Even though you’ll do dozens of interviews during the course of your academic and professional career, you’ve probably had no real training on exactly how to do an interview.
Interviewing is a skill that will make the biggest difference on your ability to get university acceptances, internships, scholarships, and job offers.
Many university programs like Waterloo Engineering, McMaster Engineering, U of T Rotman Commerce, and UBC Sauder have an interview component (it is a HUGE component of the overall evaluation). Similarly, every single job/internship will require you to do 2-4 interviews for each position you apply for. Beyond that, being able to communicate with others effectively is a real-world skill that you will use in every area of your life.
An interview is SO MUCH more than simply answering a bunch of questions.
You need to show that you’re articulate, passionate, and personable. There are also a ton of hidden factors that make the difference between success and failure, like your body language, vocal variety, staying calm under pressure, what you do after the interview, and more.
In our experience, students either feel overconfident because they’re comfortable talking in other settings, so they don’t prepare much. Then, when it comes time to do the interview they talk in circles and their answers aren’t relevant or concise. Then there are other students who go too far the other way and over prepare, reading a script and coming across as overly practiced and inauthentic. Our goal is to help you find the perfect balance of these two.
Mastering the interview process doesn’t always come naturally, and that’s why we created this guide. You’ll learn how to feel more confident going into EVERY type of (in-person and virtual) interview, no matter what it’s for.
In this guide, we’ve split the entire interview process into 3 phases (or the ‘3 Ps’ for short):
- Phase 1 – Prepare: Plan for every type of interview question and learn exactly how to respond.
- Phase 2 – Perform: Master your body language, control performance anxiety, enhance your speaking voice, and more, so you can effectively execute what you’ve prepared.
- Phase 3 – Perfect: Learn exactly what to do when the interview is over, including following up and taking what you learned to evolve your interviewing skills so you’ll do even better on the next one.
In each phase, you’ll learn a broad strategy that’s not dependent on specific questions or situations, so that you can answer all types of questions effectively, while staying calm under pressure and coming across as professional, knowledgeable, and the best fit for whatever type of interview you’re doing.
For more than 10 years, our Youth Coaches™ have helped hundreds of students prepare for and ace academic and professional interviews. Just like all the other skills we focus on in our ‘full student’ coaching methodology, like self-awareness, goal setting, narrative communication, and deductive communication, we will work with you 1-on-1 to improve your interviewing skills and help set you up for success so you can reach your full post-secondary potential.
If you haven’t already, connect with a coach to get started.
Table of Contents
- Phase 1 – Prepare: Personal questions and 10 themes; Problem questions and Deductive Approach; Interview question templates and examples; and More.
- Phase 2 – Perform: Delivering a successful interview; Visual, vocal, and mental cues; and More.
- Phase 3 – Perfect: Key interview takeaways; Follow up emails; and More.
Interview Prep Phase 1: Prepare for the Interview
Question Types & Categories – Overview
When it comes to interviews, preparation is key. It can mean the difference between success and failure.
To help make the interview prep process easier, we’ve broken down the most common interview questions into 2 question types:
- Personal Questions: These questions are all about you — your experiences, interests, goals, skills, values, etc. These questions are broken down into 10 themes.
- Problem Questions: These questions are objective, meaning they don’t have anything to do with you personally. Instead, they ask you to solve a problem using critical thinking.
COACH’S TIP: You might not realize it, but interviews are really a test of self-awareness. If you want to take your interview prep to the next level, reflect on your experiences, accomplishments, interests, skills, and aspirations using our Student Identity Blueprint. Haven’t completed yours? Connect with a coach to get started.
Question Type 1: Personal Questions
Before they meet you, the interviewer knows nothing about your personality, how you interact with people, and how you project confidence and professionalism.
Personal questions are meant to allow the interview to get to know you beyond paper by focusing on topics like your:
- How you deal with conflict
- How you work in a team
- Social causes you care about
- And much more!
We’ve analyzed hundreds of Personal Questions and identified these 10 common themes:
- Interests & Goals
- Leadership & Responsibility
- Role Models & Influential Factors
- Accomplishments & Victories
- Creativity & Innovation
- Teamwork & Collaboration
- Social Issues & Helping Others
- Resilience & Challenges
- Morality & Integrity
- Conflict & Dealing With People
Keep reading for a description of each, as well as example questions.
To prepare for any question that comes up under each theme, use this template to jot down some notes about what that theme means to you (aka your ‘opinion’) and use 1-2 experiences as a real life example to back up your opinion (don’t worry, there’s more on this below). In the template, we’ve added some prompts to get you started. You’ll also see a list of Buzzwords to help you recognize the theme when it comes up in a question during your interview.
This template will be your general talking points (this is NOT a script) to help you answer any question that comes up.
If you need some help getting started, check out this template example here.
We know that this might seem like a lot, but we promise it’s a LOT easier once you work on a couple themes and get the hang of it. Youthfully Coaches™ are there for you for every step of the interview prep process, so reach out for support if you need it!
To help make things easier for you, check out this mind map of the themes (you can also print it!):
COACH’S TIP: When talking about your experiences during an interview, make them more memorable and engaging using storytelling and our Narrative Communication Approach™. This will help to create an emotional connection with the reader while showing your development and learning outcomes over time. Connect with a coach to learn how to tell unique and authentic stories using this approach.
PERSONAL QUESTIONS: THEME 1 – INTERESTS & GOALS
Interests & Goals questions give you a chance to let your personality shine, while giving more insight into the things you truly care about and the vision you have for your future.
These questions can be really obvious (e.g. “Tell us about yourself and what you’re passionate about”) or they can be a bit more indirect (e.g. “What would you do with 1 million dollars?”). Use the Buzzwords below to help you identify the question, and if there isn’t a Buzzword but it’s asking you to talk about something you like or something you plan on doing in the future, then you know right away that it’s an Interests & Goals question.
