Interviewing Basics: What Employers Want to Know

By Kelly Cleary

Tomorrow is “opening day” for on campus interviews so many seniors are busy preparing, doing their best to keep their nerves in check. One of the best ways to manage this stress is to take the time to (over) prepare, and an important first step is to fully understand the task at hand. The purpose of an interview is relatively simple. The employer is trying to assess the candidate’s an aptitude for and interest in the position, and whether or not that candidate would be a good fit for the organization and department where the position resides. It is the candidate’s job to demonstrate his or her aptitude, interest, and fit for that specific position within that particular organization.


  • Do you have the skills and knowledge to succeed in this position?
  • What distinguishes you from other applicants?

As you head into the interview, keep in mind that it is your job is to prove to them that you are the most capable candidate – that you have the skills and knowledge to do the job. But that’s not enough. By using specific examples from past experiences, you need to prove to the employer that your skills, qualifications, or background distinguish from other candidates.


  • Why do you want to work for them?
  • Why are you interested in the position? 

Employers also want to know why you are interested in working for their organization, and why you are interested in this particular position. A common frustration we hear from recruiters is that the candidate did not seem to know very much about the employer or the nature of the position.

With aptitude and interest in mind, it’s a good idea to reflect on what distinguishes you from other candidates. I recommend coming up with at least three reasons why you are the best candidate based on the job description and what you know about the organization. These can be a combination of technical skills or professional knowledge, as well as “softer” skills like being highly organized or having strong interpersonal skills. Use the position description as a guide for selecting the skills and qualities you’ll want to highlight. And then keep several specific examples in mind so you can use them when the opportunity comes.


  • Will you fit in with the office/ department culture?
  • What kind of colleague will you be?

And finally, sometimes most importantly, the employer is looking for someone who will fit in with the organization and department’s culture and will be a great colleague. Along those lines, while an interview will certainly consist of a series of questions and answers, the goal is demonstrate that you’ll be a good fit by reaching a point where the interview feels more than a conversation than an inquisition.

Career Services has many resources to help you prepare for interviews. Our Online Interview Guide offers tips and resources. We also offer students access to InterviewStream an interactive interview preparation website where you can record and review yourself answering questions. You can access Interview Stream by logging into PennLink.

The On Campus Recruiting page includes videos of students offering advice for a successful on campus recruiting experience and a comprehensive OCR/PennLink FAQ that answers many common questions.

Good luck with your interviews!

Author: Kelly

Kelly Cleary is the Senior Associate Director of Career Services for College of Arts & Sciences undergraduates.