Tuesday, May 13, 2014

College to Career: Interviewing

An interview is a conversation with purpose.  Done well, an interview is a memorable, insightful, conversation with your skills, attributes and career goals as the main topics.  One of the most memorable interviews I conducted for an audit (accounting) position was a student with farm work providing the totality of his prior work experience.  At first glance, most wouldn’t draw parallels.  He was prepared, however, and able to expertly outline work ethic, planning, managing itinerant workers, making calculated risks with business impact, etc., from farming and relate it to the skills required in the accounting role.  

An interview may take many different forms: a phone screen, Skype, in person, panel or over a meal.  While each format has its own nuances, like most things in life, the keys to a successful interview are preparation and practice.   

Preparation & Practice
When notified that you have been selected to interview, ask questions to understand with whom you will interview, appropriate attire, the format, and anything you should prepare or bring. 
Everything on your resume, cover letter and online profiles is fair game.  Review them thoroughly and be able to easily draw upon and discuss anything included. 
Research the company.  Develop a working knowledge of the organization and genuine questions you have about the position and organization. Look closely at a company’s core values.  These are often used in developing interview questions to screen potential employees for a good match.  
Based upon your knowledge of the company, position and your background, carefully consider the skills and qualities you want to display throughout the interview.  Outline 10-12 examples from your actual experiences that demonstrate your unique abilities and qualifications.  
Avoid the hypothetical. Be prepared to provide concrete examples, from your past experiences, to support and display your strengths and skills.  
These “sound bites” shouldn’t be memorized speeches; rather fluid and flexible answers that you may be able to leverage for different questions.  Taking the time to really think through, write down and familiarize yourself with these examples provides you with an arsenal of interview answers and will increase your confidence in the interview. 
As a college student, you aren’t expected to have ample relevant experience directly related to most jobs. However, get creative and draw upon your work, leadership and classroom experiences to demonstrate skills of value to the position for which you are interviewing. 
Be prepared to address failures or areas of improvement.  Most experienced interviewers will ask a question of this type. Don’t shy away.  Provide a solid example, followed up with what you learned, self-awareness and what you are doing to address it. Nobody is perfect. This question is more about how you answer and taking responsibility.  
Practice!  In a mirror, in your car, with a friend, with career services, with your parents, recorded on your phone or on your own.  It doesn’t matter how you do it, but make sure you practice!  Leverage sample interview questions and invite others to throw in a few surprises.  Invite feedback from people you trust. It will only make you stronger. 

During the Interview
Avoid the “we.”  College students often answer questions in a plural and inclusive tense.  An interview is about you.  Practice answering with “I” responses and focusing upon your specific contributions to a class project or organization.  
Just like your parents and Delta Gamma taught you – display confidence, use your manners and demonstrate a positive attitude.  Smile, maintain eye contact, sit up straight, use a firm handshake, avoid filler words (um, uh, like), and say please and thank you. 
Be comfortable with silence.  Don’t fill dead space by rambling if the interviewer is taking notes or collecting their thoughts. It can feel interminable but avoid this impulse. 
Do ask well informed, insightful questions about the position and/or company that demonstrate you are well researched. 
Don’t be afraid to express excitement and enthusiasm for the position during the interview or at the close, if you are genuinely interested.  Everyone wants employees excited for the role.  

Thank You!
A thank you note for interviewers is appropriate and can be a differentiator.  If you take the time to write a thank you note, don’t waste it with neutral platitudes.  Use it as a way to highlight a unique connection made with an interviewer or express your interest in the position again.  Mail or email is appropriate depending upon the company and the pace of the recruiting process. You can also write a thank you note on the spot and leave it with a receptionist to deliver to your interviewer.  

Be yourself. Be prepared. Be confident.  You’ll shine. 

For many more resources, tips, skills assessment and sample interview questions, visit KPMG’s Branding U site

With 17 years of experience in campus recruiting, Karissa Cornell has interviewed thousands of students, and leads interviewing skills workshops for both students and professionals being trained to become interviewers.  A graduate of The University of Montana, Karissa is the Director of National Student Programs and Pacific Northwest University Recruiting for KPMG; a global accounting firm that hires 4000-5000 college students in the US annually.  Karissa's toughest interview to date was becoming a Collegiate Development Consultant for Delta Gamma! 

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