COACH’S TIP: As mentioned above, the Buzzwords will help you recognize which of the 10 themes the question belongs to. In the Example Questions below, we’ve bolded the Buzzwords so you can see how they trigger what theme it is. When you get a question during an interview and you identify a Buzzword, you’ll immediately know which theme it belongs to and then you can use your template to adapt your answer to that theme.
REMEMBER: Access and complete your template here (and here’s a template example you can use for reference). If you need help coming up with your Opinion/Point of View for this theme, or need someone to help you brainstorm the best experience to use in your answers, connect with a coach for support.
Interview Answer Example – Theme 1
Here’s an example Youthfully Coach, Marina, breaking down her prep process and answering the question: “What would you do with 1 million dollars?” (Rotman).
Before watching, read what she wrote under Opinion/Belief and Experiences in Theme 1: Interests & Goals in her template to see how she used these points to come up with a complete answer to this question.
If you want to take your interview prep to the next level and do some mock interviews, connect with a coach now.
PERSONAL QUESTIONS: THEME 2 – LEADERSHIP & RESPONSIBILITY
Leadership & Responsibility questions will ask you to discuss a learning experience where you became a stronger leader and developed leadership skills, like responsibility, reliability, resourcefulness, accountability, and initiative.
An important thing to remember is that leadership isn’t just for business managers or executives, so don’t feel intimidated if you don’t have a lot of experience with it.
Focus your answers on experiences that have helped you develop leadership qualities, like your extracurriculars, volunteer work, academic projects, hobbies, or other activities where you showed your commitment, dedication, and time management.
Interview Answer Example – Theme 2
Here’s a sample answer to the question: “What makes you a good leader?” (Waterloo Engineering).
Before watching, read what she wrote under Opinion/Belief and Experiences in Theme 2: Leadership & Responsibility in her template to see how she used these points to come up with a complete answer to this question.
If you want to take your interview prep to the next level and do some mock interviews, connect with a coach now.
PERSONAL QUESTIONS: THEME 3 – ROLE MODELS & INFLUENTIAL FACTORS
Role models (people) and influential factors (things) affect us more than we realize. They all make us who we are and shape how we interact with the world.
These can be people, places, events, experiences, and things that have made an impact in your life.
These questions are a bit more complex than you might think. By talking about the people and things that influence you the most, you’re actually giving the interviewer a lot of insight into qualities you think are important, your future goals, your work ethic, your passions and interests, and more. And this is why they come up so often.
If you need some inspiration for this theme, check the Story section of your Student Identity Blueprint (if you haven’t completed one yet, click here) to find out who and what is most important in your life.
Interview Answer Example – Theme 3
Here’s one of our Youth Coaches™ answering the question: “Who is somebody you consider a role model and why?” (Waterloo Engineering).
Before watching, read what she wrote under Opinion/Belief and Experiences in Theme 3: Role Models & Influential Factors her template to see how she used these points to come up with a complete answer to this question.
If you want to take your interview prep to the next level and do some mock interviews, connect with a coach now.
PERSONAL QUESTIONS: THEME 4 – ACCOMPLISHMENTS & ADVANCEMENTS
You’ve worked super hard during high school to get good grades, participate in clubs, teams, and other extracurricular activities, and figure out what makes you, you.
Now, it’s time to humble brag a bit about all the awesome things you’ve done!
These can be both inside or outside of the classroom — basically anything you’ve done in your life that you’re particularly proud of. Maybe you helped your football team win the season as their quarterback or you completed a challenging certification that seemed impossible at first. Any activity that helped you advance and grow as a person.
The important thing here is showing your commitment and dedication to seeing something through, even if it was challenging, and that you had life-changing learning outcomes along the way.
PERSONAL QUESTIONS: THEME 5 – CREATIVITY & INNOVATION
Creativity and innovation questions are all about seeing how you use your problem solving skills to think outside the box and get something done or overcome a challenge.
What the interviewer wants to see is that you aren’t afraid to get outside of your comfort zone and that you can get back up even if you fail. It’s this type of determination that makes the best students, interns, and employees.
Your experiences can be really broad here, from starting your own business to overcoming conflict in the classroom, and they don’t always have to end in a success. What’s most important to emphasize is how your creativity and innovation are constantly evolving and that you can learn from every situation.
REMEMBER: Don’t forget to access and complete your template here.
PERSONAL QUESTIONS: THEME 6 – TEAMWORK & COLLABORATION
Teamwork is an important real-world skill, just like communication, problem solving, and critical thinking. No matter what you’re applying for, a big part of your job will be working with others.
If you’re applying for a paid/unpaid employment, you’ll be working as part of a team to carry out strategy, reach goals and targets, and/or events within the company. If you’re applying to a university/college program, you’ll likely be working with your peers on group projects, as a member of a student club or team, or maybe in a study group.
These questions assess if you work better independently, with a team, or both. The interviewer wants to make sure that you will be a good fit for the institution/organization. To get a good sense of what that company/institution culture is, have a look at their About Us page or main website. Maybe they emphasize the importance of accepting diverse perspectives, or they believe that collaboration is the main thing that can lead to innovation.
PERSONAL QUESTIONS: THEME 7 – SOCIAL ISSUES & HELPING OTHERS
Questions under this theme give you a chance to talk about the impact you’ve made in your community as well as the issues that you care about most.
This will give a lot of insight into who you are, where you come from, and what you value. For example, say your parents immigrated to Canada and you saw how difficult it was for them to adapt to a new country, culture, and language. At the time, you wish you had a support system where you could go to with questions. Then, when you were in high school you created a non-profit initiative to help new immigrants acclimatize to living in Canada through 1-on-1 mentorship and group workshops to promote overall happiness and inclusion. By talking about this story, you’re not only giving some personal insight into who you are, but you’re showing what you value, your work ethic, and your strong leadership skills.
