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Nail the Interview, Get the Job: 5 Tips for College Students and Recent Grads

Oct. 25, 2012
Loans, Student Loans
Interview tips for students
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Even if your work experience and academic record are spotless, you’ll still need to nail the interview. NerdWallet wants to help, so we spoke to Nathan Elton, the Director of Career Services at Davidson, a highly selective liberal arts college outside Charlotte, NC. Before Davidson, Elton served at Oberlin, Villanova, and Penn State.

“I’ve heard it from employers themselves, where they’ll like a candidate based on their resume. They were one of their top candidates going into it [the interview]. But they didn’t show a lot of enthusiasm for the job itself or really just weren’t engaging,” he says.

Your resume doesn’t speak for itself. You need to prepare to impress as well.

1. Know yourself

Now is not the time to be humble. When you sit down for the interview, be prepared to talk about yourself. Some students don’t always know how to articulate their strengths, but that skill is the first step toward a successful interview.

“It’s all about the ‘I’ statements and being able to talk about your unique experiences and accomplishments, skills, and knowledge you’ve picked up, as it relates to the job,” Elton says.

Be prepared to discuss your weaknesses, too. Pull up your resume, and take a hard look at it. “Be able to talk about every experience you have on there,” Elton says. Even scrutinize your resume as if you were the interviewer. If you have a weak GPA, be prepared to defend it. If you grades improved over time, explain how, whether it was by learning organization skills or whatever other means

To prepare, Elton recommends that you simply practice talking about yourself. Whether it’s at the dinner table or over drinks, try translating what you’ve done to what you would do as an employee, which leads me to another of Elton’s tips.

2. Know the company

You should be able to speak intelligently about the company in and out of the interview. Research the company, understand what it does, and decide how you could fit in, so you can communicate effectively to the interviewer.

The interview doesn’t end until you’ve heard back from the employer. In the meantime, read about the company in the news, and shoot your interviewer an e-mail. “Maybe they’ve been in the news recently because they’ve launched a new product or service. Or if it’s a non-profit, say they released a report or are launching a new initiative—you can write them a message.”

3. Lead the interview

The interview isn’t just an interview. Students and recent grads sometimes make the mistake of just sitting patiently, waiting for the next question, but that’s not always the best strategy, Elton says.

“It’s an interview, but turn it into a conversation, where you’re having some back and forth with the interviewer,” he adds. “You’re leading this interview and not having it be completely one-sided, where the employer is asking all the questions. You’re taking an active role to get the interviewer to respond and share information about the company, or about the job, and turn it into a conversation,” Elton says.

Even when the interviewer tries to structure the conversation so that your questions arrive at the end, you’ll want to throw in questions throughout, Elton suggests. You can direct questions squarely at the interviewer, too. You might ask what attracted him or her to the company, or who their most successful employees are and why. This interrogative strategy shows interest. It also helps you extract information so that you direct the interview the way you want.

4. Stay positive

Interviewers will often throw tough questions at you. “Tell me about a time you failed.” “What’s your greatest weakness?” “Tell me about a time you missed a deadline.”

Whatever the question, don’t let down your guard. If the prompt requires it, speak about any difficulties you’ve faced, and then redirect those self-critiques. “Always end on a positive spin, even for those negative answers,” Elton says.

5. Express enthusiasm

The interview is, in a sense, courtship. Your employer wants to know if you’ll integrate with the team, and if you’ll work hard. To demonstrate that commitment, show enthusiasm. “They’re looking for people who are going to put in that extra effort and work hard. The people who put in that effort and work hard care about their job, care about their employer, and want to actually be there,” Elton says.

These expressions can be as direct as: “I’m really excited about this opportunity.” Body language, too, communicates this enthusiasm. It’s as simple as sitting up straight, making eye contact, and smiling. “Make sure that you’re projecting your voice, and that you’re not monotone or dull in your answers,” Elton says.

Whether you’re a freshman looking to secure a summer internship or a recent grad on the hunt for your first job, a successful interview can make or break your employment chances. This is your chance to put a face to the name and personality to the resume. You know you’re a good fit for the job – all that’s left is to show it.