Preparing for the Interview

Making the Transition from College to Career

Whether you’re approaching graduation and hoping to land your first post-college job or looking for an internship, you have a lot to think about. To help you prepare, each month, we’ll be talking about a different issue related to the next phase of your life — from how you prepare for an interview to avoiding rookie job mistakes.

8 Tips for Preparing for a Job Interview

So you got the call (or email) and a prospective employer wants an interview. You should feel encouraged by this. Clearly, something about your resume or cover letter made you seem like a good fit.

Still, it would feel be foolish to think you’re the only candidate, illustrating the need to make a great impression. Don’t worry, though. Here are eight things you should do before your interview.

1. Learn everything you can about the company.

You probably did some research before you applied. Now that you have an interview lined up, you need to ask yourself how much you really know about the company, because the people conducting your interview are almost certain to ask.

Obviously, a company’s website is a great place to start, but don’t stop there. A company’s Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter pages can tell you a lot about their culture and personality, which can be helpful in deciding what to talk about (and how). It’s also never a bad idea to find out what others are saying, including in local business journals and job review sites, like Glassdoor. Just be cautious about the occasional bad review — as with any review site, the angriest voices tend to be the loudest.

That said a slew of negative reviews could be a red flag — making it a good idea to do some cursory research before you apply.

2. Know why you want the job.

While it’s possible you’re interviewing for your “dream job,” the reality is that your first post-college job is more likely to be a stepping-stone in your career, and that’s ok. Wherever you land, the experience and skills you gain will benefit you down the road.

Despite this, you need a compelling and articulate reason for why you want the job, making it helpful to consider the following questions:

  • What about the job description and company appeals to you?
  • How does the job align with your long-term career goals?
  • How are your skills a good match for the position?

3. Have an elevator pitch ready to go.

Few people like to talk about themselves, and that’s what makes “Tell me a little about yourself” such a dreaded part of the interview experience. However, it’s going to happen — most likely at the beginning of your interview — and you need to have a good answer.

Don’t let the open-endedness of the question trip you up, though. You just have to understand what they are hoping to learn. Interviewers aren’t looking for a rehash of your resume, and they’re probably not that interested in your life story (unless some aspect of it is directly relevant to the job you’re seeking).

What they are interested in, though, are your career ambitions, enthusiasm, qualifications and experience — including previous jobs, internships or even relevant courses — and how they align with the position. It doesn’t have to be long, either, and it definitely should not exceed two minutes.

To prepare, jot down a few bullet points in a notepad and take it with you to your interview. That way you’ll be sure to hit on each point without coming across overly scripted or like you decided to wing it.

4. Assess your strengths and weaknesses.

Another area many candidates struggle with is talking about their (professional) strengths and weaknesses, the latter of

which can make a lot of job seekers uncomfortable. The trick with discussing your weaknesses (reminder: never say you don’t have any) is to present them as opportunities for growth.

For example, maybe you’re not the most confident public speaker but you’ve recently started going to Toastmasters. Assuming the job you’re interviewing for isn’t a job that requires you to do public speaking on a daily basis, that shows you’re willing to put in the time to learn and grow without disqualifying you from the job.

As for your strengths, this should be easy for you. Think about what you’re good at related to the job, citing examples when at all possible. Just be aware of your tone. You want to come off as confident but not arrogant.

5. Practice.

As with anything, you get better at interviewing with time and experience. Unfortunately, that doesn’t help you right now. What will help is practice. Look up common interview questions online and think about how you might answer them, then have a friend interview you. Be clear that you want his or her honest feedback on your performance, and don’t take criticism personally.

It’s also worth noting that many colleges have career centers, where you’ll find a wealth of resources and may even be able to conduct practice interviews.  

6. Look the part.

It goes without saying that you need to look professional for your interview; however, that doesn’t necessarily mean you need to run out and put a suit and tie on your credit card. Every company is different, making it perfectly reasonable to ask the recruiter about the company’s dress code. This is another area where a little social media snooping can provide valuable intel.

Keep in mind that you don’t have to have the best clothes. What’s important is that you look professional and presentable — meaning no wrinkles, no scuffed up shoes, etc. — like you want the job. If you don’t have a suit, opt for dress pants and a button up with a tie, or a nice sweater. That being said, there’s no harm in being overdressed.

Interviewing by phone or video instead?

While it’s not uncommon for initial interviews to be conducted over the phone, the coronavirus pandemic is having a big impact on the way interviews are conducted, with many companies opting to conduct interviews by video chat. It’s also changing accepted norms, such as shaking hands. If you have a phone interview, make sure you have a quiet place to talk and plenty of battery life. The same applies to video conferencing, only you’ll want to dress for success just the same as you would for an in-person interview. You should also have a plan for where you’ll video in from (for example: no alcohol bottles or posters in the background) — and if you have roommates, make it clear to them that you can’t be interrupted.

7. Bring copies of your resume and portfolio pieces.

It never fails that the day you forget to take your resume, the office printer isn’t working, another interviewer gets added at the last minute or the recruiter never passed along your resume to the interviewer, making it in your best interest to show up with copies to spare. Some interviewers might even show up without a copy just to see if you came prepared.

Depending on the line of work (say graphic design), you might also have portfolio pieces you’ll want to show. Not only should you bring extra copies (when possible), you should also know what you want to highlight about each so that you can work them into the conversation naturally. You might even consider creating an accompanying piece to your portfolio summarizing each piece — the goal, the rationale and the results, among other important details.

8. Plan for travel accordingly.

Few things will throw you off your interview game like making a mad dash to get to your interview on time because you

went to the wrong building or got stuck in traffic. To avoid this, be sure to map out the directions to your interview so you

know how much time to allot for travel; then add some time as a buffer. In fact, you can use Google Maps to look up directions for a certain time of day, which can be especially helpful in gauging how long it will take you to get there during, say, morning traffic.

Of course, sometimes delays are inevitable, as in the case of a wreck shutting down traffic. In these instances, use your best judgment. If you think there’s even the slightest chance you’re going to be late, call ahead to let them know.

Breathe. You’ve got this.

Hopefully these tips help you prepare. Stay tuned for next month’s post, when we’ll be discussing interview dos and don’ts.

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