Choosing meaningful causes and activities to discuss for these questions can show the impact you’ve made and hope to continue to make as a future student/employee at the place you’re applying to.
Interview Answer Example – Theme 7
Here’s a sample answer to the question: “Describe an issue that has affected your community. Why is it important? (UBC Sauder).
Before watching, read what she wrote under Opinion/Belief and Experiences in Theme 7: Social Issues & Helping Others in her template to see how she used these points to come up with a complete answer to this question.
PERSONAL QUESTIONS: THEME 8 – RESILIENCE & FAILURE
Sometimes things don’t go our way, but just like the old saying goes: when you fall off the horse, you have to get back on it!
Failure can take many forms, like having a tough time achieving a goal, not getting the result you hoped for on an exam, or when something doesn’t happen like you envisioned.
The important thing here isn’t the actual result of what happened, but that you keep pushing forward and you use what you learned to improve in the future.
The interviewer doesn’t care about the actual failure itself, but how it made you a stronger student or young professional. They also want to see that you have the ability to problem solve, find solutions, and keep calm under pressure, because all of these skills will help you in the position you’re applying for.
PERSONAL QUESTIONS: THEME 9 – MORALITY & INTEGRITY
Morality/integrity questions are designed so that interviewers can get a better understanding of your personal values and beliefs.
In this theme, you will likely see experience questions (e.g. “Give an example of when you observed a situation that was unjust. What impact did it have on you?”). You’ll also get ‘right or wrong’ questions (e.g. “For the purpose of marketing a product, is it acceptable to exaggerate the product’s functions?”).
For these questions, interviewers want to see that you’ve taken the time to think about your opinion on certain issues (this is why your template is key), and that you’ve learned from experiences you’ve had where morality/integrity came into question.
PERSONAL QUESTIONS: THEME 10 – CONFLICT & DEALING WITH OTHERS
You can tell a lot about a person by the way they handle themselves during difficult situations and while working with others.
No matter what you’re applying to (paid job, internship, university/college program, scholarship, etc.), you will inevitably have to collaborate with others and you probably won’t always agree. However, If you can show that you’re always respectful to others and will contribute to finding a solution, then you’ll set yourself apart from others who have a tougher time with it.
When asking questions that fall into this theme, interviewers don’t care so much about what the situation was, but how you reacted and what you learned from it. Did you keep your cool when others didn’t? Did you find a solution to the problem? Did you evolve your strategies to work with people next time? The main thing they want to see is that you’ll treat people with respect, humility, and kindness, no matter what the situation is.
Question Type 2: Problem Questions
While the Personal Questions give the interviewer a chance to learn more about your personality, interests, experiences, and goals, Problem Questions showcase your ability to think critically and be creative.
Many Problem Questions will ask for your opinion on a specific topic and they challenge you to prove your answer using evidence.
COACH’S TIP: Problem Questions are easy to spot because they usually don’t ask for personal details about you, but they are completely objective. For example, you would know that the question “What is something you love doing? Why do you love doing it?” is a Personal Question because it’s all about you and your interests. The question “Should a sports league keep track of scores”, on the other hand, is definitely a Problem Question because it has nothing to do with you personally.
It might be a bit intimidating to think about answering a Problem Question on the spot. That’s why our Youth Coaches™ teach students an easy problem solving process, called DARTS.
Here’s a quick breakdown of this process:
- Define: Seek context, challenge assumptions, and clarify terms in order to fully align on and understand the specific problem to be solved.
- Analyze: Break down the problem into its component parts, using a top-down, formulaic approach, then continue to dissect the issue looking at fundamental ‘truths’ and facts.
- Refine: Form a hypothesis, then rigorously test the hypothesis to prove or disprove its validity—often through exhaustive quantitative and qualitative research
- Think: Think a bit deeper about this result to draw conclusions, insights back to the bigger picture, or next steps in your analysis.
- Summarize: Communicate your thought process using the Deductive Communication Approach (Hypothesis/Answer, Main Reasons, Supporting Arguments, So What?)
Using the DARTS process will help you answer any type of Problem Solving question live during an in-person or virtual interview, so you can show the interviewer that you can think critically and logically, stay calm under pressure, and handle anything that comes your way.
INTERVIEW TEMPLATE – PROBLEM QUESTIONS
We’ve created a handy template with the DARTS components to help you answer any Problem Question you’re asked during in-person and/or virtual interviews.
As mentioned above, your answer should always incorporate the 5 components mentioned above: Define, Analyze, Refine, Think, and Summarize.
To practice using this process, simply take a few of the possible questions below and write down some points under each component in the template.
REMEMBER: Interview question answers should be around 2-3 minutes. Your template is NOT meant to be a script, but is meant to help you practice answering Problem Questions with the DARTS process.
We know that Problem Solving questions can seem super intimidating. Connect with a coach for more strategies to ace these questions during your interviews and to do some mock interview answers.
INTERVIEW PREP – PROBLEMS QUESTIONS EXAMPLES
Here are some examples of Problem Questions that we’ve seen while working with students:
INTERVIEW PREP – PROBLEM QUESTIONS ANSWER EXAMPLE
Our Youth Coaches™ are putting their finishing touches on interview response examples to help you with your interview prep. Please check back here soon! 🙂
You can also look at our Problem Solving question example template here. It uses the DARTS process for the question: “How would you estimate the number of gas stations in Canada?”.
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Interview Prep – Other Interview Tips and Things You Might Have Missed
We’ve helped hundreds of students do successful interviews and achieve more than they ever thought possible.
Here are a few effective prep strategies we’ve seen over the years to help you do authentic, memorable, and standout interviews.
KNOW WHERE YOU’RE APPLYING
Earlier in this guide, we talked about how important it is to have self-awareness and know exactly what your interests, values, skills, and goals are. This step is SO important to the interview prep process — after all, how can you expect to talk about these things in an interview if you have no idea what they are. This is why our Youth Coaches spend so much time working on the Student Identity Blueprint.
