On a college campus, springtime is application season. Whether you are seeking a summer internship, part-time job, or a post-grad career, there are several necessary steps that this season requires ranging from polishing your resume to writing a cover letter. But there is one step of the application process that is most intimidating: the interview. Landing the interview is an impressive feat, but the actual meeting is enough to send college students of all disciplines into a state of nervousness and fear. In consideration of this, here are a few key tips that first-time and seasoned interviewees alike can benefit from.
Before your interview, spend some time researching the job position, your interviewer, and the company. On the job posting, read through the skills listed and ask yourself which of these skills you are strongest in. Then, think through some examples you could provide your interviewer with if asked what your strengths are. Look up some common interview questions and have a friend help you practice your answers. You will also want to look up your interviewer on LinkedIn and request to “Connect” (i.e. become a part of their network on the site) shortly after the interview is scheduled. This will not only provide you the background information that you need, but it will also give your interviewer time to accept your request and check out your profile. Finally, research the company itself and read about their core mission and goals. Find out who the president of the company is, who your direct supervisor would be, and the organization’s mission statement. The more you know about the company, the more prepared you will be to answer questions about your potential role with them.
The morning of your interview (or the night before) choose an outfit that is professional and clean. Even if your interview is virtual (e.g. Zoom, Microsoft Teams, or another virtual meeting site), you should still dress professionally to help you get into the “interview mindset.” If your interview is in person, give yourself adequate time to navigate traffic and arrive early. At the start of the meeting, your interviewer may begin with a question along the lines of “Tell me about yourself.” Prepare a brief, two-minute answer that includes your academic history, your skills and interests, and why you want to work for them. Make sure to keep your response professional; the first five minutes of the interview is typically not the time to share your entire life story. Another popular question to prepare for is: “Where do you see yourself in five years?” The truth is, most students don’t even know where they see themselves in five hours, much less five years. A senior associate editor at Built In, Hal Koss, recommends these five tips for answering the five-year plan question:
- Before the interview, answer this question for yourself
- Show you’re interested in the job
- Keep it general
- Focus on skills
- Connect short-term goals with long-term ambitions
Throughout the interview, don’t just give “yes” or “no” replies. Instead, answer questions with stories about how your previous experience applies to their mission. If they ask how you handle conflict, talk about a time when you demonstrated excellent conflict resolution in the workplace, don’t just tell them you handle conflict well. Finally, be aware of your body language and facial expressions. Wandering eyes or slumped body language that indicates boredom will tell your interviewer that you don’t want the job.
As the interview wraps up, ask what the next steps in the hiring process are. They may want a list of your references, a recent writing sample, or to run a background check. Permanent, post-grad jobs will often invite you for a second, third, or even fourth interview. During this process, practice the virtue of patience. Your first follow-up should consist of a “thank you note” at least 24 hours after the interview. Keep it brief; include a mention of gratitude for the interviewer’s time, an expression of interest related to one or two aspects of the job discussed in the interview, and conclude with, “I look forward to hearing from you.” This could set you apart from other applicants and will show your recruiter that you are actively interested in the position. Although this step in the hiring process is daunting, the best way to practice your interview skills is by doing interviews. If the first one doesn’t go so well, learn from your mistakes and schedule another. By demonstrating patience, humility, and a desire to learn, you will show employers that you are willing to work hard and be an asset to their company.