|How To Succeed In The On-Campus Interview
If you are feeling a little nauseous and your palms are sweaty, you probably are suffering from an illness that often strikes seniors this time of year-it’s called interview phobia, or fear of the on-campus interview. While it is normal to have some nervousness about the interviewing process, you don’t have to get stuck with an acute case of interview phobia. Sound preparation and a good sense of who you are and what you want will pull you through. This article will provide you some guidelines and insights to a successful on-campus interviewing experience.
Preparing for the Interview
Probably the very first thing you need to do to ensure a successful on-campus interviewing experience is to ask yourself some very important questions. On-campus interviewing is more than finding out what companies are going to be interviewing, submitting a resume and waiting to be selected. While that’s the strategy a lot of seniors take, it’s a strategy that is certain to lead to frustration and disappointment. You have to put more work into the process and the work has got to begin with you.
Susan Denman-Briones, a professional career counselor at Southern Polytechnic State University of Georgia, encourages students to “develop a summary sheet of your skills and accomplishments.” Employers look for and hire persons with specific skills sets. Taking a personal inventory of your skills, interests, values and accomplishments is a necessary and critical first step in preparing for the successful interview experience. This very simple step is important because it will help guide your decision on what you want to do and where you want to do it. Before you even look at the list of companies coming to your campus, you should be able to comfortably articulate your skills, interests, values and accomplishments. Ask yourself some very simple questions such as “What am I good at (skills and accomplishments)” and “What do I like doing (interest and values)?” Take a closer look at your hobbies and extracurricular activities to help you determine what you really like doing.
Once you have a handle on what you are good at (skills) and what you like (interests) it would be a good idea to make an appointment with a counselor at the career center. A counselor can help you shape your skills and interests into a clear career focus. Career counselors can also help you to develop viable career options, so that your job search will be focused, yet flexible. For example, your strongest skill set may be writing and oral communications. What a counselor can do is to help you look at specific careers where those skill sets may be valued. Those particular skill sets are valued in a number of diverse careers such as: advertising, banking, book and magazine publishing, education, public relations and technical writing just to name a few. The bottom line is that employers expect you to have some sense of what you want to do in terms of career goals.
Research: A Major Ingredient for Success
After you have completed a personal inventory, have an idea of what you’re good at and what kind of work you want to do, you’re ready for the next step in preparing for the interview. If you know the kind of work you want to do and the type of environment you want to work in, you can now begin to target the organizations that seem to be a match for you. The interview is more than a chance to exchange information; it is also an opportunity for you to sell yourself as a top candidate. One way to convince the recruiter of your genuine interest is to know as much as you can about the company. At the very least you should know what industry they are in, what their top products or services are, and who are their customers and competitors. The pre-interview research you do on companies is a major ingredient for a successful interview. Every employer I have ever talked with suggests that researching a company is the best way to show your interest in them. The worst thing you can do is to go to the interview and say to the recruiter, “So, what exactly does your company do?” You can rest assured that your resume will be tossed in the ‘No’ pile before you leave the building.
There is no excuse for not coming to the interview with at least a working knowledge of the company for which you are interviewing. So, do your homework in advance. You can research the company and industry via the company’s website. The Internet is a powerful tool for research, and is right at your fingertips. Other places you can get information on companies are at your school’s career center, in business directories and in trade journals. While the business section of most local newspapers can also provide good current information, the internet is by far the most powerful and accessible tool for research. Even if you are interested primarily in non-profit organizations or work in the government, research is still the key to a successful interview. The time you put into the research will significantly lessen your anxiety and help you navigate the interview in a comfortable manner.
Practice Makes Perfect
A critical key to a successful interview is practice. Before you go into the actual interview, you should practice as much as time allows. Even with the busy schedule you have as a student, you need to find the time to strengthen your interview skills. One of the best ways to practice is the mock interview. Most college career centers are able to arrange mock interviews and will offer constructive feedback on how you might improve your presentation skills. By practicing the interview, you give yourself an opportunity to work on some of the tough questions that you are likely to encounter in the actual interview. Practice will also make you more comfortable with the interview process. Examples of interview questions accompany this article.
The Structure of the Interview
Depending on which expert you consult, an interview can consist of from three to five parts. For the sake of simplicity, we will discuss an interview with three basic parts, which are rapport building, information exchange and summary. But, before we discuss the structure of the interview, let’s look at some final tips so that will help you get off to a good start and impress the recruiter. First, you want to make sure that you are dressed in interview appropriate attire. That is, your dress should mirror the work environment that the company represents. Most career service experts caution students to avoid casual or business casual attire, even though business casual has become the standard in many work environments. You need to show the recruiter that you are taking the interview seriously and casual attire will not achieve this.
Plan to arrive for the interview at least ten minutes before the scheduled start time but no more the fifteen minutes early. Arriving early will allow you to step into the restroom and give yourself a once over to ensure that hair and clothes are properly in place. But, arriving too early may irritate some recruiters. Again, if you are uncertain about your attire, an appointment with a career counselor can be a big help in providing you some guidelines and advice. Be sure to bring extra copies of your resume and a pad to write on.
