While a new class of college students navigates their first semester this fall, many members of the most recently graduated class are still looking for their first big opportunity.
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It seems easy enough. Submit application. Attend interview. Attend second interview. Get hired. Profit.
Not so much. What many don't realize is that interviewing is a skill. You can't just show up, shake hands, plop down in a chair, and wing it. While getting one foot in the company's door is hard enough, being invited in to stay is even harder. Successful interviewees need to be more prepared than the next person if they want to land the job.
"It's important to always do your research before going in for an interview," says Brigitte McInnis-Day, executive vice president of human resources for global technology provider SAP. "This may sound like common advice, but you'd be surprised at the number of candidates who come in for an interview and make it clear that they haven't done their research, which comes across as lazy. As a basic rule of thumb, candidates should research as much as they can about a company, most of which can all be found online. At a minimum, they should know key company facts: size, departments, competitors, market differentiators, etc. To really stand out, candidates should also look into where they can best fit in and any parallels that can be drawn."
With the research done, job seekers can apply their new knowledge in conversation during the interview.
"Candidates shouldn't be afraid to comment on company culture or programs, either. Mentioning something such as a community service program or company volleyball team they'd like to get involved in [can] show they want to be a part of the team and will fit in with the culture," McInnis-Day says. "Prior to going into any interview, it's also important to do your research on the interviewer. Be familiar with their background to help you better identify and craft your message. Be careful not to get too personal, though."
Be Confident, But Don't Be a Jerk
Beyond knowing your stuff, self-confidence can go a long way toward impressing an interviewer. But there's a fine line between confidence and conceit, and if an applicant goes too far, the interviewer might think they aren't a good fit.
"Having confidence in your skills and abilities is important during an interview, but coming across as arrogant can be very off-putting. Hiring managers know that when it comes to putting together a cohesive team that can work well together and achieve results, this personality trait is bad news," McInnis-Day says. "When talking about past experiences and accomplishments, try swapping out the word 'I' for 'the team' or 'the team and I.' Being able to strike this balance allows you to show not only what you have achieved, but also that you are a team player."
In addition, it's often said that whom you know can make or break a job opportunity – but knowing how to present that information can do the same thing.
"It's never a good idea to excessively name drop," McInnis-Day says. "If someone referred you to the job opening, it's fine to mention, but don't make the interview all about who you know."
Stand Out From the Crowd
You're well-dressed, your resume is flawless, you're 15 minutes early, you know all it is possible to know about the company, and you're confident but not cocky. Congratulations – you're on par with every other candidate who might get this job. Now what?
You have to show the interviewer what sets you apart from the competition. Tell them why you can do this job better than anybody else they will see today.
"Think about what makes you different from everyone else," McInnis-Day says. "Often times, it's your personal experiences. It's important not to get overly personal and always keep your stories focused and professional, but if personal information drives your motivation behind why you applied for the job, share the story."
According to McInnis-Day, it can be a good idea to share how personal experiences have given you the opportunity to develop or fine-tune skills that are relevant to the job at hand. These stories can demonstrate both your passion for the work and your personality, which is important in helping the company determine your cultural fit. Just make sure you practice telling these stories before you head into the interview.
"Prepping these stories before the interview is key to showing you are both professional and personable, which is attractive to employers and will make you most memorable," McInnis-Day says. "Remember to be alive. Low energy can come across as not wanting the job, and being overeager can be a turn-off. Strike the right balance and just be yourself."
You won't be a fit for every company you apply to, and not every company will be a fit for you. But when you find your dream job, you don't want to blow it by going in unprepared. Follow the above tips to help you seal the deal.