Job Search 101 Guide

Part 4: Preparing for a Job Interview and Creating a Job Interview Thank-You Letter


Read other parts of this guide:

Part 1

Creating an effective resume and writing your cover letter

Part 2

Beginning Your Job Search

Part 3

Working with executive recruiters and tracking your job search progress

Preparing for the Interview

How do I determine my desired salary to prepare for the HR phone screen interview?

If a potential employer is interested in you for a particular position, you will likely be contacted by phone by someone in human resources (HR) who has been tasked with conducting a phone interview. The purpose of this phone interview is to narrow down the list of 10-12 individuals whose resumes made it through the initial resume screening process down to 5-7 individuals who will be called in for face-to-face interviews. In other words, the HR person’s objective with the phone interview or phone screen is to find a reason to weed people out. One of the likely questions used to weed candidates out involves your desired salary. If your desired salary is significantly above the employer’s salary range for the position, you will likely be eliminated from further consideration.

To avoid being weeded out for positions you are interested in, you need to research salary information for your target position to determine a realistic desired salary range.

6 ways to determine what you are worth

Are you unsure how to respond when asked about your salary requirements during an interview? Are you wondering how to get what you’re worth during salary negotiations?

Do you know if you are being paid what you’re worth for your current job? Would you like to learn how your salary compares to those of others in your position before your interview?

Here are six sources you can use to gather useful salary information:

1. Use an online Salary Calculator

2. Identify professional and trade associations

3. Identify industry publications

4. Look at online job postings

5. Contact recruiters and headhunters

6. Contact your college placement office or career center

Use the online salary calculator

This online Salary Calculator will provide you with salary information based on your desired job title and geographic area.

PayScale Salary Calculator

As an example, the Salary Calculator gives a typical salary for a Senior Product Manager, Software in Minneapolis, Minnesota of $104,191.

Professional and trade associations

Professional and trade associations often conduct annual salary surveys. Contact or go to the website of appropriate professional and trade associations to learn about salary survey information.

Here’s a free online directory you can use to identify appropriate professional and trade associations:


This directory lists several thousand associations from around the world by their primary professional/occupational focus and/or industry of interest and provides a link to the associated website.

Industry publications

Industry publications are another source of salary information. Research industry publications to identify appropriate annual salary surveys.

Here’s a free online directory of industry publications:

Online job postings

Online job postings, particularly those posted by recruiters and headhunters, often include salary information. Concentrate on reviewing job postings on the top career sites:

As an example, CareerBuilder has an Oracle Functional Analyst posting for a position in Des Moines with a stated salary of $70,000. Monster has an Instrument and Controls Engineer position in Long Island with a posted salary of $70-$85K.

Recruiters and headhunters

Another potential source of salary information is to contact recruiters and headhunters handling positions in your functional area, industry, and geography. They know first hand what employers are willing to pay. Be aware that recruiters and headhunters receive tons of phone calls each day and may not have the time to help you.

Here are two sources you can use to identify appropriate recruiters to contact:

Online Database of Recruiters

Recruiters Online Network

Recruiters Online Network offers a searchable online database of over 8,000 recruiters worldwide. You can search this database by career field and geography. There is no cost to you in performing a search. Once you have performed a search, you can select recruiters of interest to obtain their contact information.

Recruiters Online also allows you to post your resume and search job listings posted by recruiters.

Print Directory

If you prefer to use a print publication to identify recruiters, try The Directory of Executive Recruiters.

This print directory lists 14,200 recruiters in the U.S., Canada, and Mexico. Key information given in the directory includes industries covered, job functions covered, geography covered, and specialties covered by each recruiter. The directory also includes recruiter contact information with phone, fax, email, and web addresses.

Most public libraries will have a copy of the directory available in their reference section.

College placement office or career center

Your college placement office or career center is a great source of salary information for new graduates. They typically track the salaries new graduates receive. The placement office or career center may also be a source for alumni salary information or may have access to useful industry information.

Adjust salary for geography differences

Are you considering jobs in different cities? Are you planning to relocate for your new job? Before accepting a new position, be sure to determine how your salary compares in these different locations.

