Straight from the horse’s mouth: How to nail that big interview

By: Jasmine Kitterman

For college students, interviewing season comes three times a year: once when school begins in the fall, once when second semester starts in January, and then again before summer vacation begins. Now, many employers are looking for qualified students and graduates to work or intern for them as summer approaches.

I spoke with Director of Career Coaching, Garry Klein at the University of Iowa to learn how to have a successful interview.


According to Forbes business magazine, first impressions take only seven seconds to make and create long-lasting impressions. Your attire and body language are the first things that potential employers will consider when meeting you.

“Professional attire is always a good first step in making a good first impression,” Klein says. As part of the research you do on the company, be sure to consider how workers dress for their job. If it is unclear what type of clothing is worn, don’t be afraid to contact someone you know who works for the organization.

The University’s Career Guide book recommends always coordinating with simple pieces. For men, match your socks, belts, and watches. For women, color coordinate purses, hosiery, and makeup.

Your interviewer is not only paying attention to how you answer their questions, but they are also reading your body language. “Using confident body language that conveys your professionalism such as a non-sweaty, firm handshake, direct eye contact, and an open, warm expression are essential to being seen as consummate professional,” Klein says.

Interview Strategy 

Most interviews can be broken down into three parts: the icebreaker, situational questions, and final questions.

The icebreaker is how the interviewer gets to know more about your personality. This could be anything from conversations on the weather to how your week has been. Klein recommends being personable and warm with your responses. Even if you travelled to your interview in a blizzard, attempt to make light of it: “It’s a little chilly but I’m glad all the snow didn’t delay our appointment today!”

After the small talk, employers will ask you to tell them about yourself. Klein says to have a short and precise statement prepared beforehand, but to be mindful that it doesn’t sound rehearsed when saying it. In this statement, include what you can do for the company and how, what types of personality traits you have that are in line with the job you are applying for, your qualifications, and why you’re interested in the position.

After the icebreaker, employers will generally ask situational questions. Situational questions help interviewers know if you fit in with the company and its environment and whether or not you can do the job. Klein recommends reviewing the job description, as it will explain precisely what your potential employers are looking for.

Common situational questions include, “What is a problem you’ve solved?”, “When is a time that you have worked with other people?”, and “What types of skills have you taken from previous experiences that you can bring to this position?” The University of Iowa’s career guides teach the STAR method so that you won’t be thrown off when asked situational questions during an interview.

Situation: explain the situation that has resulted in a positive outcome.

Task: explain the goal that you were working towards.

Action: explain what you specifically did to make an impact on the situation and what your role was.

Result: explain what happened as a result of your actions and what you learned. This is what employers are truly looking for so don’t be afraid to spend more time on the result.

The University’s Career Guide book offers this STAR answer as an example:

Situation: During my internship last summer, I was charged with managing and improving events.

Task: I noticed attendance was dropping each summer and wanted to improve attendance and event quality.

Action: I designed a new marketing campaign and focused on social media and other free venues. I surveyed focus groups to hear what our target population would like to see changed with our events and made recommendations to the event manager.

Result: We utilized some of the ideas we gathered and promoted things daily. Our attendance grew by 80% last summer, and this resulted in more money raised. Our board of directors was very pleased with this increase.”

Klein says to also have a “big story” prepared. A big story is an experience that has positively impacted your life and given you a unique outlook on your career. A big story can be about charity work, influential family members or friends, or even an experience had on your college campus. Be sure that you connect this story to the company so that interviewers can see how this big story makes you a unique and worthwhile addition to their staff.

Finally, be ready for any final questions. Before you go to an interview Klein recommends thinking of any questions you may have for your potential employer. These questions are to make sure that is the right job for you, not to talk about salary.

A final question that you should always ask, Klein says, is “What are the next steps?” Be sure you don’t leave the conversation clueless as to what to do after the interview. Next steps could be an e-mail follow-up or when to expect to hear back from the interviewer.

Tips and Tricks

“Remember that the interview is always about answering two key questions: can you do the job? Will you fit in?” Klein says. If you keep this in mind and gear all of your responses to answer these two questions, you will find success. Showcase your experiences, Klein says, in order to show that your background will allow you to excel in this job.

“You should likely avoid talk about irrelevant issues in early interviews, such as if you are planning to return to school for a graduate degree,” Klein says. “Your answers should be interesting and show that you can succinctly tell a story.”

If you are someone prone to pre-interview nerves, take a few tips from the experts: “Prior to any interview, I would suggest a practice interview,” Klein says.

University of Iowa students can use Interview Stream, a 24/7 online practice software accessible through HireaHawk. With Interview Stream students can record themselves practicing and self-evaluate with an assessment form in the program.

Also available through the University’s Career Center are recruiters that do live mock interviews with students in order to build confidence. This service is available from September to April.

“For day of the interview jitters,” Klein recommends to “arrive early, check your appearance prior to starting the interview, and take three big, deep breaths just ahead of the interview.”

After the interview, be sure to evaluate how it went. Think about how you felt and which key questions you could prepare better answers for in the future. Finally, “Be sure to thank your interviewer as soon as possible and remind them of key points that you raised,” Klein says.