Know How to Use the Tools in the Toolbox

By: Tori

We’ve all been told the tips and tricks for interviews from peers, teachers, and family members. You understand the importance of knowing your strengths and weaknesses, reading over those dreaded situational-based questions, practicing your smile and wave, and making sure you brush your teeth and shower beforehand.

If you’re like me, you still get confused on how to use these tips to help you prepare for an interview. It’s as if you have all the tools in the toolbox, but no idea what any of them are for.

The last time I prepared for an interview it was like studying for a test. Not just your nice, easy 10 point vocabulary quiz. No, it was like those 40% of your grade midterm exams. Do I regret the effort and time I put into this? Absolutely not. It was completely worth it. I firmly believe it is how I landed my internship at Hormel Foods– I got an A on the exam.

I decided to use the tips, or tools, I had heard numerous times before and actually take the initiative to practice them. I think more often than not this is where many people fail when it comes to interviews. You have to practice for them. It’s like writing a speech for class. You don’t practice it once before you speak in front of 30 people; you practice it a bajillion times, still hoping you won’t embarrass yourself when you go up and do the real thing.

One of the most successful ways I prepare for interviews is by making an Experience-Task-Growth Chart. I make three columns and write the role, what I did, and how I grew down on a piece of paper. This allows me to visualize my skills and abilities without having to think too hard. It also makes practicing those dreaded situational-based questions much easier because I can literally see my role, what I did, and how I grew or accomplished a goal, right on the piece of paper in front of me.

Here is an example of my Experience-Task-Growth Chart:

Experience: My role Task: What did I did Growth: How I grew
Sassy Strawberry Cashier Counted Tills


Assisted Customers

Cleaned the Shop

Managed stock

Held accountable for money and store upkeep

Was a positive influence on the business with my enthusiastic personality and attention to the customers

Problem solved based on customer situation, for example coupons failing
Did what I felt was best; was able to make quick decisions
Followed procedures and safety regulations

Austin Country Club Lifeguard Regulated pool

and safety of patrons

Developed relationships with members


Undivided attention and full alertness to patrons and members

Confidence in my ability and certification in CPR and First Aid

Remained personable toward members


Class Title Teaching Assistant Held one-on-one meetings

Met with professor weekly

Spoke in front of the class weekly

Graded assignments

Adapted to different personalities in order to fulfill criteria

Developed relationships with students and helped them transition into a new environment- I did this by relating to their experiences

Responsible for fair and valued work

Sacrificed my own time to be there for students in a difficult transition

Cru Summer Mission Participant Spent 4 weeks with college students all over the US in Crested Butte, CO.

Experiential learning; hiking, biking, backpacking, whitewater rafting

Grew in relationships with others, community, and leadership

Understood diversity; lived with 10 other girls who were previously strangers

Learned how to be vulnerable in new situations

Cru Leadership Team Member Attended weekly meetings to plan and prepare our large group meeting for 70+ students

Met one-on-one with freshman members

Marketed the organization and conferences

Utilized time management and collaboration skills

Creative; learn to think outside of the box

Problem solving- students were not as involved and their was a change in our organization. I had to use my creative and critical thinking to develop ways for students to be more engaged and apply a different approach


Another thing that helps me while I am being interviewed is bringing a copy of my resume. Usually I just set it to the side, but if I need to answer a question and can’t think of a great example I reference my resume. While many people may think this is distracting, it actually shows you are prepared and provides you with more opportunities to relate your experiences in unique ways.

Now that you know how to use a few of those tips, or tools in your toolbox, you’ll be better prepared for your next interview.

Good luck, and remember to be authentic!

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Control Your Interview

By: Kirsi

Nauseation of when your home team squanders a playoff game is equivalent to the sick to your stomach feeling of bombing an interview. As a freshman electrical engineer, I failed a technical interview for a computer aided design company. They challenged me to write a recursive programming method, describe how the inside of a motor works, and explain the forces and stress points on a stop light pole in ten minutes. Unsalvageable as your interview may seem, there is hope to take control of your interview! An interview gone wrong can be saved by expanding on questions you are asked, transforming negative responses into positive ones, and amending a closing statement.


