Preparing for Your First Job

 

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Does an Interview Have You Stressed?

A reality for every college student is that they will face an interview. Whether you are applying for a part-time job, a full time job, a student organization, or a graduate program, interviews can play a vital part in achieving your goal. No matter what you are interviewing for, it is the best chance you will have to sell yourself.

So why should you participate in the Career Planning and Development Mock Interview Program? Practice makes perfect! Interviews are often stressful and the practice a mock interview provides can help build your confidence and tear down that anxiety. Also, a mock interview is a great way to get the “kinks” out prior to the real thing. After all, you want to do your best.

Mock Interview Process

  • Set up an appointment with the Career Center
    (Let us know what you are applying for so we can tailor our questions to your needs)
  • Allot 1 hour for the entire process
  • Bring in your resume and be on time
  • Dress the part

Call us at (256) 765-4276 or fill out the contact form for us to reach you.

 

  • Screening Interviews are meant to weed out unqualified candidates. Providing facts about your skills is more important than establishing rapport. Often, the screening interview is a telephone interview.
  • Telephone Interviews are screening interviews designed to eliminate less qualified applicants so that only the best are invited for a personal interview. Phone interviews are typically scheduled in advance.  Be sure you take the call in a quiet location, free from any distractions. If an interviewer calls unexpectedly, stay calm and answer their questions to the best of your abilities. Your goal is to provide concise, thoughtful answers and to be invited for a personal, face-to-face interview. 
  • One-on-One Interviews are situations where you are face-to-face with just one other person. If invited to an interview, the employer has already established that you have the skills and education necessary for the position. The interviewer wants to see if you will fit in with the organization and how your skills will complement the rest of the department. Your goal in a one-on-one interview is to establish rapport with the interviewer and show him or her that your qualifications will benefit the organization.
  • Committee Interviews require that you face several members of the organization at one time. Each committee member generally has a say in whether you are hired, and they will take turns asking questions. Take your time responding, and try to find a way to connect with each person. Maintain eye contact primarily with the person who asked the question, but also look around the room and connect with the other committee members as you respond.
  • Group Interviews gather the front-runner candidates together in an informal, discussion-type interview.  This type of interview is designed to gauge the leadership potential and interpersonal skills of the candidates. The interviewer will notice how you interact with others and use your knowledge and reasoning powers to influence others.
  • Lunch Interviews are especially difficult because in addition to worrying about interview questions and your answers, you need to be aware of your table manners, too! The setting may be more casual, but remember it is an interview and you are being watched carefully. Use the lunch interview to develop common ground with your interviewer. Follow his or her lead in both food selection and in etiquette. 
  • Stress Interviews are a deliberate attempt to see how you handle yourself in an uncomfortable situation. The interviewer may be sarcastic, argumentative, purposely silent, or may keep you waiting.  Remain patient and calmly answer each question as it is asked.  Request clarification if you need it and never rush into an answer.  If the interviewer lapses into silence, recognize this as an attempt to unnerve you.  Sit still and remain silent until the interviewer resumes asking questions.
  • Online Interviews are very common as employers try to save time and money. If asked to do an online interview (i.e. Zoom, Skype), make sure that you are in a well-lit room with no shadows. Dress professionally, sit up straight, and look at the camera and smile. As tempting as it might be, don’t repeatedly look at yourself to check your appearance. Make sure the setting behind you is neat, clean, and organized.
  • Research the organization and the position. Find out as much key information as you can about the organization and its products, services, and customers. The more you know about the organization and the job, the better impression you will make in the interview. Things to know: mission/vision, annual sales, size/structure of the organization, locations, competitors, history, etc.
  • Be prepared to sell yourself. Show enthusiasm, interest, and confidence. Know yourself and what you have to offer to the employer.
  • Review lists of common interview questions and practice your answers out loud.
  • Identify two or three of your top selling points. Determine how you will best convey them.
  • Be prepared to provide examples of when things did not turn out as planned. What did you do?
  • Review your résumé. Identify examples of situations where you have demonstrated the behaviors a given organization seeks.
  • Rehearse your responses. You should be able to convey all pertinent details about yourself in 15 minutes. Tape yourself to check your diction, speed, and body language.
  • Research current salary ranges for similar positions. If the employer asks, you should have a general idea of how much an entry-level employee earns doing similar work. It is safest to give a range (i.e. $25,000-$30,000).
  • Prepare a list of questions to ask the employer, as that shows you are interested and engaged.
  • Prepare your interview materials and have several copies of your résumé, a copy of your references, and, if appropriate, any work samples on hand. Make sure all are updated.
  • Know what you want and why. Don’t be afraid to let the employer know that you want the job.

Before the Interview

  • Be on time, preferably 5-7 minutes early. Do not be tempted to arrive too early. You will be in the way if they are not ready for you.
  • Dress professionally and conservatively. You will be judged in some respects by what you wear.
  • Bring a pen and notepad to jot down anything you may need to remember.
  • Be positive and respectful when meeting others.
  • Be confident. Have a firm handshake, make eye contact, and be aware of your posture.

During the Interview

  • Show self-confidence and establish a rapport with the interviewer.
  • Make eye contact, maintain proper posture, listen carefully, and respond in a clear voice.
  • Be aware of any distracting overdone gestures (e.g., talking with your hands, raising your eyebrows).
  • Avoid slang and use correct grammar.
  • Relax! Take deep breaths, pause before answering questions, and stay calm.
  • Ask the employer 2-3 questions at the end of the interview.

After the Interview

  • End with a handshake, if appropriate, and thank the interviewer.
  • Ask for the employer’s business card if you haven’t received it already.
  • Send a thank you note within 24 hours of the interview.
  • Follow up with a phone call within 7-10 days of the interview.
  • Review your performance during the interview. Look for ways to improve next time.

Whatever the type of interview, you can be certain that the employer will be asking questions and that you will be expected to respond! Some questions will be general with straightforward answers. Other questions are likely to require more reflection; they could target past performance and behaviors and will require you to recall specific situations and your reactions.

When answering questions:

  • Always make eye contact!
  • Listen carefully to the question, ask for clarification if necessary, and make sure you completely answer the question that was asked.
  • Use specific and detailed responses, not general responses. Whenever possible, use the STAR method to frame your response.  This method provides a logical approach to answering any question:
    • S: Situation, T: Task
      • Describe the situation that you were in or the task that you needed to accomplish. Provide enough detail for the interviewer to understand.  Quantify your results with numbers to illustrate your level of authority and responsibility.  (Rather than “I was a shift supervisor,” explain that “As a shift supervisor, I trained and evaluated 4 employees.”)
    • A: Action
      • Describe the action you took and be sure to keep the focus on you.  Even if you are discussing a group project or effort, describe what you did—not the efforts of the team.  Don't tell what you might do—tell what you did. 
    • R: Results
      • Describe what happened or how the situation ended.  Focus on your accomplishments and what you learned.  

Describe the situation that you were in or the task that you needed to accomplish. Provide enough detail for the interviewer to understand.  Quantify your results with numbers to illustrate your level of authority and responsibility.  (Rather than “I was a shift supervisor,” explain that “As a shift supervisor, I trained and evaluated 4 employees.”)

Describe the action you took and be sure to keep the focus on you.  Even if you are discussing a group project or effort, describe what you did—not the efforts of the team.  Don't tell what you might do—tell what you did.

Describe what happened or how the situation ended.  Focus on your accomplishments and what you learned.  

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Dress Code for Women
  • Wear a two-piece business suit in a dark or neutral color
  • Avoid ill-fitting (short, tight, clingy, or slit) skirts; skirts should be no higher than your knee when you are standing.
  • When choosing a shirt, select a classic, tailored blouse in cotton or silk fabric. Conservative necklines are extremely important; low-cut tops and other revealing clothing will ruin your chances to make a professional appearance.
  • Wear simple classic heels with a closed heel and toe (black, navy, brown, or taupe).
  • Always wear hosiery that matches your skin tone—no bare legs
  • Jewelry should be worn in moderation (only 1 ring on each hand, watch, earrings, bracelets, or necklaces in 14 karat gold or sterling silver; no costume jewelry).
  • Grooming tips: hair should be natural color, if not, beware of off-colored or contrasting roots; if hair is longer or your style is flowing and wispy, wear it pulled back away from your face; no visible body piercing beyond conservative ear piercing's; no visible tattoos; make-up should be natural; avoid perfume, use deodorant only; nails should be well manicured, clear nail polish is best. DO NOT SMOKE before your interview.
  • Carry a briefcase and/or portfolio to enhance your overall professional appearance; accessories should be quality leather investments, black or tan in color (it is recommended that you do not carry a handbag in addition to the briefcase).
  • If using breath mints, finish before greeting the recruiter; do not use gum.
  • When in doubt about how to dress for an interview, dress conservatively and professionally.

Dress Code for Men

  • Wear a dark tailored suit (navy, charcoal, or gray are recommended).
  • Wear a starched long-sleeved white shirt to give a more professional appearance.
  • Invest in an updated silk tie with a tasteful, conservative pattern. A Four in Hand Knot (check out a how to video on YouTube).
  • Match your belt with the color of your shoes (black or brown).
  • Make sure your shoes are polished and your socks coordinate with your suit. Avoid light colored socks with a dark suit.
  • Jewelry should be worn in moderation (wedding ring and/or class ring, watch).
  • Grooming tips: cleanly shaven or neatly trimmed facial hair; clipped fingernails; hair freshly cut, not below base of neck; no visible body piercing's or tattoos; avoid cologne and aftershave, use only deodorant. DO NOT SMOKE before your interview.
  • Carry a briefcase and/or portfolio to enhance your overall professional appearance; accessories should be quality leather investments, black or tan in color.
  • If using breath mints, finish before greeting the recruiter; do not use gum.
  • When in doubt about how to dress for an interview, dress conservatively and professionally.
  • Do not button the bottom button of your suit jacket.

By reviewing interview questions, you will become more familiar with your own qualifications and will be well prepared to demonstrate how you can benefit an employer. Don’t try to memorize answers to these questions.

  • Tell me about yourself.
  • What are your strengths and weaknesses?
  • What makes you stand out among your peers?
  • How do you determine or evaluate success?
  • What college subjects did you like best? Least?  Why?
  • What motivates you?
  • Where do you see yourself in five years?
  • What qualities should a successful manager possess?
  • Why did you select your college or university?
  • What led you to choose your major or field of study?
  • Why did you choose the career for which you are preparing?
  • In what kind of work environment are you most comfortable?
  • How do you think you can contribute to our organization?
  • What have you learned from participating in extracurricular activities?
  • What are the most important rewards you expect in your career?
  • What has been your most rewarding experience in college?

 Use the STAR method to practice your answers to these sample questions:

  • Tell me about a time when you had to go beyond the call of duty to get a job done.
  • Describe a situation in which you were able to persuade someone to see things your way.
  • Give me a specific example of a time when you used good judgment to solve a problem.
  • By providing examples, convince me that you can adapt to a wide variety of people, situations, and environments.
  • Tell me about a good decision you made recently.
  • Describe a situation in which you worked as part of a team.
  • Give an example of a goal you reached and explain how you achieved it.
  • Describe a decision you made that was unpopular and how you implemented it.
  • What do you do when your schedule is interrupted? Give an example of how you handle it.
  • Have you had to convince a team to work on a project they weren't thrilled about? How did you do it?
  • Have you handled a difficult situation with a classmate, co-worker, or supervisor? How?
  • Tell me about how you worked effectively under pressure.
  • Give me an example of a complex process or task you had to explain to another person or group of people.
  • Talk about a recent problem you faced at work and how you found the best solution.

 

Employers will be expecting you to be prepared to ask 2-3 thoughtful questions. The questions you ask distinguish you from the other candidates. In some cases, your questions are more likely to be remembered than any answers you provide. Never inquire about salary, benefits, and/or company perks at an interview!

  • Can you tell me what a typical day would be like?
  • Can you explain the typical career path of someone entering this position?
  • How often are performance reviews given?
  • Does this organization promote from within?
  • How much exposure to, and contact with, management is there?
  • What are the commonly experienced satisfactions and frustrations of this job?
  • What types of training programs do you incorporate?
  • Some of my strong characteristics that I believe are applicable to this position are_______. What specific characteristics are you looking for?
  • Where did the person who previously held this job go?

Practice your introduction. “Winging it” is not a very wise plan of action, especially when a potential job is at stake. You’ll project confidence and charisma during your introduction if you are comfortable with what you are saying. The words you say, and your overall manner and confidence are ccritical components to the successful introduction. Your confidence and personality should be obvious in a professional way, not in an exaggerated or cocky way.

Incorporate positive nonverbal communications, such as eye contact, facial expressions, body language, posture, etc. A mirror, a friend, and/or a career services staff member are all good practice partners. Ask for constructive criticism and try it again.

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Most employers would prefer a student with a 3.0 grade point average who has experience from internships, part-time jobs, volunteer activities, community service and/or extracurricular activities than a student with a 4.0 who was not involved while going to college. Each year the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) publish a top ten list of skills/qualities employers seek. Below is the ranked order list. 

  1. Ability to verbally communicate with persons inside and outside the organization.
  2. Ability to work in a team structure.
  3. Ability to make decisions and solve problems.
  4. Ability to plan, organize and prioritize work. 
  5. Ability to obtain and process information.
  6. Ability to analyze quantitative data.
  7. Technical knowledge related to the job.
  8. Proficiency with computer software program.
  9. Ability to create and/or edit written reports.
  10. Ability to sell or influence others.

The skill that employers report as lacking the most is the ability to communicate effectively in both written and oral form. Employers also report that a majority of new hires lack initiative. Some students have a difficult time grasping the concept of initiative and what it really means. It's important for students to understand that initiative means going above and beyond the call of duty. Employers love when students do more than is expected of them, see a need and meet it, and who not wait to be told every move they need to make. You can play an important role in encouraging your student to be this type of employee.  

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