The Key to Interview Success for College Students

College woman interviewing for a job

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There are many critical elements to a successful job interview, from thorough preparation through effective presentation and diligent follow up. Perhaps the most important factor of all is to provide concrete evidence to employers that you possess the skills needed to succeed in that role. 

The best way to do this is to tell stories, provide anecdotes, and give examples of how you have utilized those key skills or qualities to achieve success in past roles.

Establish a Clear Sense of Direction

Nothing will scare away interviewers of students or new college grads faster than a candidate who fails to articulate a solid basis for their interest in the job. Recruiters are aware that new college grads often change jobs frequently before employers get a return on their investment of recruiting, orientation, and training resources. 

Be ready to cite specific aspects of the role and organization that appeal to you and reference relevant examples from your academic, activities, and job history that support your assertion. For example, if a job interests you because of its emphasis on event planning, mention how much you enjoyed orchestrating events for campus organizations. 

Speak with alumni working in your target sector about the details of their work and aspects that are attractive. This research will enable you to say things like "I have spoken to several alumni in sales and they all mentioned the competitive thrill of closing deals." or "I have enjoyed competing as an athlete and have been driven for success as a student." 

Make sure you can answer a question like "Where do you see yourself five years from now?" Your answer should reflect a commitment to the initial job for which you are interviewing and an interest in advancement where relevant.  

Meet with a counselor to explore career goals if you are uncertain about your direction. 

Assess the Job Requirements

Analyze the primary requirements for your target job. What skills and qualities are critical for success? Which of these do you possess? Try to think of seven strengths which you bring to the table that will enable you to excel in the job.

Then ask yourself when and where you used those assets. For each asset be prepared to describe the situation, the action you have taken which demonstrates that strength, and the results of your involvement. Whenever possible include how others benefited from your involvement.

What to Discuss During the Interview

  • Contributions on campus: College students can point to contributions to clubs or organizations on campus. Particularly compelling stories will relate how you initiated projects, revitalized stagnant student groups or overcame challenges to resolve conflicts or mobilize others.

When did you lead and how can we see the impact of your leadership? The athletic arena can be another important reference point for students. Think about how you might have inspired teammates, defused intra-squad squabbles, demonstrated discipline in conditioning, or overcame the adversity involved with injuries.

  • Academic projects: Academic projects are another area for interview fodder. What was the most challenging paper or project which you tackled? What obstacles did you overcome in your process to achieve success?

Group projects provide an opportunity to cite leadership skills and the ability to manage groups. Citing examples of successful academic projects will enable you to document presentation, research and writing skills as well as facility with presentation technology.

Referencing relevant senior theses and independent study projects is an effective way to prove that you have related interests and a willingness to take on challenges. 

  • Internships and volunteering: Further evidence of key assets can be found in stories you tell about your volunteer, job and internship activities. Think about mini successes where your contributions added value or were recognized by supervisors. Remember to relate to interviewers specifically what you did to engineer those successes.

Job candidates can only go so far in making their case by articulating general statements about their skills during the interview. Make sure that you go the extra mile and provide convincing proof by furnishing specific examples of how you have applied your skills.

Follow up Effectively

What you do after your interview can have as much impact as what you say during your meeting. Make sure you get the contact information from each person with whom you meet. As soon as possible after your interview, send a message reaffirming your interest, briefly summarizing why the job is an excellent fit and thanking them for meeting with you.

If you are really motivated to land the job, integrate a different statement to each interviewer based on something that they shared. You can mention that they enhanced your interest by something that they said about the organization or the job or you can mention an asset of yours that will enable you to make a contribution in line with their priorities for the job.

Practice, Practice, Practice

Walking into the interview should not be the first time you discuss how your background, aspirations, and skills equip you to excel at the target job. Meet with a counselor from the career office for a mock interviewPractice answering typical interview questions on your own. Conducting informational interviews with college alumni, friends of the family or local professionals can help you to feel comfortable discussing your background and goals.