Most of us have to interview for a job at some point, and it’s likely that we will interview many times over the course of our lifetimes. As your teen enters the workforce and/or heads off to college, having interviewing skills is essential. For those who have never had a formal interview, it can be nerve-racking and difficult to know what to expect. While you cannot be there during their interview (you really can’t), you can be a good sounding board to help them prepare and practice for it. Start by reading this guide, then pass it off to your young adult so they know what to expect during an interview.
Before the interview, focus on the purpose, do research, prepare for possible questions and plan the appropriate attire to wear.
Know the purpose of the interview
Before you can prepare for or go to an interview, you should have a clear sense of what the purpose of an interview is.
Interviewers have one main goal: to hire someone for the job! But in finding that person, they are looking for some key things. They want to gauge your interest in the position, check if your skills fit the role, evaluate your professionalism, and get to know your personality. As for you, your goal is to get the job! Faye de Muyshondt, founder of socialsklz:-) for SUCCESS, says that you should go into an interview with the knowledge and skills necessary to make a good impression.
There are several types of interviews: traditional, informational, phone, Skype, group, and more. The traditional interview will be the interviewer (perhaps more than one) and you talking together. Today, many companies will conduct phone or Skype interviews. Some companies have several rounds of interviews, starting with a phone interview and ending with an in-person interview. Other companies will do more unique things like interviewing groups or providing you with a problem to solve as part of the process. An informational interview is a bit different than a traditional interview, as it is geared at learning more about different jobs and fields, without necessarily interviewing to fill a specific position. Informational interviews are a great way to practice interviewing and are a good networking opportunity for the future. Know what type of interview you are having beforehand so you can prepare accordingly.
Research the company
Preparation is key. Do your research ahead of time. You should always look up the company and understand their basic mission, goals, and the work they do before an interview. Chances are the interviewer will ask you a question about the company and your thoughts about the work they do. However, career coach Jane Horowitz says to avoid simply rehashing exactly what’s on the company website. Employers want to know that you’ve done your research, but they also want to know your unique take on who they are and what they do.
Prepare for possible questions
Again, preparation is essential. “Don’t ever go to an interview without practicing,” de Muyshondt says. Think about the types of questions you might be asked at the interview. The key here is knowing yourself and how you might fit into the job you are applying for. Think about your specific skills ahead of time and how they relate to the position. Be aware of your weaknesses, and think of examples that highlight how you have overcome them. Think about specific experiences you have that relate to the job description. And make sure to have a brief overview of yourself ready. One comment you are almost guaranteed to get is, “Tell me about yourself.” This does not mean you should tell your life story, but rather a concise summary of who you are, your career experiences, your abilities, and your goals. This is an opportunity to really show who you are and what you can do. “Often times, young people are uncomfortable showcasing themselves,” de Muyshondt says. “But that’s what an interview is! You have to be authentic during an interview.” Here are some other common questions:
- Why are you interested in this job?
- Why should we hire you?
- What are your strengths and weaknesses?
- What skills do you have that you could bring to our team?
- Have you ever had to work with a team to achieve a goal?
- Where do you see yourself in five years?
- How would you handle X conflict?
- What should we know about you that is not on your resume?
- When are you available to start?
Wear appropriate attire
Plan your outfit ahead of time; it may depend a lot on the job you are applying for. No matter what, you should always look clean and put-together. Business casual is generally a good rule to follow. This generally means no jeans, t-shirts, sandals, excessive jewelry, or tennis shoes. And no perfume or cologne. When in doubt, err on the side of dressing up, rather than down.
Bring copies of your resume
Bring multiple copies of your resume to the interview. This way, you will have a copy to look at for reference and you can give copies to the interviewers (there may be more than one). This is a simple way to show that you are prepared and ready for the interview, and by extension, the job.
Make sure you know where you are going and how to get there ahead of time. Give yourself extra time to get there, as you never know when you will run into traffic or transportation delays. Depending on the building, you may have to go through security or navigate to a certain floor or office for the interview, so make sure to account for this. And make sure to turn off your cell phone before entering the interview location. Giving yourself extra time will ensure that you get there early and also have a chance to relax before the interview starts.
