In high school we’re taught how to solve for X and what the major factors of the Civil War were, which is nice if you’re going into a field where those things are applicable. But let’s face it, most of us aren’t. Obviously not all high school experiences are the same, and some of you may have been lucky enough to receive interview advice when you were younger.

I love that I work for a company that gives back to education so I have the opportunity to pass on my knowledge with eight hours a year of paid volunteer time.  This week, I participated in mock interviews for Buchholz High School students to help them prepare for the real world.  It’s opportunities like these that I wish I had when I was in high school (though who knows if I would have appreciated it because I knew everything back then).

After doing a few interviews with the students, it made me realize there are some general things that can help new professionals be a step ahead. Like everything in life though, the more you practice, the better you’ll be at it. So interview as often as possible, and the experience will becomes less and less nerve wrecking. If it’s a job you really want, and sometimes even if it isn’t, you’re going to be nervous no matter how calm you typically are.

1. Prepare Your Resume

This might seem like common sense, but it is overlooked so much.  There are a few general rules you should keep in mind for resume-building that specifically apply to new professionals:

  • Remove the excess. Your resume should be built around the position you’re applying for. Try to highlight skills from previous experiences that would directly translate to this position.
  • One page. You’re a new professional, so there’s likely very little reason for anyone fresh out of high school to have more than one page’s worth of experience. I have over 10 years, and when I build my resume to the position I’m applying for, it becomes easier to fit to a page. If I can do it, I promise you can too.
  • GPA. It’s nice to show, but don’t make it a focal point. It helps show responsibility and you’re proud of it, I get it, but GPA doesn’t directly translate to being a good employee. Plus it honestly doesn’t differentiate you too much.
  • Be different. We’re looking at dozens of resumes when we post a position. Try to stand out. Know the company you’re applying for, do some research and find ways to catch their eye.
  • Brag about yourself. It’s your one shot, so don’t be shy. It’s a lot harder to sound arrogant on paper when you are listing achievements. (We’ll get to how to brag about yourself in the interview without sounding arrogant and cocky.)
  • Proofread. Last, but most certainly not least, look over your resume and make sure it’s free of errors and your contact information is correct. Nothing says “meh” like an error-ridden resume.
  • Want to stand out more? Always bring copies of your resume for those interviewing you. Find out how many will be there and bring that many copies with you. It will show preparation and that you thought about this interview and are taking it seriously.

2. Dress for Success

Dress for the job you want, unless you want to be a super hero. I highly advise against dressing like Captain America for a job interview unless you’re trying to be the next Steve Rogers.

  • Make an effort. You’re interviewing for a job, not hanging out with friends. Dress up for the occasion. Sure, there are plenty of companies that have laidback dress codes but even so, it’s not a good idea to wear jeans to an interview.
  • First impressions. Even when a suit and tie/ nice dress isn’t required, you should think about the impression you’re making here. We, the people doing the interview, know that today is going to be the day we get to see you at your absolute best. You’re bringing you’re a-game today, and if that is a pair of jeans with sneakers, it doesn’t make much of a statement.

3. Be Punctual

It probably goes without saying that you should be on time, but you’d be surprised at how often that doesn’t happen.

  • Always plan for the unexpected. Make the drive or trip the day before at the same time you would on interview day. It allows you to more accurately plan for travel time. Then add 15 minutes on top of that for any other potential unexpected delays.
  • Don’t make excuses. If you do happen to be late, don’t make an excuse as to why. We don’t care.  It doesn’t look good if you already are making excuses and you’re not even hired yet. Own it and apologize. The best thing I can recommend here is a sincere apology that goes something like this:

I apologize for my tardiness. I know your time is very valuable, and I apologize for not respecting that by arriving late.

If they ask what happened, you can share, but I urge you to be careful about using a specific excuse. Instead, say something like “I thought I had planned for everything but it wasn’t enough.”

  • Introduce yourself. Yes, we know who you are, but you should let everyone know your name and it gives you an opportunity to learn theirs.

4. Give Strong Answers

I hope you didn’t just skip to this part of the post. The above sections are just as important because they set impressions before you even have a chance at answering questions.  If you don’t do the above steps, it’s hard to overcome a bad first impression just by answering questions.

There’s so much to talk about here that there’s no way I could cover every scenario you’re going to come across, but I hope this helps guide you to an overarching strategy that you can build on and practice.

  • One word answers. Young professionals tend to be nervous, and they’ll answer questions with simple yes or no answers.  Hopefully the interviewer will pick up on it and help calm your nerves by asking more follow up questions, but you can’t depend on that, and it’s not their responsibility. It’s yours.
  • Answer questions with stories. Nothing drives home an answer like giving a story to back it up. And we as humans tend to get excited when retelling a story we like, so it helps calm those nerves.
  • Strengths and weaknesses. Don’t give a cop-out answer to the question about your biggest weakness. If you tell someone your weakness is that you’re a perfectionist, you’d better be prepared to give the most unique reasoning behind it. We hear it all the time, and if you’re interviewing with someone good, they’re going to make you go beyond that.  Give a genuine weakness of yours that wouldn’t be seen as vital for the role you’re applying for.
  • Your passion. It’s always easier for us to talk about things we’re passionate about. It will help tremendously when you’re nervous if you’re talking about something you love. Find a way to relate it to the job you’re interviewing for, and integrate it into your answers to help calm your nerves. This is a great way to brag about yourself without coming off as arrogant.It’s okay to be nervous. Oftentimes , the other side is nervous too. It’s hard to get to know someone in that short timeframe, but you have to try your best to relax and open up so they can get to know you.

5. Ask Questions

Did you think interviews were just one-way questions? Just as it is important for the employer to make sure you’re a fit for them, you need to make sure they’re a fit for you. You should ALWAYS have a few questions that you want to ask at the end of the interview. They shouldn’t be questions about when you would start or how much vacation time you get.  Gear your questions to show them you’re serious about this job.  Below are a few sample questions and the purpose behind asking them.

  • Could you describe the day-to-day functions a person in this role would handle? This gives you insight into what the job entails that may have not been included in that standard job description. It allows you to make sure this is something you want to do.
  • What do you like most about working for this company?This question is my favorite to hear. It means culture and working for a good company is important to the person. It also gives you insight into what your potential boss likes most about the company. If they can’t think of anything on the spot, that’s a red flag.
  • How would you describe your management style?Don’t be afraid to follow up if you get a generic response. This question can tell you if you’re about to work under a leader or a micro manager. Getting a good boss right out of school can help shape you for the rest of your career.This may not apply if you’re just taking a summer job or temp work, but at least have some questions ready. It will help set you apart from those who don’t.

Do a little research about the company before your interview. You should know something about the company you’re interested in working for. Do some google searches about them, and some of the questions you ask can be based on things you found while researching. It will show that you took the time to do some investigating and that you have a genuine interest in learning more about the company.

I hope these five essential interview tips for young professionals will be helpful for your job search. I realize a blog post may not be the most ideal way to spread these tips, so please feel free to share this and pass along to teachers who may find it useful.

Did I leave off a tip you think is instrumental for young professionals? Leave a note below!

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