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Job Interviews 101: A Complete Guide

by College Life
Updated on April 20, 2023

Imagine. There you are sitting in an office hallway at 10:52 AM waiting impatiently for those final eight minutes to go by as your 11 AM job interview approaches. You tap your palms against your pants to make sure they’re not sweaty. You feel your heart racing in your chest despite sitting somewhere seemingly calm, still. You attempt to read over your resume again and again as the details of all your life achievements suddenly slip from your mind.

"Please, come in," says a voice. Those eight minutes have already passed!? In an anxious state, you enter the designated room.

Now, switch back to the present. If you’ve felt anything similar to the situation described during a job interview, or fear you’ll experience it in the future, there are two things you should do. First, take a deep breath and remember that it’s normal to be nervous. Second, read this guide. It’s the perfect tool to prepare you for in-person interviews and virtual ones too. We all know that zoom calls and glitching internet connections can be just as nerve-wracking. 

Stress less about the small things; we can take care of those right here. College Life has prepared all the tips and tricks you need to present your best self and ace that next interview. Want to differentiate yourself from the other candidates? Make sure to stay tuned till the end of this guide to learn about our XYZ formula that can undoubtedly help you finish off the interview on a strong note.

This guide will cover a variety of topics, including:

  1. Preparation for the interview
  2. Most common interview questions
  3. Structuring answers to interview questions
  4. Handling negotiations
  5. Finishing strong
  6. Common mistakes

Excited to learn about the advice we have to offer? Then let’s dive right in.

Preparation for the Interview

There are multiple things you have to take into account when preparing for a job interview. How do you make a good impression without coming off as desperate or overeager? The key is striking a balance between confidence and enthusiasm, while avoiding arrogance and entitlement.

Let’s first consider mental preparation. 

  • Do your research: Before your interview, research the company and the role you're interviewing for. This will lead you to ask informed questions and will show your genuine interest in the company. Learning about the company’s products or services, as well as its company culture will also help you answer questions intelligently.
  • Practice, practice, practice: Rehearse your answers to common interview questions. This is important! You'll feel more confident and will be less likely to get caught off guard by tough questions. Read more in section 3 of this guide.
  • Be positive: Job interviews can be stressful, and keeping a positive attitude can only help. Remember, the interviewer is looking for someone who is excited about the job and ready to take on the challenges that come with it.
  • Avoid caffeine: You don’t want to add jitters to your interview, so try to avoid consuming caffeine and other stimulants which can exacerbate anxiety symptoms beforehand.

Now, let’s move on to physical preparation.

  • Dress for success: First impressions stick, so make sure you dress appropriately. Wear clothes which are professional and fit the job. Pamper yourself if you feel like it! Feeling good about one’s self-appearance can be a real confidence booster.
  • Speaking voice and body language: A confident and strong speaking voice coupled with open, friendly body language will help you seem composed. Even if you naturally possess such charisma, still take the time to practice communicating with family and friends, or in front of a mirror.
  • Sleep well: While seemingly obvious, getting enough sleep is one of the biggest factors in your performance during the interview. Without it you may stumble over your words and lack the energy you need to make an excellent impression.
  • Nutritious meal: Don’t forget to eat nutritious meals on the day of your interview. Fuel your body and mind so you can stay energized. Try including whole grains like brown pasta or whole-wheat bread which can increase mental focus and alertness. Fatty acids (Omega-3) like salmon and eggs are responsible for building brain cell membranes, and broccoli and spinach contain B vitamins which increase energy and motivation levels. Consequently, there are foods you should avoid. Heavily processed, high-carb foods will work against you by draining your energy and making you feel sleepy.

Altogether, the tips mentioned above will boost your level of professionalism. Preparing mentally from learning about the company to conducting practice interviews will make you feel prepared, minimizing your worries. Meanwhile, preparing a physical presentation by dressing the part and taking care of your body will get you in the right mindset for an interview, as well as help you feel better overall. The more time you take to prepare, the better. Be diligent! It will improve your overall interview experience.

Let’s move on to the next section to find out how you should structure your answers to interview questions.

Most Common Interview Questions

First, we’ll start with the basics. 

There are always the typical questions such as “Tell us a bit about yourself,” or “What are your greatest strengths and weaknesses?” Keep reading to find out how exactly to answer these general questions.