During the interview, focus on things like eye contact, body language, highlighting your skills, and asking questions.
When you first meet your interviewer, make eye contact with them. This is important in establishing a good first impression. Throughout the interview, make sure to continue making eye contact when talking to your interviewer(s). Maintain eye contact when they ask you questions. Take brief breaks from eye contact at natural pauses or transitions. A good practice is to make eye contact at moments when you are making an important point. If there are multiple interviewers, make sure to look at each of them as you respond to the questions.
Body language can be just as important as your answers to the questions during an interview. Try to keep your body in a comfortable position throughout the interview and avoid fidgeting. This may mean placing your hands on the table or leaning forward. Sit up straight and avoid slouching or leaning back in your chair, as this can come across as careless or lazy. In other words, make sure you are comfortable, but not too comfortable.
Think first, then answer
Interviews understandably make people nervous, so it’s easy to get ahead of yourself when answering questions. After each question, take a breath and think for a moment before answering. Slowing your breathing slows your heart rate, which can help ease your nerves. This natural pause will be a good way for you to think through your answer, and it also shows the interviewer that you are being thoughtful about the question asked of you. This can help slow down the interview and allow your nervousness to subside. Remain positive and professional; avoid negativity.
Highlight your skills
During the interview, you will be asked many different questions, and it’s your job to relate each question back to your skills and how you would be a great fit for the position. But it’s not enough to simply say what skills you have. “You can tell the interviewer, ‘well I’m on a team, I’m a great leader,’ but do you actually have a story that supports that?” Horowitz says. To show your skills in action, Horowitz suggests you think of each of your past experiences as a mini case-study. You can also think of telling short stories about your skills. Consider these questions for each: What was the situation I was in? What role did I play? And what was the result? These stories don’t have to be long; if the interviewer wants to know more, they will ask you to expand. “Support the skills you say you have and the value that you offer,” Horowitz says.
Your interviewer will most likely ask you if you have any questions at the end of the interview. Ask at least one question, even if you don’t think you have any. This can be about the office culture or details about the position. Asking good questions shows the interviewer that you are interested, curious, and engaged. It also gives you valuable information about the job. These are some examples of questions to ask:
- What are the main priorities of the position?
- What have past employees done to succeed in this position? Or how would you define success for this role?
- What do you like most about working for the company?
- Can you give me some examples of how I would collaborate with my manager?
- What is the work culture like in this office/shop/etc.?
- What’s a typical workday like?
- Why do you (or the company) choose to do X, Y or Z?
- When will you make your decision on hiring for this position?
- What are the next steps after this interview?
After the interview, plan to send a follow-up email and take time to reflect.
Send a follow-up email after your interview. Horowitz says you should think of this as a marketing piece rather than a thank-you note. “It’s your last chance to show them what your value would be to the company or position,” Horowitz says. Thank the interviewer for their time, restate your interest in the position, and list some of your specific skills that make you a good match. Horowitz says bullet points work well to list these skills, because it allows the interviewer to read through them quickly and get the point. It also is good practice to highlight something specific from the interview that you enjoyed, found interesting, or learned. Attach any necessary resumes, samples, or materials requested to this email. Keep this email concise and brief. A simple thank-you email is not only polite, but also ensures they will remember you.
Take some time to reflect on the interview afterwards. What did you think went well? Which question did you have the strongest answer to? What could you improve on? What did you like about the interviewers and the company? Is there anything you didn’t like? This process helps you evaluate your overall experience, assess your fit for the position, and highlight what needs to be adjusted for future interviews. Interviewing is like most skills; it takes practice! Try and look at each interview as a learning experience, no matter the outcome.
Parent Toolkit resources were developed by NBC News Learn with the help of subject-matter experts, including Faye de Muyshondt, Founder, socialsklz:-) for SUCCESS and Jane Horowitz, Founder and Principal, More Than A Resumé.