How to Interview like a Pro: Tips from a Local Recruiter
For most people, an interview creates a lot of stress and anxiety—it is an intimidating way to make a great first impression. For most employers though, the goal of inviting an applicant in for an interview is to get to know them. It’s a meeting based around discovery. We want to know who you are and if you could successfully fit in with the culture of our organization, the position, and the department. We also want you to ask questions that can help you make a decision about whether our company is the right place for you.
Quick tips for standing out & having a successful interview:
Dress for the job you’re applying for. It’s okay to ask what the dress code is when you’re scheduling the interview.
Make eye contact, smile, and shake the interviewer’s hand.
Bring a few copies of your resume with you to the interview.
If you have a samples of something that relates to the position you’re applying for, have it on hand (i.e. for a graphic design position, bring some of your design work).
Don’t over-think things. Trying to perfect every sentence comes off as robotic.
Be natural and be yourself; it is okay to smile and laugh! We can sense when an applicant is putting on a façade.
Work experience and qualifications are important, but they’re not everything. We’re trying to find someone who “fits” in with the department and the company as a whole. Try to find something in common with the interviewer and make an emotional connection.
As the interview wraps up, ask what the next steps are. In most instances, recruiters are happy to let you know where they are in the hiring process and when you should expect to hear back.
~Myra Fundis, UVM ‘11
Human Resources Wellness Specialist with Blue Cross Blue Shield of Vermont
Whether you are going through the interview process for a first time or fiftieth time, the interview is an intimidating process. As a student and active job seeker, I have found interviews to be the most troublesome. Not knowing what lies on the other side of the door or phone call is the scariest part for me. Also, I am not entirely sure about how to “sell myself” or answer some simple questions. Luckily, the Career Center at UVM helps with these questions, how to dress and even how to behave. I have a few short tips that help me with my job process.
Personally, I always have a problem with “selling myself” because I believe it is not my place to judge my performance. Since I am a Mechanical Engineering major, I have chosen to bring CAD drawings, MATLAB scripts, and various class projects along with extra copies of my resume to show and verify skills from job descriptions. Clearly everyone will not be able to bring these specific items to an employer, but consider similar project work to demonstrate your industry’s skills.
Another valuable technique involves practicing responses to possible questions in order to see what types of responses interviewers are expecting. Big Interview is a resource that allows you to follow video tutorials and read articles to prepare for your interview, as well as allowing you to practice interviewing by recording your responses to general and industry-specific questions. These recordings can be saved for personal and/or professional feedback. A sample recording I prepared can be seen below:
One more option, the Career Center website, provides information on general interview preparation. Additionally, you can schedule mock interviews or review Big Interview recordings in an appointment with a career counselor.
Jen Guimaraes Associate Director
Community Sailing Center
When a student lands an interview, what should they do to prepare?
Students should make sure to do their “homework” on the organization that they are interviewing with. Take the time to familiarize yourself with the entire organization by researching their website and any other information that you can gather about them. Create a list of questions you have about the organization and the position you are applying for. Employers always ask for your questions at the end of the interview process and having a list shows that you did background research and are very interested in the position. Make sure to dress appropriately, show up on time, and be professional in your communication (word choice and email style) with the prospective employer.
You must interview a lot of applicants for the Community Sailing Center, what makes a candidate stand out?
A candidate stands out if they are energetic, upbeat, and already familiar with the organization. Make eye contact with the employer(s) you are interviewing with and give complete answers to their questions, not just one-word responses. You can almost certainly anticipate what questions an employer might ask you based on the position you are applying for, rehearsing your answers ahead of time is always a good idea. Don’t forget to smile!
What questions should candidates be asking you?
I’ve had candidates ask a number of questions: Do I enjoy my job? What is a typical day like for this position? What is the chain of command with direct and indirect supervisors? Are there any additional duties that I will have not included in the job description?
Cindy Conquest, ‘10
Bachelor of Arts in Biology (Neurobiology), Bachelor of Arts Spanish
Recruiter/ Managing Director with Readak Educational Services
Working in HR, you must see a lot of resumes every day. What helps a candidate stand out?
Sometimes with resumes, less is more. I see resumes that resemble a wordy mockup of an autobiography. Candidates should be able to fit their relevant qualifications on a single, well-structured page. My company often hires for entry-level positions, so we know our applicants will generally be young and have limited experience. I’m looking for quality of experience over quantity. The best resumes are clear and concise. Keep in mind that relevant skills can come from a wide variety of experiences.
How do you suggest that students follow up on an application most effectively?
A short and sweet follow-up note is always good. Sometimes I am so swamped that I haven’t had a chance to review a particular application and a well-worded note from a candidate will draw my positive attention to that application. The follow-up is most effective right around a week after submittal. It is important to stay in touch with tact.
Once someone makes it to the interview stage, what can they do to seal the deal?
The age-old firm handshake test still rings true. Consistent eye contact shows self-confidence and honesty. Be well-poised and professional, yet amicable and approachable. Your words and anecdotes should show what they can contribute to the company. Have some well-worded questions of your own that follow up on the research you’ve done. Finally, a thank you note is always well appreciated.
What are some frequent mistakes that you see applicants making?
Typos in resumes/cover letters show lack of attention to the application process. E-mails shouldn’t be written in the same colloquial language that students would use to write to their peers. A red flag in the interview process is when an applicant walks in the door with questions that can easily be answered from our website. Do your research and nicely demonstrate your knowledge.
“Just get me in a room.” –That’s Don Draper’s signature line in Mad Men. and refers to his uncanny ability to smooth-talk anyone. While I may not close million dollar deals before breakfast, I usually do well with people. This was not the case, however, when I had my first phone interview…
First off, I had broken my routine the day before. Rather than my usual afternoon bike ride, I spent the extra time researching the organization. While this type of preparation was good, I had too much nervous energy so I didn’t sleep well. To make matters worse, I gave myself a full hour of free time before my interview, which I mostly spent glancing at the clock every three minutes. I was worried before the call even started.
Without having the physical gestures and body language of normal conversations, phone calls can be awkward and disjointed. But I dwelled on this fact before the interview even started, so when the conversation got clumsy for a moment, I felt as if my worst fears were being realized. I reacted by talking quickly. At some point I got up to walk—thinking that it would calm me—but I soon found myself pacing and my breath became even more hurried.
When a friend asked me how the interview went, I dropped Draper’s line; “Just get me in a room!”
It turns out, I did need room. A very specific one. For my next phone interview, I borrowed the use of a friend’s office that had a window overlooking the park. This helped because I had something to look at. My eyes could wander so I didn’t have to. It also felt like an interview because I was sitting in an office setting. If you get fidgety during a phone interview, find a way to occupy yourself in a way that won’t distract you: find an appealing view, a painting, or grab a stress ball.
In contrast to my first interview, I kept busy by doing some painting until fifteen minutes before the call. This not only calmed my nerves but focused my mind. So if you have a hobby you find relaxing (yoga, braiding, playing an instrument, etc.), use it as a preparation tool. It’s a better strategy than dwelling on what could go wrong. That can become a self-fulfilling prophecy.
If you can find strategies to help you relax before and during your interview, you will have a much easier time presenting your true self on the phone. Let yourself act naturally by smiling and gesturing like in normal conversation—you’ll find it imbues confidence and friendliness to the cadence your voice.