For interviews, an equally important factor is to know the institution/company inside and out and have a really good understanding of their values/interests (e.g. mission statement), skills (e.g. areas of expertise and prominence in that field), and goals (e.g. ESG metrics).
Why? Because interviewers will tailor their questions specially to their organization/institution and the position you’re applying for so that they can make sure that your values, goals, etc. are aligned with their own.
For example, say you’re applying for a summer internship at a real estate brokerage firm. The interviewer might ask you questions to assess how well you collaborate with others, since teamwork is a huge part of their company dynamic. Or, you might get questions about your ability to assist with an area of the market that the company focuses on. If you’ve done your research, you’ll be able to gather details like their areas of expertise, strong team focus, etc. from their website and social media accounts, and you’ll be ready to answer whatever questions they throw at you.
Put simply, you need to know the ins and outs of the place you’re applying to and your position within that organization/institution.
Go to the company/university’s main website, social media account, and do a search on Google to learn more about details like:
- Their history
- What the goods and/or services they sell
- Who their competitors are
- What their differentiating factor is
- What they value
- Their student/employee culture
- News articles written about them
COACH’S TIP: If you’re meeting with a real person (i.e not a third-party video platform), you’ll likely receive an email/Zoom invitation for the interview. Have a look at who the attendees are and search them on LinkedIn to see what their position in the company/organization is. Being familiar with their background and asking a question or two about them can really give you a leg up from other applicants.
Once you’ve done your research about the company/organization more generally, do some specific research for exactly what you’re applying to.
If you’re applying for paid/unpaid employment, make sure you print out and read the entire job description carefully, including the job’s responsibilities and expectations. Jot down some specific examples of experiences you’ve had that make you especially suited to excel in the responsibilities of the job. If anything in the job description is unclear, do some research to make sure you’re up to date on the field you’re applying to. For example, say you’re applying for a marketing internship and the job description says that part of your responsibilities will be social listening and analytics. Even if you haven’t done this before, do some research to find out exactly what this responsibility entails. Then, if the interviewer brings it up, you can say that, while you haven’t done social listening or analytics before, you know what it entails and you’re eager to put what you’ve researched into practice.
If you’re applying to a university program, do some research on the things that made you excited to apply, like notable faculty, clubs, classes, and/or co-op opportunities. You should have a clear answer on why you want to attend that particular program as well as what you as a student will contribute.
If you’re applying to a scholarship, research exactly what the scholarship is (who set it up, how long it has been going for, etc.) and then see what the ideal recipient is (you can also look at past winners for more information). Be prepared to answer how you personify the mission and values of that scholarship and how you would continue its legacy as its recipient.
If you need some help becoming an expert in everything to do with the place you’re applying, connect with a coach for support.
PREPARE QUESTIONS FOR THE INTERVIEWER
Your interview might seem like an endless series of questions where your skills, experiences, values, and more are discussed. Then, usually close to the end of the interview, the tables will be turned and you’ll likely get this question: “Do you have any questions for me/us?”.
This question will come up 99% of the time. Why? It’s another way that your interviewer can assess your interest in whatever you’re applying to, along with your curiosity to learn more about the organization/institution, scholarship, etc. They want to see that you’ve really thought about how you would fit into this new environment and if you have any concerns or just simply want to learn more.
You might feel like you’ve covered everything in the interview, but don’t ever say “Nope! No questions!” Before the interview, come up with 2-3 general questions and, even if you have discussed them briefly, you can simply say, “I know we touched on this a little bit, but….” and then ask your question.
COACH’S TIP: When preparing your questions, don’t simply ask what you think they want you to hear. Prepare questions you actually want answers to. If there is something you need more clarification about or something sticks out to you (like their company mission or a student club), ask about it! This will show that you’ve done your research about the organization and you genuinely believe you’ll be a great fit (and it’ll help you answer the inevitable “Why should we hire you for this position?” or “Why should we accept you into this program?” question (keep reading below to learn how to answer this).
Here are a few examples of questions you could ask to get you started:
- Paid/Unpaid Employment:
- How does this organization prioritize ESGs, like diversity, inclusion, and sustainability?
- What are the daily responsibilities of this position?
- What does success in this role look like?
- If I was hired for this opportunity, what could I expect my first 3 months to look like?
- What is it like being an employee for this company? What do you believe is most rewarding?
- Could you briefly describe the company culture and how this fits into its overall mission statement?
- In your opinion, what are some areas that could be improved upon?
- Was there someone in this position before me or is it new? If so, why did you create it?
- If I was hired for this position, are there opportunities for advancement and learning?
- University/College Institutions:
- What makes this program different from others?
- What opportunities are there for extracurricular activities and student involvement?
- What is this program’s style of learning?
- What electives can I take along with this program?
- Are there student support services available at this university?
- Will I be able to work 1-on-1 with faculty whose research interests are aligned with mine?
- Are there opportunities for scholarships and other student funding?
- What does the first year of the program look like?
REMEMBER: No matter what you ask, know your audience and frame your questions based on that. For example, say you’re applying for a Marketing Coordinator summer internship position and your interviewer is the company’s Director of Marketing. You want to know more about employee benefits and perks. Instead of asking the exact percentages of your benefits package or the number of vacation days you get (which is something an HR Manager would know better), frame your question to be more about the experience of employees like, “How has your experience been working here? Is there something in particular that is rewarding? I’d love to hear more about that.”
IMAGINE YOURSELF THERE
No matter whether you’re applying for a paid job, internship, university program, or scholarship, interviewers want to see that you will become an active member of the organization/institution’s community and that you’ll contribute to making it better in some way.
When preparing for your interview, think about specific ways you’ll contribute.
