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 graduates 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. Therefore, it's important that your interviewer understands your strong interest in obtaining and succeeding in this job.

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 make comments such as "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." 

Be prepared to answer questions such as "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.  

Also, 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, and which of these do you possess? Try to think of seven strengths 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 that demonstrates that strength, and the results of your involvement. Whenever possible, include how others benefited from your involvement.

Discuss Contributions and Improvements

During your interview, it's important to discuss the ways you made a positive impact during your time at school. This indicates initiative, ambition, and willingness to improve college life for all students. In addition, you can demonstrate your critical-thinking and leadership skills by discussing sports incidents that you took part in resolving or challenging academic projects at which you excelled.

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 what was the impact of your leadership? The athletic arena can be another important reference point for students. Consider 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. Consider the most challenging paper or project that you tackled. Also, think about the obstacles that you overcame 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 experience with presentation technology.

Referencing relevant senior theses and independent study projects is also 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. Consider small 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 an interview. Make sure that you use this time wisely by providing specific examples of how you have applied your skills.

Follow up Effectively

Your actions after your interview can have as much of an impact as what you say during your meeting. Make sure you get the contact information from each person with whom you meet. Soon 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 for each interviewer message 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 Interview Techniques With Others

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 interview. Practice answering typical interview questions on your own. Conducting informational interviews with college alumni, friends, or local professionals can help you to feel comfortable discussing your background and goals. 

Believe in Yourself

Remember that above all else, you have the ability to do the job. When going on an interview, be confident in your skills and experience, even if you are just starting out in the work world. Your skills, education, and experience are valuable assets that can benefit a company.