Interviews are stressful. And awkward. And intimidating. They also happen to be that one thing standing between you and your dream internship.
The trick to having an amazing interview is all about preparation. Sure, you should know the job description before heading into that office, but you should also know yourself. I’ve interviewed with everyone from small start-ups (like Her Campus!) to media giants like AOL. I’ve seen the Hearst Tower in Manhattan and the Puma headquarters in Massachusetts. My point? No matter how many interviews you have, those nerves will always be there. But with a little preparation and tips from some interview experts (and a few deep breaths), you can leave that interview knowing that you did the absolute best that you could.
1. Research the Company
This one is kind of a no-brainer, but to really set yourself apart from all those other candidates, you need to do more than just surf around the company’s website. Look at their most recent press releases, their annual report and any social media accounts that they use. All of these aspects will give you an idea of what the company’s mission is and how they interact with their customers. Gary Miller, assistant director of UNC’s Career Services, suggests doing “a news search to see if there are current events that involve them or the industry. If you have time, try to find someone within the organization to talk to about the company.”
Many universities also have business databases available to students for no charge. Check with your school’s library to see what resources they may have. LexisNexis and Hoovers are both great ways to learn about different industries.
No matter how much you do, “don’t even begin to think you know it all—you don’t and you can’t,” Rick Gillis reminds us. All you can do is be as prepared as possible.
2. Research the Job
No excuses: know the job description backwards and forwards. What skills are they looking for? What experience do you have that you can apply to the position? For each qualification listed, you should be able to explain why you have the skills that they are looking for. My favorite way to prepare stories for an interview is to pick apart the job description and make lists. Take a sheet of paper and list every quality, trait or skill that is mentioned and then list the corresponding experience that you have for each.
By jotting everything down in a notebook you’ll have everything organized and you won’t drive yourself crazy trying to remember everything!
3. Research the Interviewer
Put those well-honed Facebooking skills to good use! Almost everyone in the professional world has a LinkedIn profile (and you should too if you don’t already!). Look up anyone in the company whom you’ve had contact with, or whose name you’ve heard mentioned. According to Northeastern University’s Career Services office, “it is completely appropriate to ask, ‘with whom will I be meeting?’”
If you’ve never used LinkedIn, there are a few main points to look for in any profile that you’re viewing.
- The information at the top of each profile will tell you current and past work experience, as well as their education history (maybe they’re even an alum of your school!)
- Some profiles will have websites listed as well—sometimes there will even be portfolios, Twitter accounts and personal blogs linked
- At the very bottom you may be able to see what year they graduated college as well, and with what degree(s)
Being able to walk into interview knowing the age, education and job history of the person you’re meeting with will really help calm your nerves—and also allow you to prepare accordingly!
4. Know Your Strengths and Weaknesses
Miller suggests not only reflecting on your professional strengths and weaknesses, but also preparing to talk about them. “If you go into an interview without having reflected on your experiences and made connections between those experiences and your skill sets, you’ll struggle more when prompted with an interview question. So, know those stories!”
Are you more analytical or creative? Do you work better independently or in teams? It’s important to relay to the interviewer exactly what you can bring to the position. “The days of “I am seeking a rewarding and challenging career” are over. Instead use “I am capable of _____________” and fill in the blank. Make yourself compelling and memorable by speaking to the company’s needs—not yours. By doing so the rest will work itself out,” advises Gillis.
5. “Pick Three”
Although there is never a way to predict or control an interview completely, Laura Lane, another member of UNC’s Career Services, suggests having a few points prepared that you make sure to talk about. “Always have three points or strengths about yourself to convey to the employer, no matter how the interview goes.” These “three” can be anything from a club that you’re in charge of at school, a big project that you worked on at your last internship or even a study abroad trip. Have a few stories rehearsed that really show why you’re unique and would be a great asset to their team.
By having a few major strengths rehearsed, along with stories to illustrate them, you won’t leave the interview wishing that you had said more. If there is no convenient time to share your main points during the interview, they can be a perfect way to wrap up the interview and impress the interviewer.
The only other “must” is to ask for a business card before you leave. You should always send a thank-you email after an interview to the people that you met with, and you’ll need their business card to ensure that you have all of their contact information correct. As the interview nears an end, you’ll get that flood of relief and be anxious to kick off your heels—but don’t let that get the best of you. Always, always, always ask for a business card.
6. Practice, Practice, Practice
Practice with your roommate, your parents, your advisors—everyone! “Interviewing is a skill, and as such repetition builds confidence,” says Miller. Many colleges even offer workshops and hold mock interviews to help you prepare for any question that may get thrown your way. Be sure to check your school’s career services website as you might be surprised what they offer!