If you’re applying to a university, see what student clubs and organizations that program has and think about which you might be interested in joining. For example, if you’re applying to York Schulich BBA, you could say that you’re interested in continuing your community initiatives that you started in high school and that you’re particularly interested in joining the Schulich Charity Association to assist local businesses and charities. This will show that you plan to become an active member of the Schulich community and contribute something positive beyond academics.
If you’re applying for a paid/unpaid employment opportunity, think about what you can contribute as an employee both inside and outside your job description. The interviewer wants to see what you’re eager to help the company improve, so you could (politely) suggest some things the company could improve upon. For example, if you’re applying for an entry level writing position as a blog writer, you could suggest improvements for blog topics or ways to improve lead generation from the blogs. This will show that you’re actively engaging with the responsibilities for your role and that the company will gain a lot by hiring you.
Need some help coming up with ways to become a positive asset to the organization/company you’re applying to? Connect with a coach now.
REMEMBER WHY YOU APPLIED
A super common question in most interviews is: “Why should we hire you for this position?” (paid/unpaid employment) or “Why did you apply to this program?” (university/college application).
Simply saying “Because I really want to work/go here!” won’t cut it.
For this question, the interview is basically asking for a brief Shark Tank style pitch to sell yourself and explain why you’re the absolute best fit. We know you’re awesome, and now it’s time to explain why!
When preparing for this question, come up with 2-3 specific reasons about why the company/university is the perfect fit, such as your:
- Passion and drive
- Career/education goals
- Work ethic and dedication
No matter which of these you touch upon, the key is to show that you’re unique and different from everyone else who’s applying for the same position as you. To do this, align the reasons above to the institution/organization using specific examples and experiences.
For example, say the company you’re applying to a summer internship frequently talks about their efforts to support the community in their blogs and social media posts. When discussing your experiences and interests, you could say that community outreach has always been a passion of yours, and that you started a non-profit where you raised over $15,000 to donate to low income families affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. This will show that both you and the company share the same values, and this is specifically what makes you the best candidate.
If you’ve completed your Student Identity Blueprint™ you’ve already done the work when you filled out each of the Youth Development Pillars. Here, you’ll see all the areas you’ve worked hard on, like skills/values, development, education, extracurricular activities, past employment, and health so you can easily provide examples for each of these areas. If you haven’t completed your Blueprint, connect with a coach to get started.
PRACTICE MAKES PERFECT
We know that interviews can seem really scary and overwhelming.
The best thing you can do to fight interview anxiety is to build confidence.
How, you ask? Practice, practice, practice!
Open up your template with the question categories and themes we talked about above and choose 2-3 questions from each theme in the Personal and Problem Questions.
If you’re doing a virtual interview, open up your camera and record your response. Then, watch it back and see if there are areas where you could improve. If you’re doing an in person interview, ask your parents or friends to give you a few questions and then provide some feedback after.
REMEMBER: Don’t overpractice your answers or you’ll come across as robotic and inauthentic. Practice just enough so that you are confident enough to come up with answers on the spot and incorporate the themes and experiences you’ve prepared in your template.
If you want to take your prep to the next level, work 1-on-1 with a coach and do some mock interviews so you know exactly how to respond when you’re doing your answers for real. Get started here.
Interview Prep Phase 2: Perform During the Interview
Now that you know exactly how to prepare for an interview, it’s time to talk about what to do during the interview.
While preparing answers, thinking about your experiences, and practicing some responses are all super important parts of the interview process, the delivery of this material is equally (if not more) important.
A huge part of strong interviewing and communication skills is HOW you deliver all the things you’ve prepared in the previous section. You can spend hours thinking about your experiences and practicing possible questions, but if you’re talking way too quickly or you come across as unprofessional, all that hard work won’t matter.
It’s not always about what you say, but how you say it.
This includes all the visual, vocal, and mental cues that people pick up on while you’re speaking that can make the difference between success and failure.
In this section, we’ll go through the most important cues and tell you exactly what to do and what not to do to deliver a standout (in-person or virtual) interview, namely visual, vocal, and mental.
Our coaches have worked with hundreds of students in each of these areas to ensure their delivery is just as on point as the responses they’ve prepared. If you want to take your interview prep to the next level, connect with a coach now.
Interview Prep Tips – Visual Cues
Visual factors are all about how you come across in your interview and the unconscious messages you send to the person you’re talking to. They have to do with everything from how you dress to how you engage during the conversation.
Here are the most important visual factors to consider when doing an interview:
Did you know that you only have about 7 seconds to make a good first impression? No pressure! The most important traits to focus on within this quick window (and for the rest of the interview) is showing you have the perfect balance of warmth and competence (learn about this in this podcast with Vanessa Van Edwards).
To do this, always arrive 2-3 minutes early (to both in–person and video videos), and bring your resume (this will show competency and reliability right away). When you walk into the room (or pop up on the virtual meeting), always remember to smile and be as friendly as you can (just don’t overdo it). This will show your warmth and confidence.
Shake the interviewer’s hand (if they offer it) and let them take the lead on small talk. Make sure you remember the interviewer’s name and use it in conversation when you arrive (and then again when you leave the interview) because this shows that you’re respectful and considerate of them and their time. Just make sure you don’t overdo it.
LOOK THE PART
It might seem obvious, but dressing professionally can help set you apart from the crowd. In fact, 71% of employers will pass on hiring someone if they don’t dress appropriately.
You don’t have to wear formal attire, but dressing business casual will show your competence and that you are the perfect fit for the position you’re applying to. Also, when you’re dressed for success you will feel more confident and you’ll do better during the interview.
Your mom always told you to sit up straight — and no better advice has ever been given when it comes to interviews! This includes your posture. Plant your feet firmly on the floor when you’re sitting and standing (and don’t cross your legs), keeping your shoulders back and down, with your head held high (try to keep your ears away from your shoulders as much as possible). You want to take up as much space in the room as possible to project your competence and confidence. This position also helps to improve your pace and breathing (more on that in the section below).
