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Interviews & Negotiations

Employers use interviews to assess your qualifications, evaluate your fit, and promote their organizations. But interviewing is a two-way street. Your goals are to share more about your qualifications, learn about the job and employer, and determine whether they are right for you.

Interviews can take many different forms—from initial screening interviews to in-person panels to job talks—and can vary by industry. For example, consulting has case interviews, many research and tech roles have technical interviews, teaching positions often require a demo lesson, and most industries also conduct behavioral interviews. The good news is that while the type of interview will depend on the role and industry, the preparation is largely the same.

Preparing for Interviews

Interviewing is a skill you develop over time. Begin preparing for interviews early in your job search so you are ready when opportunities arise. And as a pro-tip, PDF job descriptions, so you can revisit them ahead of interviews!

Know Yourself

Reflect on your education, experiences, accomplishments, strengths, weaknesses, interests, and values and how they relate to opportunities you are seeking. Review your résumé and cover letter and practice how to articulate your skills and accomplishments. Be mindful of framing your experiences in an approachable and relevant way for your audience who may not have the same academic training as you do.


Learn everything you can about the organization (its mission, people, location, size, structure, products and services, culture, customers, and competitors) and the industry. This will help you respond to questions in a way that aligns your pursuits with the organization and think of thoughtful questions to ask during the interview. Employers’ websites are great starting points as are informational interviews and coffee chats with representatives from the organization.


Practice responses out loud with a friend, family member, or colleague to become more comfortable and confident. Receiving feedback on your specific responses and nonverbal behaviors can help you improve your interviewing skills. If you are a PhD student, schedule a mock interview with an NCA PhD adviser—it is a great way to receive personal feedback on your interviewing techniques. If you are a postdoc, reach out to the Office of Postdoctoral Affairs for interview resources. If you are preparing for an academic interview, in addition to engaging with NCA advisers, you can contact your director of graduate studies or department placement officer to see if they also conduct mock interviews and/or job talks.

What to Expect During the Interview

Most interviews follow a similar structure and can be divided into three stages:


Whether the interview is in person, virtual, or on the phone, be available and prepared to start on time. Being timely demonstrates professionalism and respect for your interviewer. In an in-person interview, stand to greet interviewers and follow their lead regarding handshakes. The walk to the interview room or office is an opportunity to develop a rapport. An interview usually starts with introductions of the participating employer representatives and an overview of the time you will spend together.

Information Exchange

The bulk of your time will be spent in this stage. You will be asked about your experiences, skills, and interest in the position—this is your opportunity to prove you are the best candidate by sharing your most relevant experiences. We recommend using the STAR (Situation, Task, Action, Result relevant to the Interviewer) approach to structure your responses. In addition to your words, your nonverbal actions make an impression. Make strong eye contact and engage in active listening throughout your exchanges. Finally, it is hard to overstate the importance of conveying enthusiasm for and interest in the role.


Toward the end of an interview, it is common for interviewers to ask if you have questions. The best questions are those you genuinely want answers to, such as details about the position or the experiences of your interviewers within the organization. Avoid questions related to salary, benefits, and personal topics—these are more appropriate once an offer has been extended—or questions that are easily answered on their website. Interviewers will likely share what further steps may be part of the process and when you should expect to hear from them. If they do not share these details, you can ask.

Finally, express appreciation and restate your interest in the role, incorporating if possible, something you learned during the interview. If you are not offered business cards at an in-person interview, ask for them so you have the correct names and email addresses for sending thank-you notes. Follow up with an email thank you within 24-48 hours (about two days).

For sample interview questions, answers, as well as thank-you templates, see the NCA Career Guide.