Expand on Questions
Although human resources has the almighty power to hire and fire, they can not read your mind. When you answer interview questions keep in mind that your interviewers did not share your experience with you. Illustrate your experience with goals, problem solving, results and quantities. Instead of saying “I practiced leadership when I was a manager at Taco Bell” say; “My leadership skills were put to use when I was a manager at Taco Bell leading a team of 10 individuals per shift. I vetted five perspective workers per month, learned each position, and ensured each employee completed their training.” Do not be afraid to expand on your experience. You are not bragging! You are clarifying and explaining your experiences. Sometimes interviewers are specifically instructed NOT to ask the interviewee to elaborate. The interviewer wants to see how you communicate your qualifications.

Thinking on Your Feet
Interviewers will purposefully throw curve-ball questions that catch you off guard. Not just to watch you squirm –  to see how handle the unexpected. When asked “What is your greatest weakness?” Do not leave your answer at “I have problems waking up in the morning.” Explain your improvements and focus on the positives. “I am working on getting to my 8:00am class by setting earlier alarms, keeping a regular sleeping schedule and cooking a great breakfast. I have been improving and getting to school early to get a good seat.” Typical curve-ball questions include…

  • What is your greatest weakness?
  • What is the hardest decision you have ever made?
  • What was your greatest failure?
  • Why should I hire you?


Powerful Closing Statement
At the end of your interview, especially if you feel the interview did not go well, end with a closing statement summarizing qualifications. Typically an interview will conclude with “Do you have any questions?” You can then appropriately add, “I don’t have any questions at this moment. However, I would like to end with why I am the most qualified candidate for this position…(key narratives that make you most qualified).” I have actually used this strategy in interviews gone wrong and have gotten job offers as a result. Again, interviewers may be specifically instructed NOT to ask more questions than the handful supplied so each candidate gets the same chance. Interviewers may not ask questions that naturally invoke the best answer from you. You can still take control of the interview by amending a powerful closing statement that best shares your strengths.

Other Preparation Tools
Some interviews will focus solely on “soft skills” –  how you interact with coworkers. Interview Stream is a good resource for interviewing practice. You can listen to your answers, count your “umms,” and check for idiosyncrasies. Depending on how technical your major is you may be asked to perform a technical interview as I described in the introduction. Ask recruiters, professors, acquaintances who work for that organization, tech club members, LinkedIn/ online communities, and friends about what you could expect from that organization’s technical interview. There are plethora of free technical interview practice sites.

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The Art of the Skype Interview

By: Katie

I had my first experience with a Skype interview when I interviewed for a grad program recently. Skype interviews can be very convenient – they can be done wherever you want, and you don’t have to worry so much about wearing the right pants and shoes or making sure you put in a breath mint beforehand. With these different conditions, though, comes a set of factors unique to video interviewing that need to be considered. Here are a few tips I learned to prepare for Skype interviews.

Skype Interview

Set the stage.

A big part of preparing for a Skype interview is determining where it will take place. Find a quiet area where you won’t be interrupted (no barking dogs or roommates barging in!). Make sure your interviewing spot has a simple background for you to be in front of – no distracting patterns, colors, or items on the wall. The lighting also should be considered. It needs to be bright enough for you to be seen, but not overwhelmingly so. Seeing what your outfit, hair, and any jewelry will look like is also important. Something that may look good in-person might not look good on camera. Finally, determine how the camera will be set up in relation to you. Set it up so your upper body is showing (not just your face) – it should mimic what you would look like to an interviewer sitting across from you in person. Try different chair positions and stacking your camera up on books or other props to find the best set up.

Make eye contact.

When you Skype or video call someone, do you look at their face on the computer screen? Most people probably do, but it’s not the best in an interview setting. Eye contact is important, and if you’re looking at the interviewers’ faces, to them it will look like your gaze is slightly downward. Looking directly into the webcam is the best way to mimic actual eye contact in a video call. To break the habit of looking at the screen, you can practice saying your answers to common interview questions while looking into your webcam (practicing questions and making eye contact at once!).

Have helpful materials nearby.

The benefit of interviewing via Skype is that you can have extra items around you that the interviewer can’t see. This could be your resume, which you could have printed off on the table or pulled up on your computer screen so you can easily refer to it. Another item I found useful was having post-it notes on my computer screen with words of inspiration on them. Interviewing is stressful for many people (like me), and having that extra bit of motivation or your resume for backup can be very comforting!

Practice and troubleshoot.

