It is no secret that young people graduating from college today are entering a tough job market. A number of variables are contributing to the fact that a good portion of today’s recent graduates are unemployed or underemployed.
Because I am a recent graduate who was able to get a job, I have tried to share my story of how I obtained a job during my last semester of college. I have discussed the role networking plays in the job hunt, why it is important to apply for every job you see and what to do if you can’t get an interview.
Today I would like to cover the next logical step in the job hunt: how to interview successfully. Today’s article will consist of interview tips I have picked up from participating in both the interviewee and interviewer roles.
Tip #1: Preparation is IMPORTANT
I have mentioned before that I usually try to speak with hiring managers after I don’t get a job. I do this for two reasons. First, I do it for networking purposes. Just because I am not right for a specific job right now does not mean that I won’t be right for a job with the company in the future. Second, I always ask the hiring manager if there was something I could have done better during the hiring process.
One of the first tips I ever received through this method was to come to the interview more prepared. Let me explain what happened in that interview. First you need to know that it was the first “professional” type interview I ever participated in. The interview was for a junior software engineer position.
At the time, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do after college (though my declared major at that time was Computer Science so programming seemed inevitable). I decided that I would interview for a lot of different types of jobs and see what stuck. At that point in my career I had minimal programming skills, but I thought that a junior position might give me the opportunity to learn on the job.
The first 20 minutes or so of the interview went perfect. At that point I was sure that I was going to go 1/1 on my job interview to job offer ratio. Then came something I was not prepared for, a dreaded whiteboard test of my computer programming skills. In hindsight, it was silly of me not to expect this as it is pretty common practice in technical interviews. Nevertheless, I did not expect to be asked to code a small program. I stepped to the whiteboard and this is what came out:
I literally couldn’t remember a single thing that I had learned in class about programming. The next 15-20 minutes of the interview were some of the most uncomfortable moments of my life as the interviewer tried to provide hints and I failed to write a single line of code. I left that interview feeling like I would never ”pass” a single interview and never get a job.
The ironic thing here is that i actually did know enough to program the simple program that I was asked to create on the whiteboard. What I didn’t know was how to prepare for an interview. You may not be in an industry that requires you to do any sort of whiteboard test, but no matter what industry you are in preparation is the most important part of an interview. Here are a few things to consider when getting ready for your interview:
- What is the primary business of the company for which you are applying?
- Do you know anyone in the industry that can offer you interview tips based on how their interview went?
- Do you know anyone who has a similar job that can offer you interview tips?
- What questions can you ask the interviewer to prove that you have more than a basic knowledge about the industry/company?
- Are there any skills on your resume that you need to be prepared to demonstrate?
- Do you have any stories prepared (i.e. real experiences in your life) to demonstrate your qualifications?
- Do you know where the interview is taking place and how long it takes you to get there?
- Do you know who is interviewing you?
- Do you have any connections (LinkedIn or otherwise) to the person who is interviewing you?
- Are you familiar with the job description and what may be required of you on a daily basis?
There are many other questions you can and should ask yourself, but are you starting to get the idea? The more of these types of questions you consider, the more prepared you will be for the interview. As Confucius said:
Success depends upon previous preparation, and without such preparation there is sure to be failure.
Tip #2: Appearance is More Than Your Clothes
A sad reality of the interview process is that it can be a little bit of a meat market. We all want to believe that appearance has nothing to do with whether a company will hire someone, but I have personally heard that issue being discussed among hiring managers in the past. The thing is, appearance is more than just your clothes and how attractive you are.
Appearance is about how you present yourself, your confidence level, your body language, and your level of personal hygiene. That is good news for all of us who are not model material, it means that we can still present ourselves in a way that will get us hired! Here are my top tips for how to interview in a way that will make your appearance stand out:
- Scout out employees of the company in advance to see what they wear. I usually try to go one “level” above their attire for the interview. If the office culture is business casual, I will wear slacks and a shirt/tie combo. If the office culture is shirt/tie I will wear a suit, etc.
- Shower, shave, do your hair, wear deodorant, practice basic hygiene (it may be hip to look like a homeless person but it won’t get you a job).
- Don’t underestimate the power of a firm handshake!
- Make eye contact with your interviewer, particularly when you first meet them and when you are answering their question.
- Even if you don’t feel confident, fake it!
- Speak clearly, don’t mumble.
- For the love of all that is holy, leave your phone in your car. If you don’t leave it in your car, silence it and don’t touch it during the interview!
Tip #3: Be Yourself
Honesty is the best policy! I have learned that when you lie on your resume or in an interview it usually causes more problems than it is worth. Personally, I don’t understand why a person would want to lie about their qualifications. I want a job that fits my skills (with some room to grow) so that I can knock that job out of the park on move on to bigger and better things. You should never lie on a resume or in an interview, period.
By the time you get an interview, your resume has been vetted by multiple people and it has been determined that you most likely have the skills to do the job. There are two main reasons for the interview. The first, and usually shorter, section of the interview is to determine whether you have lied on your resume and whether you do indeed have the skills you claim to have. The second, and usually most important, part of the interview is to determine if you fit the company/team culture.
Employers usually like to hire people with certain personalities to fit within their culture. If you are answering questions the way an employer “wants to hear it” you may have a rude awakening when you start your job. Do everyone a favor and be yourself. The benefit to you is that you will end up in a place that respects you for you.
Tip #4: Learning How to Interview is an Acquired Skill
Some of you may be great interviewees by nature. Some of you may struggle with this process. Whatever your skill level, I’m confident in saying that there is always room for you to improve your interview skills. To me, improving interview skills is a two part process. First, you have to participate in as many interviews as possible. Whether those interviews are mock interviews or real interviews doesn’t matter as much. As long as you are getting practice you will be improving and gaining confidence.
However, if you really want to take your interviewing skills to the next level you need to do the second part of the process: you need to get feedback and reflect on how you can improve. I’ve mentioned that I always ask hiring managers for feedback. Sometimes they give it, sometimes they don’t. Participating in mock interviews is a great way to get instantaneous feedback. If you have access to anyone who has been a hiring manager they can be a great resource for mock interviews.
The last piece of the feedback puzzle is to actually put what you learn into practice. Put together a list of common items that show up in your feedback from hiring managers. Basically if more than one manager points it out as a potential problem you can feel pretty confident that it is something you should spend some time improving. Make an action plan for ways that you can improve that particular item. The next time you go to an interview, pay special attention to those items. You will be amazed at the results.
The great part about this pattern is that you can keep improving on your interviewing skills until you are only getting positive feedback. You will notice as you go through this process that you are getting called back and offered positions far more frequently.
It is very possible to improve your interviewing skills. If you want to learn how to interview, you need to put in the work required to do it. You need to try harder. There are plenty of resources to get help with the interview process. If you are struggling to get a job, you need to take action and improve your skills. You better believe that someone you are competing with for jobs is taking the time to improve their interview skills. Do you want to be the one that is left in the dust because you were too lazy to practice??? Get out there and improve the skills and get yourself a job!
Do you have any favorite interviewing tips that I missed? Care to share any funny interview stories? Let me know in the comments below!