Interview Tips: Do's and Dont's for College Students

The basics of interviewing for a job as a college student are the same as those for interviewing for a job as any other professional--preparation is the key success, you should arrive on time, dress the part, excude confidence (without being arrogant), and develop a positive mental attitude, to name just a few.

However, interviewing for a job as a college student is also very different. For starters, this is probably going to be your first "career" job interview ever, and you don't have the same level of experience as a seasoned professional. Below, we're going to address the "Do's and Don't" of job interviewing for colleges students. However, before we get started, we recommend you first review the following two articles. They'll provide you a foundational knowledge of the job interview process.

For sake of time, and focus, we're going to assume that you just finished reading the two articles above and have familiarized yourself with the basic rules and norms of job interviewing. Now let's talk specifically about you--the college student.

The Do's and Don'ts
  • Don't pretend you're interested in everyone. I know it, you know it, and they know it. You're a college student looking for a job--any job. Yes, you may be looking for a corporate finance position, but truth be told, you'd be just as happy working in the corporate finance department of Walmart, Target or a half a dozen other brand name institutions. Don't pretend that you were born to work just for Walmart--it won't get you the job. Show sincere interest and communicate to the interviewer how the skills you've developed can help their corporation.

  • Keep it real. What do we mean by "keep it real"? Exactly that. Be yourself, be genuine, and be honest. The interviewer knows you're a college student. They also know that you're a "greenie"--so don't act like you're Lee Iacocca, or the cure to last quarter's declining market share. Again, show sincere interest and communicate how your strengths and skills can benefit their company.

  • Be honest. Yes, we already said you need to be honest, but let's take it just a step further. Being honest doesn't just mean not lying--it means being genuine. Cardinal rule number one: never lie on your resume or during the interview--it will come back to bit you in the butt. Cardinal rule number two: don't be disingenuous. Spotting someone who is disingenous is often easier than spotting an outright lier--and it's usually just as detrimental to your job interview.

  • Due your due diligence. In both Most Important Interview Tips for Job Seekers and Unconventional Job Interview Tips That Get Results we explore in detail the importance of research as it relates to the interview process. Researching your prospective employer, and performing due diligence, are critical to the job interview for recent college grads for two reasons. First, recruiters want to know if you know anything about their company. Second, most college grads don't due their due diligence. It's surprising how many college graduates go to the job interview with only a superficial understanding of who their prospective employer is and what they do. You should be familiar with a company's history, industry, target markets, consumers, main products/services, and marketing strategies--and that's just for starters. You should also be familiar with the position for which you're applying.

  • Why do you want to work here? This is a favorite question among recruiters interviewing job candidates at college campuses across the nation. It's also a very straight forward and fair question--as it's not too uncommon for college students not to know what they want, even after completing a four year college degree. Before entering any interview make sure you've developed a well thoughout answer to this question.

  • Have a back and forth with the interviewer. You're 23 years old. You just completed your bachelor's degree in organizational behavior. You're interviewing with the Director of Human Resources at Johnson & Johnson. He also has a college degree. In fact, he has three degrees. A bachelor's degree in human resources, a master's degree in human resource development, and a PhD in organizational behavior. And did we mention he's 46 (twice your age), has been around the block more than just a few times, and is a no nonsense type of guy? We've just set the stage for what might be a very intimidating interview. You're going to be tempted to just sit back and wait for the interviewer to ask question after question until the interview is over. FIGHT THIS URGE! The last thing you want is to have a one-sided interview. Break out of your comfort shell, take some initiative and engage the interviewer with a few insightful questions that stimulate a conversation.

  • Fight the stereotype. Overcoming stereotypes is the one thing that many college graduates fail to consider when preparing for a job interview. What stereotypes you ask? Everyone faces unspoken biases during an interview. For recent college graduates, these biases may include entitlement, inexperience, lacking strong communication skills, requiring constant supervision and positive reinforcement, and possessing a poor work ethic. Whether or not these stereotypes are justified, they do exist--if only at the subconscious level. It's your job to overcome these stereotypes. Ignoring them or pretending they don't exist isn't the answer. It's your job during the interview to show that while these stereotypes may be true of some college students, they absolutely do not characterize you.

  • Don't be negative. Don't speak negatively. As we pointed out in The Most Important Interview Tips for Job Seekers, expressing enthusiasm and staying positive is a key to a successful interview. Conversely, being negative or expressing negativity is a sure fire way to sink your chances of getting a job offer. Whatever you do, don't be negative. Do not speak negatively about a previous employer, boss, co-worker or fellow student--no matter what question you're asked, or how much you're baited during the interview. Keep the interview focused on you, your qualities, and why you're the right person for the job.

  • Focus on relevant skills and achievements. Unfortunately, you're lacking experience. Fortunately, it's expected. Most recruiters interviewing at college campuses know that for the majority of candidates this will be their first real job. This makes the task of identifying good job candidates difficult, since all a recruiter can go off of is your education. It's your job to make it easy for the recruiter to hire you. This is done by focusing on how your skills and achievements uniquely qualify you for the desired position. Before each interview indentify the skills you've developed and the things you've accomplished (both professionally and academically) that are directly relevant to the position.

  • Prepare some powerful stories and examples. You just completed the third and final revision of your resume. You've had three other MBA students look it over, and they're all impressed. It looks awesome! You look awesome! How could anyone not want to hire you? As impressive as you may think you look on your resume, the reality is that you're not going to be any more memorable than the stories and examples you share during the interview. This is where most college grad job candidates fall short, and where you can really set yourself apart from the competition. Think back over your educational experience, including internships, externships, projects, volunteer opportunities, teacher assisting gigs, leadership roles, etc., and identify a few powerful stories that showcase your skills and abilities (technical, leadership, teamwork, etc.) Then use the STAR system (see the section titled Prepare a couple Powerful "STAR" Anecdotes) to format your stories so they can be adapted, structured, and communicated effectively.

  • Watch your body language. They say a picture speaks a thousand words. Well, you are your picture. What does your picture say about you? Pay attention to your body language. This is particularly important for college graduates for two reasons. First, college graduates typically have less experience paying attention to their body language than seasoned job seekers and consquently are more apt to do things that will turn off an interviewer. Second, in many cases there is very little to differentiate one college graduate interviewing for a the job from the next. Poor body language and bad habits could be just enough of a reason for a hiring manager to select another candidate. Don't fidget, slouch, chew gum, mumble, or play with objects. Do speak clearly and powerfully, project your voice, maintain eye contact, smile, nodd (when appropriate) and sit up straight.

The Rest of the Do's and Don'ts
  • Don't be late.
  • Don't dress sloppily. Dress for the job you want, not the job you have.
  • Don't use slang or poor language.
  • Do provide a solid handshake, but don't hurt their hand.
  • Do dress the part.
  • Do be polite and courteous to everyone you meet.
  • Do think aloud. Share your thought processes with the interviewer.
  • Do fill out the job application, completely, neatly and accurately.
  • Do bring extra resumes.
  • Don't tell jokes during the interview.
  • Don't discuss personal issues.
  • Do always conduct yourself as if you're determined to get the job you're interviewing for.
  • Do focus on what you can do for the company rather than what the company can do for you.
  • Do ask intelligent, insightful questions.
  • Don't ever not ask any questions.
  • Don't ask about job benefits.
  • Don't answer questions with a simple "yes" or "no".
  • Do try to get business cards from each person you interview with.
  • Do send a personalized thank you email to each person you interview with within 24 hours of the interview.
  • Do immediately take down notes after the interview.
  • Don't respond to unexpected questions with an extended pause or by saying something stupid.

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