How to Score and Ace an Interview

Whether you’re graduating or changing your career trajectory, preparing a CV and interviewing are in your near future. The application and interview processes can be stressful, hectic, and downright scary. It is never too early to begin the preparation.

For the CV/resume:
– Have your name be prominent on the first page and have a footer (or header) with your name, page number, and total page count (in case your CV gets lost or misplaced).
– Make sure there are no spelling or grammatical errors. Formatting should be consistent throughout. The layout should be clean and easy to read with information readily identifiable.
– Experiences should be listed in reverse chronological order (most recent first).
– Use active words.
– Be able to elaborate and explain everything that you include on your CV. If you have forgotten the details, it is better to not include it.
For an example, view Nhi’s (academia) or Thanh’s (health professional) CV.

For the cover letter:
– Address it to a specific person. You should know who the person in charge of the hiring and/or admission committee is.
– Explain your interest and why you would be a good fit with concrete examples. Also explain why they (the job/program) would be a good fit for you.
– Always end the letter with confidence by stating, “I look forward to the opportunity to interview with you.” Never say you hope or wish.
For more details on how to write a cover letter, read Thanh’s example and tips.

Interview Etiquettes:
– It is beter to overdress than underdress. Wear suits and black shoes. For females, do not wear heels higher than two inches. Wear light makeup and do not experiment with new eyeshadow colors.
– No cologne or perfume. You never know if someone is allergic to your scent or if it evokes bad memories in others (i.e. you’re smelling like someone’s ex).
– Cellphone off. No gum.
– Be early. If you are running late, let your interviewers know right away.
– Shake hands firmly. Maintain good posture and eye contact throughout the interview. Never slouch.
– Send a thank you card the very same day. Make sure each letter is unique and makes reference to a specific conversation point you had with that person. Generic letters lack sincerity and may annoy the interviewer. It is your last chance to make a (good) impression. Also, use this correspondence as an opportunity to revisit weak areas of your interview (if applicable).

Interview Preparation:
– Thoroughly research the program/company and your potential future colleagues/professors. Get a good sense of their background and be familiar with them. Nothing irritates an interviewer more than an ignorant candidate.
– Always try to hold a conversation when possible. This allows your personality to shine. If you got an interview offer, this means they already know you have the credentials. What they want to see is your personality and how well you would fit in.
– When answering questions, make sure to state specific supporting examples. It is best to always have some stories of your conflicts/struggles (and more importantly how you handled and resolved them) in your back pocket.
– Always ask the interviewer at least 1 good, well-thought out question that is pertinent when prompted.
– End the interview by thanking interviewers for their time. Remember that the interview is not over until you are in your car/home. They can and will judge you at any time so always present your best self.

Top 5 Interview Questions:
1) Tell me about yourself.
– This is not the time to disclose personal details. Instead, discuss your education background, relevant experience, and professional goals.
2) What are your strengths and weaknesses?
– Always spin your weakness into strengths or list ways in which you are working to improve your weaknesses.
3) Where do you see yourself in ten years?
– Your answer should convey advancement in the field and align with the company’s/program’s goals.
4) Tell me about a time you had a conflict and how did you resolve it?
– Be concrete with your example. Avoid personal conflicts. You can relate to school or previous work experience. Conclude your story not only with how you resolved the conflict but also what you learned through that experience.
5) Do you have questions for me?
– Always have at least three questions prepared! Try not to ask yes/no questions.

We Say
Have confidence. The following adage is cliched, but so true: if you don’t believe in yourself, who will? Just make sure you do your homework and prepare and practice so you can present your best self. It doesn’t hurt to have a mock interview with a friend and record your performance to see where you did well or poorly and improve accordingly. Best of luck to you!

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17 comments

  1. Wish I had such great advice prior to my first round of applications and interviews back in 2010/2011! :P But, I’m glad to have been able to “live and learn” and survive two rounds of interviews/applications so that I can share these “wisdom” with others. Truthfully, this book greatly helped: The Pharmacy Professional’s Guide to Resumes and CV’s and Interviewing (Reinders, The Pharmacy Professional’s Guide to Resumes, CVs & Interviewing) – definitely worth it to buy if you are in the pharmacy field.

