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With graduation right around the corner for college seniors, now is the time to start planning to enter the workforce.
Unfortunately, young Americans are feeling the aftermath of the country's deepest economic crisis since the Great Depression and employment opportunities are scarce and competition stiff. But a college degree is a good hedge against unemployment. According to the Labor Department, for people 25 or older with a college degree the unemployment rate was 4.7% at the end of 2010, unemployment for the same age group without a degree stood at 10.2%.
Here's some more good news: According to a study conducted by the National Association of Colleges and Employers, employers anticipate hiring 13.5% more new college graduates from the class of 2011 than they hired from the class of 2010. However, less than half of the surveyed employers expect an actual increase in hiring, meaning new graduates will need to continue to work hard to get a job.
For college students setting up jobs for after graduation, knowing how to interview is fundamental to being hired.
“Interviewing is a platinum skill that you have to learn,” says Cynthia Shapiro, career strategist and author of What Does Somebody Have To Do To Get A Job Around Here? “It is the one thing other than your resume that stands in between you and the job you want.”
An interview is a one-shot audition and you don’t want to make any mistakes that could cost you your dream job. Here are some blunders that career and interview experts advise you to avoid when interviewing.
Not Practicing the Right Interview Skills
If you haven’t practiced basic interviewing skills before heading into an interview, you’ve already made your first mistake.
“The trend I see with younger job seekers is a lack of understanding of how to prepare for an interview,” says Lee Gibson, interview preparation expert. “The interviewing process and hiring manager expectations have changed dramatically over the past few years.”
Students need to know how to explain their qualifications and previous work experience in a way that gives a potential employer confidence in their skills and ability to perform.
“[Students] don't practice and because they don't practice, they say the wrong things,” says Deborah Brown-Volkman, certified coach and career expert. “I don't think that college students realize how nervous they'll be in an interview and how nerves make you forget stuff.”
Good eye contact and a firm handshake are also skills that need to be mastered before the interview. Experts suggest practicing with anyone you can; schedule an appointment at the career services office on campus or with a parent or friend.
Not Knowing Anything About the Company
“It is so important to walk into an interview with a basic understanding of the company’s history and the business they are in,” says Gibson. “The company is going to be much more interested in learning about you if you can demonstrate you’ve taken the time to learn about them.”
You should also know the description and the duties of the position you are interviewing for and emphasize how your skills can best fill the position.
“That's your roadmap,” says Brown-Volkman. “Your goal in an interview is to make a case for why you're the best person to match the job description.”
Being prepared is one thing, coming off as a “know-it-all” is another; don’t start spouting information about the company unless it comes up, Shapiro warns.
“If they ask you a question about it, you should know enough to be able to answer it,” she says.
Asking Too Many Questions
You may have questions or concerns about the position, but don’t jump into the nitty-gritty details during an interview.
Save your questions about benefits, hours, or salary until after you have a written offer from the company.
“If you ask questions or drum up questions to ask it's going to seem like you're not sure about the position or that you didn't do your homework,” says Shapiro.
If you need clarification about something in the job description, the experts say it is appropriate to ask your potential employer to clear up any confusion, but don’t ask unnecessary questions.
“When they say at the end, ‘do you have any questions for me,’ the answer should be ‘no, I'm really excited about this opportunity and I think it's going to be a great fit’,” says Shapiro. “You want to sell it instead.”
If you are caught off guard from a question, don’t panic or make up a reply, take a deep breath and ask for more information.
“Grow the conversation on the topic by showing interest in learning more about it, or how something you are sure about relates to that topic,” Gibson says. “The key here is to keep the conversation going, you do not want the interview to die because you are not 100% sure about a topic.”
Shapiro says that some companies may throw you a curveball question on purpose to see how you handle stress and if you can find the resources to figure it out.
“Really the best thing to do is to say, ‘I'm not 100% sure on that, but I love research and I can go look it up. Give me your e-mail and I will give you the answer within 24 hours,’” she says. “If they force you [to answer] and you really don't have the answer, give them your process as to how you would find out the answer.”
Can You Hear me Now? Mistakes During Phone Interviews
Larger companies tend to use phone interviews as a way to whittle down a pool of applicants to the best candidates and bring them into the office to interview.
Making a great first impression on the phone is essential and you don’t want to sound flat and dull. Brown-Volkman says that if you aren’t animated and excited, your voice may come off as monotonous. “You have to up your energy level because they can't see you,” she says.
Shapiro suggests that walking around, using your hands, and even smiling during the interview to help convey your energy and aspiration for the position to the person on the other end of the line.
“What they're really looking for is passion, enthusiasm and positivity,” she says. “A really great phone screening [technique] is that everything you say is positive. You don't ever want to complain about a previous employer or the economy or any of that. Every story has a silver lining.”
Not Following Up Properly
Despite how anxious you may be to find out the next step after an interview, Shapiro cautions against harping on the employer--you don’t want to come across as desperate.
Instead of writing an e-mail to follow up, Shapiro suggests that you get a hold of the hiring manager’s business card and send them a hand-written thank you note. It is much more personal and can leave a lasting good impression on the employer.
"It's not ‘thank you for your time and consideration,' because that sounds like you're not worthy of it,” says Shapiro. “It's more like: ‘I'm excited about the opportunity, it was wonderful to meet you and meet the other people I'd be working with.’ It's called a thank you letter, but it's really designed to stay top of mind.”
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