Interviewing by video is different than in person for several reasons, but one big one is that there are more things that could go wrong. You could have your Skype set up so your video or your interviewer’s video doesn’t show, or the sound on your computer might not work correctly, or the internet connection could be bad, and so on. To make sure you won’t experience any of these Skype interview faux pas, practice making a Skype call before your actual interview. This will give you the time to troubleshoot any problems that come up, and simply make you more comfortable with what the interview will be like.

Besides these tips, there are several other ways to prepare for interviewing in general. Check out the interviewing-related posts on our blog, do a mock interview with one of our Career Counselors, or stop into our office and we’ll help you prepare!

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Photo Source: Unsplash | Luke Chesser

5 Tips for Answering Tough Interview Questions

By: Lexi

Do you have an interview coming up? Do you not have a lot of interview experience? Interviews are tough and nerve-racking to go into. Calm your nerves down by reading these simple tips to help you get through the interview. Especially the tough questions that you just cannot think of an answer to. These tips will help you figure out your answer while easing your mind and still making you look professional. If you follow these tips, there is no way that you will not ace your interview and get that job. Good luck!

Tough Interview Qs

Breathe & Calm Down
This is the most important thing. Take a deep breath and do not sweat it. If you are calm, the answer will come out easier. If you are freaking out, you will not be able to think clearly. It will make you and the interviewer more comfortable.

Don’t show the confusion in your face
Try your best to not let your confusion and/or fear come across in your facial expressions. This will make yourself less stressed and the whole thing less awkward. It will also make you seem not as confident to your interviewer. Try to keep a calm face on with a smile!

Ask them to repeat the question
Asking your interviewer to repeat the question will buy you time to come up with an answer. It might also help you think of what to say if you hear the question one more time. Try not to do this multiple times though, that will make you seem as if you are not listening to what they have to say.

Tell your interviewer what you do know
Sometimes you will simply just not know the answer to the question or maybe you have some knowledge of the question. Whatever it is, try explaining the steps and processes you would take to figure out the answer. Speaking it out loud might help you come up with a better answer and it will show the interviewer your thought process. Interviewers ask you tough questions on purpose to see how you react and if you can work through it. Show them what you got!

Prepare and practice before the interview
Make sure that you prepare answers to possible interview questions before hand. Whether it is to the mirror or with a friend, this will calm you down during the interview and allow you to answer questions quicker, which will also eliminate unnecessary “umms..” Here are some example questions to practice before the big, stressful day, practice these and it will be sure to ease your mind.

  • Tell me about yourself.
  • What are your strengths and weaknesses?
  • How do you deal with conflict?
  • What are your steps to problem-solving?
  • Give me an example of a time when you succeeded.
  • What would our company gain from hiring you?
  • Why should we hire you?
  • What would your coworkers say about you?
  • Are you a team player? Give us an example.
  • How do you work under pressure or time restraints?

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Photo source: Unsplash | Markus Spiske

A College Student’s Guide to Interviews: Part 1

By: Willow

Interviews can be scary, but they are a big part of life. Interviews are the best way for employers to see if you fit with their companies and for you to see if jobs are the right fit for you. This blog post is the first in a series of posts with simple steps to help you feel confident and rock job interviews.

Interviewing 1

Step 1: Do research. If you are applying for a job, you should know what it’s about, no matter how well known the company is. If you are applying for a job at a newspaper you should know big stories they’ve told, know who their reporters are, and know basic history of the paper. If you’re applying for a job at Express you should know who their shoppers are, know their products, and like them. You should never go into a job interview blindly, and should at the very least spend a some time on the company’s website.

Step 2: Practice. There are many great ways to practice interviews, personally I interview myself on long car trips. I know it sounds crazy but it’s a great way to get comfortable talking about yourself is to do it. If you don’t have a long car trip to practice on, practice in the shower, or in front of the mirror. It is so much better to actually talk out loud rather than just go over it in your head. You can also do a practice interview at the Career & Internship Services office. There are a lot of resources online to help you prepare for an interview. One good website to take a look at is Business News Daily, here is link to a really helpful article: 50 Most Common Job Interview Questions.

These are a couple simple starting steps to help you feel more comfortable in job interviews. Stay tuned for my next blog post with more specific tools to help you land the jobs you want.

