How To Prep for An Interview: Basics for College Grads and Interns

I just completed interviewing and hiring for three entry level recruiter positions. The candidates I interviewed were generally fresh college graduates with intern or other light experience. I reviewed dozens of resume’s, conducted phone screens on sixteen (16) candidates, interviewed six candidates, and extended three offers. Of the sixteen, at least 10 had the skills to do the job.

On one hand, I was generally impressed with the level of talent available. It has been a long time since I have been in a position to bring new blood into the industry, and frankly, since I know so few folks under 30 years old, it was a long overdue visit to this candidate segment. I found there are a lot of bright people out there, and with a little shaping, they can become our next generation of leaders and high performers.

On the other hand, this potential will go to waste if the candidate can’t get past an interview. In this sample, only four of the candidates interviewed with reasonable competence, and I imagine that only half of them even understood what they were doing. That means that 60% to 80% of the talent capable of doing the job, won’t get the job.

What a waste of potential!

Here are some interview do’s and don’ts for college grads and entry level talent as they seek to land that first job:

DO dress well and look good. Make sure your clothes fit, are neat and clean, and ironed. One of my candidates looked like he just rolled out of bed.

DO have a notepad and pen for taking notes during the interview, and to have your list of questions ready for the interviewer (trust me, you will likely forget to ask them if you don’t). It amazed me how many candidates did not take notes.

DON’T think that you need to know answers to absolutely everything. The interviewer knows they are hiring a person new to their company and industry. I could tell the candidates nervous with their answers. Relax. Part of the interview is watching how you perform under pressure.

DO answer questions in a thoughtful, articulate manner. No simple “yes” or “no” answers. “Yes, I have done something quite similar. Let me tell you about it…” or “No. However, I have faced similar situations, and here is how I have handled them…”.

DON’T believe you will be hired for simply because you “get along with people and are likable”, are good looking, and are a hard worker. You look and sound like the previous five hundred graduates I have talked to. Tell me something different about why you will be successful and why you are able to do the job. I want to see how you can think on your feet.

DO have questions ready for the interviewer. Ask about the company and the job. What is it like to work there? What do they like about the company? What does an entry level person do? What will it take to excel in this job? Then, be ready to illustrate how you fit that description.

DON’T overly emphasize your college activities. It’s great that you were an athlete or head of your sorority, but I want to know how you’ve been able to relate to working adults and be successful with them. Like me.

DON’T bring up pay in the first interview unless the interviewer brings it up. Even then, indicate you are flexible on pay and more focused on joining a solid company. You don’t want pay to opt you out early in the interview process.

DO be honest about where you are in your job seeking process.If you are asked, “are you ready to accept a formal offer if one is presented?”, then answer honestly. If you have other positions you want to explore, or aren’t quite ready to make a decision, that’s fine – I am OK with it. Really, I am! o

There are probably a few more do’s and don’ts, but these are ones that immediately come to mind, and what led to second interviews and offers.

Good luck and happy hunting!