessories to a minimum. It is recommended that perfumes or cologne be avoided all together, as many people are sensitive to perfumes and colognes.

FAQ:  "Tell Me About Yourself"

“Tell me about yourself” is a common question you may be asked at the start of an interview. In asking this question, interviewers are hoping to learn about your skills and assess your overall ability to communicate your experiences effectively.  This is your chance to highlight your strengths and relevant components of your background; in addition, because many interviewers ask follow-up questions based on your answer, is a way to direct the interview.

Your “interviewing story” is unique to you, but certain aspects are commonly included, such as an introduction to who you are (“A PhD student at Yale studying…”), your reasons for choosing your course of study (“I became fascinated by the intersection of business and society, and therefore have chosen courses and projects that have allowed me to…”), and motivations for pursing the job or internship you’re interviewing for (“I am drawn to the opportunity this position provides to ….”).  Go beyond your résumé, fill in the blanks and bring your story to life. You should then delve into one or two specific examples to show your relevant experience. As a general guideline keep your story under two minutes. If longer, you run the risk of losing your interviewers attention.

FAQ: Strengths and Weaknesses

These questions may take forms including “Tell me about the accomplishments you’re most proud of” or “Tell me about a time you failed to accomplish something you set out to do.” Though the form may vary, the underlying question is the same. In asking about strengths and weaknesses, employers are assessing your level of self-awareness and ability to honestly assess areas where you can improve. It’s also a chance to see how well you maintain your composure when asked a challenging question. It’s best to prepare two or three strengths and weaknesses with corresponding examples that you can discuss in an interview since most interviewers are rarely satisfi ed with only one strength or weakness.

  • The best responses about your strengths are specific about what you accomplished and how you did it to paint a picture. When discussing your strengths, highlight a proven skill and connect it to the position you are seeking. Always have examples prepared to demonstrate your strengths.
  • Questions about weaknesses strike fear in the hearts of many interviewees, and for good reason. You’re being asked to lay your vulnerabilities out on the table. But with thoughtful preparation, addressing your weaknesses can be painless.
  • Honestly assess yourself, you skills set and personal attributes, and determine where you can improve. Choose a skill or attribute you are working on developing or improving -- such as your ability to build consensus within a team you’re leading; tendency to over think projects and get bogged down in details; or patience with the pace of long-term projects and the length of time it takes to see results -- and prepare a specific example of how you are working on strengthening or developing the skill or attribute that is not as strong.
  • Avoid using a key job requirement as a weakness. For example, if the position requires you to use Excel, don’t say that learning technology is a weakness. Be careful to avoid responses that could be seen as cliché. For example, discussing your perfectionism as a weakness can be seen as disingenuous and trying too hard. In most instances, it’s best to avoid cute answers, such as stating that your weakness is chocolate or that you can’t cook. If you’re set on responding with a cute or quirky answer, be prepared to quickly follow-up with a serious response.

FAQ: Questions for the Interviewer

Towards the end of the interview, it’s common for the interviewer to ask if you have questions for them. The worst answer you can give to this question is “no” or “you’ve answered all of my questions.” Not having questions for them signals disinterest. Employers are assessing your preparation, interest, and inquisitiveness. This is a chance to leave a final impression, finish strong, and establish yourself as a top candidate. Avoid questions you could find through basic research. If the answer can be found by looking at the organization's website, including general questions on their programs, products, or mission, then it’s too basic. Prepare at least a few questions you can ask on topics that matter to you. Use the prompts below to help you brainstorm questions:

  • How would this position interact with the larger team/other departments/divisions?
  • What do you like best about working at _______________? What keeps you excited about your work?
  • What are the opportunities for training and advancement?
  • Can you tell me about your performance review process? Who evaluates employee performance? How is success measured?
  • Is there a typical career path for people beginning in this role?
  • I know the company prides itself on ____________ and _______________, so what would you say is the most important aspect of your culture?
  • How do you see the person in this role making a positive impact on the _________ (projects, initiatives, services, programs, etc.) this position would be involved with?
  • To what extent are interns able to get exposure to ___________ (client meetings, team meetings, etc.)?
  • Avoid questions on salary, benefits such as vacation time, and schedule flexibility. Asking about these topics during an interview, before they’ve determined if you’re the best candidate for the position, can be seen as presumptuous; these should be saved until you get an offer.