Let’s classify the two other types of job interview questions:

  1. Behavioral/situational job interview questions
  2. Technical job interview questions

Behavioural/situational job interview questions are designed to test your past behaviour in order to predict your future behaviour. They usually start with phrases like, "Tell me about a time when..." or "Can you give me an example of..."

Some common behavioural job interview questions include:

- Tell us about a time when you had to deal with a difficult customer.

- Tell us about a time when you took initiative or took on a leadership role.

- Tell us about a time you had to learn something completely new.

- Tell us about a time when you went above and beyond the call of duty?

- Tell us about a time when you made a mistake at work. How did you handle it?

- Tell us about a time you set a difficult goal for yourself. How did you set out to achieve it?

- Tell us about a project or accomplishment you are proud of and why?

Technical job interview questions are designed to test your job-related knowledge and skills. They usually start with phrases like, "What would you do if..." or "How would you handle..."

Some common technical job interview questions include:

  • Why are you interested in our company/industry?
  • Why did you apply for this specific position?
  • What do you expect to get out of this job/internship experience?
  • - What unique skills would you bring to this position?
  • What would you do if a customer demanded a refund after purchase?
  • What would you do if you received a complaint about a product?
  • How would you handle a situation where two employees were arguing with each other?
  • Pitch our company as if you were selling our product or service to a customer.
  • Do you have any questions for us?

Answering Interview Questions 

Now that you’ve seen the most common types of questions asked during interviews, let’s move on to some tips for actually structuring your answers.

The Basics

1. Be prepared: Before your interview, take time to research common job interview questions and practice your answers. Refer back to sections 1 & 2 for more on this!

2. Be honest: In job interviews, it's important, to be honest about your experience and skills. Don't try to exaggerate or make things up, as this will likely come back to bite you later on.

3. Be specific: When answering job interview questions, it's important to provide specific examples of your work experience and skills using actual numbers and percentages. Help the interviewer get a better sense of who you are and whether you're a good fit for the job by quantifying your achievements.

4. Be positive: Always try to answer job interview questions in a positive light, even if the question is about a difficult situation. For example, if you're asked about a time when you made a mistake, focus on what you learned from the experience and how you would do things differently in the future.


When it comes to job interviews, there are a few questions you're almost guaranteed to be asked. One of the most is "What are your weaknesses?"

Let’s dive into this question to better understand how to structure answers in response to questions about your weaknesses.

While this question can be tough to answer, it's important to remember that the interviewer is looking for insight into how you think and work. With this in mind, here are a few tips:

  • Again, be genuine: The interviewer wants an honest answer, so don't try to brush off your weaknesses or pretend they don't exist.
  • Focus on areas you're actively working on improving: If you're truthful about your weaknesses, the interviewer will appreciate your efforts to improve upon them. This shows that you're self-aware and committed to personal growth.
  • Highlight how your weaknesses can be strengths in certain situations: If you're a perfectionist, for example, explain how your attention to detail is an asset when it comes to projects that require a high level of accuracy.

By following these tips, you can turn what might seem like a difficult question into an opportunity to show the interviewer the way you take on challenges and problem-solve.

Video Interviews

Recently, virtual video interviews have become increasingly common. This has to do with the state of the professional world following the pandemic which has naturally increased demand for remote work. The great thing about remote interviewing is that it can provide opportunities to more people including previously underrepresented groups. However, as it is a rather new recruiting strategy, candidates may experience a heightened amount of anxiety participating in virtual interviews. Fear not, you can use the tips below to ace your video interviews.

  • Keep your camera angle higher rather than lower. Somewhere around eye level is naturally the best. Imagine a ‘real-life’ environment where the interviewer is sitting directly in front of you. Camera angle affects your professionalism, similar to posture.
  • Tidy up your surroundings. Make sure the space behind you looks organized and simple as to not distract from you and your responses. Additionally, ensure that the space you’ll be in is quiet and will be left undisturbed during the full duration of your interview, or while recording your video responses.
  • Even though you are attending remotely, perhaps from the comfort of your own home, still dress appropriately in attire which suits the culture of the company for which you are interviewing.
  • This might feel unnatural, but try to treat the camera like a person! That is, direct your eyes at the camera instead of at the screen to imitate eye contact. Also keep up your level of enthusiasm and engagement as you would in a real-life conversation. 
  • If recording answers for pre-recorded interview questions, take advantage of the available features and tools. For instance, before submitting a recorded answer, practice a few times so you can send off the best version of your answer for the interviewer. Don’t forget to double-check your videos to avoid any technical mishaps.