Another important thing to work on is maintaining eye contact. Like sitting up straight, strong eye contact shows that you’re confident and that you have positive feelings towards the interview and the position you’re applying for (more on that here). This might seem obvious, but most young adults make eye contact only 30-60% of the time (when it should be 70%+ of the time), partly because a lot of interactions have gone virtual (like through your phone or computer).
Even if your interview is virtual, make sure you look at the webcam, NOT the person on the screen. It might feel weird, but from your interviewer’s perspective, it will look like you’re looking directly at them which is what you want.
Finally, remove all distracting things in your environment that could make you break your eye contact, like your phone or tablet.
When the interviewer is talking, always show that you’re engaged in what they are saying by nodding (don’t nod too fast though, because nodding too fast is a visual cue that you want then to hurry up and stop talking), laughing when they tell a joke, or leaning forward slightly.
Don’t look fidgety or like you’re waiting for them to finish talking so you can cut in. Think about what they’re saying before you respond, rather than jumping right in to answer.
USE (AND SHOW) YOUR HANDS
When doing an interview, never ever hide your hands, like putting them in your pocket or under a table, when you’re speaking.
Why? It might seem strange but hiding your hands makes you seem untrustworthy and like you’re hiding something (and that’s the last thing you want your interviewers to hear). Vanessa Van Edwards analyzed hundreds of Shark Tank pitches and found that people who always showed their hands (especially when first walking in to the tank) and used hand gestures usually always received a deal because they were seen as reliable, warm, competent, and trustworthy (learn more here).
Just as important as showing your hands is actually using them when you speak. Studies show that using hand gestures makes people engage with what you’re saying more (this is why so many politicians use them). This is because your brain can hear what you’re saying AND see what you’re saying, so it makes things extra interesting and easier to understand. Using hand gestures can also make people like you more because they think you are ‘warm, agreeable and energetic’ (how cool is that?!).
COACH’S TIP: Make sure you don’t randomly wave your hands around with no rhyme or reason. Think of your hand gestures as a highlighter for your words, and used where you want to add some emphasis. Also, don’t go overboard. Just do what feels natural and make sure they’re aligned with what you’re saying (this is called ‘meaningful movement’). Check out this video to learn more about how to use hand gestures.
Finally, think about how you show your hands. Putting your hands palm down on the table or your legs is the best position for showing both warmth and competence. You should also never point or swing your arms around (check out these and other awesome pointers from body language experts and speech coaches here).
Video Interview Tips
If you are doing a virtual interview, you can use all of the tips as above and add these other strategies to crush your interview:
- Background: Part of looking professional is making sure your background is free from clutter and unprofessional objects. When you log on, your background is one of the first things the interviewer will see, so make sure it’s clear and presentable.
- Atmosphere: Try to avoid background noise as much as possible during the interview (no one wants to hear your mom yelling at you). Also, test your camera beforehand to ensure that the room is nice and bright so your interviewer can see you properly.
- Wifi: Make sure that you have a strong wifi connection before you do your interview, so you don’t freeze.
- Webcam Setup: Position the camera on your computer so that the lens is aligned with the middle of your forehead and that it’s not angled. If you’re on a laptop, prop it up on some books or a stand to elevate it and avoid the dreaded up the nose shot. Set up your laptop or computer around 2-4 feet away from you so it’s not too close (you don’t want to come across as too invasive).
Interview Prep – Vocal Cues
Vocal factors are how you use your voice to convey emotion, show excitement, and come across as composed and professional.
Here are the most important vocal factors to consider when doing an interview:
Vocal variety is all about changing up your tone, volume, and pace so that you can project confidence, warmth, and competence.
Don’t be monotone or people will quickly lose interest in what you’re saying. Instead, add some vocal variety and let your personality shine through the way you speak.
Here are the 3 most important things to focus on for vocal variety:
1. TONE & INFLECTION
This is how you make your voice rise and fall to express a feeling or attitude, emphasize a point, or ask a question (here’s an example). It’s basically a change in the pitch of your voice going up and down (read more about this relatively new linguistic mystery here). For example, when you ask a question, your pitch goes up at the end of the sentence to signal to the listener that it’s a question.
The most important thing to remember is to avoid uptalk, which is finishing sentences as if they’re a question when they aren’t (this is called ‘inflection’). Even though you might not realize you’re doing it, uptalk is SO annoying to most people and it makes you seem insecure and like you’re telling a lie. Uptalk implies that you have something to hide, and that you’re neither warm nor confident. This is a super tough habit to break, but our coaches see it all the time and we promise it can be fixed with a bit of practice.
Check out this helpful video about uptalk and how to avoid it here.
Elevating volume is so much more than just making sure that the interviewer can hear what you’re saying. Similar to body language and hand gestures, changing the loudness and softness of your voice can create more interest and add energy to what you’re saying. A good trick to make sure that you change up the volume is to emphasize the key words, themes, or phrases that are most important with an elevated voice volume. Imagine you are writing what you’re saying out on the computer and you bold the words that are important. Think of those bolded words as the ones you emphasize and speak a little louder for.
It’s also effective to lower your volume a bit when you want to capture the attention of your audience so that they have to listen closely and really concentrate on what you’re saying (don’t be too quiet though).
Overall, you want to be slightly louder than too quiet (don’t yell, but don’t whisper). We know that changing up your volume can seem awkward and unnatural, so our coaches pay extra attention to this during mock interviews with students.
Just like increasing your volume or pitch can help the audience focus on what you’re saying, the speed or slowness at which you speak can also command attention.
To make sure that everyone can keep up with what you’re saying, try to speak at a slower pace (even if it seems too slow), and then speak even more slowly to emphasize key statements, phrases, or points (don’t go overboard, though).
If you’re particularly excited about something, you can speed up your voice a bit to make your interviewer feel the same excitement and energy as you. Ensuring that you’re breathing properly (check out the previous section) can also help a lot with pace and making sure you aren’t speaking too quickly.
