Interviews are tough. The prospect of having your worth determined by a 30-minute conversation is not a very exciting one for most people.
However, interviews are like anything else; the way you feel about them is all dependent on your mindset. Viewing an interview as an opportunity to build a relationship and show the prospective employer how you can help them, rather than as a dreaded hurdle on the way to a paycheck, is a great big-picture strategy. It’s also important to assess smaller details pertaining to your resume, the way you carry yourself, what you say, and more. With that in mind, here’s some interview “Do and Don’t” tips to help you prepare. Some of these tips are from actual recruiters from companies like The Principal Financial Group, Pella Corporation, AEGON, and others, and some of them are pulled from my experiences during my own interviews. Follow these tips and they just might help you snag a job or internship!
In the old days, interviews were more of a “tell me about yourself and your skills” affair. The questions were abstract and allowed the job candidate a lot of room for B.S. Somewhere along the way companies figured out that this type of interview style was resulting in a lot of hires who could talk the talk, but ultimately did nothing but waste training dollars and reveal their ineffectiveness. Since then, the behavioral interview has become the preferred technique of employers to gauge the capabilities of a prospective hire. These types of sessions consist of specific, event-based questions that force you to think on your feet and provide examples to back up the qualities you say you have. These types of interviews are hard! You can’t just pull some nice-sounding terms out of a thesaurus and land a posh corner-office the next day. So how do you cope? It’s simple; come prepared. Here’s a few examples of questions you may be asked in a behavioral interview. Take some time to read over these, and think about answers you could provide that pull from your past work and volunteer experiences.
Question 1: Tell me about a time you dealt with a difficult or uncooperative coworker; what were the specifics of the situation and what did you do to solve the problem?
Question 2: Tell me about a time that an unexpected event forced you or your team to change plans or processes. What was the event and what was your specific role?
Question 3: Tell me about a time you took the lead on a project.
There are a multitude of other questions that you could be asked during an interview. Preparing for at least a few will do two things: provide you with specific answers for those questions, and also get you in the mindset to more effectively come up with answers for questions you haven’t prepared for.
Just because you haven’t had experience in the job you’re applying for doesn’t mean you can’t do it. Many people make the mistake of underselling themselves during an interview because they don’t believe they have the skills needed to hit the ground running. If you have similar worries, take some time to assess the skills you do have. Are you able to learn quickly, communicate effectively, and get things done on time? If so, you may already have what an employer is looking for. Realize that employers will provide training for the specific job functions they’ll want you to perform. During the interview stage, they are trying to find out whether you would be a good fit with their company. Specific job skills are only a part of the equation. Have the confidence to put your best foot forward and show employers the full extent of what you can do.
One of the recruiters I talked to in the past week told me this:
“One of the best questions I ever got from an interviewee was, ‘Why do YOU work here?'”
The lesson behind that story is to come prepared with questions relate directly to either the recruiter herself or to the company. Generic, boilerplate questions such as, “What hours do most people in my position work?”, “What’s the career development track like here?”, and, worst of all, “What does your company do?” represent poor planning. Research the company and come up with questions relevant to its industry. Likewise, ask the recruiter questions that get them talking about their own career.
Does something about the job or internship concern you? Do you have experience with a certain aspect of it, and if so, do you have a positive or negative attitude towards it? If so, express your feelings during the interview! Showing personality can tell the interviewer that you have a passion for what you do, and that is what they are looking for in a hire. If, for example, you’re applying for a web development internship and you get onto the subject of W3C standards compliance, don’t be afraid to voice your frustration about the continued used of IE6! This is a very specific example, but it gets the point across. Don’t be a robot in the interview; show the recruiter you’re a person with passions and emotions.
Have a 60-90 second speech ready that you can use to describe yourself in terms that will get a recruiter’s attention. Include your background, education, skills, achievements, and why you’d like to work for their company. Again, include some details about their company that aren’t boilerplate; you will seem (and likely be) more genuine.
There are a few eccentrics that have been able to grace any situation and come out ahead no matter what they wear; Paris Hilton, Albert Einstein, and Dave Ramsey are a few that come to mind. You are not these people. Therefore, you need to come dressed appropriately to any function in which a recruiter will see you. This can include the interview itself, as well as events leading up to it. These include career fairs and other networking events, workshops, and presentations. Never err on the casual side; those who come looking serious will be viewed as serious. I plan on writing a business dress article in the future; for now, you can use my school’s “Dress for Success” page.
When you’re talking about an experience or a skill you have, the only thing that can come from constantly restating the same things over and over again is a sense that you don’t have much more to talk about. Make sure you’re well prepared to talk at some length about your experiences, and try not to repeat things.
Words like “um”, “yeah”, “so”, and “like” are incredibly distracting when used too often. Silence is ok; use it to your advantage by pausing for effect and to gather your thoughts. You don’t always have to be making sound.
Recruiters have every right to ask you about things on your resume, including past work experience, your GPA, and the clubs you’re in. If there are things on your resume you’d rather not discuss, don’t write them down! I review a lot of resumes for friends, and I’ve seen a couple that have listed jobs the person had been fired from. When I asked them if they’d be alright with telling an interviewer the circumstances behind being let go, they said they wouldn’t be. Obviously, they should not have this work experience on their resume (even if their resume is only half a page without it).
Likewise, don’t list things on your resume you know you can’t talk about. If you’ve only taken an introductory Java class, don’t say you know C++ and PHP just because they’re object-oriented as well. If you’ve only taken an introductory management course, don’t say you’re an expert in Six Sigma. Be prepared to talk in some detail about anything you list on your resume. Recruiters want to know what you can do, but they also want to know that you’re honest and willing to learn. Exude these qualities rather than falsely bolstering what you look like on paper.
On the other side of the spectrum, some people will fail to mention perfectly legitimate accomplishments on their resume because they view them as more of a team accomplishment than something they did individually. If you feel this way, realize that almost nothing in business today is accomplished individually. As long as you contributed in some meaningful way, feel free to mention projects and accomplishments that you worked on as a team. You can also prefix them with words like “Assisted with”, but recruiters already know that most work is collaborative, so it’s not entirely necessary.
Following these five “Do’s and Dont’s” will help you become a better job candidate, and possibly help you snag that job or internship this summer. With career fairs popping up soon and employers crawling campuses for new prospects, there’s no better time to brush up on your skills!
If you have a interview tip or helpful comment, leave it below!