Turn stress into strategies: How to kill it at your interview

Reading Time: 11 minutes So you have an interview for a dream job or internship—score! Now what?

How to help students prepare for and ace their interviews

Reading Time: 4 minutes

Interviewing for a job or internship doesn’t have to be intimidating for students, whether they’re applying for an internship, volunteer position, or post-grad dream job. And yet it is. But acing an interview is often a case of practice makes perfect.

First steps to prep

Research the company

“One of the first questions students will most likely be asked is, ‘What do you know about our organization and this position?’” says Jason Henry, the coordinator of career and transfer services at Arkansas State University-Beebe. at Arkansas State University-Beebe. Talk with students about the importance of doing their homework to find out the organization’s values, mission, and day-to-day operations.

Prepare a highlight reel

“Students should also take time to reflect on their personal, academic, and work experiences so they can appropriately articulate to the interviewer how those past experiences have prepared them for that position,” Henry says. Encourage students to write these down and to bring these notes with them to the interview.

Even if a student is interviewing for their first job or internship, they can use in-class experiences to help convey how they’ll perform on the job. Encourage students to think of this like putting together a highlight reel of their greatest hits.

To help students talk about their experiences in an interview, have them run through these seven common interview questions with a career counselor.

Interviewees sitting in a waiting room

1. “What are your strengths?”

  • Students should provide enough detail for the interviewer to picture them in a working environment, including an example of problem-solving skills.
  • Students should also show enthusiasm for tasks that they’ve successfully completed.

2. “Tell me about yourself.”

This question allows students to zero in on what they want the interviewer to know. “It’s incumbent on the interviewee to be knowledgeable about the organization where they’re interviewing for a job,” says Henry. As such, students should use this question to talk about their experiences in a way that specifically highlights why they’re a perfect fit.

  • If there’s something concerning on a student’s résumé, such as a low GPA, have them think about how to frame it.
  • Stay on topic. Have them only talk about things that are relevant to the position, not their entire life story.

3. “Why should we choose you?”

Students should understand that the interviewer is asking what they can do for the organization—not how the organization can help the student.

  • Coach students to “use affirmative statements, such as ‘I will bring’ rather than ‘I hope I can bring,’” says Michelle Cook, a career and education counselor at Calgary Career Counseling in Alberta, Canada.
  • Make sure students align answers to the specifics of the job.
  • Phrases like “I’m a people person” have no meaning. What does have meaning is an example of how students have successfully worked with or helped others.

4. “Where do you want to be in five years?”

“The employer [just wants] to see that [the student has] some drive to learn and grow, in the role and in the company,” says Cook.

  • Students should bring the question back around to why they’re the right person for this opportunity.
  • Remind students to stay on track. This is about getting this job now, not their ultimate dreams.

5. “What are your weaknesses?”

  • While it’s important to be truthful and it’s OK to show a little vulnerability, coach students in crafting responses that bring the conversation back to reassuring the interviewer about their skills.

6. “Can you bring leadership skills to this position?”

  • Leadership comes in many forms. Here, students have an opportunity to highlight the ways in which they’ve positively influenced other people.

7. “Do you have any questions about this role or organization?”

  • Students should ask open-ended questions that demonstrate their interest in the organization or role.
  • “[Advise them not to] ask a question that [they] could have easily learned by doing some research,” says Cook. “Also, [they shouldn’t] ask questions about benefits, vacation, pay, etc.—leave these for when [they’re] offer[ed] the position.”

1. Cleaning up their online presence

Students should assume the interviewer will look at everything. Those photos with the red cups, their sloppy friend, or anything discriminatory—ensure they know to get rid of them.

2. Dressing conservatively

Let them know to always opt for conservative attire for the interview (e.g., dress pants and a button-up top or a knee-length dress with a blazer), and to wear an outfit that’s clean, crisp, and professional. And for more corporate, conservative settings, they should consider covering tattoos or piercings.

3. Avoiding bad-mouthing an old boss

Saying something negative about a previous employer can make the student look like they lack respect or that they might be difficult to work with. “It’s important for students to realize what it means to be a professional,” says Henry. “Professional employees go out of their way to leave any employment experience, regardless of how bad it may have been for them, on good terms with their employer and supervisor.”

4. Sending a follow-up note

Students should show the employer that they follow through with a thank-you email expressing their gratitude for the chance to learn more about the role after they leave the interview.

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Article sources

Michelle Cook, career and education counselor, Calgary Career Counseling, Alberta, Canada.

Jason Henry, coordinator of career and transfer services, Arkansas State University Beebe.

CampusWell survey, May 2018.