Helping students on their way to a great career is important to any honors society, but for Delta Epsilon Iota—for which I served as the University of California Riverside chapter’s Secretary in my senior year—it is the highest priority. We made sure our members were no strangers to Speed Interview events and Elevator Speech games, that they understood the art of networking and could give a good handshake. Still, even with practice, I found that many members struggled with the daunting task of performing successfully in an interview of any kind, much less one for a job.
When asked by one of our members how I prepare for interviews, I told him my four simple steps to ensure that I make a great and lasting impression in my interviews. I use them, I shared them with my honors society members, and now I’m passing my secret recipe on to you!
Do Your Homework!
Pretty much everyone agrees that this first step is extremely important as far as brewing up a successful interview. You can have the most fantastic answers to generic interview questions, but once your interview starts getting into the nitty-gritty, company-specific questions, if you don’t know anything about your potential job or employer, things can go south pretty quick.
Use the resources you have, whether it be a physical job posting or the website of your potential employer, and learn as much as you can about the organization you are about to interview for. What kind of qualities are they looking for in a person? Do they want someone who is self-motivated and able to work alone, or do they prefer a team player that works well with others? What kind of experience are they looking for in a candidate for the position? These questions can often be answered with a glance at the job description, which will often list desirable qualities in a candidate as well as general tasks that will be assigned to the person who gets the position.
Also, be sure to look for information on your potential employer as a whole. What are the values of the organization or company you are applying to? What is their mission statement? What kinds of events or projects does your potential employer take part in? Doing something as simple as googling your potential employer and browsing their website, or re-reading a job description will help you tailor all your answers to your potential employer’s needs, instantly making you a much more competitive candidate.
The Ultimate Questionnaire
Speaking of generic interview questions, it’s definitely good to be somewhat familiar with the ones that always rear their ugly heads during any interview. To name but a solid few, these are some questions loved by all interviewers:
The basic: “Tell me about yourself”,
The infamous: “Tell me about one of your weaknesses (or a time that you failed, etc.)”,
The blunt: “Why should we choose you out of all of our other candidates?”
These questions are purposefully open-ended and vague; they’re made to prompt responses that not only reveal how well prepared a candidate is, but also the creativity and intelligence with which a candidate can answer the question. During these questions especially, that research you did before really comes in handy. It’s your time to shine, so remember to personalize your answers and to incorporate the values of the organization and the specific needs of your potential position in your answers.
Word of advice: don’t make your answers too personal or negative. While interviewing for a board position, one of our interviewees was asked to tell us about a weakness of hers and what she has done about it. She proceeded to tell us about a severe mental illness of hers and how crippling it was for her, that she believed this position offered her an opportunity to overcome her illness and that she was ready to take it.
In a job interview there are certain things that interviewers are not allowed to ask about: sexual orientation, race, religion… things of a very personal nature. The point, of course, is to protect the interviewee from undue discrimination. Ours was well within her rights to discuss her mental illness, and considering she did get a board position, I can happily say that her having a mental illness didn’t affect our board’s decision.
Still, since you can’t always be aware of the biases of your interviewers, I would suggest staying away from such topics in an interview unless it explicitly pertains to the position you’re trying to snag.
Dress for Success!
My favorite spice to throw into a great interview brew is dressing as though you have already been hired for the position. Here our main ingredient, research, once again comes into play. Tailor your interview-day outfit to the work environment you applied for. If you’re interviewing for a service industry position, such as a waitress position or a position in clothing retail, dressing sensibly but comfortably is a great idea. Flats, non-slip work shoes, or any kind of close-toed, simple shoe are definitely great choices for this kind of position.
When I interviewed with the Western Riverside County Clean Cities Program, I made sure to consider the work environment I’d be entering – a local government office – and chose a business casual outfit instead: a simple white blouse, grey pants, black heels and minimal amounts of jewelry. My goal was to appear professional, confident, and approachable, and working toward that goal helped me a lot when it came to making a great impression. After the interview, I was told how excited they were to see a college student taking an opportunity serious enough to put aside their jeans, t-shirt, and Nikes. It was a wonderful compliment to get from a potential employer, and showed me how great a difference an outfit can make.
Though many might argue that it shouldn’t matter what you wear as long as you’re qualified, the truth is it does make an impact. From the moment your interviewer shakes your hand, the interview has already begun, and they are looking for someone who can easily fit into the organization’s culture. Dressing the way your employer expects an excellent candidate to dress is a great way to give yourself a boost in the interview process.
Get It Together!
By it, I mean yourself. Eat dinner the night before, get to sleep at a reasonable time. Eat breakfast, or at least grab a granola bar and some water before heading out. I know from experience that interviewing on an empty stomach makes nervousness that much worse to deal with. I personally get a bit jittery when I’m nervous, and not eating turns me into a shivering wreck which… is not the best way to appear like a confident interviewee. When you are sitting in a chair in a place you’ve never been, trying to impress one or more people that you’ve never met, making sure you are well rested and well fed makes it that much easier for you to interview successfully. Trust me.
Taking care of yourself is the icing on the ‘great interview’ cake. You could have the best answers to all of the questions asked, you could have great references and abundant experience to be applied to your potential position, but appearing unenthusiastic or lethargic because you didn’t get enough sleep, or even anxious to leave because you are too hungry to think straight, definitely hurts your chances at getting that job.
Finally, remember that an interview isn’t a standardized test, but a conversation. It’s a chance for your interviewer to get to know you, and it’s also a chance for you to size up your potential employer as well and ask yourself if you really want to work in the environment you’ve been presented with. Make your goal to enjoy the conversation in the interview, to passionately and professionally discuss your accomplishments and aspirations, and to make clear your enthusiasm for your potential position. The rest will most definitely follow.