Your resume is submitted, questions are answered and recommendations have been written. The first round of the application process may be complete, but the most daunting step remains: the inevitable interview. While interviews can be nerve-wracking and anxiety-inducing, being prepared can help them run smoothly. Throughout the past four years, I’ve fine-tuned my interviewing skills to help me secure jobs, internships, scholarships and awards. Here are my tips and tricks!
Understand the format
The way you prepare for an interview depends on how the interview will be conducted. There are pros and cons of both in-person and virtual interviews, but both can be used to your advantage.
Zoom interviews are convenient when applying for an internship back home while at college or exploring job opportunities in a new city. While they can be easier to fit into a busy college schedule, make sure to treat it like any other interview: present yourself professionally, and make sure you have a quiet and distraction-free environment (you might need to kick out the roommates for this one).
I like to have a few notes for myself, and my resume, a pen and paper handy off-screen. Resist the temptation to read pre-written answers, however. You won’t come across as genuine, and your interviewer will be able to tell. Also, when speaking to your interviewer, try to look at your camera, instead of their face on the screen–this may feel super awkward, but it will come across as better eye contact.
Interviewing in person gives you a chance to personally meet and get a better feel for the people you may be working with. Start with a firm handshake, complete with eye contact and a smile, for a great first impression. Your body language might be easier to read in person, so walk in with confidence and show that you’re excited to be there. You won’t have notes to guide you if you get stuck, but use this as motivation to practice your go-to answers until even notes can’t make a difference.
Answer like a STAR
This part isn’t my strong suit–I have a habit of rambling on with most of my responses, and only stop talking when I can’t think of anything else to add. A more structured response to anything that starts with “Tell me about a time when…” might follow the popular STAR Method, which stands for Situation, Task, Action and Result. Answering an interview question with one or two sentences that each set the scene, describe the challenge or task you were facing, explain what you did and what the outcome was, allows for a concise and direct response that keeps the interviewer’s attention and gets your point across.
Take a Breath
Some questions will perfectly set you up for an answer you’ve prepped and are ready for. When anyone asks me a question about time management, I know I can tackle it easily without much thought. Unfortunately, some questions may leave you stumped. Before you start rambling and try to fill the silence, take a breath. Pause, think and compose a response that adequately answers the question while highlighting your strengths. Don’t be afraid to process your thoughts out loud with the interviewer–some questions are asked to see how you think rather than what your final answer is. Taking your time to give the best answer instead of rushing to a response will look good to your interviewer. You won’t be able to answer every question perfectly, but you aren’t expected to, either. So take a moment, breathe and give it your best shot.
If you’re applying for a job or an internship, one of the first questions your interviewer will ask you will be something along the lines of, “Why are you interested in this company and/or position?” While you can mention your own personal interests and how they relate to the job, be sure to show them that you’re invested in the company as well. Before interviewing, spend some time on the company’s website. Read up on their mission statement and values, history and past work. When I’m applying at engineering companies, I like to talk about some of the companies’ past projects that stand out to me. Whether the company of interest is locally owned or internationally present, environmentally friendly or focused on employee culture, be sure to play to whatever makes the company unique. If you show genuine interest in a company, they may be more willing to make you an offer.
Build your Collection of Anecdotes
Before you interview, it’s a good idea to practice a few standard interview questions that might come up. While it’s safe to assume some of these questions will come up in some form or another, preparing for one specific question might come back to bite you if it’s asked in a different form that catches you off guard. I recommend preparing a collection of anecdotes, or little stories that you can tailor to a variety of questions. If you’re applying for a job or internship, make sure to have one or two about taking initiative, working on a team and overcoming a challenge. If you’re interviewing for an award or scholarship, stories about leadership and service are often important. For example, I was a youth softball umpire when I was in middle school. I’ve talked about standing my ground when challenged by heated parents, gaining confidence and assertiveness as a young girl and earning the trust and support of coaches after proving myself to be a fair and competent umpire. My experience as a Division One cross-country athlete has taught me about time management, prioritization, leadership and the value of a team. Even just these two experiences can be applied to a host of questions, and being prepared with just a few of them will help your confidence for the interview.
Become the Interviewer
The last question of nearly every interview will be, “What questions do you have for me?” While responding to this question is important to show that you’re invested in the position, it can also help you decide if the job you’re going for will be a good fit for you or learn more about a foundation giving out an award or scholarship. I always like to have at least three questions ready to go, because there’s a good chance that one or two of them might be answered during the interview. Here are a few questions to consider:
Can you tell me more about the office culture? This is crucial if you’ll be working a 40-hour work week. My last internship encouraged us to get lunch with full-time employees by reimbursing any costs, which made it easy to feel included in the company culture.
Who/what team will I be working the closest with? Will I be working more so with people of my same level of experience, or will I have a supervisor or mentor with whom I do most of my work? I always ask this during internship interviews, because every company runs their internship program differently.
What timeline can I expect for any next steps? Is there anything I can provide for you that would assist in your decision-making? It’s good to know when you might hear back or need to make a decision. Additional submissions might include references or an official transcript that wasn’t included in the application.
How do you see the company growing or changing in the next 5-10 years? You can be specific with this one and tailor it to your particular industry or field.
As cliche as it sounds, this really is the most important part. There are plenty of people who meet the academic requirements to fulfill a job–you can get that much from a resume. The point of an interview is to see if you are someone who people will want to work with. My resume of accomplishments and past work experiences is enough to get me an interview, but I believe my personable and professional disposition (sometimes a luxury in the engineering fields) is what seals the deal in landing internships and scholarships. So make sure to smile, show your enthusiasm and treat the interview like a get-to-know-you conversation–because when it comes down to it, that’s all it really is.