Interview tips for recent grads (and others!)

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Q:  My company is in the process of hiring a few recent college grads.  I am appalled by the lack of professionalism and lack of respect that I have observed during our selection process.  Since many new grads are being hired, can you publish some guidelines for college grads to review before they begin interviewing for jobs?  It seems like no one has ever told them how to behave during the interview process.

A:  Well, I agree, sort of.  I think many candidates, at all points in their careers, could improve their “hire-ability” by taking a few simple steps.  Here are some recommendations:

The interview starts before the interview.  What does that mean?

    1. Research the company.  A strong candidate should have a basic understanding of the company’s business model and strategy.
    2. Check LinkedIn.  Do you have any contacts that work there or had worked there?  Employees and former employees can be a good source of information.
    3. Invest in a business casual or professional wardrobe.  Most of us don’t have to buy a $1000 suit but how you dress is still important.  For most interviews, leave some accessories at home – flashy earrings, purple shoes, etc.  The focus should be on your skills, work experience and value, not on what you are wearing.
    4. Your social media presence.  Lots of job seekers get angry at me when I ask how they would feel about a potential employer viewing their Facebook page.  Of course, most prospective employers are going to look at this page.  Either make it private or remove the R-rated photos and comments.
    5. Take the telephone or Zoom interview seriously.  Have your resume in front of you.  Be prepared with a few questions that demonstrate interest in the role and/or the company.  Be on time for a telephone or Zoom interview just as you would for a face-to-face interview.  Do your best to remove distractions like barking dogs.
    6. Be ready for the interview.  Have a few meaningful accomplishments ready to discuss.  Be prepared to discuss your strengths and weaknesses.  Lead with your strengths.  Be authentic and use your own words.  Avoid clichés that sound too well-rehearsed.
    7. Ensure that your resume is crisp, readable and error-free.
    8. If you are interviewing on site, be on time.  Do a test-run if you are unsure.  Build in extra time for traffic, weather and/or other hassles.  Don’t guess!
    9. Have your professional references typed up and ready to share.  Make sure that you have contacted each one to let them know that you wish to provide their info as a reference.

What about the face-to-face interview.

    1. Arrive a few minutes early – 10-15 minutes ideally.  Don’t complain about the traffic, the elevator, the parking or the guard at the front desk.  Have your license or other form of identification with you.  Some parking garages and buildings require visitors to present a license or other identification before entering the building.
    2. In 2021, have a face covering on and adhere to the company’s protocol.
    3. Bring along a few extra hard copies of your resume.
    4. Look crisp, polished and professional…. Including your accessories.  Don’t carry along a work backpack from your high school years.
    5. Maintain good eye contact.  It is ok to look away once and a while.  Staring can become uncomfortable too.
    6. Turn off your phone or other buzzing/ringing electronic items.  Don’t even think about checking your phone or other handheld device during the interview.
    7. Be candid but lead with your strengths.  If asked, offer a weakness but follow up with how you have strived to work on that weakness.  Explain that you are open to feedback and you understand that feedback is part of the development process.  Be prepared with good examples of some of your work-related accomplishments.
    8. Be a good listener.  Use active listening skills.  No chewing gum!
    9. Taking notes demonstrates that you are serious and interested.
    10. Ask for a business card.  You will want to thank that person for their time.
    11. Never leave an interview without knowing the next steps.  When can you contact them?  Who should be your contact?  What is the expected timeline for extending an offer?

What about after the interview?

    1. Assess your performance.  What did you do well?  What didn’t you do well?  What can you do better next time? Your first interview won’t be perfect.  That is ok.  Learn from that experience.
    2. Send a thank-you email, note or letter.  Which one?  You will need to assess how they have communicated with you thus far.  If they are a law firm, consider a formal letter.  If they are a technology start-up, an email is probably fine.
    3. Follow up.  It shows interest and professionalism.
    4. Be gracious even if you don’t receive an offer.  It is a very small world.  You never know you will be sitting next to on an airplane, or when another role may become available.

In the end, as humans, we all learn from our mistakes, errors and missteps.   Learn from those mistakes and improve your next performance.

Pattie Hunt Sinacole is a human resources expert and works for First Beacon Group in Hopkinton, an HR consulting firm. She contributes weekly to Boston.com Jobs and the Boston Sunday Globe Money & Careers section.

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