Use the Cost of Living Calculator to make these salary comparisons.

As an example, according to the Cost of Living Calculator, a salary of $125,000 in Los Angeles, California is equivalent to a $95,018 salary in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

PayScale Cost of Living Calculator

After gathering salary information from several of these sources and adjusting the salary data for the cost of living in your desired geography, you will have the information you need to negotiate your salary requirements from a position of strength.

What questions should I expect during an interview?

Below is a list of likely questions you should be prepared to respond to during an interview.

Take the time to write your responses to each question.

Have a friend work with you on a mock interview to help you practice your responses.

Likely interview questions

1. Tell me about yourself.

2. Why are you looking for a job?

3. Why did you leave your last position? (If appropriate.)

4. What interested you about this job?

5. Why have you been at your current job for so long? (If appropriate.)

6. Why are you looking for a new job when you have been at your current job for such a short time? (If appropriate.)

7. You seem to switch jobs quite frequently. Tell me more about that. (If appropriate.)

8. What are your strengths?

9. What are your weaknesses?

10. How would you handle working on multiple projects simultaneously?

11. Tell me about something you are particularly proud of. (Or tell me about a challenge you undertook.)

12. Tell me about a problem you encountered and how you handled it.

13. Where do you see yourself in five years?

14. Describe your best manager. (Or describe your ideal manager.)

15. Describe your worst manager.

16. Describe your ideal job.

17. Tell me about a mistake you made and what you learned from it.

18. What are your hobbies and interests outside work?

19. What are your salary requirements?

20. What other opportunities are you pursuing?

21. Do you have any questions for me?

What is a behavior-based interview?

A behavioral-based interviewing technique is becoming more commonly used by companies to screen candidates. Behavioral interviewing is based on the theory that the most accurate predictor of future performance is past performance in similar situations.

Below are some common types of behavior-based interview questions. As you read each of these questions, we recommend that you develop written responses to each question that you review prior to your interview. If you haven’t taken the time to think of appropriate examples prior to your interview, behavioral-based interview questions can catch you off guard and make you look ill prepared for your interview.

Another benefit of developing responses to the questions given below is that doing so can often trigger ideas for accomplishments to add to your resume.

1. Tell me about a situation where you had to overcome a major obstacle to achieve goals.

2. Describe a time when you anticipated potential problems and created a plan to handle those problems.

3. Describe a situation where you had to sell your idea to your manager or senior management.

4. Tell me about a time when you analyzed information and made a recommendation.

5. Describe an important decision you have made regarding a task or project at work. What factors influenced your decision?

6. Tell me about a time you helped get a team back on track to meet its objectives.

7. Give me examples of projects/tasks you initiated on your own.

8. Tell me about a project you worked on that resulted in improving processes or performance.

9. Tell me about a time you found a better way to do something.

10. Tell me about a time you balanced multiple projects successfully.

11. Tell me about a time you worked well under pressure.

12. Tell me about a project you delegated successfully.

13. Tell me about a time you dealt with an irate customer.

14. Tell me about a situation in which you had to adapt to changes over which you had no control.

15. Tell me about a time when you had to go above and beyond the call of duty to get the job done.

Take some time to think of appropriate answers to these questions prior to your interview.

References & Recommendations


How do I develop my reference list and request letters of recommendation?

To be prepared when references are requested by a potential employer, develop your reference list now.

Who should I ask to be a reference or provide a letter of recommendation for me?

There are many people you can ask to be a reference for you or to provide you with a letter of recommendation. Here are some ideas:

  • Your former boss at your most recent employer
  • Your former boss at a previous employer
  • Peers in your department at your most recent employer
  • Peers in your department at a previous employer
  • Coworkers in other departments at your most recent employer
  • Coworkers in other departments at previous employers
  • Customers
  • Vendors
  • Individuals you did volunteer work with
  • Friends

A positive reference or letter of recommendation from a former boss will carry a significant amount of weight with a prospective employer. If obtaining a reference or letter of recommendation from a former boss isn’t possible, then references or letters of recommendation from customers, former peers, and former coworkers are your next best options. Strive for three references, if possible.

