How College Students Can Prepare for a Job Interview

How College Students Can Prepare for a Job Interview

The time has arrived. You have sent out numerous resumes and now an interview has been scheduled. Perhaps it will be a phone conversation with a recruiter or an in-person meeting with a hiring manager. Whatever the case may be, this will provide you with an opportunity to make a great first impression, market your skills and abilities, and, more importantly, learn more about the prospective employer.

No matter how much (or how little) time you have prior to the interview, taking time to prepare has a direct impact on how well you perform and interact during the meeting. If you want to do your best, consider using the following strategies.
Manage Your Personal Branding

The first step to your preparations should include a review of the methods you use to manage your professional development. Why is that important?  In this digital age you have to consider the online image you portray and how potential employers may perceive you. You are represented by every profile you create, along with everything you have written and posted. When you develop a strong Internet presence you will increase your potential for future employment opportunities. In addition, you are likely to find that you gain increased confidence in your skills and abilities when you have developed an organized approach to your career.

Personal branding involves managing your online presence, including your image and what you write about on social networking websites. Dr. Randall S. Hansen further explains that a career brand is “a combination of your reputation as a worker combined with a promise of your potential and impact on future employers.” It is very likely that a prospective employer will conduct an Internet search as part of the review process, which means you need to be proactive in your approach and monitor what you post. The following are important elements of a brand image strategy:
•    Business Documents: Professionally designed business cards could share your contact information and any important links (blog, online resume, etc.)
•    Business Portfolio: Keep a folder with important documents such as transcripts, reviews, letters of recommendation, etc.
•    Career Documents: This would include your resume and list of references.
•    Important Lists, Contacts: Have information available for relevant memberships and affiliations.
•    Online Presence: This includes social networking websites and any other sites where you are actively present. Be sure to include a professional photo otherwise employers may not consider you.

You also need to have a winning resume ready for the interview. As you apply for positions in a competitive job market, it is important for you to stand out from other candidates by demonstrating skills you’ve acquired. I recommend using a skill set based approach with the following categories: Contact, Professional Summary, Skillsets, Education, Experience, Honors, and Activities. As you create each section, be sure to use clear and concise statements rather than long, wordy paragraphs. provides an example of a skillset-based resume (referred to as a functional resume) that is similar to this approach.

Conduct Background Research

Almost every interview will involve a series of questions. The interviewer will ask you about your background, qualifications, and employment history. It is likely that you will be able to ask your own questions. In order to maximize the outcome of this interview, you should have information available about the employer, along with a set of question prompts.

As you review prior jobs, consider achievements, awards, projects, acknowledgments, accomplishments, and any other forms of recognition that will demonstrate your strengths. This also helps you determine what is important to you and your career, and includes your core values. As you search for information, look for clues about the organization’s culture, values, and mission. You and this employer are looking for a good match.

There are two social networking websites you can use to find information:
•    Twitter: You can and Twitter lists to find lists of people of interest in your target companies or profession.
•    LinkenIn: There are over 2 million companies listed and if you “follow” a company by clicking the blue box in the upper right hand corner, you can receive a notification every time someone leaves that company. Many companies will also list their employees, which can help you learn about the interviewer.

There is another benefit to gaining background information about the employer and interviewer, if possible. It will help you with small talk, which is a very effective ice breaker at the start of an interview. Corporate trainer
Allison Graham believes that “small talk may feel trite and unimportant, but it's the small talk that leads to the big talk.” It is part of the process of making a good impression and building connections, which can demonstrate your ability to relate well to others – even during stressful situations.   

Prepare for Questions

There are many interview guides available online, through job board websites and career development websites. It can become overwhelming to read through all of those suggestions and try to guess what questions you may be asked. A better approach is to create a list of your strengths and then prepare for the most common questions that employers ask. Here are two common questions: Can you give me an example of a time when _______ (fill in the blank) and how you handled it? Why are you the most qualified person for this position? These questions are designed to assess your ability to address challenges and summarize your talents and abilities.

In The 10 Best Interview Questions to Ask, provides a list for interviewers and these can help you prepare:
•    Why should we hire you? This is an important question as it will either allow you to set yourself apart from others or sound uncertain and unprepared.
•    What will your prior supervisor say about your performance? Of all possible questions, this one is likely to generate an honest answer – so be prepared to share your strengths and accomplishments.
•    What motivates you? This provides a perfect opportunity to talk about your goals and the ongoing growth you’ve experienced because of your work as a student. Discuss the strong sense of self-motivation you’ve developed as a student.
•    Other questions include: What frustrates you? Where do you see yourself in five years? These questions are designed to put you on the spot, assess your crisis management skills, and demonstrate your interest in long-term growth with this company.
In a recent Inc. article, 3 Interview Questions That Reveal Everything, a list was provided that will help employers learn more about you as a potential employee:
1. How did you find out about the job? This helps determine if you are looking for anything or focused on a particular career.
2. What did you like about the job before you started? This will help to assess your motivation, which can include compensation, titles, working environment, or self-actualization.
3. Why did you leave? This question can provide insight about your work history based upon how you answer. Do your best to remain positive, even if the circumstances were less than desirable. Most career searchers are looking for new opportunities and growth.

Finally, as you prepare for the interview, translate your school work into statements that will provide added value. For example, you have developed organizational, critical thinking, communication, interpersonal, and multi-tasking skills because of your assignments, projects, and discussions. These skill sets are immediately transferrable to almost every working environment. Take time to not only write out these qualities as they relate to your background, but practice saying them so they feel natural when you discuss them.

Personal Management Qualities

The last (and probably most important) aspect of interview preparations that should not be overlooked are the personal management qualities that can help you succeed and stand out from other applicants.
•    The first is learning to develop grace under pressure. Author Annie Murphy Paul believes that the secret to grace under pressure is monitoring your inner dialogue. Any time you are faced with a high-pressure situation you need to guard your thoughts so they are supportive of your performance and do not create anxiety. The purpose of positive self-talk is to increase your self-confidence and minimize any negative thoughts.
•    Identify and challenge distorted thought patterns. If they are not supportive you’ll feel less confident and as a result, have lower self-esteem. This is referred to as cognitive distortions, which are “ways that our mind convinces us of something that isn’t really true.” If your thoughts are not accurate, it creates a pattern of negative thinking and adverse emotional reactions. Where interviewees get trapped with distorted thinking is through “should” statements, such as “I should have more experience to be successful.”
•    Practice engaging with a speaker, which includes listening before you speak. As noted in Learning to Listen, “giving the other person's words a moment to sink in before you respond, your connection with that person, the depth of your conversation, will be very noticeable – and your mind is doing one thing at a time: listening when it's time to listen, and responding when it's time to respond.” If you wait to respond you will focus on the other person and concentrate on what they have to say before you formulate a response.  
•    Maintain strong emotional intelligence. This includes relationship management, which is an “ability to use awareness of your emotions and the others’ emotions to manage interactions successfully.” When you are not reactive to your emotions or the emotions of others, you can maintain a positive disposition and resolve any communication conflicts that arise.

As you review the preparation strategies provided, it may seem like a lot of work for a phone interview or even a personal interview that may not lead to anything further. However, the purpose of using these techniques is to help you define your career interests, goals, background, and skills. More importantly, by being prepared you will put your best foot forward because you will feel confident and ready for any interview. Interviewing skills are part of personal brand management, which is absolutely essential in today’s job market. You’ve put a lot of effort into your school work; now use that same focus in your professional development and job search.

You can follow Dr. J on Twitter @DrBruceJ and Google+.

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