Interviewing Proficiency

Much of an interviewing process is variable. It can vary based on the interviewer, the role, the organization, the needs of the program, admissions requirements, and the industry. For example, this can include how formal the interview process is, the attire recommended for the interview, or the method of interviewing used by an interviewer. Of the four pillars discussed in this guide, the one pillar that is core to the interviewing process, and that does not vary in its importance is proficiency.

After the interview, the interviewer must be able to speak to your competency, and in some instances, mastery of the skills required for the opportunity. As found in a study conducted by the Association of American Colleges and Universities in 2015, “Nearly all employers (91 percent) agree that for career success, “a candidate’s demonstrated capacity to think critically, communicate clearly, and solve complex problems is more important than his or her undergraduate major.”1 and “When hiring recent graduates, employers place the greatest priority on a demonstrated proficiency in skills and knowledge that cut across majors. Of 17 outcome areas tested, written and oral communication, teamwork skills, ethical decision-making, critical thinking, and the ability to apply knowledge in real-world settings are the most highly valued by employers.2 While the data referenced above pertains directly to employers, the need to demonstrate how your skills and experiences contribute to the role, program, or organization is important regardless of the type of opportunity you are pursuing.

1Source: Hart Research Associates. 2015. Falling Short? College Learning and Career Success. Washington, DC: Association of American Colleges and Universities.
2Source: Hart Research Associates. 2015. Falling Short? College Learning and Career Success. Washington, DC: Association of American Colleges and Universities.


Communicating Value Add

To determine how to communicate value add to a position:

  • Review the opportunity description to understand what skills are required and preferred. What do you need to be successful in this opportunity? What are the differences in the required vs. preferred sections?
  • Reference the research and informational interviews you have conducted, and your application materials. What did you learn from your conversations about skills? What did you highlight in your application that was meaningful? How did you tell your story?
  • Reflect on your coursework, internships, and volunteer experiences. What skills have you gained? If there are gaps, look to your transferrable skills? What have you done in your past that will make you successful here?

During the interview, articulate your skill set through examples and presentation.

For example: an applicant can…

  • demonstrate passion for pursuing medicine through a meaningful anecdote
  • highlight teamwork in a recent civic engagement service trip
  • maintain eye contact and exhibit active listening to display strength in communication
  • explain why consulting with an experience that speaks to an enthusiasm for problem solving
  • highlight experience in a start-up to demonstrate comfort with ambiguity

Do your best to maximize the interview by giving clear, thoughtful answers that allow you to (1) answer the question while simultaneously (2) showing proficiency as well. This will allow you to both instill confidence and communicate your proficiency.

For questions where examples are not readily available, highlight transferable skills. Transferable skills are competencies that are not tied to a specific function or industry. These competencies can be applied to a variety of opportunities and sectors. The fact that these skills “transfer” with you, allows you to leverage these skills in new situations, and gives you an advantage in a new role. The ability to articulate transferrable skills and experience is vital especially as a recent graduate, or as an applicant pursuing a change of career, industry, or role. It is often assumed that the transferability of a skill is evident, but that is often not the case. It is the responsibility of the candidate to ensure that the applicability of these competencies and experiences to the new opportunity or program are clearly communicated in the interview.

Sample Skills

  • Critical Thinking
  • Teamwork
  • Creativity
  • Conflict Resolution
  • Social Media
  • Problem Solving
  • Flexibility/Adaptability
  • Research Skills
  • Communication
  • Leadership
  • Detail Oriented
  • Data Analysis
  • Graphic Design
  • Data Mining
  • Capacity Building
  • Impact Evaluation
  • Technical Skills (Programming Languages, Statistical Software)
  • Social Media
  • Strategic Thinking


Interview Types

No one can ever know exactly what will be asked in an interview. It is important to reflect on the role you are applying to, and practice your answers. Do not memorize them to the extent that you may sound rehearsed, rather practice them so you feel prepared. Know that it is completely acceptable and at times, encouraged, to pause for a moment to collect your thoughts before answering a question. Please refer to resources for career communities for more industry specific questions and interview tips.

Broad: Tell me about yourself. What brings you here?

This sounds the most simple, but without practice can be the most jarring. Your response should briefly describe what has led you to your interest in the role/company, and why you believe you are a good fit for the position. You may include the origin of your interest in the field, some key experiences and accomplishments, and end with why you are excited to be speaking with the interviewer today. Remember to practice, practice, practice out loud the answers to these questions.

Interest: Why are you interested in this field, this company, this role?

This is an opportunity to show your passion. You should be able to explain your interests with enthusiasm — and with two or three solid reasons for each. You will likely be asked some version of one of those questions at least.

Behavioral: Tell me about a time when ... you overcame an obstacle, you showed leadership, you implemented a creative solution, you managed competing priorities, etc.

Behavioral based interviewing is based on the premise that past behavior is indicative of future behavior. Interviewers ask specific examples that will target behaviors from past experiences. Using the STAR method here can help you frame your answer and communicate your impact effectively and concisely.  

  • Situation: Set the stage, give context to ensure the interviewer understands the ask
  • Task: What was your role in this situation?
  • Action: How did YOU complete the task? How did YOU contribute to the solution?
  • Result: What was the result?

Case: How many hot dogs are consumed in the U.S. annually?

Given increased competitors and regulation, what should company X to increase profitability?

Case interviews can range from an open-ended question or more specific case study about an organization with a particular problem. Cases are used to see how you think and assess your critical thinking, problem solving skills, and math skills.  The point of the case interview is not necessarily to only find the “right” answer, but to see how you think and analyze numbers. Interviewers look for your ability to look at the problem strategically, create a framework to address the issues, and suggest a solution. This is an opportunity to highlight your analytical skills, but also your creativity and adaptability. The interviewer sees how you handle pressure, and factors that you consider in your solution.  In addition to practicing sample cases ahead of time, it is important to practice communicating your thoughts and ideas. Be sure to walk the interviewer through your thinking.

The interviewer will help guide you through the case, but you are expected to ask questions, clarify information, and work with numbers. Usually, you are allowed to work on scratch paper or a whiteboard; some firms might keep your scratch paper to see your thought process.

Resilience: Tell me about a failure, mistake, weakness.  

Briefly describe the situation or weakness, show what you learned from the failure or mistake, or how you are addressing the weakness. Show growth!

Technical: What’s the difference between Java and C++?

Write a program that reads a positive integer N and then prints an "N times table" containing values up to N * N.

Technical interviews can range from an informal conversation about your level of technical knowledge and experience to actually demonstrating your skills with a particular language by writing code on a whiteboard. Employers who use technical interviews are often assessing your analytical, problem solving, and coding skills. Technical interviews often start with a coding assessments, in which students/applicants have a set amount of time to complete an online assessment. The next round is usually a technical phone interview, including discussing technical skills or a pair programming exercise. Final rounds may include whiteboarding sample code. When whiteboarding, the focus is less on whether you get the problem right, and more on how you approach the problem. It is important to explain your approach out loud, ask clarifying questions, and demonstrate your thought process.