Today, we focus on what is many a young professional’s worst nightmare: the job interview.
Everyone, at some point, must interview for at least one job. At the high school summer job level, this usually is not a big deal. However, if you are a recent college graduate, or finishing up a degree, and interviewing for your first real job, the prospect of getting locked in a room with a seasoned professional — or a group of seasoned professionals — set on scrutinizing your skills, qualifications, and personality, can be a daunting task.
Employment for recent graduates is on the rise, with the Bureau of Labor Statistics reporting that from January to October 2017, 77.6% of recent graduates holding a bachelor’s degree secured employment. Though this means your chances of getting a job are better than not, you still need to work to land the right position. How you fare in an interview can mean the difference between starting a lucrative career and having to continue explaining to your extended family exactly what you think you are doing with that bachelor’s in anthropology.
In shorter terms: it’s a big deal.
However, a job interview doesn’t have to be so nerve-racking. Below, we have assembled tips designed to make sure your interview goes smoothly and helps lead to a job offer.
Be confident, not cocky
Wherever you’re interviewing, and whomever you’re interviewing with, you need to convince them that you are confident in yourself and your ability to do the job effectively. If you don’t think you can do it, why would the employer think you could either? That said, don’t let your confidence get out of hand; if you walk in acting like you own the place, you likely won’t be asked to return.
Get them laughing
This advice can be applied to just about any situation in which you need to win someone over: get them to laugh with you. You don’t need to be a great comedian, but even by getting a chuckle or two, you will make people more comfortable with you. Will someone hire you just because you can make them laugh? No. But will they avoid hiring someone with a dry or off-putting personality? Yes. Remember that laughter is a social function. If you can find something to laugh about, they will likely go along with you. Just be sure to keep it office-appropriate.
Research your interviewer
Just like Indiana Jones gearing up to raid a temple, you need to know what you are getting into before you enter an interview. Who is the company, and what is its mission? What are the company’s values, and what is the work environment like? If possible, even research the specific person who will be interviewing you. (Hint: check LinkedIn.) Make sure that your answers to interview questions make sense in the context of the company. This preparation can also help you adapt your skills to their particular needs and style of your interviewer by anticipating personality quirks (like an interviewer who plays devil’s advocate) or curveball questions.
Take notice of your surroundings. The office space and the place where you interview may tell you something about the company and the people interviewing you. If you interview in someone’s office, pay attention to keepsakes, pictures, diplomas, certifications, and so on. You may find they reveal that you and your interviewer have something in common, such as a hobby, a location you visited, or a certification you received. Mention one thing you notice. This can be a great ice-breaker and can open a door for a more relaxed and personal conversation. Most of all, it shows that you pay attention, think of others, and can connect with people.
Know how to sell yourself
The purpose of an interview is for you to showcase everything you have to offer a hiring company; this is not a secret and should not be danced around. You are there to sell yourself, your knowledge, and your skills, in hopes of landing a lucrative job. Your interviewer, in turn, expects you to play up your strengths, and showcase what makes you a better candidate for the job than anyone else. Before your interview, take stock of what makes you special: your attention to detail, your team-building skills, or your problem-solving abilities. Condense the best of who you are and what you can do into a 30- to 60-second “elevator pitch” for the inevitable “so, tell us about yourself” question. Work on integrating those points into the way you present yourself and how you respond to questions.
In addition to winning over the interviewer, you need to be memorable. This doesn’t require you to do something extravagant, but you should work to stick out from the crowd, even if only in a small way. Some kind of unique accessory in your outfit can do the trick, such as wearing an interesting timepiece, or sporting an eye-catching purse. Aspects of your conversation, such as a well-timed joke, a common interest, or an especially witty answer to a complex question, can do this. Even a unique, well-made business card could work, one that just seems too nice to simply throw away. Whatever your approach, make sure they remember who you are, but not for the wrong reasons (like having an open fly).
Know why you want the job
Every interview involves a question along the lines of, “So, why do you want to work here?” You need to be able to succinctly answer that for the interviewer, but more importantly, you need to be able to answer it for yourself. Why do you want this job? Why not another job? If you are applying for other jobs, where does this one rank on your list, and why? Going into the interview, you need to know what you are actually doing there, and how you expect to benefit from it. If you know all of this, you’ll be more confident and better-prepared for whatever the interviewer may ask you.
Look the part, but don’t wear a costume
You have probably heard this bit of advice: “Dress for the job you want, not the job you have.” That basically holds true. However, there is room for flexibility and self-expression here. You should dress appropriately for whatever job you are applying for, but avoid looking as though you are too “put together,” or wearing a costume. A good rule of thumb is to call ahead and find out what the office dress code is for someone in the position for which you are interviewing, then dress a step or two above it. So, if the position calls for casual, wear business casual instead. Dress in a way that is comfortable and natural for you, albeit job-appropriate. You should be able to take yourself seriously. If you can’t, the interviewer probably won’t either. Bonus tip: do not, under any circumstance, wear a bow tie.
This shouldn’t require explanation. You need to speak clearly and enunciate. You just do. If your interviewers can’t understand you, they will have a hard time judging if you are fit for the job, and the odds are extremely low that they would give you the benefit of the doubt.
Be seen and heard, not smelled
In addition to looking the part and speaking clearly, you need to smell the part; more specifically, your interviewer should not be able to smell you. There are two sides of the coin here. For one, foul body odor, pungent breath, and general “stank” are truly off-putting, and when sitting in close-quarters with an interviewer, this can make a truly negative impression. Make sure you’ve showered beforehand, and avoid eating too much garlic. Conversely, don’t try to smell too good, either. Cologne and perfume, which might otherwise smell good at a bar or the Kentucky Derby, can be nothing short of noxious in a conference room or office. Instead, just try to be clean and neutral smelling. You want to stand out, but smell is not the way to do it. To recap: DO bathe, brush your teeth, and wear deodorant, but DO NOT wear perfume or cologne.
Practice, but don’t memorize a script
You should go into an interview basically knowing what you are going to say, how you are going to handle standard and curveball questions, and what your main points will be. It is always good to practice these things, especially with a partner, and especially with a partner that you trust to offer honest and constructive criticism. That said, you want to remain light on your feet, and be able to converse fluidly, naturally, and adaptively. Don’t practice to the point that you sound stiff, robotic, or as though you are reading a script.
Know when to walk away
This really comes down to personal preferences and needs, but not every job that you interview for is ideal for you. Interviews are a two-way street; the employer interviews you to see if you would make a good fit for them, and you in turn should be trying to figure out if the company is a good fit for you. Before you go into an interview, it is good to define your “walk away terms.” If they make you an offer, what is the least you are willing to accept? What is the job actually worth for you? Are you looking for money right off the bat, or is it a stepping stone to a better job? What are your “red flags” when it comes to employers and workplaces? Moreover, you should be prepared for inappropriate or illegal questions or statements, such as questions about your sexuality, ethnicity, economic status, religion, or other personal things. These shouldn’t come up, but they still often do, and though it may be tempting to look past this for a variety of reasons (including climbing the corporate ladder), you may be better off finding employment somewhere else.
All of the above points are proven tips on how to steer a job interview in the right direction. You can’t get the job of your dreams without clearing the gauntlet, but the advice we have listed here should make the experience go more smoothly. However, every situation is different. Do your best, but as with any job application, be ready for it to simply not go your way. Sometimes you have an off day, sometimes they have an off day, and sometimes it just isn’t in the cards. Whatever happens, don’t beat yourself up, and work on learning and growing from the experience. The job market for recent graduates can be a scary place, but these tips should help bring down the fright factor.
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