Blog Career & Leadership Development

Don’t Say “No” & Other Interviewing Tips

Thursday, February 8, 2018


Deep breath. Ok, it’s all good. You’ve answered the heavy questions during your job interview for what you believe MAY BE your dream job. During the last 50 minutes, you’ve proven that you’re a self-starter, a team player, and a problem solver. And, you’re about to earn a degree from the University of Northwestern. You’ve got this job in the bag.

Then, a sudden pause. The interviewer leans back in her chair, slightly tilts her head, and says with a smile, “So, do you have any questions for me?”

Ali O’Reilly, UNW’s Program Manager, Experiential Education Specialist in the Career Development office has advice for using your questions to leave a great impression but before we talk about that, she has essential thoughts on preparing before your interview even starts.

Start with the Basics*

Before refining your interviewing skills, make sure you remember the basics, says O’Reilly. Start the interview off well. That means:

1. Arrive 10-15 minutes early. On time is too late.

2. Know the interviewer’s name and how to pronounce it. Know whether you should use Mr., Ms., Mrs. Know their job title. If you don’t know the proper usage, ask the receptionist.

3. Bring spare copies of your résumé in a briefcase or folder. This demonstrates that you are prepared.

4. Spend some time developing rapport. Don’t rush the small talk.

5. Watch your non-verbal communication. Sit up straight and maintain appropriate eye contact.

Four Interview Question “Types” to Expect

O’Reilly helps prepare students to answer what she says are the types of questions most trained interviewers ask:

1. Direct – Closed-ended that and probably require only a yes or no

“Have you worked in Excel?”

2. Non-Direct – Open-ended and broad

“What are your strengths and weaknesses?”

3. Hypothetical or situational – Used to test your analytical, critical thinking, and problem solving skills.

“How would you handle a difficult customer?”

4. Behavior-based – Require you to give specific examples from past experiences. 

“Tell me about a time when…”

Be Bold

The last kind—the behavior-based questions—is where O’Reilly says many students weaken during the interview. “This is where many of our students trip up,” she said. “They don’t like to brag. They’re too humble!”

Instead, use this time to tout your successes and display confidence in yourself and your abilities. O’Reilly advises heading into an interview equipped with an “arsenal” of robust stories about yourself that highlight how you solved a problem, reduced conflict, or guided an outcome. Have a good mix of 7-10 stories that demonstrate your experiences that are focused on results: qualifying leads, increasing sales, or eliciting customer feedback. 

To answer behavior-based questions, O’Reilly coaches her students to use the “STAR” technique:

  • Situation – Think of a situation in which you were involved that had a positive outcome.
  • Task – Describe the tasks involved in the situation.
  • Action – Specify what actions you took in the situation to complete the tasks and achieve your results.
  • Results – What specific result(s) followed due to your actions? How did others react?

Envision the long haul

O’Reilly’s special advice to students is to treat the interview—whether it’s for an internship or a job—as if it were for a position that they will have for years. “Go in pretending that you’re going to work there for five years, not three months,” she says. Speaking from that core will help you form authentic responses to questions that demonstrate your willingness to invest in the organization and help get you hired.

The Final Questions

Now back to the scenario that we started with. You feel the air being sucked out of the room as you don’t have any questions. “No, I think you’ve answered them all,” is a response that is all too common. Don’t let this happen, says O’Reilly. Here is what she tells students:

  1. Treat the interview like a final exam—learn everything you can about the company.
  2. From that research, develop at least five questions to ask.
  3. Keep a notebook to record your experience.

Benefits to Answering a Question with a Question

Preparation for the, “Do you have any questions for me?” question pays off in many ways: Having questions prepared helps you to:

Demonstrate your toughness

This moment is an opportunity to turn the tables and be in the driver’s seat, showing not only that have you done your research, but also that you have the grit to ask some of the tougher questions—the ones that are going to leave that lasting impression.

Ensure the right fit

Another reason to have questions prepared for the interview is that it not only shows the interviewer that you’re ready and focused, it also gives you the opportunity to learn whether the company or ministry you’re interviewing with is a good fit for you.

Fill in the holes

Asking a question such as, “Do you see any gaps in my experience?” This is a chance to catch any misunderstandings or to show your willingness to learn new skills.

“People love curious people,” says O’Reilly. “Curiosity shows interest. When someone doesn’t seem interested in your company’s culture, that’s alarming. It’s a sure sign they just want a job, any job. Having questions ready shows that you’re invested.”

O’Reilly coaches students on how to avoid that awkward moment and to use it is as an opportunity to demonstrate their mental agility, take control of the interview and, ultimately, become a top contender for the position.

Career help right on campus

In addition to help with interview preparation, the Career Development offers career coaching free of charge to discuss academics, career, or professional development. Other services available include:

  • Career assessments
  • Strength assessments
  • Internship information
  • Job search strategies
  • Help with resumes and cover letter
  • Networking opportunities
  • Graduate school search assistance


*Career Development forms available