170. How to Interview Well

This was my after my undergraduate ceremony at Georgetown (COL '02)  V's parents brought us all leis from California.

This was after my undergraduate ceremony at Georgetown (COL ’02). V’s parents brought us all leis from California.

A friend of mine is preparing for her first Business School interview next week. We discussed it in my old life when she first started researching the B-School option, and now she’s going for an interview – yay! So I’ve been thinking about the interview process and things to pay attention to because your interviewer will likely take note of these things. I used to interview for the support staff at my first job (Side note – I loved being part of and working with the support staff at my first job. E.g. Ice cream bars on the roof at 3pm!! Be there or be square…we really did work, too, I promise. Breaks were good for our productivity.), as well as for Georgetown MSB Admissions (MSB = McDonough School of Business). So these tips are pretty universal, whether you’re interviewing for graduate school or a job.

Tips for Interview Success:


  • Wardrobe and Grooming: Dress appropriately – a dark colored suit (a skirt-suit is safest for women depending on how conservative the environment is, but I have never looked askance at a smart-looking pant suit), good shoes (closed-toe for women is safest, please wear neutral hose – going bare-legged, although culturally acceptable, is still a little risky in my mind for interviews), clean hair, teeth, nails – ALL of your body parts should be clean.
  • Breath Courtesy: Eat a breath mint before you go into the interview, but don’t chew gum since it’s likely you’ll forget to spit it out or will have no way to gracefully do so before the interview, and of course, chewing gum during an interview = bad manners.
  • Preparedness: Bring an extra resume. The interviewer will likely have a copy of your resume (s)he is working from, but in case it has been misplaced, it looks good to be prepared as you whip a fresh, crisp, copy out of your portfolio. As you sit down you could even ask if you could give your interviewer a copy of your resume – again, preparedness looks good, and bringing a resume copy signals that you are ready for this – you have done your homework and intend to knock their socks off.
  • First Impression: As you meet and greet for the first time, do so with confidence – look them squarely in the eye and give them a firm handshake. (Not too firm – be conscious of any rings that could cause pain.) Smiling is good – just be confident and friendly – no grinning like a Cheshire cat.
  • Perspective – You’re probably nervous. If you aren’t, you might think that this interview is just for “practice” until you get the interview you really want. But take it seriously anyway. You want to be offered the position even if you don’t ultimately intend to take it. It is immensely confidence-building to have the power of refusal, and you’re not going to capitalize on this “practice” opportunity unless you bring your A-game. That said, if you’re super-nervous, don’t be. You could be interviewed by an HR person, the hiring manager, an Admissions officer, or a potential peer. None of these scenarios should intimidate you. No matter who shows up to interview you remember that they’re just doing their job or trying to help their school while they prepare for their next class, so your best bet for interview success is to make this a pleasant and painless experience for all parties involved. Yes, your interviewer is often the Gatekeeper who must pass you to the next round – but your interviewer is also a person with a multitude of home/work stressors you are not privy to. So if you get the vibe that today is a harried day, don’t sweat it and don’t take it personally – just be the professional, winning, hassle-free person you are and see what happens.

The Interview Itself

  • The Story Package: I almost always led with the question, “Why Georgetown, Why now?” It was the shortest way to ask, Why do you want to do this? Why is this the right time? And why would this school be the right place? If the person could not answer this question there was little hope for the rest of the interview. There are lots of lists you will find online for interviews questions, but if you’re pressed for time – concentrate on the story package. Think of it as a “package” – it’s your story, so you know it well enough to package and present it verbally in a concise (try 2 minutes and under) and attractive way. Short and punchy is good – because you want to make it easy for your interviewer to remember key words and ask follow-up questions. Also, if your story is too long and wandering, you don’t know your story and your interviewer cannot possibly be interested in it, sorry. So brush up on the story package, seriously.
  • Examples of how Amazing You Are: You could be asked a more traditional interview question like, “What are your strengths and weaknesses?” or you could be posed with a behavioral-interview question like, “Tell me about a time when….” Be prepared for both options – know one-word answers to questions like the strengths/weaknesses classic, but file example stories showcasing how amazing you are in your brain to be brought out at the appropriate moment. Topics include, goal setting, how you met the goal, how you lead/follow, how you handled a tough situation at work in the past etc. The interviewer wants to know how you think and handle situations, and the stories give you credibility. Prepare these stories beforehand, and draw the conclusions clearly, e.g. I showed perseverance, discretion, leadership in this situation when…, since you want to make it easy for your interviewer to take away the point you want them to glean from your story. Don’t leave them to their own devices.
  • Thank You: If you’ve prepared for your interview, shined your shoes and reformatted your resume so it’s fabulous, sit back and relax. Once you’ve done the interview there’s little to do but send a thank you note. And yes, please do send a thank you note. Maybe I’m old fashioned, but I think this is a good practice. Nice stationery (e.g. thick card stock, monogram optional) is another way to make a good impression, but I’ve written email thank-yous in more casual settings, and the most important thing is to write some sort of thank you. I’ve received thank you cards on the same day sometimes, which could only mean that the person had stashed some stationery in his/her portfolio and wrote/delivered the card before leaving the building. Preparedness points!

If there is another reason for you to follow up with your interviewer, definitely do so – you want to show that you remembered and are conscientious about these things. Otherwise, leave it alone for a while – you don’t want to appear too antsy or be a nag.

Before you leave the interview, graciously inquire as to when a decision might be made, and say, “I’ll follow up with you [time frame].” This puts the ball in your court so you don’t feel nervous about calling later, (like you’re nagging), and it also gives the interviewer the option to say, Oh, no – don’t worry about it. We’ll call you by XYZ. Either way you’ve done your duty.

In the event that you do not get the job or the admissions slot, it’s okay. Rejection happens. I know it well. And you know what? When you get rejected you focus on the next position on your list and go for it. As my Daddy told me many moons ago when I tried peddling my purses around town (this was before Etsy), but no one wanted any, “Tomorrow, the sun also rises.”

Also of interest:

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