While you practice, pay attention to those “ums” and “uhs” that we all fall victim to. Lane suggests taking “a few seconds to gather your thoughts to form an answer to a question as opposed to filling the dead air space with filler words.” Not sure if this is a problem? Have an audio recorder or webcam on hand while you practice so you can go back and listen to yourself afterwards.
The other advantage of practicing with someone is that they can also indentify any nervous habits you may have. A lot of times, our personal habits (especially those nervous ticks) are so engrained in our behavior that we don’t even notice. For example, when I’m uncomfortable I have a tendency to play with the hair elastics that are always on my wrist. After a couple interviews I finally learned to take everything off of my wrists before getting to an interview!
7. Do a “Dress Rehearsal”
Just like practicing your responses will ease your nerves, so will practicing the physical act of getting to the interview. “Walk or drive by the building where the interview is taking place so that you will know how to get there, where to park and how long it will take you to arrive there,” advises Lane. Also, be sure to give yourself extra time to account for any unexpected problems, like traffic or bad weather.
Sometimes, your interview will require an all-day trip and will obviously take a little bit more planning. Last fall I had two interviews in New York City scheduled on the same day. The only problem was that I live in Boston, and at that time I had never even been to Manhattan before. Needless to say, I was a little nervous. My one tip of advice: don’t be embarrassed to enlist your parents for help.
No matter how independent I am, there was no better nerve-calmer than having my Dad with me for the day in Manhattan. He sat with me in the Starbucks next door to the office while I practiced, wandered around Union Square while I interviewed and sat in rush hour traffic (both ways) to get me to and from the city.
So whether you rely on a map, your GPS, or your father, plan ahead for everything and anything that may hinder your commute.
8. Plan Ahead for Everything
If you’re driving to your interview, you have the convenience of being able to leave things in your car. I always bring my laptop, an umbrella, my makeup bag, etc. Having everything on hand helps to take some stress away because you don’t have to worry about forgetting anything at home.
Be sure to always have extra copies of your resume on hand, a few pens and a notepad. No matter how prepared you are, there’s always a chance that you’ll end up meeting with more people that you anticipated. I always feel better when I have my laptop with me as well. There have been numerous occasions that I’ve been early to interviews and sat in my car using the free WiFi from a shopping center next door. Maybe that sounds a little bit embarrassing, but it’s nice to know that if you need to double check anything you can!
Relying on public transportation to get to your interview? Opt for a bag or purse that is a professional style in a basic color (black is always the safest best). Make sure that you can zip everything up into the bag so that you come across pulled-together rather than a messy bag lady.
9. Have an Amazing Outfit—and a Back-up
Try everything on the day before the interview to make sure that everything is ironed, clean and fits correctly. According to Northeastern University, you should “dress professionally, even if you know that dress is casual in the company where you are interviewing.” After numerous interviews, I’ve found that dressing comfortably is a huge help with nerves. Now I’m not suggesting yoga pants and a T-shirt, but stay away from too-tight button-up shirts and uncomfortable pencil skirts. You’ll have a much more enjoyable interview if you aren’t adjusting your clothing the whole time.
Although standards may differ slightly by major, you can never be ‘overdressed’ for an interview. It is always better to opt for a suit and be overdressed than to not look professional enough. Remember, “as soon as you enter the office, you are being assessed based on your appearance and behavior.”
10. And Remember, Just Breathe
On your way to the interview, listen to your favorite music to calm those last-minute nerves. Lauren Berger, founder of Intern Queen Inc., suggests “some dance music. If it were me—Britney Spears would be on!” Don’t down three cups of coffee out of anxiousness before you arrive—the key to a great interview is just staying cool and collected (not on caffeine overload).
Miller reminds us, “Just remember that the person who is interviewing you is just a person. Obviously the stakes feel higher, but the more you can think of an interview as a conversation between two people, then the less stressful the situation might feel.”
Do your research, practice and plan ahead for everything. The more prepared you are, the less stressful the day of the interview will be. Lane adds, “Be positive, be confident and answer questions matter-of-factly.” Don’t let an expected question or difficult interviewer throw you off your game—just stay calm, take a deep breath and have an amazing interview.
Berger’s tips for the best interview are simple: “Shake the interviewer’s hand firmly. Make eye contact. Don’t look away. Don’t look bored. Be yourself. Avoid one-word answers, explain yourself clearly. Knock ‘em dead!”
Interviews are a fact of life and we’ll all have good and bad ones throughout our careers. The trick is to take advantage of all of the great resources that you have at your fingertips – Her Campus, your Career Services, social media and a ton of practice. Don’t be afraid to ask people for advice, especially if they’ve had experience in the industry that you’d like to work in. If you prepare and practice as best you can, the only thing left to do is go into that interview and show them that you’re amazing, talented and the best fit for their company.
Gary Miller, assistant director, UNC Career Services
Laura Lane, UNC Career Services
Lauren Berger, founder of Intern Queen