This article was originally written for FirstGenerationStudent.com, now a part of ImFirst.org.
College graduates preparing for the job hunt would do well to look at the job interview as a live audition—a real time, rolling question-and-answer session that employers hope separates the success stories from the wannabes.
How can you as a college graduate ace that on-the-spot audition and win the job of your dreams? Try these tips on for size:
Research Your Potential Employer
Hit your potential employer’s website and find out all you can about the company. Research the company online too to find out if it has been featured in any news articles, and read up about industry trends and the company’s competitors. Also, ask specifically who will be interviewing you, and check out the manager’s profile on social networking sites like LinkedIn or Twitter. Knowing as much about the company—and its managers—as they know about you is a huge advantage in a job interview where knowledge really is power.
Align Your Skills with Those in the Job Description
Be prepared to address your unique skills, knowledge accumulated through life, and through college, and match those attributes with what the potential employer is looking for in a job candidate. Study the job ad or description and note every point where your knowledge or experience aligns and prepare to speak about them.“Sometimes what your body language says is more important than what you say.”
List Your “Top 10” Attributes and Work the Best Ones Into the Interview
Make a list of your top 10 qualifications and weave them into your job interview. Any key skills—say computer software programming or superb writing skills—that can be applied to a given job (employers call that a “skill set”) can separate you from the crowd and get you a job offer.
Test Yourself with Informational and Mock Interviews
Prepare for the real deal by arranging an informational interview with managers at companies in the field you’re interested in or with individuals who are in positions to which you aspire. The purpose of these interviews is to gain a better understanding of a particular position or industry, to network and make professional connections, and better prepare yourself for future job interviews. Ask for a half hour to an hour of the person’s time and use it to ask him questions about the company, the work he does in his department, industry trends and other topics that you want to learn more about from your research of the company. (Don’t expect the person you’re meeting with to lead the conversation—you requested the interview, so you should be prepared to lead it.)
Mock interviews are another great way to practice your “pitch” for job interviews. Arrange a meeting with a friend or, better yet, a college alum in the field of your choice, who can help you sharpen your focus and nail that interview.
Pay Attention to Your Body Language
During the interview, sometimes what your body language says is more important than what you say. Make eye contact with your interviewers (low or no eye contact tells a hiring manager you lack self-confidence), talk in even, measured tones, sit up straight in your chair, and lean forward to show that you’re interested in the conversation. Don’t cross your arms, mumble, slouch or look too relaxed. Take cues from your interviewers—if they are remaining very formal or are more casual, then follow suit.
Follow Up With a Thank You
You might be surprised how many hiring managers will pass over a great candidate because she didn’t follow up with a thank-you note. And if you’re really interested in the position, make sure you actually ask for the job. Thank the hiring manager in person for the opportunity to state your case, and then follow up with an e-mail expressing your appreciation for the opportunity, restate your strongest qualifications and offer to provide any information that can help your cause. It’s best to send a thank-you e-mail to each person with whom you met, so be sure to ask for business cards. Send a thank you even if you’re not interested in the position after you’ve interviewed for it—you never know when the perfect position will open up with the same manager.
A job interview is not an interrogation, so try not to get too worked up about it. If you’re prepared and you’ve done your homework, your job interview can be a breeze—and a door opener to your dream job.