Interviewing as an Undergrad
Surprisingly, interviewing is not the most stressful part of a job search. The waiting after the interview is the most stressful part. You can eliminate some of the stress in waiting by having good interviewing skills. If you feel like you did a good job, the wait will be less painful. Below are tips that have personally been used to secure job offers from multiple Fortune 500 companies.
Build Rapport – This is the first thing you should immediately do upon starting the interview. If you are given the names of the interviewers look them up on LinkedIn. Find out their job history, credentials they have, organizations they belong to, and where they went to school. Find some connection to you. Did your sister go to the same school? Did you both belong to Toastmasters? Did your dad belong to one of the organizations they belong too? Finding this connection is important, it builds some trust right away. Find a way to bring up the connection casually and subtly in the interview with a comment like this, “One of my strengths is communication which I really improved through a club called Toastmasters, I don’t know if you have heard of it or not?” Then sit back and wait for their reply. If you know they were a member at one point this gives you something to talk about that may come more casually to you. It not only can put you at ease, but also the interviewer.
If you don’t know the interviewers names before the interview, subtly glance around the room for personal items like family photos or sports memorabilia. Casually bring up the item and relate it to yourself before the official interview really starts to take off. This breaks the ice and builds some rapport. For example, a photo of his family standing next to a camel in Egypt on an obvious family vacation. You could make the comment, “I like that photo, was that from a vacation? We had thought about taking a family trip to Egypt, but ended up going to Greece. I wish we would have gone to somewhere like that, it looks like you had a lot of fun in Egypt.”
Confidence – During the interview it is important to appear confident. Notice I said appear. A lot of people are freaking out during the interview, but it is important to stay calm and collected. 4 things you need to do to appear confident:
Eye Contact – Look at the interviewer naturally as if you were talking to a friend or family member. When you don’t make any direct eye contact during the interview you appear nervous. If you have trouble looking them in the eye, focus on a spot between their eyes. They will not know the difference.
Posture – Sit back straight up in your chair with your shoulders slightly back. Slouching or leaning back can be seen as being nervous or disrespectful.
Body Language – This more relates to fidgeting. Do not play with your resume or pen. Find a natural place to put your hands. I recommend either keeping them on your lap or in a clasped position on top of the table. You can talk with your hands if it appears natural.
Speaking – Remember to speak at a natural pace and pause. There are some interviewees that will begin to rant and ramble on when they get nervous. Talk in complete sentences and remember to pause. It is also important to try and minimize your filler words. Filler words are your “ahs” and “ums”, but a drawn out “and” can be considered one too. Eliminating these words can make you sound more competent and confident. I push for you joining Toastmasters a lot on this site, but it is because even a year in the club can help you sound like a more confident speaker.
Remember you can look confident even if you are freaking out because it is your dream job.
Memorized Answers – There are a certain number of questions that you are almost guaranteed to get asked during the interview. Come prepared with memorized answers. You don’t need a word for word memorized answer because you will sound like a robot most likely, but have a general idea how you will answer that question. 3 almost guaranteed interview questions you will be asked:
Why are you leaving XYZ company? – Have an idea of what you are going to say. For example, “I really like my current employer and I appreciate my job there. I would really like an opportunity to work in this part of a company, but at this time there really are not any openings at my current employer.” Notice nothing was ever negatively said about the current employer and the reason for wanting to leave is because of wanting to pursue an area that you find interesting.
Why do you want to work here? – This is where you can show you researched the company and did your homework, interviewers like this A LOT.
Tell me a little about yourself. – Have a short elevator type speech prepared. Touch a little on your past, your current responsibilities, and where you want to go with your career. For example, “I graduated from XYZ with a degree in accounting. Right out of school I went to work for ZZY where I was an audit associate for 2 years mostly working on audits for these clients……..I currently work for YXX as an assistant controller of the North American branch of the company. My main responsibilities are the day to day accounting as well as the closing process for both month end and year end. I have been doing this for 3 years now and I know I am ready to advance to a controller position. I really want to undertake more financial leadership.
A lot of companies are also transitioning into STAR format interview questions. STAR is an acronym for situation, task, action, and result. An example of a STAR format question and answer:
Tell me a time where you managed a problem with a short deadline?
Situation – set the scenario. “My coworker quit their job one day before closing without giving a 2 week notice.”
Task – what did you have to do. “I had to pick up three new closing duties that I had never performed. One of the tasks included AP reconciliation, something that normally took my coworker two days of the five day close period.”
Action – what did you actually do. “I spent the one day I had with my coworker taking extremely detailed notes of what I needed to do. Then when close week hit I stayed all day one of the days until 11:00pm so that I could AP reconciled in one day instead of two.
Result – how did the situation end up turning out. “Since I was able to stay late the one day, I afforded myself the time to complete the other new responsibilities and we were able to close the books on time with no mistakes.”
These are tough questions, but I would have a couple examples in my bag that you can fall back on.
Building rapport, displaying confidence, and having prepared answers are three things that will get you the job offer. Practice a mock interview with a friend or family member. It is really awkward, trust me. However, if you can do it in front of them it is easier when you are doing it in front of a stranger. Practice until you feel good about it because you want your next problem to a negotiation over salary.