    About to do my third round… anyone else applying for a job or program soon?

    Please feel free to ask us any specific questions you may have!

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  2. ^ that’s definitely a good book! I helped me with writing my CV, cover letter, letter of intent, etc. Also prepared me for my interviews.

    Good luck with the job application process :)

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  3. I have a job interview this coming Wednesday and a few grad school interviews lined up for February so this is SUPERRRR helpful! :D Thank you!!! I’ll be sure to refer to this before I step into my interview.

    Can I also request to see Thanh’s CV? :)

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    1. Glad this post was helpful for you, Rachel! What graduate program are you applying to? I may be able to offer more specific tips regarding its interview process. :)

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      1. Probably going to break 10 pages by the year’s end. :( :P Will probably delete most of my “student” information/data after I graduate from PGY-2…

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    2. Thanks! :) Your CV is impressive! it’ll definitely be a while before mine will be that extensive. I’m applying to School Counseling programs, if you have any additional tips I would gladly love to hear them! =)

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      1. Are you applying to MA or PhD programs? If the latter, the interview will be heavily (if not entirely) based on research. Make sure you’ve read their prominent/landmark articles in the field and be able to discuss them intelligently. Bring in your own ideas – researchers are always looking for innovators. After all, they need graduate students to carry their work forward. Professors really look at graduate students as colleagues, so you can be bold in your analyses and suggestions. Current graduate students also have a say in the admission decision. So be courteous to all and be approachable. If you’re being hosted at a student’s house, at least leave them a thank you card before flying home. Also remember that the interview is two-ways; you are also evaluating the program. Be sure to ask questions that would help you make an informed decision. Graduate students are great resources. They will be honest in their opinions. While you shouldn’t ask directly how much the stipend is, you can ask if it adequately meets living expenses.

        Hope the above is helpful! :)

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      2. Another tip: make sure you mingle with fellow applicants and see if you’d like to interact with them on a daily basis. Afterall, they will be your cohort if you decide to attend that school. When I interviewed at Miami, I wasn’t able to click at all with other applicants, and that’s when I knew I wasn’t a good fit there.

        Hope your job interview went well yesterday! :)

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  4. Thank you for the helpful tips. Wish I had read this before I went on my interview. But then again, my interviewing skill is so bad, I don’t know if anything can help at this point :/

    I actually have three follow up questions.
    1. I’m usually contacted by HR for the interview. On the actual interview day, I usually get interview by at least two persons, should I send a thank you note? If yes, who should I send it to? Should I ask the interviewer for their emails to send my thank you note?

    2. What would be a good follow up question? I usually ask what they like best about their job? This gives me a good feel of how they like their job. But beyond that I don’t really know what to ask without sounding like I haven’t done my homework. Advice?

    3. Let’s say the interviewer asked for my portfolio. I sent it, with a thank you note. The interviewer sent me a note back saying he/she will review it and get back to me. Should I send another thank you note? For me I feel weird not being the last person to reply. But I also don’t want to spam their inbox with just a thank you email.

    Thanks :)

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    1. Skills can always be improved with the right practice! :) In response to your questions:

      1. Send a thank you note to each person you interviewed with. Sometimes, you may get a group interview and did not get a chance to really get to know every individual; you can opt for a group thank you email in this case. A good interviewer will always leave you with their contact information should you have any follow-up questions. If it isn’t offered, ask for their business card.

      2. You can always ask elaboration questions. Start out with, “I read on your website (or company manual, etc.) that xyz, can you elaborate more about this abc aspect?” That way, they know you’ve done your homework and are genuinely interested in having a more in-depth understanding of their company/work.

      3. No, the conversation stops there until they contact you again. If a week has passed and you have heard nothing, you can go ahead and email something simple like: Thank you for taking the time to consider my application!

      I hope my answers help. Good luck and I hope you got your dream job! :)

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