Make sure everyone can hear what you’re saying by projecting your voice as much as you can (this becomes a lot easier when you sit up straight!).
Also, try to articulate your words as clearly as possible so that the interviewer can follow along with what you’re saying (this is called enunciation).
COACH’S TIP: If you are doing a virtual interview, make sure you have a good mic and test it beforehand. Headphones with a built-in microphone are usually best for clarity, but if you don’t worry too much.
FOCUS ON BREATHING
Most people hold their breath while they are speaking, and this can make you sound different and run out of air if you have an especially long sentence.
To fix this, you want to slow down when you’re speaking, take a deep breath through your nose, and then focus on breathing outwards through your diaphragm (i.e. lower and in the middle of your chest), rather than through your larynx. Imagine that you have a balloon in your stomach and when you speak you are releasing the air to your vocal cords and out of your mouth. This will help you avoid sounding nasally and running out of air while speaking (learn more here).
CUT IT OUT
When we feel awkward, lose our train of thought, or we’re speaking too quickly, we tend to add verbal fillers, like “uh”, “um”, “you know”, “like”, etc. Other fillers are “kind of”, “you know”, and “sort” of (also called verbal qualifiers), usually in between sentences.
All of these words are really distracting and they take away from the credibility of what you’re saying and they make it seem like you’re hesitant or unsure.
To help you avoid this common mistake, record yourself doing a few of the practice questions or if you’re working with your coach, ask them to count how many times you use these fillers and qualifiers. Instead of inserting these verbal fillers and qualifiers, simply slow down your pace, try to use short sentences wherever possible. Practice taking these words out of your speech in daily life and eventually you’ll break this bad habit.
KEEP IT SIMPLE
We all want to show others that our grasp of the English language is complex and we know some seriously big words. However, if you mispronounce words or get tripped up over complicated grammar, you’ll actually come across as less credible and knowledgeable. When giving your answers, keep your language simple and stick with the basics so that you don’t make any of these blunders accidentally.
Communicating your ideas, interests, experiences, and goals can be really tough, especially when you’re under a lot of pressure in an interview situation. By working 1-on-1 with a Youth Coach™, you will get a mentor who will support you through the whole process and put all these tips into practice. Get started and connect with a coach now.
Interview Prep – Mental Cues
In addition to testing your skills, qualifications, and interests, interviewing is also a mental test.
Interviewers want to see that you can keep calm under pressure and flex your problem solving skills if you get stuck.
Mental factors are all about overcoming anxiety and negative triggers that the stress of an interview can bring on.
Here are the most important mental factors to consider when doing an interview:
You wouldn’t run a marathon without stretching first, right? Well, your interview is no different! You have to get your mind in the right place, and then everything else will come naturally.
The first step in your warm up process is to make sure you feel positive and happy so that you can come across as friendly and personable (no one likes a negative Nancy). A few minutes before the interview go on a quick walk to soak up the sunshine, give yourself a little pep talk or listen to your favourite song — anything to get you into that positive mindset.
You also don’t want to go into an interview when you haven’t spoken to anyone all day because you will be in an introverted and quiet mindset. Before the interview, call your best friend for a chat to warm up those vocal cords and get yourself ready for a conversation. You can also book a quick call with your coach a couple hours before your interview and they can help you get into that extroverted, confident mindset.👍
The last thing you want to do is stand in your own way. Before the interview, imagine how good it will feel when you get the call that you’ve been accepted to your dream program or you’ve been hired for your perfect job.
Imagining success actually tricks your mind into thinking you’ve done the interview already, so when you actually do it for real you will be more positive and confident.
Take a few minutes in a quiet room and do a mental rehearsal of what an ideal interview looks like. Try pushing out all your negative feelings and then get rid of anxiety ahead of time by thinking about some scenarios where you might be caught off guard, like answering a question you are unsure of. This type of mental imagery prep has been shown to keep you calmer and actually do better than those who didn’t do it (read the study here).
CONFIDENCE IS KEY
Sometimes we can get super intimidated by the people we’re doing an interview with, especially if they’re in a position of authority like a company executive, a university program director, etc. Always remember that your interviewers are nice people who genuinely want to learn more about you. Don’t pay attention to their titles or the fact that they’re deciding whether you get the job/admissions offer or not. Just be yourself and pretend you’re having a conversation with someone you just met.
Preparing as much as you can before your interview can also help you feel more confident and ready to tackle any question that comes your way. If you’re a naturally anxious person or you speaking to strangers really intimidates you, there are ways that you can give yourself that extra confidence boost.
For example, maintaining good posture helps increase confidence and sitting up straight with your shoulders back is an effective ‘power pose’ that can help you perform better during an interview (Watch this TED Talk about the power poses and body language here). Studies show that power poses also help to increase testosterone and decrease cortisol, meaning you’ll feel more powerful and less stressed. Who doesn’t want that?!
If you find yourself panicking or coming up with ways you could get yourself out of your interview, try to take a deep breath and remember: this isn’t the end of the world!
To help ease your performance anxiety, don’t focus solely on getting the job. Instead, think about how hard you’ve worked to prepare and focus on executing the process you’ve learned by reading this guide (think process not outcome).
No matter what happens, remember that this is an awesome learning experience that will only make your interviewing skills better. Just do the best you can and don’t put so much pressure on yourself. 🙂
SHAKE IT OFF
We’re all human and mistakes happen. The trick is not to let a tiny mistake trip you up so that you’re flustered for the whole interview. If something doesn’t go the way you planned, like you lose your train of thought or you stumble on your words, simply take a second, breathe, and continue as best you can.
You should also do your best to reset your posture and sit up straight. Believe it or not, maintaining good posture (instead of slouching) can help ease anxiety and increase performance, especially in high pressure situations. Good posture can also help you gather your thoughts if you blank and increase cognitive performance (read more here).
