Your Career Column: How to Rock an Interview
by Carolina VonKampen
I’m not going to lie to you: Interviews are scary.
Even worse, interviews don’t get easier. In fact, based on my experiences, they only get harder as the stakes get higher. Interviewing for my first job at a movie theater in high school was nerve-wracking to be sure, but there wasn’t quite as much at stake as there was when I interviewed via Skype for my first editorial internship and managed to get diagnosed with pneumonia hours prior to the call. And once you get into interviews for actual jobs—not just internships—you better be ready to sweat it out and try to not get sick in the hours before it.
I’ve interviewed various ways for internships and jobs in the past few years, from Skype conversations to phone calls to emails to driving four hours round-trip for an in-office interview. Here are a few tips I’ve picked up along the way:
Do your research.
Before your interview, read up about the company—chances are, your interviewer will ask why you want to work for that company. You need to have a better answer than, “Because I need the money,” even if that’s the truth. Look up what the company does—where its offices are, what services or products it sells and how it presents itself on its social media pages. Then, look at the job description of the position you’re interviewing for and try to understand what your role would be in the process of creating its products or providing its services.
If you know who will interview you, look him or her up on LinkedIn and see whether there’s any common ground you can talk about. Did your interviewer study abroad or attend a college in the same state as you? Talking about your mutual experiences will help you break the ice and show you care enough about the job to prep for the interview.
Anticipate the questions.
Don’t limit your research to the company you’re interviewing with; research yourself. Write down all of your work experiences, skills, relevant college courses, etc. The interviewer will ask a lot of questions about you, so you need to be prepared to answer them, especially if you’re not the most self-aware person.
Look up some articles on common interview questions and read up a bit on the best (and worst) answers to them. Copy the questions into a Google Doc and figure out how you’ll answer them. If you’re a visual learner or think best by writing things out, type out your answers and practice saying them a few times before your interview. If you’re a verbal learner, have a friend ask you the questions and work your way through answering them. Practicing the answers to common interview questions will help you prepare your best examples—and it’ll help calm your nerves come the interview.
Have your resume handy.
If you’re doing your interview over the phone or video chat, have your LinkedIn profile or resume pulled up on the computer screen or printed out next to you. If you’re doing an in-person interview, bring a printed copy. Obviously, you know what work experience you’ve had, but in the moment, you might have trouble combatting nerves and momentarily forget everything you’ve ever done that’s relevant to this position. It’s helpful to have everything listed out for that moment when you’re asked about your skills or “a time when…” and you need a quick reminder of what you’ve accomplished. But be wary of relying too heavily on notes or your resume during an in-person interview or a video chat—your interviewer will think you’re unprepared or bad at verbal communication.
If the interviewer asks you a question and you’re not sure how to answer it due to lack of research or preparation, be honest. It’s okay to say, “Good question,” and then pause and construct a somewhat coherent answer. The interviewer likely knows that not everyone is good at thinking on their feet, so unless you’re applying to be a press secretary or telemarketer, pausing to think of an answer won’t be held against you.
When interviewing for my first postgraduation job, the recruiter asked me what salary I expected. I froze. I had no idea. This was the one thing I didn’t look up beforehand, and as it was my first real job interview, I had no idea what the salary range was for an editor in St. Louis. Rather than pull a number out of thin air, I told the recruiter that this was my first real job interview and that I had no idea. She appreciated my transparency and proceeded to tell me about the salary range for the position for someone with my experience.
Even if you’re interviewing face to face, it’s a good idea to bring a pen and jot down some notes (think names, positions and numbers rather than full sentences) on the back of your resume or portfolio notebook. Immediately after your interview, write down topics discussed in more detail. You think you’ll remember everything from the interview, but you won’t—you’ll be nervous and forget details. Many jobs have multiple rounds of interviewing, so taking notes and reviewing them before your next interview shows that you’re engaged, listening to the people who interview you and eager to learn about the company.
The interview process for my current job was three rounds (phone, Skype and in-office interview). By taking notes the first two rounds, I was able to craft answers to the questions interviewers asked in the final round of interviews, which ultimately positioned me as a good candidate for the job.
As a college student or a recent grad, it feels intimidating to interview for a company; after all, you really want a job or internship, and it seems like you need to do everything you can to get that interviewer to hire you. But you must remember that an interview is the time when you need to assess whether you actually want to work with this company and take this job. Ask about the things that really matter to you—the dress code, where the office is, how much you’ll get paid and how (Direct deposits? Monthly or bimonthly?) and whether you can get college credit for the internship. Asking questions isn’t a bad thing—it shows that you’re interested in the job and company.
You also should ask questions that you thought of while you were researching the company. If you don’t quite understand some of these things, that’s okay—it means you should ask about them in your interview! In an interview for my current job, I asked what “knowledge extraction” meant; it sounded a bit ominous but seemed like an important part in the company’s process of creating content. My interviewers were glad to explain more about the process and were happy to see that I had done some research and had relevant questions to ask.
When it comes time for your interview, whether for an internship or a job, remember that a bit of preparation before the interview will better prepare you for the questions the interviewer has. The more you practice what to say and show the interviewer that you’re engaged and interested in the job, the better the interview will go.
Carolina VonKampen is a former managing editor of The Sower. She now works as an editor and writes about books and career-related things on her blog. If you’d like to ask her a question about career advice, please contact her here or send her a message on Twitter.