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Photo source: Unsplash|Bino Storyteller

Interviewing as an Introvert

By: Meg

Interviewing is tough. You want to make the best impression on the people who could be your employers: be friendly, outgoing, confident, and ready for the job. Sounds like an Extravert’s game. Not necessarily! Play to your strengths as an Introvert and you can have the best interview ever.

Interview tips for introverts

Active Listening

A big part of interviewing is learning what they want to hear. You can usually catch this by how they ask questions, what questions they ask, and in what order. Make it known that you’re listening and considering what they have to say. Then you can answer the questions knowing that what you’re saying matches up to what they are looking for as best it can.

Think Before you Speak

In an interview, people get nervous. They speak quickly because silence is scary. Silence is your friend. If you begin talking before you know what you’re going to say, you may trip over your words and say something different than what you intended. So don’t process out loud. Listen (actively) to the question, and then take a minute to formulate what you have to say. Once you’ve figured it out, you can say it clearly and confidently.

Know your Stuff

For anybody, the best way to ace an interview is to know your stuff. Know your strengths and weaknesses, know about the company and what you can bring to the table. Coming in prepared will help you shake off any jitters. It also lets you frame what you’re going to say in your head. Some introverts have problems “bragging,” which can be a problem with interviewing. So don’t think about it that way. Use your quantitative achievements, and state those as facts. For example: “I raised $500 by creating and managing an auction at the annual fundraiser, which was a $200 increase.” You can refer to items on your resume, but go beyond that.

Now here’s the tough part:

  • Small talk – Yes, it is necessary. Make it natural. In Minnesota, we really do like to talk about the weather. Talk about something simple that you can chat about.
  • Show your Passion – As an introvert, it can sometimes be hard to show other people my passion. Here’s the trick: The interviewers probably have similar interests. They’re here too, right? So treat them like an insider into your world, and share your passion with them. Just don’t get to caught up in it.
  • Be Confident – Something everybody worries about going into an interview: Are you good enough? But an interview isn’t about if you fit this specific benchmark, it’s about how well you’ll fit into the company and the position. It’s as much an audition for them as it is for you.
  • Ask Questions – Make sure to ask meaningful questions. Ask about the position and its development, your predecessor(s), and the office culture. Ask about the future. You want to make sure this is going to be a good fit for you.

So prepare for your big interview. Do research on the company, and on yourself. Figure out what works. And be yourself.

Stop in with any questions you have about your job/internship hunt or interviewing. You can check out Interview Stream any time and look at and record yourself answering popular interview questions.

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Tips for Getting into Medical School: Not the “Cookie cutter” Model

By: Glen

Emma Sieling is a student attending the University of Minnesota Duluth’s Medical School. I asked her to sit down and talk about the path to where she is today, and any advice she would give to students looking to go to medical school. Many people would be very surprised to hear what she said.

Pursue Your Passion

In a world of graduate programs looking for students with research experience, Emma was accepted to UMD’s program for something much more unique: her passion for helping the community. As an undergrad, Emma spent her time volunteering and involved in leadership activities. Despite heavy involvement, keeping life as a college student “balanced” was extremely important to Emma. Her school life was balanced with volunteering her time in the community, pursuing cultural knowledge via her Spanish minor and spending time with friends from the student organizations she was involved in. Every single one of those things Emma participated in were fun for her, not a chore. If you are not enjoying your life activities, she would advise you reevaluate.

Know Your Options

When looking at medical schools to apply to, one of the biggest questions one should ask is, “Would I fit in as a student there?” By the time application time rolls around, one should have some ideas for career options. When Emma applied to the Med School at UMD, she was aware that the program specified in family and rural medicine. To her, UMD “could not have been more perfect.”

Support Your Convictions

Emma was an early admit to UMD’s Medical School through the Biomedical Sciences program. This opportunity is available to students who have completed all of their Liberal Education requirements, be on track to graduate in 4 years (with 3 years completed), taken the MCAT, and have grown up in a town with less than 25,000 residents. The number one question she was asked in her interview for admission was, “Why are you rushing into medical school?” This question is the quintessential example of the type of inquiries graduate student admissions panels will ask prospective students. Emma did not waver in her interview. She was fully dedicated to her goal, and could explain with ease why she should be a student at UMD’s Medical School. Knowing your answer to those types of questions will really help your med school applications.

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