Once a potential employer has requested your references, contact each reference to let them know about the opportunity itself, the name of the person who might be contacting them, and what you’d like them to stress in their discussions with this potential employer. Ask them to let you know if they are contacted.

Can I see an example of a reference list?

Reference List


Steve Smith
123 Street
Portland, Oregon 12345

John Doe
Former Manager at ABC Company
Director of Marketing
ABC Company
456 Street
Portland, Oregon 12345
H: 123-456-7890
W: 234-567-1000

Sue Jones
Former Coworker at XYZ Company
Marketing Manager
XYZ Company
789 South Street
Cleveland, OH 45677
H: 567-123-4567
W: 567-234-5678

Doug Johnson
Former Manager at Acme, Inc.
V.P. of Sales
Acme, Inc.
1514 Morgan Ave.
Cleveland, OH 45677
H: 789-123-4567
W: 789-234-2344

What should be included in a letter of recommendation?

If someone has agreed to provide you with a letter of recommendation, but needs your help to know what to include in the letter, consider providing the letter writer with this format guide:


To Whom It May Concern:

Introduction (one paragraph)

State that you’re writing a letter of recommendation for the individual. For example: “I am pleased to recommend John Smith.”

Explain how you know the individual and for how long. For example: “Having been John’s manager at XYZ corporation for the last five years, I worked closely with John and was impressed with his work.”

Body (two or three paragraphs)

Include specifics that relate to your working relationship with the individual, such as:

  • A summary of job responsibilities
  • Key achievements/assignments/projects
  • Personal strengths supported by examples


State that the individual would be a desirable employee and mention your recommendation again.



John Doe

Additional information to provide the letter writer

If you have a specific achievement/assignment/project that you’d like a particular letter writer to highlight, provide them with this information.

The same approach applies to your job responsibilities and personal strengths. If there are particular items you’d like the writer to emphasize, provide the writer with this guidance.

Creating a Job Interview Thank You Letter

What should I include in my interview thank you letter?

Once you’ve completed an interview—whether it was a phone interview or a face-to-face interview—you should email a thank you letter to those you spoke with.

Use this thank you letter as an opportunity to highlight your strongest selling points for this particular position. Also include in your thank you letter any key points you forgot to mention in the interview that you feel will help sell you.

Here are some key points to consider when developing a thank you letter:

  • Remember that the main point of sending a thank you letter is to help you stand out in the eyes of an employer, since a high percentage of your competition won’t take the time to send one.
  • Write a thank you letter to each person you met with.
  • Send your thank you letter as soon as possible—the day of or the day after the interview.
  • To ensure a timely delivery, email the thank you letter if possible. To gather the appropriate email addresses, ask for business cards at the interview.
  • Keep your thank you letter to no more than one page.
  • Start by thanking the interviewer for meeting with you.
  • Express your interest in the position.
  • Identify a few of your strongest selling points and reiterate them in the cover letter.
  • Cover any key points you forgot to mention in the interview.
  • Close by again thanking the interviewer for their time, expressing your interest in the position, and indicating you hope to hear from them soon.

Can I see an example of an interview thank you letter?

Your Name
Your Address
Your City, State, Zip Code
Your Home Phone Number
Your Work Phone Number
Your E-mail Address


City, State, Zip Code

Dear Mr./Ms. Last Name:

Thanks for meeting with me today to discuss the product manager position. Based on what you described, the position is suited to my skills and experience. I am very interested in the opportunity.

As I mentioned during our discussions, I have extensive experience developing and implementing product launch plans for technology-based products. I believe this experience could be utilized by your organization to meet your goal of launching five new products during the next fiscal year.

My experience marketing products using various sales channels including direct sales forces, manufacturer’s representatives, and distributors would be an asset to your company as you strive to add a new distribution network. I forgot to mention during our meeting that I have led teams in the development of collateral material provided to distributors to support their sales efforts.

I appreciate the time you took to meet with me to discuss the product manager position. I am very interested in working for you and I look forward to hearing from you soon.



Your Signature

Your Typed Name


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