This article was inspired by a student I worked with this week. “Joe” actually contacted the Career Development Office several weeks ago about doing a mock interview; but with Thanksgiving break and travel, we actually could not get together to meet until the very day just before the interview. When he came into my office my initial first impression was that he was a very bright student who will be very successful once he lands a job. Since first impressions are such an important part of the interviewing process, I initially thought that he would have absolutely no problem conducting a successful interview. All the nonverbal cues were positive – firm handshake, direct eye contact, and erect but not stiff posture as he set himself down in the chair.
Then we began the interview and oh boy did I immediately find out that I was wrong. The very first question, “Please tell me about yourself”, went right downhill in a landslide. I was a direct witness to his discomfort and he then proceeded to tell me that he was very nervous. After squirming in his chair a little, he started listing all of his previous internships and jobs as he read them directly off his resume. Usually I wait until the end of a mock interview to critique; but in this case, I knew I had to do some serious coaching to help him be successful in his interview that was taking place the very next day.
Although I did tell him that it was ok to refer to his resume, he did not want to appear that he was reading it like a book while answering the interviewer’s questions. I let him know that we wanted to keep his answers focused on his skills and accomplishments but that it was also important with this question to let a little bit of his personality shine through. Initially he had a hard time figuring out what he should say and I realized he was really over thinking the process.
After much coaching he was able to answer the questions something like this, “I have always found myself very interested in numbers and found my math and accounting classes particularly easy in both high school and college. While many of my friends had difficulty mastering these courses, I was able grasp the concepts quickly and found that I really enjoyed the problem-solving process. In addition to math, I have found my college classes in philosophy and psychology particularly interesting as well.“
”One course that I found particularly interesting in college is my introductory business and management course where we the assignment was to work with a real company and help them to create a new business plan and strategize how to make the company more successful. The project culminated with a group presentation before several of the company’s executives. After I completed this course I was asked by a faculty member to become a coach for the class the following year. I find that I really enjoy working in a team environment but problem-solving independently motivates me as well. I have always been interested in sports and I was captain of my high school hockey and football team and have continued with hockey during my time in college. I find that the time I’ve participated in sports has really helped me to develop strong leadership skills and I enjoy the comraderie that the team environment offers as well. I consider myself to be very well-rounded and enjoy many interests which I believe will be a strong asset if I were to be selected for this position.”
Since the student was applying for a job in finance, what he decided to tell the employer were definitely the skills and accomplishments that an employer would want to know about a candidate when hiring someone in a position such as this.
It was as if a light had been switched on and surprisingly he ended up answering the remainder of the questions very confidently and to the point. One he found his momentum, he did great. He mentioned that he had practiced the same question the night before with a friend and that he froze much in the same way that he had in my office. After our mock interview he practiced one more time with a friend the night before the interview and today he came into the office and said he got the job.
Again I can’t stress enough the importance of practicing before an interview. Practicing with a friend or relative can be very helpful as well as making an appointment to do a mock interview with a career counselor in the Career Development Center at your college. Since many employers use behavioral interviewing questions over the course of the interview, it’s crucial that the answers to these questions be thought of prior to the interview. I thoroughly believe in the importance of practicing out loud even if it means being alone in a room and reading the questions to yourself and then answering them out loud.