This section is highly significant because it covers what you need to negotiate important aspects of your job or internship: working hours and salary.

Work Hours

As previously mentioned, recent years have shown that remote work is all in, and so are flexible work schedules.

When interviewing for a job or an internship, be prepared to negotiate your working hours. This is important especially if you have other commitments outside of working such as university studies or other part-time jobs. Here’s how to negotiate work hours during a job interview:

1. Do some research: Prior to interviewing, research the company's typical work hours and schedules. This will give you a good starting point when you go to negotiate your hours.

2. Be realistic and clear: When negotiating your work hours, it's important to be realistic about what you can commit to. Keep your other commitments in mind and make sure the hours you're requesting are feasible. Employers will appreciate if you make your needs clear right from the start.

3. Be flexible: If you're unable to negotiate the hours you want, prepare to be flexible. Suggest alternative schedule options which might work for you instead and be open to compromising a bit on days off or start/end times.

4. Ask for a trial period: Sometimes it can be a good idea to first try out certain work hours to test how it would go for both you and your employer. Then reflect and assess.

5. Be polite: Remember that you're asking for an accommodation when negotiating working hours. Be respectful and humble in your request and thank the interviewer for their time and consideration.


On the other hand, negotiating your salary can be more of a tricky business. You want to get paid what you're worth, but don't want to seem greedy or ungrateful. Here are a few tips to help you negotiate your salary like a pro.

1. Again, as always, do your research: Before you even bring up negotiations, it's essential to know what the regular pay rate is for your position at this point in time. What is the realistic amount that you should be paid? Finding this information will provide you with an actual number to use when backing up your case during negotiations.

2. Evaluate what you have to offer: Depending on your level of education, career, years of experience, skills, and licenses and certifications, you may justify receiving a higher pay.

3. Start higher: When it comes to negotiating a salary, it's always better to start high. That way, even if you end up compromising and accept a lower salary, you'll still make more than you would have if you'd started with a low suggestion.

4. Be prepared to compromise: While it's important to start high, also understand that a compromise may often be necessary. If the company you're interviewing for is constrained by a limited budget, they may not be able to meet your demands. In this case, it's important to be flexible and willing to negotiate so you’re not ruled out as an unrealistic candidate.

5. Don't be afraid to ask: Many people fear asking for what they want, especially when it comes to salary, but this is a mistake. If you don't ask for it, you may never get it. Enter into your negotiations with confidence and make your desired conditions known.

6. Sometimes it’s okay to walk away: The best way to get what you want may sometimes require stepping away from the negotiation table. If the company you're interviewing for is clearly low-balling you, don't be afraid to turn down their offer and look for opportunities elsewhere. Know your worth.

Finishing Strong / Concluding the Interview:

As we approach the end of this guide, let’s wrap up by learning how to conclude a job interview and leave on a strong note.

Most young candidates turn to Google or similar sources to search for the best questions to ask during an interview. 

However, it is important to differentiate yourself from others and show your true interest in the position and company by asking insightful questions. Refer to our XYZ formula below!

College Life’s XYZ strategy helps you formulate exceptional questions to ask your potential employer at the end of your interview. By following these exact steps, you will:

  1. Exhibit a profound understanding of the role, company and relevant persons. Your specific question will address both the macro- (big ideas) and micro- (practical execution) components you’ll deal with on a day-to-day basis within the company.
  2. Create a positive, long-lasting impression. Even if the interview didn’t go perfectly according to plan, the final question you pose can allow you to turn the tables and leave an explosive impression on the interviewer.
  3. Outshine other candidates. Most candidates will ask one of the “Top 10 Questions” which anyone can Google in an instant. Use this unique strategy to stand out from the competition and boost your job offer success rate.

The strategy is defined using the following format: “Currently, companies in X are Y. I’ve noticed that as Z, you don’t seem to have explored Y yet. What is stopping you from this?” To make it easier for you to remember, we’ll call this the X-Y-Z strategy or formula.

