For most people, interviews produce a considerable amount of anxiety. But, if you have been short-listed and invited to an interview, this means that they already like something about you! The interview is your chance to show them more.

How does this apply to you? To succeed in an interview, you must first and foremost show enthusiasm for the position. This, a clear articulation of your skills and knowledge, plus an understanding of the position is key to your success.

The interviewer’s role is to compare candidates, in person, and select the individual most suited to the position and the environment. But remember, the interview is also an opportunity for you to learn more about the position and get the information. 


Interview Formats 

Interview formats can vary significantly depending on the experience, goals, and background of the interviewer. Some interviews may be formal and structured, while others are more casual and unstructured. A typical interview lasts from 20 to 45 minutes.

One-to-one    The most common interview format involves you interviewing with one other person. Preparation for these includes: research, practice, selection of appropriate attire for the interview, preparation of portfolio items, finding out the exact location, and arriving early.
Panel Interview    Panel interviews involve two or more people asking a series of set questions. When responding to questions, acknowledge all panelists with occasional glances but maintain primary eye contact with the person who asked you the question. Preparation includes the same elements as one-to-one interviewing plus practice with two or more panelists.
Telephone Interview    These interviews are sometimes more challenging as you no longer have any non-verbal cues to receive or send communication. Your tone of voice and word choice must communicate interest and enthusiasm. Also ,watch the use of humour as it is difficult to pick up on reactions by phone. Be sure to take a note pad and find a quiet place.

Behavioural-Based Interview

A behavioural-based question is designed to examine your past behaviour in order to help the interviewer(s) assess how you might react in similar future situations. Interviewers are looking at three key dimensions of your answers:

1. Relatedness of selected examples.
2. Skills and abilities demonstrated through relevant example.
3. Style and personal preferences inferred from example provided.

A behavioural-based response requires you to provide specific examples of past events that demonstrate your performance under certain situations (for example: under stress, in a team, managing a difficult problem) and probable future performance. Always try to select examples that highlight your skills and a successful outcome. Many behavioural-based questions start with "Tell me about a time when...."

Sometimes you may be asked to "tell about a time that you encountered a particular problem and how you resolved it," but you have no positive outcome examples to share. You may then select a related example in which the problem situation was not resolved at the time, but be sure to add in that "now that I have reflected upon it, here's what I would do in the future…"

Remember, you will have already thought of some examples of "where and how" you developed a particular skill during your cover letter and resume preparation when you deconstructed your own skills in order to relate them to the position description-- some of those examples may apply here. These examples are all now part of your "story folder," which can be kept in mental storage, or you may want to write them out and store them in a portfolio. This ensures that you will be more likely to remember the examples and articulate them well under the pressure of an interview.

Interview Content

The interviewer will form their impression of you based on your answers and your personal presentation style. The content of the interview may touch on any of the following areas:

Skills and Abilities

These questions will target specific technical skill set and you may be asked for examples of your technical or disciple specific work, including:

  • Do you know a particular skill? If yes, where did you learn it?
  • How have you developed it?
  • In what other places have you used it?

Soft Skills

These are often called essential skills and include your ability to communicate effectively, to think critically, to work as part of a team, to organize a project, and act professionally.

  •  Can you tell me about a time when you demonstrated effective communication skills?

Hint: Try and think about a problem situation that involved communication (task), your communication skills-related actions in that situation, and the successful result (remember the STAR approach) - just as you did when composing your resume.

Education/ Training

Interviewers may want to know more specific information about your academic experiences, such as:

  • What courses have you enjoyed the most/least and why? What have you learned?
  • How have you applied what you have learned in your classes? This is clearly looking for evidence of your ability to transfer your learning.
  • What are your long term goals?


You will likely be asked for more details about your previous experiences such as volunteer activities, extra-curricular activities, hobbies, and community work. Try to link your past experiences to the position description as best you can. Remember, if your past experience is related, talk about tasks.

  • What was the most challenging aspect of your volunteer activities?


Interviewers are looking for your genuine interest in the position. A question might be:

  • Why did you apply for this position?
  • What do you know about our environment?

