After years and years of all-nighters and back-to-back exams, you have finally graduated. You should feel proud of your accomplishments, but we all know the hard work doesn’t end here. You’ll be battling other eager graduates for the job of your dreams and suffering through hours of interviews before you can finally take your first step on your chosen career path.
Once you have been called for an interview, allow yourself to derive confidence from the fact that you were selected over dozens of others. Hiring managers have seen something in you that they like; they just want to make sure their expectations stack up against reality. To help you keep calm and increase your odds of landing your job, here are a few tips I have picked up during my years of graduate career coaching that will help you stay ahead of the game.
Show you have what other graduates don’t
Despite the high sums graduates are paying for their education, it is a sad reality that many of them leave college lacking certain skills. In the way of hard skills, many graduates aren’t up to scratch in terms of writing proficiency, public speaking, and data analysis. In terms of soft skills, there are noticeable gaps in critical thinking, problem-solving, attention to detail, communication skills, leadership qualities, and interpersonal and teamwork skills.
Unfortunately, these are exactly the skills that organizations around the world are actively seeking in their employees. Companies want employees who are detail-oriented, confident, and easy to work alongside. Research has also indicated that written communication skills are high on the “desired skills list” for most employers, with 73% of employers stating they want candidates with strong written communication. This strength was listed third behind leadership skills and the ability to work as part of a team
Demonstrate you have these qualities, and you will be one step ahead of your competition. Be confident, communicate well, and discuss occasions in your past when you have exhibited excellent leadership abilities while part of a structured, organized team. Be creative and leave the interviewer certain that you fill all the boxes that most graduates sadly don’t.
Preparation and practice
Interviewers can tell when a candidate has done little to no preparation, and it doesn’t shed you in a flattering light. It is an indication that you perhaps don’t care very much about this opportunity, or it might suggest you are overly confident you will walk the interview without putting in much work. To increase the odds of success, invest time into conducting some company research.
Find out all you can about their company. How long have they been around? What is their company culture and core values? What services or products does it have on offer, and what has it got in the works? The more familiar you appear with the company, the more you demonstrate that you are not simply looking to fill the position, but you are eager to be part of the organization and to drive its success.
Your research shouldn’t stop there. Find out about their interview style; people readily share this information online. If you know someone who has interviewed with the company before, get as much information out of them as you can. Knowing what to expect will go a long way towards settling your nerves.
Finally, spend time reading the job requirements. Become well acquainted with the skills and strengths necessary to perform the job well. Use the interview as an opportunity to demonstrate how you have these skills in spades. If the role requires knowledge of a particular software package, make mention of this during the interview. This will make it clear that you have read the material provided to you.
Once you have done all your research, practice your answers. It might help to record yourself delivering your responses, or you could perform in front of a mirror, as recommended by Jane Standley, director of careers and student employability at Brunel University. This process will help determine whether you need to slow your speech down, whether you stumble over your words too much, or if you have too much visible nervous energy.
Of course, the real secret is to know your answers off by heart, but to sound authentic and spontaneous. Appearing over-rehearsed will make you sound wooden and lackluster; it’s a hard balance to find, but once you find it, you will find the interview process goes much smoother.
Spend time developing self-awareness
Self-awareness is critical when stepping into an interview. You need a firm idea of who you are as an employee, what you enjoy doing, what your strengths and weaknesses are, and what areas of yourself you would like to improve. Self-awareness has been described as a means of unlocking our “built-in competitive advantage”, and are aware of its link with performance, employee engagement, and retention.
Your recruiters want to know you have a realistic understanding of your own abilities. They know you’re not Superman, and they’d rather hear the honest truth about where you are and what you are working towards. Reflection and self-awareness will help you with the question recruiters will no doubt ask during interview: “What is your greatest weakness?” Perhaps more important than the answer to this question is your willingness to openly discuss your drawbacks. This donates humility, maturity, and confidence; three qualities that will prove useful in terms of development and team-building.
Make the first few minutes count
It may not be fair, rational, or justified, but it’s true: snap hiring decisions are frequently made. According to a study published in the Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology, 5% of interviewers made hiring decisions within the first minute of an interview, and 30% did so in the first five minutes. Though the majority of recruiters take longer to make their decision, you don’t want to run the risk of your first few minutes counting against you. Do all you can to make them truly representative of you as an employee.
Once you enter the interview room, make eye contact with your interviewer or interviewers and give a firm handshake. Keep your body language confident, and remember the importance of good posture. Ensure your tone is confident and positive; if you believe in yourself, you invite them to believe in you, too. Don’t rush your answers. If you need a second or two to compose your thoughts, take it; this option is far better than sounding nervous or ill-prepared. If you begin to feel anxious, remember that they called you in for an interview. They clearly see something in you that could add value to their organization.
Don’t forget to show your grit
Grit is the quality that has been known to separate leaders and winners from the rest. Grit is the ability to hold a passion for a given project or goal for a prolonged period of time, and this is a highly desired quality in the workplace. Employers don’t want to invest in people who are going to get bored or frustrated when the going gets tough, or when your once-exciting challenge becomes slightly more tedious. Show your recruiters that you have grit and you are willing to do what it takes.
Large companies have been known to prioritize grit above skill level, and Google is a great example of this. After all, skills and abilities can be learned; grit and ambition are harder to come by. During your interview, find an opportunity to describe a time when you worked on a challenge long-term. Describe how you kept your motivation and explain different angles and solutions you explored to resolve any pressing issues that arose.
Always have questions to ask your interviewers
You don’t want to scurry away from your interview looking visibly relieved to have the ordeal over and done with. You want to make a lasting impression in the minds of your interviewers. Have a list of thought-provoking, interesting questions to ask to prolong the conversation. Demonstrate that you genuinely care about the position and have done your research. These questions may present themselves during your research phase, or they might occur to you during the interview itself. Of course, there are certain questions you should hold back from discussing during an interview — talks of vacation, salary, and benefits should be discussed at a separate time. Doing so during the interview will indicate you’re not there for the right reasons.
Regardless of the outcome of your interview, the act of taking part is valuable. You have gained experience which will bolster your confidence and teach you how to improve for your next opportunity. If you weren’t successful, be sure to call your interviewer and thank them for the opportunity, while getting feedback. Remember: there are plenty jobs open and available to you. If this one doesn’t work out the way you’d hoped, remember you have value, skills, and strengths that other companies are calling out for.
About the Author Ida Banek, leader and founder of GRIT International, uses her twenty years of experience in HR to help graduates navigate the challenging transition from education to the workforce. Ida and her team have developed POINT: a career management platform designed to deliver personalized advice on career development, on-boarding and career transitioning.