First and foremost, we focus on specificity. The X-Y-Z formula allows you to get very specific by addressing current challenges facing companies like the one you are applying to work for.

For example, imagine that you are applying for a digital marketing position at Ford. Here’s the OK way, the better way, and the best way to pose your question about the company’s use of TikTok as a communication channel:

  • OK: “What are you doing to stay relevant on social media?”
  • Better: “I’ve noticed that you’re not using TikTok as one of your digital channels. Why is that?”
  • Best: “Currently, companies in the car manufacturing industry are getting increasingly active on TikTok to stay relevant to the new generation. I’ve noticed that at Ford, you don’t seem to have explored using TikTok yet. What is stopping you from this?”

Common Mistakes

Now that we’ve covered the entire job interview process, we can reflect on the overall experience and briefly go over the most common mistakes candidates make during the recruitment stage.

1. Not being prepared

Starting off with an obvious one, one of the most common mistakes a candidate makes is not being prepared for their interview. This may include not knowing anything about the company or the role, not having any questions to ask the interviewer, and not being able to give examples of their relevant work experiences.

To avoid looking like a deer in the headlights during your interview, do your research and prepare a few questions beforehand. It’s also a good idea to have a portfolio featuring the highlights of your past projects ready to share to demonstrate your abilities. If you’ve read through the parts of this guide covering preparation, then simply consider the tips offered, put them into practice and you’ll be good to go.

2. Arriving late

Another common mistake is arriving late to the interview. A disregard for punctuality immediately shows that you’re not reliable and it won’t give the interviewer a good first impression. 

To avoid this, make sure to arrive 10-15 minutes early for your interview and plan ahead for possible unexpected delays. This will ensure that you have enough time to fill out any paperwork and get settled before the interview starts.

3. Dressing inappropriately

Another mistake candidates make is dressing inappropriately for the interview. This can include anything from wearing far too casual clothing to wearing too much makeup or jewellery.

To avoid this, dress in business casual attire and make sure you look presentable and professional.

4. Being nervous

We understand it’s only natural to experience some nerves prior to interviewing, but if you let them take over completely, then your performance will be negatively affected. Common signs of nerves include fidgeting, sweating, and talking too fast. 

To avoid this, take deep breaths and allow enough time to relax and compose yourself before entering the interviewing space. Practice answering common interview questions well in advance so that you feel more prepared and can be confident when it’s time to answer them for real. Another tip is if you are offered a drink before starting an interview, accept some water! It will give you something to hold in your hands, and help you to cool down.

5. Badmouthing previous employers

One of the worst things you can do during an interview is badmouth previous employers. Excessively, distasteful criticism will make you seem unprofessional and disrespectful.

To avoid this, never speak poorly about a previous employer, even if you were unhappy with them. If you’re asked about a difficult situation with a previous employer, frame it in a positive light and emphasize what you learned from the experience.

6. Not asking questions

At the end of an interview, you’ll usually be asked if you have any questions for the interviewer. Asking questions is important to reconfirm your interest and it gives you an opportunity to learn something new about your potential future employer. Failing to inquire could lead the employer to believe you have done little to no research about their company.

To avoid this mistake, come up with interesting questions before the interview using the X-Y-Z formula. Avoid asking questions easily found on the web or ones that are too personal. Instead, focus on questions which will help you learn more about company culture or day-to-day responsibilities. Refer to section 5 of this guide for more specifics.


We have now arrived at the conclusion of the Job Interviews 101 guide. We covered everything you need to know about job interviews, from mental and physical preparations and tips on structuring answers to interview questions, to handling work hours and salary negotiations, and of course, to finishing strong and avoiding common mistakes. 

Remember that experiencing a bit of anxiety before job interviews is completely normal. After all, your physical and mental well-being come first no matter what. Therefore, make sure that throughout the job and internship application periods, you continue to take care of your health by eating nutritiously, staying hydrated, getting enough sleep, and taking breaks to do the things you love. 

College Life is excited for you to take on new endeavours and gain new experiences, so make sure to use this guide to prepare and be the best version of yourself when getting ready to attend interviews for internships or any other job positions. 

And don’t forget that despite any outcome, it is the process that truly matters!

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