Interview Prep Phase 3: Perfect the Next Interview
After putting so much effort into preparing, most people want to just move on and stop thinking about their interview after it’s done. After all, it’s over and there’s nothing you can do that will make a difference, right? Think again!
The last important step in the interviewing skill building process is reflecting on the interview and perfecting areas that could use a little more work.
Think of every interview as an opportunity for you to turn an experience into a meaningful lesson.
For example, maybe you noticed that it was relatively easy to answer a bunch of different questions because you prepared your opinions and experiences for each theme, but you remember feeling really anxious and stressed out which clouded your thought processes a bit. In this instance, you’d high-five yourself for mastering interview question prep, and then you’d spend a bit more time going through the section on ways to control your anxiety before your next interview.
In this section, we’ll talk about ways that you can draw learning outcomes from your interviews and use them to become stronger. As a general rule of thumb, you should go through these steps no more than 1-2 days after your interview, so that everything is still fresh in your mind.
If you’re working with a coach, we highly recommend that you book a call with them to go over the interview and come up with strategies for how you can improve next time. If you aren’t working with a coach, click here to get started.
Interview Tips – Identify the Key Takeaways
The most valuable part of finishing an interview is reflecting on the things that went really well as well as the things that didn’t go so well.
The point isn’t to be overly negative and self-critical, but to think about your blind spots and then address those. This is how you’ll evolve your interviewing skills and become a true pro.
But remember: Rome wasn’t built in a day. But as you do more and more interviews, we promise you’ll see how much better your skills get.
Here are some questions to help get you started with your post-interview reflection:
- What stuck out to you during the interview?
- What could have been better?
- Was there something you aced?
- Was there a question that didn’t go so well?
- What prep strategies worked? Which didn’t?
- Were there any visual cues that you did (or didn’t do), like keeping eye contact, or good posture, hand gestures?
- Were there any vocal cues that you did (or didn’t do), like saying a statement like a question, good volume, and vocal variation?
- Were there any mental cues that you did (or didn’t do), like calling your friend beforehand, feeling performance anxiety, or staying calm after something didn’t go your way?
- What’s the most valuable lesson you learned from this interview?
What you want to do is to really think deeply about what worked and what didn’t and then adjust your preparation accordingly.
Why? Because like every skill, trial and error is everything and you’ll get better over time.
If you get the most out of your post-interview reflection, connect with a coach to learn how to use key takeaways to improve for next time.
Interview Tips – Interview Follow Up Email
Sending a follow up email after an interview can be really effective if you want to show your continued interest in the position you’re applying for (and to keep you at the front of the hiring manager’s mind).
However, there are a few important do’s and don’ts when it comes to interview follow ups so you don’t seem annoying.
- DO (always!) send a follow up email within 24 hours after your interview. Keep this email super short, simply thanking them for their time, emphasizing your continued interest in the job, and listing 1-2 reasons why you’d be a perfect fit. Check out these examples on Indeed and LinkedIn.
- DO send a second follow up email 7 days after your first email if you haven’t heard back from anyone. As a general rule, if you’re early in the interview process (i.e. this is your first interview), you’ll probably hear a bit sooner than if you’re later in the process (i.e. if it’s your second or third interview). However, DON’T send a follow up if the interview mentioned time parameters at the end of the interview (e.g. “Someone will follow up within 10 days” or “We are finishing up our interviews and will follow up by the end of this week”) be respectful of this and wait it out before emailing anyone.
- DON’T write a book. Companies interview hundreds of people and they don’t have time to read it all. Be as brief as possible. Restate your interests/experience and if there’s anything you forgot to bring up in the interview, briefly include that.
- DO make sure your follow up emails are personalized and specific, such as referencing the interviewer’s position, a specific point you discussed, etc. You should also make sure to send this email to every person you interviewed with.
- DON’T be pushy or rude. Avoid passive aggressive phrases like, “I noticed you haven’t followed up with me yet…” or “As I mentioned, I am looking to start working immediately…” This won’t get you anywhere.
- DO follow your interviewers on social media. This again brings you top of mind, and will allow you to stay up to date on the company, other jobs that might be a good fit, etc.
If you need some help creating the perfect follow-up email after your interview, connect with a coach for support.
Interview Tips – Feedback & Handling Rejection
No matter how your interview turns out, remember that you did your best and that’s all that matters.
If you aren’t accepted for the program you applied to or you don’t land that job you really wanted, DON’T beat yourself up.
Even Oprah was told that she was unfit for television news… and she turned into a billionaire media mogul. Steven Spielberg was rejected from the University of California School of Theater, Film, and Television THREE times and his movies have made a combined $4.67 billion US dollars.
You see where we’re going here… Rejection isn’t personal, it’s just an unfortunate part of the interview process, and you WILL move past it.
Instead of focusing on the rejection itself, use your experience as an opportunity to grow and evolve. If you receive a rejection, follow up with the person you interviewed with (if possible). Always thank them for their time and say that you’d appreciate any feedback they have. It might be tough to hear, but it might be something you didn’t even realize you could improve upon, and it could be a game changer for your next opportunity.
Don’t beat yourself up, and focus on the feedback rather than the rejection.
From there, revisit the Key Takeaways we talked about above, and keep working on perfecting those interviewing skills. Then, when you land that dream job or get into your top program, victory will be that much sweeter.
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Our 1-on-1 Youth Coaching fills that gap that most high schools miss. We can help you build self-awareness through probing questions and assessments, set bigger goals to elevate your extracurriculars and future career plans, and improve skills that matter on supplementary applications, such as interviewing, communication, critical thinking, and creativity.
We use a coaching methodology, called ‘full student’ development, that’s been proven to increase your chances of admission to top-tier universities and obtaining competitive jobs/internships.
So, what are you waiting for? Fulfill your post-secondary potential with the mentorship and coaching you’ve always wanted! 🙂
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