So, you’re at a job interview and you’re fidgeting around in your chair, dreading the next question. “Where do you see yourself in five years?” You have not really thought about the question before, so you take your time, uttering “uhhh…” and “umm…” frequently as you contemplate your answer. All you can think of saying is that you want to make a lot of money and maybe start a family.
If this scenario sounds familiar, you’ve probably experienced a bad job interview. Well, with so many students already searching for a post-graduation job or a summer internship, it’s a good time to brush up on your interview skills.
The first thing to know is that job interviews can be tough because even if you think it went well, you could still lose out to someone else for a variety of reasons. However, if you haven’t experienced a job interview before or if you’ve already been on a few, there are always some tips you can use to improve during your next interview.
The process begins long before you ever take a seat in front of the interviewer. Preparation is the key. Start by reading over the job description given in the original job posting. From this, you can gather the basic responsibilities of the job and the types of qualifications and skills required. You probably read over such details when you applied for the position, but a second look is vital because knowing the employer’s expectations is your starting point. Your interview should revolve around proving that you meet the stated criteria.
You can prove that you meet the criteria by bringing up experiences listed in your resume, which is also something you should go over multiple times before the interview. Be prepared to speak about everything you’ve listed (after all, it’s all true, right?). Expect to hear questions about previous job responsibilities, activities and skills.
However, an interview is not entirely a “me” affair. Employers will likely ask you if you know anything about their company, so some extra homework is necessary.
“Take the time to research what the company values, as well as any recent news and successes,” said Nina Ong, a Career Center peer consultant. In addition, find out about the company’s history, products, services, culture and other facts. It is easy for first-time interviewees to ignore this step, but if you put in the time to research, it shows the interviewer your familiarity with the company.
On the day of the interview, arrive 10-15 minutes earlier than your scheduled time. This demonstrates punctuality, but it also gives you time to prepare emotionally for the interview. When you meet your interviewer, give them a respectful greeting and a firm handshake. Act professional, but do not be afraid to act a little loose and relaxed if you find that your interviewer is acting the same way.
Once the interview starts, be conscious of your body language. This means maintaining a proper posture and direct eye contact. Show an active interest in the conversation by leaning forward a bit in your chair or nodding your head. The important thing is to make such actions look natural; looking like a stiff is not going to impress anyone.
As far as what questions you can expect, there are a myriad of Web sites and books devoted to that topic, so you can refer to such career Web sites as Monster.com and CareerBuilder.com to find examples. When it comes to answering questions, do not be afraid to take a few seconds to think over your response. A few moments of silence to prepare your answer is better than going straight into your response, only to end up rambling and stuttering like a fool.
Be sure to use concrete examples from your previous experiences when answering questions, especially ones that ask what your strengths are or why you are right for the position.
Sharing anecdotes from your past work experiences, activities and academic accomplishments will grab the attention of your interviewer a lot more than a boring list. Telling your interviewer that you work great under pressure is okay. What is even better is telling them about the time you had to recruit a guest speaker for one of your on-campus club meetings and an unexpected cancellation forced you to pull some strings to get a replacement on short notice.
“You want to give examples that will leave a lasting impression,” said Jasmine Fang, a Career Center peer consultant. This is why preparation pays off: when you read over the skills and qualifications in the job description, you should organize what kinds of experiences you will bring up. You want to prove that you are a good fit for their needs. “You should reiterate your interests, show your willingness to learn and show that you’re trainable for the job,” Fang said.
Responding to questions is your time to shine, but do not take too much time for any one question. Talking too much can lead to rambling and straying off-topic. Again, preparing your answers in advance will go a long way toward developing concise and impressive responses.
The final question your interviewer asks will almost always be, “Do you have any questions for me?” Your answer should always be yes! Ask your interviewer what kind of qualities they look for in a new hire, what a typical day involves in your applied position and other such questions related to the job. Asking the interviewer personal questions, within reason, is also fine. “You could ask them things like, ‘What do you like best about this company?’ or ‘How did you get started here?'” Ong said.
You might want to scribble down your interviewer’s responses on paper, not only to show active interest, but for your own future reference too. Once the interview is over, you will want to follow up by sending them a thank-you e-mail or even an old-fashioned letter no later than 48 hours later. All you need to write is a simple thank you for their time and reiterate your interest in the position. You should let one week go by without contact; if you still do not hear anything, give your interviewer an e-mail or phone call. It might seem pushy, but calling up to ask if they have made any decisions on their hiring is completely justified.
For more help on interviews, the Career Center offers a lot of options for all majors. You can sign up for an interview workshop to learn more about the interview process or do a practice interview to be videotaped so you can watch your own body language and responses to get feedback on what kind of improvements you can make.