At some point in college, you will probably have to interview for something: an internship, a job, a research position or a study abroad placement. What should you be prepared to talk about? What will you be asked? What should you wear? Though each interview is unique, there are a few things you can remember for every one: be confident, stay calm, focus on the relevance of your skills to the specific duties of the position you are seeking, and know that you are interviewing them as much as they are interviewing you. Read on to learn more about interviews and how to have a good one.
What to Do Before the Big Day
Congratulations - you got a call for an interview! The hardest part is over, though it may seem like the most daunting part is before you. The more prepared you are for the interview, the less stressed you will be on the actual day, so it is important that you research your prospective employer or program, and review your own skills. Go online and research the company, organization or program - find out its key operations, philosophy, goals, and personnel. Determine why you are an ideal fit for this company, organization or program, based on what you learn. Chances are you have already learned much of this in the application process, but it is a good idea to familiarize yourself with these details ahead of your interview.
It is also important that you get enough rest in the days leading up to your interview and are certain of where the interview will be held and when, and with whom you will be meeting. Make sure you have your contact's information with you when you head out for the interview in the event that some emergency - a traffic accident or unforeseen glitch in public transportation - delays you.
What to Say
The best thing to keep in mind during an interview is that you applied for the job or program because you felt like it would be a good opportunity for you, and because you believe you have the skills and talents to add something to the company or organization. That is what you want to convey in every question that you are asked, from why you want to work at the job to why you would be a good fit. Think of your interview as a chance to put your best face forward, highlighting your achievements and goals to a stranger who knows nothing about you.
Most companies or organizations will tell you the details of your interview ahead of the appointment, so you know what to expect. You will likely be told with whom you will be interviewing, and if there are any tests or evaluations. You may interview with one person, with several different people separately, or before several people at the same time. You can expect to answer questions about your resume and any other materials you have submitted or referred to during the application process. These questions are your chance to elaborate on the details that your prospective employer has already seen. Tell your interviewer why you decided to study what you studied, and how it is helping get you closer to your goals. Explain how your experience studying abroad enhanced your mastery of French, as well as made you an independent adult. You may also be asked questions about your personal interests and future plans, so be prepared to answer these questions with replies that refer back to your potential employer. A first interview is usually not the time to discuss salary, benefits or other such matters. These topics are typically brought up later, if and when an offer is made to you.
Here are some basic tips about the interview process:
- Always be on time. This is the first time someone is meeting you, and it is essential that you make a good impression. Maybe you have never been late a day in your life, but a complete stranger won't know that, and he or she will assess you during that first meeting on every detail, tardiness included.
- Be polite. When introduced to or greeted by someone, shake his or her hand firmly while making eye contact. Thank everyone that you speak to for his or her time, from the receptionist to the CEO or professor, and smile.
- Be respectful. Unless someone you are interviewing with has told you specifically to address them by his or her first name, don't. Always use titles such as Dr., Professor, Mr. or Miss/Mrs.
- Speak clearly, slowly, audibly and confidently. The fact that you got a 36 on the ACT won't matter if you can't speak up enough for your interviewer to hear you. Take deep, quiet breaths if you are nervous.
- Be friendly, but answer questions seriously. It is important that you stay professional, even if asked about your personal interests or hobbies. Every question, even ones that are seemingly more personal, is an opportunity to articulate why you would be the best person for the open position or placement.
- Be flexible. Flexibility is key in any employee, and so it will be key in any prospective employee. If you have to push back the date/time of your interview at the request of your interviewer, do so agreeably. Every organization wants a "team player," so it is important that you demonstrate a willingness to adapt to a company's culture or policies.
- Be aware. Pay attention to everything you see and hear while interviewing. Not only can understanding the dynamic of an organization help you answer questions better and help you sexplain why you are a good fit, it can also help you determine if the company or organization is the best fit for you.
- Wear appropriate clothing (see What to Wear below)
What to Bring
Bring several copies of your resume, a pen and writing tablet, and any related work that will serve to reinforce your skills and demonstrate your ability, relative to the company or position. Information should be presented concisely, and all materials should be cleanly and neatly organized. Other items, such as bottled water or breath mints, may be helpful for personal use.
What to Ask
The interview is your chance to get a feel for what it might be like to be part of that company or organization. Usually, your interviewer will ask you at the end of the interview if you have any questions, and it is good to have at least a couple so that you express your interest in the company and show that you have been paying attention. Ask questions about key operations or basic tasks that were not answered, or that you want more details about. It is also a good idea to ask the interviewer what he/she is looking for in the person the company intends to hire: Who is their ideal candidate, and what are the company's weaknesses that the candidate could help strengthen? This is almost always a great question because it is not likely something that an interviewer will state directly. Also, if you are at the end of your interviewer and you have not yet been told a timeframe for when the company/organization plans to make a hiring or admittance decision, it is appropriate to ask when you can expect to hear back.
What to Wear
You should always dress up for an interview, even if you know the organization or company is casual and that everyone else wears jeans to work every day. The way you present yourself, from how you speak to what you wear, can help convey how serious you are about the job or opportunity. Appropriate interview attire for women includes dress pants or skirt, blouse or sweater, and possibly a matching suit coat or blazer. Be careful that your clothes are not too tight or revealing, and keep make-up, jewelry and perfume subtle. High-heels are acceptable, as are most other dress shoes. Appropriate interview attire for men includes dress pants, a button-down collared shirt and matching blazer. In most cases, a full suit and tie are acceptable. All interviewees should keep colors plain and patterns simple, and make sure your shoes are shined.
What to Do AfterFollow-up is key to every interview. Even if you think the interview went terribly, it is important to thank the interviewer or interviewers for taking the time to talk to you and for considering you for the position. At the very least, send a thank you e-mail. To stand out, a handwritten thank you is best. This gesture is also an opportunity for you to reiterate your interest in the position and briefly state why you are an ideal candidate for it, after having toured the company or organization firsthand and having met with some of its employees. Also, if you asked the interviewer what he/she is looking for in the ideal candidate, address this now and how you can help fill any gaps the company is looking for.
What You Can Learn
There's nothing worse than leaving an interview for the job of your dreams only to feel like you blew it. It's natural to think "I should have said that differently" or "I forgot to mention that I volunteered the summer of my senior year!" Post-interview, address any doubts you are having and identify any obvious weaknesses. Note any questions you had trouble answering or any particularly difficult points of the interview. Don't get discouraged. Think about how to improve these points so that your next interview is better. The more you interview, the easier it gets, and the more confidence you will have in yourself.
The interview process is exciting! It means that an organization is interested in you and your skills, and if the fit is right, it may be the start of a new path in your life. Good luck!