How to Interview for a Job (Part 1)

I have some decent job interview experience: 26 job interviews in the past 2 and a half years. I’ve had interviews face-to-face, over the phone, on Skype/video chat, with one person, with multiple people one at a time, with multiple people at once, and went on one or more tours of the company during interviews.


I’ve managed to land a summer internship, when I was sick during the interview, and got 3 full time job offers. It was a GRIND learning how to interview for jobs, and I think my experiences can be very helpful to you. I want to focus on job interview tips that often aren’t addressed enough.


My primary method of applying to jobs was finding jobs online. I used:

  • My school’s online job board
  • ZipRecruiter
  • ASME (American Society of Mechanical Engineers) job board
  • SAE (Society of Automotive Engineers) International job board
  • SAE Formula Hybrid job board

I also found jobs through third-party recruiters, either by applying to their job postings on or by applying through the recruiting company’s online job boards.


Career fairs did not work for me. I’ve also never had the luxury of a professional network or connections. Despite these deficiencies, I still managed to land 3 job offers. Here’s how:


Preparing for the Job Interview

Before an interview, here are the things you’ll want to do to prepare:


Research the company’s history, founders, and any recent developments or projects. You’ll be asked what you know about the company, so you’ll want to have a good answer to that question. All the information you need can almost always be found on the company website or through a quick Google search. Aim for a 30-60 second overview/highlight of the company.


Prepare brief notes that concisely covers everything you want to go over during the interview. Study the notes the night before the interview. The notes should go over:

  • The company information from step 1.
  • The top 3 requirements and qualifications for the position and how you fit those requirements. For example, the position could require SolidWorks experience. You’ll want to go over all the CAD and projects you used SolidWorks for and your years of experience using SolidWorks. If you have a SolidWorks certification, you’ll want to go over that too.
  • Your background, projects, degrees, certifications, portfolios, and any other documentation that is relevant to the position.
  • A list of questions to ask the interviewer.


Have some kind of portfolio of your projects, which could be a PowerPoint of your projects, including images and brief text descriptions. Email your portfolio to your interviewer before the interview, and bring a copy of it with you to the interview. You can refer to the portfolio when you start discussing one of your projects to provide your interviewer with a visual of what you accomplished for the project.


I use the same portfolio for every job application. Once you make a portfolio, you’ll be able to use it indefinitely.


Here’s my blog post on making an engineering design portfolio.


Additionally, I recommend looking up common interview behavioral questions and how best to answer them on Google. If you’re still in college, go to the career services center and do a few mock interviews to get an idea of some common behavioral interview questions. Otherwise, go to the career services center at a local community college and see if you can set up a mock interview for free. Don’t bother if it costs money to set one up, set up a mock interview with a friend or family member.


Some examples of common behavioral questions are:

  • Tell me about yourself
  • Why should we hire you?
  • Where do you see yourself in 5 years?
  • Why do you want to work here?/why do you know about the company?
  • What is your greatest strength/weakness?


During the Job Interview

Eye Contact and General Behavior

Don’t slouch when sitting. I recommend either sitting up straight or leaning towards your interviewer. Your fingers can be interlocked and resting on the table, or you can rest your hands on your legs. Your body language shows attentiveness and enthusiasm.


You don’t have to smile throughout the entire interview. In fact, I recommend NOT smiling too much. It’ll come off as fake and will hurt your credibility. Instead, be in between a smile and a frown for most of the interview and relax your eyes. This shows that you’re mentally engaged and receptive to what the interviewer is saying.


It’s also okay to give a subtle chuckle or a big grin if your interviewer makes a joke. You acknowledge the joke and compliment your interviewer when you do this.


When interviewing with one person, focus on maintaining eye contact 90% of the time. Your eyes can and should wander to different parts of the room every so often, but make sure that you lock eyes most of the time. Do this both when you are speaking and when the interviewer is speaking.


When interviewing with multiple people, maintain eye contact with the current speaker 90% of the time and make eye contact with the other interviewers every so often. When you are speaking, make eye contact with each interviewer one at a time, and maintain eye contact with each individual for 1-2 seconds.


Listening is just as important as Speaking

For many of my interviews, especially with engineers, the interviewer would speak for extended periods of time about themselves, the company, and/or the job you’re interviewing for without asking you any questions. It’s critical that you listen AND show that you’re listening.


The best way to show that you’re listening is to nod throughout the interview and frequently change the way you nod your when the interviewer is speaking.


I recommend nodding your head subtly every 3 seconds. You should also quietly say “right,” “absolutely,” or “okay” when you do this. When you hear something that you think is even remotely interesting, give an exaggerated nod, open your eyes wider, and say “yeah,” “yes,” or “absolutely.”


Ask at least one question based on what you and the interviewer discussed and ask it at the end, such as going into greater detail about something.


The above advice in this section applies to in-person interviews and video chat interviews.


For phone interviews, the eye contact advice and the smiling advice do not apply; you can still smile if you want, but it’s not required. I still recommend the head-nodding advice, with greater emphasis on speaking to verbally show that you’re engaged with the interview.


Phone interviews and video chat interviews give you the advantage of being able to have your notes out in front of you during the interview. For this reason, studying and memorizing your notes the night before is not as important for phone and video chat interviews.


How to Speak During an Interview

How you say something is almost as important as what you’re saying. Two things to keep in mind are the tone of your voice and the use of filler words like “um” or “uh.”


The tone of your voice is extremely important in influencing how people view you. There are three distinct voice tonalities:

  1. End sentences with a higher-pitched voice: Typically used when you’re TRYING to get people to like you.
  2. Sentences end with pitch not changing: Typically used when speaking with a friend or with someone who already likes you.
  3. End sentences with a lower-pitched voice: Typically used when you believe the other person needs to get YOU to like THEM.


You want to go with option 3, or a tone between option 2 and option 3.


With option 1, you implicitly say that you are a person of lower value, so you need to work to get people to like you. If you’re a person of lower value, the employer is unlikely to hire you. This voice tonality is often used when you meet a stranger and you’re trying to get them to like you.


With option 2, you are speaking to your interviewer as if they’re a friend; you show friendliness. Friendliness is good. This voice tonality is often used when speaking with a friend, someone you’ve established a good relationship with.


With option 3, you implicitly say that you are a person of higher value, so other people need to work to get you to like them. If you’re a person of higher value, the employer is likely to hire you. This tone of voice is often used by authority figures like police officers and teachers.


Go for option 3, or a tone that’s between options 2 and 3.


Additionally, I found that using either option 3 or a combination of options 2 and 3 made me feel more confident; I acted like a person of higher value, and I started believing it.


Click here for a YouTube video on voice tonality


Next, avoid filler words like “um” as much as possible. Filler words show one or more of the following:

  • You’re lying, and you’re having a hard time formulating your story as your telling it.
  • A lack of confidence. I don’t necessarily think this is a bad thing, but it could potentially lead the interviewer to think less of you as a job candidate.
  • Inferior communication skills. As an engineer, strong communication skills are a universally desired quality. Effectively interviewing for a position is the best way to show off this quality. Inferior communication skills could hurt your chances of getting hired.

You shoot yourself in the foot when you use filler words. Instead of saying “um,” briefly pause, then continue speaking.


That’s the end of Part 1. Part 2 covers:

  • How to conduct yourself during a tour of the company
  • Questions to ask your interviewer


Thumbnail image by Anthony Delanoix

Leave a Comment: