How To Land That First “Professional” Job – Interview Prep

Now that we have applied for targeted job opportunities we should have generated interest in our newly acquired skills (recent college graduate). At this point we will undoubtedly receive requests for interviews. There are 2 types we will explore in this and the following post(s).

  1. The phone interview
  2. The face-to-face interview

First, let’s get it on our calendar…

Scheduling and Logistics

While this may seem basic, the first step is to specifically nail down the date, time, type and logistics of the interview. When I say logistics, I’m referring to the interviewer and job seeker agreeing on:

  • If a phone interview: who is calling who, at what number
  • If a face-to-face interview: attire, specific address, final step directions (don’t assume your GPS will “always” take you there – it may not, and you don’t want to be late), parking, meeting location (reception area, or otherwise?), who to ask for, etc.

These activities are often scheduled via email which “can be” very effective. However, the risk is that the recruiter or job seeker may not make effective use of email. That is, one or the other may not clearly communicate details, questions or intentions and/or may not respond promptly to a scheduling-related inquiry.

Do not take this lightly…At this stage, an email could be worth $50,000 to $80,000.

Realize job-seeker: this is ALL on you! Own it! That is, if the scheduling of a meeting (phone screen or face-to-face) gets hosed-up because of a misstep in communications, assume the worst case: you have lost the opportunity. So, take 100% control of the communications, in terms of making sure you know SPECIFICALLY what is expected, where, when and with whom. If there is even the slightest bit of ambiguity – get it cleared up!

Preparation – It’s all about questions. Their’s and Your’s!

Their Questions

Any good interviewer (recruiter, hiring manager and/or stakeholder) will have a standard set of “starter” questions. Prior to participating in an interview it is important to have solid and well-rehearsed answers to these.

Here is a standard set of questions I typically ask candidates, as well as some notes related to each.

  1. So, what do you know about us?
    • By now you should have scoured their website. And, if applicable, spoken with someone who works there. Share what you know, clearly indicating that “this is my understanding and I’d like to learn more.”
  2. Why are you interested in us?
    • Make this about them. Something like: “[Company name] seems to be a growing company with lots of opportunity to [better the world via a “play” on the company’s mission statement or core objectives documented on the firm’s “About Us” page].” And, indicate, why this is interesting / exciting to you.
  3. Why do you feel you are qualified for the position?
    • Something like the following: “I feel that the combination of my skills and unique experiences (you’ll want to describe what these are) are a good match for you, to help meet your goals and objectives (you’ll want to be able to describe what you assume these to be, based on their “About Us”, building upon your response to the prior question). And, follow-up with the “why” to actually “connect” your skills and experiences with their goals and objectives.
  4. What are your strengths?
    • Think of 2-3 strengths that are in direct alignment with your ability to get the job done (think – making your boss’s job easier and making them look good).
    • Be prepared with specific examples demonstrating your strength in a business / project / work setting.
  5. What are your weaknesses?
    • “I don’t have any” is NOT an appropriate answer. We all have them.
    • When you share a weakness, don’t leave the interviewer hanging. Tell them how, because you know of the weakness, you deal with it to minimize/eliminate the impact that this has on the performance of your job!
  6. Tell me about the project / job / outcome that you are most proud of, and why?
    • The best examples here include a mix of how we used our “technical” skills to “push the limits” of our experience and training while at the same time overcoming SIGNIFICANT obstacles working in a team environment. And, it is a HUGE plus if we can demonstrate how we effectively took on a leadership role with or without being asked, out of project necessity, to get the job done.
  7. Tell me about a project / job / outcome that was a “crash and burn” and what you learned from it?
    • Guiding principle here: Regardless of the scenario, don’t point fingers.
    • Demonstrate how you handled and/or overcame it (if applicable) and what you learned so that the same scenario doesn’t recur.
    • Bottom-line: Take complete / 100% ownership!

The above are just a few starter questions to be prepared for. In addition, there will be a litany of other questions related to the “technical” aspects of the job and the domain / industry of the company that you will want to be prepared to respond to.

In responding to any of the questions it is good to be able to say “yes, I’ve done that” (when you can honestly say so), but more importantly you’ll want to be prepared for the follow-up question “Can you share an example of how and when you [did this, or that]?” And, if you clearly haven’t had any experience or training in the area, simply indicate so. Never lie! That said, a good follow-on to that would be to indicate how you are a quick learner, sharing an example of a situation in which this was called for.

By now, you hopefully have noticed a common theme in responding to many of the questions: be prepared to share concrete examples!

Your Questions

It is also important to prepare a number of questions that you can ask them, including:

  1. How long have you (interviewer) been working at, or with, this company?
  2. What do you like most about the company? What keeps you here, besides a paycheck?
  3. What are the key qualities you are looking for to fill this role?
  4. What are some of the key challenges others have had filling this role or you expect someone to have?
  5. Develop a few questions “on-the-fly” based on the discussion as well as what you see walking the building (if an onsite interview is taking place), such as:
    • Tell me about the culture and the working environment. I see lots of cubes. Is it “truly” an open / working environment. What about managers? Do they have cubes and/or an open-door policy?

And, finally…Until you are at the offer stage (after several interviews and you both have agreed to proceed to that step), do NOT ask questions such as the following, or you will KILL the opportunity:

  • How long before I am eligible for a vacation?
  • How many sick days do I get each year?
  • How long before I can be promoted, or get a raise?
  • How frequently can I take a smoke break?

Thoughts, in Closing…

Yep, this is “work”…That said…

Remember that they (the would-be employer) are just as motivated to attract good candidates (you) as you are in attracting good employers (them). As such, you are NOT the only person in the “hot seat.” While acknowledging this, always remain humble and confident!

Realize that how you handle the interview will determine “if” you get the job AND how much they are willing to offer, in the form of salary and benefits. Think about this as you prepare. Therefore, by leaving nothing to chance, you are more likely to land the job AND receive the maximum possible offer they are willing to make. Isn’t that exciting!!!

The next post(s) will share strategies to help nail the phone and face-to-face interviews.

All the best!

Click here for the next article in this series.

3 thoughts on “How To Land That First “Professional” Job – Interview Prep

  1. […] the common interview questions and those that you might expect to receive for the specific job, and the “potential” […]

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