In today’s employment world, it is more important than ever to have strong interviewing skills. The most common reason for this is that college graduation rates are increasing and you will be leaving school with more competition. If you fail at your interview or fail to make a good impression it could cost you an opportunity. I think I had the advantage of putting myself in career research and development courses starting back when I was in middle school. I learned how to write a resume and interview before I was even old enough to work. I remember doing practice interviews (video taped) when I was just a sophomore in high school. This experience has helped me greatly over the years, especially during my time in college. It’s never too early to develop your interviewing skills and one way you can start is by signing up for mock interviews through your Career Services office. Generally, every year we offer on-site mock interviews prior to the stream of on-campus interviews we host during the fall and spring semesters. You have the option to meet with a counselor any time of the year, to conduct a mock interview.
One of the main reasons I felt the need to write about interviewing, was because I recently had an opportunity to gain feedback from a few of my classmates and their internship seeking experiences. I was pretty intrigued that a couple of the students I had talked to had virtually the same grade point average, were both the same major, had virtually the same career interests, applied for the same companies, and yet only one of them actually got to the second interview and received an offer for employment. How could this be? It must have been something more than just what you have on your resume and more about what you’re like in person. Even though your initial interview might be with a recruiter instead of someone directly from the department you are applying for, it is important to make a good impression and have a strong interview with everyone throughout the process. It does help to stay connected after the interview (by sending thank you letters, connecting on LinkedIn, etc).
With the amount of competition many face in the interview phase, employers have to scan through multitudes of applicants, many of which are fairly indistinguishable on paper because of similar course work and grade point averages. Doing well in your interview will make you stand out from the crowd. Here are a few tips based on how I prepare for an interview that might help you in the future:
Do your research!
By having a working knowledge of the company you are applying for, you can show that you have a genuine interest in working for them. This helps to let the employer know that you aren’t just applying for a job for the sake of applying for a job, but that you aren’t a flight risk (someone who, if hired, will leave the company or change jobs shortly after being hired). This also shows that you know what your interests are and that you’ve thought for a while about the company you’re applying to.
Show up early!
This should go without saying, but here it is for added emphasis. Most people say to arrive around 15 minutes early. What I have naturally done in the past (and keep in mind that this varies depending on the situation) is arrive to the general area of the interview and find a nice place to stop and relax for about an hour prior to the interview. I usually like to stop in at a local coffee shop and bring flash cards of common answers and questions that might come up during the interview, as well as what I want to ask at the end. This way you have time to calm your nerves and ensure that you will be at the interview in perfect timing.
Act natural, yet professional!
This seems obvious, but it’s a tough skill to master. Sometimes people get it stuck in their heads that as long as you’re a sociable person, you’ll do well in the interview. This is not always the case. Make sure to make eye contact to show that you are engaged in the conversation. You’d be surprised the things your eyes can give away during an interview. By looking away or failing to make eye contact you can give the impression that you’re not interested in what the interviewer is saying, that you’re lying/hiding something, or that you’re not confident in yourself. It is also important to speak with a strong voice and to speak directly, especially when answering questions. Speaking directly and naturally may take practice, which you can do by speaking to yourself in a mirror or practicing with a friend.
Try and be as positive as possible!
This is the most challenging part of the interview in my opinion. Whenever a question comes up in an interview, it is important to try and put a positive spin on things. For example, if an interviewer asks you a question along the lines of “tell me about a time in which you’ve had to deal with a difficult co-worker/supervisor.” This is not the time to vent about how much you despised your old boss or co-worker, this is your chance to express how you handled a difficult situation and made it better. It’s a lot easier to stay positive if you focus on yourself in the situation instead of others. Show what you learned and how that helped improve yourself professionally.
Hopefully this helps gain a perspective on the importance of interviewing. It’s an invaluable skill that can take you far if you practice and apply it. If you don’t put in the effort to make a good impression for yourself during an interview, then who else will?