Your resume may get your foot in the door, but it’s what you say and do at the interview that gets you the job or the internship (or doesn’t). And there’s a lot more to it than “Be there a little early, look nice and turn your cell phone off.” These interview tips for college students and new grads will help you get to a much higher level in your interview skills.
As a student or recent graduate, you face unique challenges in interviewing:
- You’ve probably never run a business or been involved in hiring and managing, so you may find it hard to understand what interviewers are really looking for.
- Without years of experience, you may find it hard to think of examples and stories to illustrate your skills.
- And while you may have excellent social skills and manners, the communication and etiquette involved in job interviews can be tricky for even the most experienced professionals to navigate!
You can read whole books on interview preparation–and I recommend you do so, for example my “quick and complete” interview guide–but for now let me just give you five crucial pointers to keep in mind.
1. Figure out why they should choose you instead of somebody else–and take responsibility for making sure they see that.
Why leave it up to the interviewer to hunt for your skills and figure out why you’re right for the job?
Before your interviews, give some serious thought to what you can bring the company that the other interviewees can’t. Then make sure you communicate that, starting with your answer to the very first question, which is usually something like “Tell me about yourself.” Even if they start with “Why are you interested in this job?” try to include in your answer not just why you want the job, but how you’re a good fit for it.
2. Realize that there is no contradiction between being sincere and “real” in your interviews and at the same time being careful to make a good impression.
In other words, you can be authentic and strategic at the same time. Bringing both of these qualities to your interviews demonstrates professionalism, builds trust and rapport, and makes your value clear.
3. Make sure you’re ready to tell stories that demonstrate your skills–and realize that you probably have more stories than you think.
You probably already know that accomplishments, examples, success stories, PAR, CAR, STAR or SOAR stories–they all mean about the same thing–are crucial in job interviews.
Well, if you’ve ever solved a problem, done something with exceptional skill, or gone above and beyond the call of duty, you have a story. For example, maybe you had a semester when you did volunteer work or had a part-time job, while at the same time carrying a heavy workload, and you did all this successfully–your supervisor was happy and your grades were good. Or maybe you did more than your share when you worked on a team to complete a project. Maybe you helped get the team out of a “stuck” point where something wasn’t working, or had a creative idea that made your presentation really interesting.
To identify those stories you don’t know you have, search the internet for “behavioral interview questions.” If reading 50-100 of these questions brings to mind five or ten good stories, you’re doing great! Keep a written stories list to study before interviews, and practice telling them so you’re ready to impress.
4. Study for interviews like you would for an important exam.
Study the job posting, looking up any terms you don’t understand. Research the company: be knowledgeable about their products and services, what makes them better than others, who their customers and competitors are, whether they have other locations, what their company culture is like, and the name of their CEO.
Study interview skills too, and practice. Very few people can do great interviews without serious preparation. There’s a lot to learn!
5. Remember: it’s not necessarily the most experienced or skilled person who is going to get the job, but instead the person who’s the most prepared for the interview.
The ability to do a great interview is one of the most highly paid skills you can ever learn, and most people never thoroughly learn it. If you do, you’ll stand out. That’s good news! (This post was originally published in 2019 and has been updated.)