Every time I give a workshop or speak on a panel about job hunting I receive countless questions about how to succeed in interviews, and I always give the same advice:
Practice, practice, practice.
You can anticipate the majority of questions you’ll be asked on a job interview, so the more experience you have answering those questions succinctly and successfully, and the more feedback you’ve gotten about your performance, the better you’ll do on the Big Day. Never let your real interview be the first time you talk out loud about your experience and what you want in your career.
Here are some specific tips:
1. Mock interview. Ask anyone and everyone to mock interview you, just as you would ask lots of people to run lines with you if you were starring in a play. Most college career services offices will videotape mock interviews, which will also help you to improve any tics in your speech or bad habits like slouching or gesturing with your hands too much.
2. Let the interviewer talk. Statistics show that the more the interviewer talks on a job interview, the more likely the candidate is to get the job. This doesn’t mean being silent or answering questions with one-word grunts; it means being a good listener. Allow the interviewer to share his or her thoughts and never interrupt.
3. Be able to explain why you made the choices you’ve made. Employers are not just listening for what you did—they can learn that from your resume anyway, but why you did certain things and how you felt about them. Lauren E. Smith, partner of a major executive search firm says, “I want to know why their chose the college they did, how they chose their major, why they took a particular job on their resume. You can say it wasn’t a good choice, but I wanted to know why. You have to have reasons.”
4. Don’t be wishy-washy. Think about it: if you walk in and say you’re interested in working for this accounting firm, but you’re also looking into management consulting, and the next candidate says it’s been her lifelong dream to work in accounting and this firm is her first choice, who do you think will get the job? Never say that you don’t know what you want, even if that’s the truth. Remember, an interview is a pass/fail situation.
5. Think PAR. Recruiters often recommend talking about your experiences in the format of the Problem you encountered (such as raising funds for your string quartet to tour in Europe), the Action you took (hosting a fundraiser and selling sponsorships to local music-related businesses) and the Result you achieved (raising enough money to tour for three weeks and pay for all four students’ travel and accommodations). The goal here is to give examples to back up any general statements you make.
6. Prepare more questions than you could ever ask. You never know what topics will be covered during the interview, so when the interviewer says, “Do you have any questions for me?” you’ll always have some. This is important because you want to show your interest in learning more, and to show that you are prepared. In general, avoid “Why” questions, because they tend to put people on the defensive. “What are the reasons this job is available? is better than “Why is this job available?” “How” and “What” questions are the best bet.
When you walk into that room with a real interview for a real job, you will have the confidence of knowing deep, deep down in your gut that you are totally prepared to wow those interviewers like they’ve never been wowed before. Preparation is everything.