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The interview provides an opportunity for you to demonstrate your communication skills and personality. During the interview, you should clearly convey your understanding of the organization’s work, why you are interested in the position and why you would be the ideal candidate for the job. You may feel anxious – that’s normal. Preparing in advance for the interview will help reduce anxiety.

  • Responding to an Interview Invitation
    • Once you are invited to interview, ask about the nature and format of the interview (for example, the number of participants and length)
    • The email below is intended to serve as an example:

    Dear Ms. Smith,

    Thank you for inviting me to interview. I’m very excited at the prospect of meeting you and discussing my strong interest in joining the ACLU. Can you please tell me a bit more about the nature and format of the interview? I look forward to hearing from you.

    Susan Jones

  • Opening the Interview
    • Introduce yourself and greet the employer warmly
    • Answer any questions confidently, positively, and enthusiastically
    • Frame the interview as a conversation between you and the interviewer, who shares a common interest in addressing a particular issue or serving a particular population, and as an opportunity to learn more about the organization
    • If you are given the chance, ask questions of the employer to show your engagement and interest in the organization’s work
    • Prepare at least 3-5 substantive questions (not only about the hiring process) for the employer
    • At the end of the discussion, the employer should know exactly why you would be the ideal candidate for the position and you should have a clear understanding of the organization’s work, mission, and expectations
  • Communicating During the Interview
    • Remember to speak clearly and with energy, and to convey enthusiasm and self-confidence with your body language
    • Responses should be expressive, relevant, and concise
    • Make sure to make eye contact with each interviewer
    • If you do not understand a question or want more direction from the interviewer, simply ask for clarification
    • Avoid the tendency in interviews to sidetrack, ramble nervously, or repeat yourself; try to answer each question fully and with some thought
    • Incorporate new information about yourself or your experience that has not yet been revealed or discussed
    • Interviewers tend to remember candidates who enliven their responses with references to their personal or professional experiences; make sure to illustrate your points with specific examples drawn from your background
    • Avoid being negative about past experiences, especially work experiences, even if they were less than ideal; think of a way to convey these experiences into lessons learned that will apply to the new position you seek
      • For example, if you are asked about a prior work experience where you were isolated in a library while doing research, you can say, “In my last job, I was fortunate to develop valuable research skills. I also learned that I prefer an environment where I can work directly with clients and see the beneficiaries of my research”
    • Be prepared to provide specific detail about your experiences
      • For example, if you state on your resume that you “organized a conference,” be prepared to be concrete about what exactly your role was. Similarly, if your resume includes a paper or article that you wrote or if you bring in a writing sample, be ready to answer questions about the project
  • Interviews With More Than One Interviewer
    • When responding to a direct question from one interviewer, make initial eye contact with the person who asked the question, but as you expand on your answer, remember to make eye contact with everyone present
    • Be sure to engage with all of the interviewers throughout your interview and do not hyper-focus on any one person
  • Closing the Interview
    • Interview lengths vary; they may last twenty minutes or more than an hour – the interviewer determines the length of the meeting
    • You should be sensitive to indications that your time is ending and be sure that you discussed the qualifications you felt important to convey and asked relevant questions
    • You may wish to ask about the organization’s hiring timeline and when it expects to make final hiring decisions
    • Tell your interviewer how much you have enjoyed talking with them, how much you appreciated the time they have set aside for the interview and how excited you are about the position
  • Dressing Appropriately

    While public interest employers can sometimes be less formal and uniform in dress than the private sector, most public interest employers will still expect you to wear business attire for interviews, and you will never go wrong by doing so.  Check OPIA’s Professionalism Guide for more detail.

  • Topics to Avoid During an Initial Interview
    • While parental leave, part-time policies, benefits, vacation time, the possibility of splitting summers, and salary may be of significant concern, you may want to defer raising these issues until a later interview or after you have been offered a job
    • By asking these questions during an initial interview, you run the risk of distracting the employer from focusing on your qualifications
  • Hostile Interviews
    • Occasionally, employers at criminal defense and prosecution offices conduct hostile interviews with potential employees
    • These employers are not targeting you personally; rather, the interviewers are interested in seeing how you respond to pressure that is comparable to that of adversarial courtroom trials – they are assessing how well you perform on your feet
    • The key to handling a hostile interview lies not in the specifics of how you answer the questions thrown at you, but rather in your overall composure: maintain a calm demeanor and respond non-defensively
    • Check out this list of questions to help you prepare for hostile interviews