College To Work – Building The Leader In You

preparing for job interviews after college

I was recently asked to help a college student prepare for interviewing, and it reminded me of how important it is to be well-prepared when looking for a job, especially transitioning out of college. In this blog post I provide several tips for the earliest leaders – those entering the professional workforce for the first time. This is your first shot at presenting yourself as a leader to your desired place of work.

Make your resume “pop” with accomplishments and leadership.

It’s very important to show all of your work experience that includes summer and seasonal jobs and internships. Organizations look for good work experience. But do not create a resume by describing your work experience as merely job responsibilities and duties. One sentence is enough to tell the reader the job that you held and to briefly describe it.

Your work experience should highlight the accomplishments you have had and the results that you have achieved. This is an important distinction between good resumes and the bad. This is also perhaps the biggest challenge that individuals have when they prepare their resumes. Why? Because many of us don’t give ourselves enough credit for how much we accomplished in a job.

I challenge you to think about that, though, and try to list accomplishments big or small. For example, were you recognized for something in particular that you did well? Were you complemented for your attendance? Did you finish a project ahead of schedule? Can you think of quantifiable results?

To supplement your jobs and work experience, think about experiences in the classroom and in your life outside of school. Did you assume the role of the team or project leader? What were the results that you and the team achieved? Were you in a volunteer role that you are proud of that required time and hard work and good results? Were you a leader or active participant of a student organization?

All of these areas need to be part of your resume. They may tell more of your whole story and help to paint a fuller picture of you as a job candidate.

Present yourself as a leader during your interview.

No matter what type of job you are interviewing for, it’s important to demonstrate leadership qualities so that you stand out from the other candidates being interviewed. What does “presenting yourself as a leader” look like?

Let’s start with a telephone interview. You will come across with confidence and a level of authority by the volume and tone and clarity of your voice. If you speak clearly and energetically using a good quality phone, your communication skills will be noticed. Your voice on the phone call is giving a first impression of you.

If you are quiet, mumble, lack enthusiasm, or talk so fast that the interviewer doesn’t understand you, you may come across as less prepared, less mature, and less engaged compared to other candidates. Try standing up when you do the phone interview. Standing will help your posture, breath and vocal projection.

Be as prepared as possible for the questions that may come your way. Organizations will ask you for specific examples of how you behaved, how you got the job done, results you achieved, and how you might handle various situations. While it’s difficult to know exactly what you’re going to be asked, the more thoroughly that you think about your background and results, the better prepared you will be.

That’s part of the purpose for preparing your resume with accomplishments. By preparing your resume that way, it forces you to think about your experiences and what occurred and what resulted. Be prepared to tell a few stories and give examples and share aspects of yourself with the interviewer in a conversation. Even if you don’t feel as confident about your academic performance or work experience, act as if you are very confident.

You have a lot to be proud of. I find many students underestimating how much they really have achieved. Do not overdo the confidence to the point of coming across egotistical, because high ego and arrogance can end the conversation quickly. A healthy dose of confidence, however, will make you stand out.

Be sincere and truthful. If you enter into an interview with a group of canned responses, the interviewer will pick up on that very quickly and may move on to other candidates. When you are asked a question, really listen to that question and answer thoughtfully. You may need to be silent for a minute or two to think about the question and how you will answer it. That actually shows a sign of strength, not weakness.

I’ve interviewed hundreds of college students, and those who showed sincerity and genuineness demonstrated that they were listening to my questions and engaged in a good conversation with me, not a pressured interview. I would rather have a candidate say they don’t know or that they don’t have a good answer rather than pull out a canned answer and flub their way through it and have their response not relate at all to what I asked.

Look like a Leader.

When you have the opportunity to meet face-to-face with the organization, err on the side of dressing up versus dressing down. It’s okay to dress business casual if the organization has a casual environment. In that case, you wouldn’t want to wear a fancy business suit to an interview in an organization where everyone wears blue jeans.

A good rule of thumb is to dress at least one step up from the dress of the workforce. If that organization has a business casual environment, wear a business suit. As you probably already are taught, make sure that your shoes are polished and not scuffed and that you wear clothing that does not wrinkle. This face-to-face interview is also giving a first impression of you. You absolutely want to look sharp, smart, and confident.

Your body language is going to leave them with an impression – you want it to be a positive, lasting impression, right? When you walk upright with shoulders back, a calm expression and a smile on your face, you will come across warm and genuine and someone they can see working in their environment. Shake the interviewer’s hand like you mean it – firm and with purpose. Make good eye contact with the interviewer in a way that connects you.

Demonstrate leadership in your questions.

The candidates who set themselves apart from others have been ones who ask very thoughtful questions. You can Google this topic and find numerous examples of good questions that you could ask on an interview. Remember that you are having a conversation. If you think about the interview in this way, it will lessen the stiffness that you might feel and it will open up your mind to ask some good questions.

Even asking the interviewer about their own career and what led them to the organization is a good question. An interviewer will pick up immediately by the questions you ask, whether you quickly glanced at the home page of their website or if you dug deeper into the organization because you are truly interested in working there.

Companies want to hire people who want to come and work for them. Don’t be surprised if you are asked that question -“why do you want to work for us?”The more you learn in advance about the organization, its products and services, its competition, its culture and people, the more questions will arise for you.

Write down your questions in advance so you have them in front of you. But listen actively to your conversation with the interviewer, because questions may arise for you out of the discussion that will demonstrate to the interviewer how well you are listening and that you genuinely desire to know more.

Let these tips continue to become part of the way you prepare and engage in your job search. And be reminded of how much you have accomplished, and that you are a leader beginning with the job search for your career. This is your time to shine with the future employer, so work hard at it and make the best of it.


Job Interview Photo via Shutterstock

Susan CucuzzaAbout The Guest Author: Susan Cucuzza is executive coach and founder of Live Forward LLC. She coaches executives in leadership style and effectiveness. Susan has led HR programs nationally and internationally in Fortune 500 companies for over 15 years, with special focus on leadership and talent development.

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