When you meet the recruiter, give a good firm handshake and be sure to make eye contact as you exchange introductions and greetings. The rapport building part of the interview is designed to put you at ease and establish a conversational tone to the session. The recruiter realizes that if you are at ease, you will be more likely to be at your best. They want you at your best so they can make a credible decision on whether you should go on to the next stage of the hiring process.
It is at the rapport building stage that you will most likely be asked to, “Tell me a little about yourself.” This is not an invitation to give a biographical statement, but it is an opportunity for you to talk about things you are comfortable with. You may want to talk about why you selected the school you attend as well as your major. Whatever you decide to talk about be sure to tie the response to why you are interviewing with them. But don’t rush into the tie-in, use it as a summary statement.
The on-campus interview is basically a screening interview. Those who make it pass this stage are generally invited to a more comprehensive on-site interview at the company. Your goal of course is to make it to this stage. In order to do that, you must excel in the information exchange part of the interview. This is the meat of the interview and should be handled with clarity and purpose. Be sure that you fully understand the question before attempting an answer. If a question is unclear, repeat the question as you heard it. This will allow the recruiter to repeat or rephrase the question.
During the information exchange, the recruiters are trying to determine if you are a fit for their organizations. Your goal, on the other hand, is to convince them that you are the ideal candidate for the position and will be an excellent fit for the organization. This is the part of the interview where your research will pay dividends. Some of the things they will be looking for to determine “fit” are personality, communication skills, and skill set needed for the position. Being able to display industry knowledge and knowledge of the organization will weight heavily in your favor. As much as possible, you should try to weave your industry/company knowledge into your answers in an appropriate manner.
The key to this Q & A part of the interview is to offer precise, yet complete answers to the questions presented. If you are stumped by a question and draw a blank, don’t panic, simply state that the question is a tough one and ask for a little extra time to consider your response. You might also ask if it is alright to come back to the question. Whatever you do don’t attempt to answer a question until you are ready. Stumbling through an answer will not impress the recruiter.
In summary, you want to present yourself in the most positive light possible without inflating your resume and accomplishments. Be positive and honest. As the interview winds down, you will want to make sure you do all of the following:
1.Offer a firm handshake
2.Thank the recruiter for his/her time and interest in you
3.Make a final statement about your desire to work with them and why you would be a “good fit”
4.Find out what the next step will be and when you can expect to hear from them
5.Get a business card.
6.By following these time-tested guidelines, you are certain to have a good interviewing experience. How successful you are in landing an offer will depend on many other variables, but your road to success starts with landing the interview. Good solid preparation and a positive attitude will go a long way in determining ultimate success. Best wishes and good luck!
Typical On-Campus Interview Questions
Tell me a little about yourself.
This is most often an attempt to put the candidate at ease and start the interview off on a more conversational note. An open-ended question like this is a great opportunity to set the tone for the rest of the interview, but you need to be careful to stay focused and on track. Don’t ramble on about things that are unrelated to the interview. You may want to talk about why this position is ideally suited for your career goals.
What made you select this school (major)?
Again, this is an opportunity for you to offer a response that will present you as the ideal candidate for the job. The decision-making process you used to choose your school or major tells volumes about your analytical skills.
What would you consider to be your major strength/weakness?
Be careful with this question. Be thoughtful about responding to both your strengths and weaknesses. Describe a strength that is in some way related to the position or your work style in general. Always present any perceived weakness in a positive manner. For instance, “I tend to have a difficult time saying “no”, and when I get too much on my plate, I can get a little stressed. Recently, I’ve asked my roommate to help me monitor this and it’s working out fine. I’m proud to say, I have been able to say “no” a lot lately.”
Why did you decide to interview with us?
This is your opportunity to show your stuff about how well you researched the company. You should indicate what specifically about your research caused you to be interested in working for the company and in the industry. This is a great chance to show how your career goals are related to working for the company.
Tell me about your best/worst work experience.
Again, this is an area where you will need to be careful and tactful. You should always start off with the positive and only deal with a negative situation if pressed to do so. If you do relate a negative situation, put a positive spin on it. Here is an example of how you might answer that question: “One summer, I was interning at a dot com that was targeted for acquisition. As a result, I ended up having three different supervisors during the course of the summer. While it was a bit unsettling, I had a real dose of reality and learned to work with different supervisory styles and handle adversity.”
Tell me about a time when you had to use diplomacy to overcome a difficult situation.
This is a behavior-based question to determine our people and problem solving skills. Be sure to state the situation clearly, then indicate what action you took to resolve the situation. Be precise and be sure to state the results of your action.
Where do you see yourself in the next five years?
You will want to use this question to show the recruiter you want to advance within the company. This is a good opportunity to show that you have some clear career goals and the goals are tied to helping the company with its mission. Let them know that you plan to make a significant contribution to the company as you develop skills and experience.
Give me an example of a time you worked as part of a team.
The ability to work effectively with a team is considered very important to most organizations. Try to offer a response where you have had to lead a team as well as contribute as a member of a team. Important dynamics of a team such as negotiation and collaboration should be key elements of your response.
Describe your ideal work environment/supervisor.
Don’t blow this chance to be upfront and honest about what your expectations are for your work environment and/or supervisor. If your research of the company was complete, you should be able to provide a response that will be consistent with the work environment and values of the company you are interviewing with.