Are you in it to win it?
You are out shopping and suddenly your phone rings: "Can you come to our office for an interview tomorrow morning at eleven?"
You say yes, of course, but as soon as you hang up, you get butterflies in your stomach. Your cover letter and CV have done the job, and it’s now time to take on the next challenge: the final round of the application process. Now it’s up to you to show them what kind of person you are and what you are capable of, and convince them that you are truly motivated to land this position. The key to turning in a winning performance lies in preparation.
The interview setting
The most common type of interview is a structured interview, in which all the candidates who have been called in are asked more or less the same questions. Most interviews begin with the employer describing the company or organization and briefly discussing the duties associated with the position. You will generally then be asked to introduce yourself before the employer begins asking you a series of questions. Normally, you will have the chance to ask questions at the end of the interview. As a general rule, there will be two to four people in the room with you, each of whom has a different role: one who conducts the interview, one who is merely observing, and so on. The length of the interview can vary somewhat, but is generally about an hour long.
It is not at all uncommon to feel like the underdog in an interview setting. It is important to keep in mind, however, that an interview is fundamentally a conversation between to equal parties: one who is “buying” labor and one who is “selling.” The employer will have his or her agenda, and you should keep your own agenda in mind too. Focus as much as possible on yourself, what interests you about the position, and the contributions you think you could make to the organization, instead of trying to guess what kinds of answers the interviewer is looking for. Feedback we have gotten from employers suggests that many recent graduates have a tendency to show up “cap in hand” to an interview, and that they wish recent graduates were more self-confident and more assertive about their strengths on the job market.
Preparing for the interview
Whether you knock their socks off during the interview or fall short hinges in large part on one factor: how well prepared you are, both mentally and for the kinds of questions and topics you will be asked to address in the interview.
Start this process by bringing yourself back to the fundamentals: why did you apply for this job, and what do you have to offer this company or organization? We recommend breaking down your qualifications into individual components; this will help clarify what kinds of skills you bring to the table and how they relate to the position you’re applying for. Remember that an employer is interested in hearing about the relevant experience you have had in previous jobs, in the classroom, and in your voluntary and free-time pursuits. As a recent graduate, moreover, you should be able to clearly explain your academic training, while making sure to link what you have learned with the needs of the company or organization. By making use of good, illustrative examples rather than platitudes, you will make it easier for the employer to remember you, while also drawing a clearer picture of who you are and what your qualifications are.
Ask good questions
As part of your preparations, be sure to re-acquaint yourself with the company or organization you will be interviewing with, as well as the field or industry in which they operate (more on this subject in the article “Knowledge is Power”). If indeed you conducted extensive background research before submitting your application, now is the time to pull out the notes you took then and begin thinking through possible questions you could ask during the interview. This represents the perfect opportunity for you to learn more about the company or organization’s culture, and about the specific duties associated with the position—all useful insights to have when it comes time for you to decide whether you really want to work there or not.
Before you step into the lion’s den, we recommend asking a friend to play the part of the employer and to take you through a practice interview that lasts at least twenty minutes. This will help you ease into the interview setting, practice talking about your background and qualifications, and get feedback on the way you express and carry yourself. Our last piece of advice can’t be overstated enough: be yourself, but think through what it means for you to be yourself ahead of time. Believing in yourself and coming across as authentic are two qualities that will take you far in an interview setting, and they tend to be closely intertwined.