This week, a student wrote the following e-mail to me:
The polishing of my résumé that you helped with back before the career fair may be about to pay off! It looks like I will be having two, one-hour interviews with the engineering team on Thursday. What advice can you offer to get me through these interviews? So far the only information they have is my résumé and my major.
I love this question, and because I’ve been hearing it a lot lately, I figured others may be wondering the same thing. So, here’s my response.
Think of this interview process in three stages.
1. Before the Interview: Make a plan.
You’ll cut down on your stress if you consider the details. For example, what will you wear to the interview? Even if the corporate culture is informal, err on formal side. It’s a matter of respect to show up with your clothing neat and professional. Get a haircut, clean your nails, shine your shoes, buy a new pair of socks, or whatever it takes to shine yourself up. On the day of the interview, wear little or no cologne, perfume or jewelry. Don’t bring your backpack either. It’s important to look the part to get the part.
Review the information you have on the company and the job description. You may have completed this step several weeks ago, and your command of this information may be waning. Refresh your memory. Jot down questions you have. Think about a typical day in the life of the person in this position. What do you know about it already? What do you need to know? One of my favorite questions is “what is the most negative aspect of this job?” I don’t start with this question because I don’t want to put my interviewer off, but I’ve gotten lots of information that helps me make a good decision by asking this question.
Plan answers to the questions you are likely to get asked too. Keep in mind every question is an opportunity for you to tell the interviewer why he/she should hire you. Recall the specific examples that support your points. Think about how you can set yourself apart from the other applicants. Practice your 30-second marketing pitch until you are comfortable with it. Know your key points.
Logistics are important too. How will you get to the interview? How long will it take? Where can you park? With whom and where are you meeting? If at all possible, do a test run prior to the interview. It will help you feel prepared and in control on the day of the interview. Get a good night’s sleep. On interview day, arrive 15 minutes early. Let the receptionist know you have arrived. Speak clearly and confidently. Smile. Pay attention to your nonverbal messages (posture, eye contact, hands, fidgeting). While you are waiting for your interviewer, take out your extra copies of your résumé along with your pen and tablet. As the interviewer approaches, rise and give him/her a firm handshake. Try to engage in comfortable small talk to establish some rapport.
2. During the interview: It’s Show Time!
Once you’ve arrived in the interviewer’s office, wait to be offered or directed to a seat. Once seated, the interviewer is likely to engage in some preliminary conversation about the position to give you a chance to get settled. However, some interviewers will start right away with the first question. For example, a typical first gambit is, tell me a little about yourself. Remember to keep the response relevant to the company and the position. When you hear this wide-open question, use it like a wild card. The fact that you have a perfect dancing imitation of John Travolta in Saturday Night Fever is certainly interesting but not the slightest bit relevant. Highlight your qualifications for the position.
If you get asked, why did you apply to this position, the interviewer is trying to see if you have researched and prepared for this particular job and company. Show enthusiasm and knowledge. You’ve done the research, now here is the opportunity to use it. Don’t respond with a lackluster, “I saw your advertisement on our college’s website.” Companies spend a lot of money to train new employees, and they want to invest in people who are likely to have thoroughly thought through what they want to do and for whom they want to do it.
One question that intimates a lot of students is, I notice your summer jobs were not in your field, can you tell me about this? The interviewer is looking for you to give him/her assurance that you are not naïve about the field or the position. Just recently a recruiter conveyed to me how important it is for students to know how to express how their work experience is relevant. She mentioned that her company had just interviewed three new graduates, two with experience within the field and one with experience as the manager of a Dairy Queen. They hired the manager of the Dairy Queen, and she added, “he’s doing very well!” The tasks you performed at your non-professional jobs gave you transferable skills. Examples of transfer skills include the following: communication, analytical, interpersonal, conflict resolution, problem solving, leadership, attending to details, decision-making, and developing rapport. The key is to think of what tasks you performed and what skills they required; then clearly convey them to the interviewer.
Make sure to ask questions too. Try to establish a natural give and take to the rhythm of the interview. Ask questions that help you determine if you’re a good match for the position and the company. True, you want to get a job offer to avoid having to move back in with your parents (and trust me, they feel the same way), but more importantly you want to find the right job and place for you. Plus interviewers are impressed by applicants who show their enthusiasm and knowledge by asking intelligent, thoughtful questions.
3. At the end of the interview and after: it’s a wrap.
At the end of the interview, remember to ask, what are the next steps in the interview process? Often the response to this question will inform you of how many other candidates are being interviewed and when the selection committee will be making a decision. Another question you may want to ask has to do with how well the interview went. For example, asking, is there anything you would like to have further explanation of that you are still wondering about after our interview today? allows the interviewer to bring up, and you to respond to, any possible hindrances to your getting a job offer. Chances are that when you come out of the interview, your friends and family are going to ask you how the interview went anyway. By asking this question, you’ll get a better feeling for just how it went from your interviewer’s perspective.
After the interview, and within one week, write either a handwritten, typed, or friendly e-mail thank-you note to everyone with whom you interviewed. It shows your professionalism, maturity, interest, and courtesy. I’ve actually had students tell me that their interviewers told them that one of the reasons they beat out other candidates for the position was because they wrote thank you notes. We hire people we want to be around. Showing your considerate side is another way to indicate you are a pleasant worker.
If you don’t hear anything after the time the decision was supposed to be made, call and politely inquire. If you’re informed you were not selected, try and find out how you can better your chances next time. Above all else, stay positive. See each rejection as moving you closer to an acceptance. Think Chumbawamba–I get knocked down, but I get up again. You’re never going to keep me down.
Now try and get this song out of your head!