Some June graduates sit down for a job interview as if they were dressed for a keg party, while others look awkward and stiff in their first set of off-the-rack "professional" clothes.
Relax, kids. Employers don't expect you to hit a home run your first few times up. Most recognize that you're young and inexperienced. Hiring managers look for smarts, confidence and the ability to handle yourself well in high-pressure situations.
You don't have to be perfect, but you must be serious about the job and knowledgeable about the company. It's also a good idea to dress appropriately (see: "Dress For Success").
"Always have a question ready when the interviewer asks, 'Do you have any questions?' at the end of the interview," says Scott W. Simmons, vice president of Crist Associates, an executive placement agency in Chicago. "A good question shows that you've researched the company and the sector. If you say that you have no questions, you'll be perceived as passive and uninterested in the job."
For example, you might ask about major competitors or how the company differentiates itself from the competition. Specific questions then will flow from the conversation, and if you do it right, you'll make a good impression (see: "Acing The Job Interview").
Landing the interview starts with a solid cover letter and a killer resume. A good cover letter tweaks the hiring manager's interest and gets your material reviewed. It's addressed to a specific person, explains why you're writing, briefly details your qualifications for the job and directs the reader to your attached resume. Be sure to thank the person for taking the time to review your material (see: "Uncovering Cover Letters").
One size doesn't fit all when it comes to cover letters. You must personalize each letter and peg it to the job on offer. Cranking up your Dell, H-P or Apple and e-mailing the same letter in response to a ton of ads will result in nothing but rejection letters — assuming you get any response at all.
Introduce yourself to the company in the cover letter. Presentation and tone count — addressing it to the wrong person or misspelling the person's name will knock you out of the box. Keep the letter formal without sounding like a dainty Victorian or a pretentious twit.
An effective resume should begin with a professional summary of three to eight sentences highlighting your strengths, experience and education (see: "Writing A Killer Resume"). Think of your resume as an advertisement for yourself. It's intended to make you stand out from the hundreds of others applying for the job. A chronological listing of your experience achieves nothing. Instead, avoid the mundane by highlighting major accomplishments, including internships.
Don't mix personal and professional aspects of your life. Never include marital status or religious or political affiliation on your resume. Don't try to be clever — keep your resume straight and to the point. Don't exaggerate your accomplishments or claim to have done things you haven't. Avoid cutesy fonts and stick to white or off-white paper (see: "The Truth About Lies").
When you land an interview, remember this basic point: You're being sized up the minute you step into the office. So be quick-witted, don't let your guard down and never snap or snarl at the receptionist.
Your pitch should be simple and direct: This is what I can do for you (see: "Seven Deadly Interview Flubs").
Some candidates talk too much, cutting off the interviewer or talking over questions. But don't make the mistake of sitting there like a complete dork. If you simply nod like a bobble-head doll, the interviewer is likely to conclude that you have nothing to say or you're not interested in the job.
Read as much as you can about the company prior to the interview. Start with the company's Web site. Read your prospective employer's mission statement and about the company's products and services. If it's a public company such as Intel, Microsoft, Dell, Exxon Mobil or JPMorgan Chase, take the time to read deep into the annual and quarterly reports.
Such research will show the interviewers that you're serious about the job. It will also help you answer a basic question: Do you want to build a career with these guys?
Prepare to meet with interviewers for about an hour. But that's often just the first round, and you may go through several rounds of interviews, especially for a choice job. When someone says, "I'd like you to meet my boss," remember that it's still an interview, and be prepared to make your best points.
Interviewers want to gain insight into how you think and react to unexpected and perhaps uncomfortable situations. A good job interviewer will deliberately try to break your stride by tossing out an odd question to see how you handle the unexpected. Remember: Style and demeanor count.
Prepare for questions such as "Describe your most challenging work environment and how you dealt with it," "Describe a project that failed," or "What's your biggest regret?" (See: "Job Hunting Tips From Job Recruiters.")
Remember that you're being prodded, tested and evaluated by everyone you speak to in a series of corporate interviews. Everything you say counts, so never let your guard down (see: "Hitting The Job Interview Home Run").
Body language is a key element in a successful interview. In general, an interviewer's first impression is made in three to seven seconds and body language often tells more than what you say and how you say it (see: "Is Body Language Betraying You In Job Interviews?").
A bad first impression is difficult to overcome no matter how solid your credentials. To see and hear yourself as others see you, some headhunters recommend practicing your presentation in front of a mirror while speaking into a tape recorder.
At the interview, pay attention to little things such as posture, sitting up straight, planting your feet squarely on the floor, hand position and making eye contact with the interviewer. No one expects you to sit ramrod straight, but you need to project an image of alertness, confidence and interest (see: "You Got A Job Offer. Now What?" and "Interviewing The Prospective Boss").
If you don't get this job, there will be others, and your interview technique will improve with experience (see: "Catastrophic Job Hunting Flubs").
"When I walked in for my first interview, the interviewer saw the look on my face and said, 'Relax. I'm nervous too,' " says Simmons.