Personality Fit

Interviewers are always thinking about how you will fit into their environment. They may need someone who can work flexible hours, or work effectively in an unstructured setting. They may ask you:

  • What kind of environment do you like, or what type of managing style you prefer?

Unusual Questions

Every interviewer conducts their interview differently. Because of this, you may be asked unusual or non-traditional questions that may reflect the interviewer's style and interest, or which seek new ways to assess your abilities and creativity. You may be asked specific questions to see how you handle the unexpected, solve problems, or think under pressure. For example:

  • Why are manhole covers round?
  • How many things can you do with a paper clip?
  • What's the most creative thing you have ever done?

Illegal Questions

The Human Rights Act prohibits questions pertaining to age, race, ancestry, colour, sex, marital status, physical/mental disability, place of origin, political beliefs, family status, and sexual orientation. Some examples of illegal questions include:

  • How old are you?
  • Have you missed work as a result of illness?
  • Are you religious? Which denomination?

Not all interviewers know what constitutes an illegal question. Give them the benefit of the doubt and ask if they could please rephrase the question in order for you to get clarity on what they are seeking. If you are comfortable answering the questions, you may choose to do so. If you feel uncomfortable, you may want to diplomatically request clarification on the relationship between the question and the requirements of the position.

If there is information about you (such as a disability) that may impact your ability to perform, you may choose to disclose this to provide an opportunity for accommodation.

General Preparation Prior to an Interview

Self-Assessment: Take time to review your goals, interests, and strengths as they relate to the opportunity for which you are interviewing.

Research the position: What do you know about the position?

Find out about the interview process: Be clear on the location of your interview, date and time of interview, name of the interviewer(s), and any special arrangements (for example: the need to bring a sample of your work, or group meetings).

Anticipate questions: Try to anticipate some of the questions that may be asked during an interview. Search the Internet, do a practice interview on Interview Stream through Symplicity, check out the Interview Questions on the SFU Our Learning Community @

Prepare questions to ask: Do not end an interview without asking some intelligent questions. Always prepare some questions for the end of the interview that demonstrate both your preparation for the interview and interest in the position. Try not to ask questions that only reflect your personal needs, for example; "How long do I get for lunch?" Try something that shows your interest in the position, for example: "Do you anticipate any new product development in the next term?" Generally try to ask questions that reflect your interest in the position; don't ask one of your prepared questions if it has already been answered in the interview process. You may want to jot down a few new ones beforehand or as the interview proceeds, so bring a note pad and pen.

Recap: Interview Preparation

Keep the following list of items in mind when preparing for your interview.

  • Dress professionally and pay close attention to personal hygiene (not too much make-up or perfume/cologne).
  • Arrive 15 minutes early.
  • If your interview is on campus, wait outside the interview room in the designated waiting area until they invite you in.
  • Bring two copies of your resume, your references, your showcase portfolio (optional), a notepad, and a pen.
  • Introduce yourself with a firm handshake and smile — try to relax!
  • Use open body language, positive facial expressions, good eye contact, and watch for cues from the interviewer.
  • Be sure your voice is clear and can be heard.
  • Maintain a professional and courteous manner at all times.
  • Avoid slangs or filler terms like "yeah", "ya know", or "uh."
  • Answer questions completely and honestly. Avoid "Yes/No" responses—take the opportunity to elaborate with specific examples from your experiences.
  • Listen carefully; ask for clarification if necessary, and never interrupt.
  • Stay focused on the question and avoid long meandering responses. Let them know when your response is complete, for example; by reiterating the main question ("So those are what I feel to be my major strengths as they relate to this position".)
  • Do not feel a need to fill all silences. It is okay to take a few seconds to reflect before providing an answer. It shows you are thinking. If you need a little more time let them know "That's a really good question, let me think..."
  • Take brief notes if necessary and be prepared to ask questions that show your interest in the work (usually at the end).
  • At the end of the interview, thank the interviewer, and then shake hands and leave.
  • After the interview jot down some notes about how your impression of how the interview went. This will aid your future performance in interviews.
  • Send a thank you letter or card to your interviewer within 24 hours.