FAQ: Responding to Questions on Salary Expectations

  • Occasionally employers will bring up salary in an interview. They do this for a number of reasons. If they have a limited hiring budget, they may want to determine if you would consider the salary prior to moving forward with the process. If there’s a significant mismatch between your needs and expectations and what they’re able to pay, they may not want to waste your time or theirs. Conduct preliminary salary research prior to an interview so that you are prepared in case this comes up (e.g. see or
  • If asked about salary expectations, you can first respond by indicating that your salary requirements are negotiable, and that as you learn more about the specific responsibilities of the position you would be happy to discuss a fair salary. If pushed for a number, you can ask the interviewer if they have a salary in mind for the position, or you can give a broad range consistent with the going market rate uncovered through your research. Qualify your answer by restating that as you learn more about the specifics of the position, you’d be happy to discuss salary further.

FAQ:  Phone Interviews

Phone interviews have become a common format for first round interviews, and in some cases may be the only interview. In preparation, consider the following tips:

  • Find a quiet space where you won’t be disturbed. If interviewing from your room, let your suite mates know you’ll be on a phone interview and ask them to be quiet.
  • Set aside at least 60 minutes for the call so you can spend time getting set-up prior to the call and have extra time in case the interviewer is running late.
  • Dress the part in order to get in the right frame of mind for the interview, and have a glass of water on hand in case your mouth goes dry at a crucial moment.
  • It is essential to express enthusiasm through your voice. Your vocal clarity, tone, volume and speed all matter. Express your ideas clearly and avoid speaking too fast.
  • One benefit of phone interviews is that you can have notes in front of you. What is the message you really want to convey to your interviewers? Are there key pieces of your background that you want to make sure to highlight? Have note cards, with bullet points outlining these areas.

FAQ: Video Conferencing, On-line and Skype Interviews

In recent years interviews hosted through video conferencing and other web based software have become very popular. Review the below tips as you prepare for an on-line interview:

  • Plan well ahead of time where you will have your interview.
  • Background is important, choose a place that will appear clean and professional on camera. A neutral, clutter free background is best; blank walls, though a bit boring, are preferable to a distracting background.
  • Consider the lighting and avoid backgrounds that are too bright, as that will be distracting for your interviewer, as well as settings with poor lighting.
  • If you choose a place in your home, be sure to remove any pets that could distract you and alert roommates that you will be on an interview.
  • Plan a test run. Ask a friend to Skype with you to test out your webcam and microphone, and to get an objective opinion on the background and lighting.
  • Treat the interview as you would a face-to-face interview and dress appropriately. Though it may feel more casual, you need to look the part.
  • Throughout the interview, look at the camera, not at the screen. This is the equivalent of making eye contact with your interviewers. It is natural to glance at the screen from time to time to see the reaction of your interviewer, but spend most of the interview looking right at the webcam.
  • Smile and express your enthusiasm for the position. Sit up straight and make sure your body language mimics the enthusiasm and energy expressed in your voice.
  • At the conclusion of the interview, make sure to hang up and take yourself offline.

FAQ:  Navigating Meals

Some second round interviews may include a lunch or dinner, particularly if the role to which you are applying involves interacting with clients, constituents, or donors in social settings. Although meals feel less formal than an in-office interview, it is still an interview and you are being evaluated. Meals are seen as an opportunity to get to know you and for you to get to know them. Avoid topics that are too personal, inappropriate, or may be controversial. Below are a few additional tips before your meal:

  • If you know in advance where you’ll be eating, review the menu and decide on a few options. This will allow you to engage your interviewers rather than read the menu.
  • When you arrive, ask your interviewers if they have any recommendations. This can give you an idea on the price point you should stay within. You can also let them order first, and choose something at that price point or less.
  • Consider what is easy to eat and avoid foods that may be messy. That cheeseburger may be just what you’re craving, but the greasy hands that result may not align with the professional image you’re trying to present. Usually something that can be cut in small pieces is the easiest to manage; keep in mind you will be talking while you eat.
  • Avoid ordering alcohol, even if your interviewer orders something to drink. You want to stay on top of your game and keep your head clear.
  • Just as important as what you say during a meal is the way you conduct yourself. Good table manners are a must. Shortly after being seated, put your napkin on your lap. Pay special attention to your posture, keep your elbows off the table, and always avoid speaking with your mouth full.
  • Courtesy and professionalism shouldn’t be limited to your interviewers; you want to be polite to the wait staff and host, thanking them appropriately.


Sample interview questions
Behavioral interview interactive Career Labs
Yale Career Link mock interview module
One-on-one practice with a career advisor
Yale Graduate Consulting Club case practice sessions
CQ Interactive (for case interviews)
Informational interviewing