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June 2024
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What to Do at the Interview

Top tips to make you the candidate of choice.

By Jennifer L Blanck, DTM

Are you preparing for a job interview? Are you excited … or maybe nervous? Not sure what to expect? Maybe you feel like everything is riding on the interview—the job, your career, your life.

For college students interviewing for their first jobs, and anyone who hasn’t interviewed for a job in a long time, interviews can be an especially stressful and overwhelming experience. But they don’t have to be. Consider the following recommendations to give your best interview and present yourself as the candidate of choice.

Start Off Strong

Arrive at the location of your interview early—at least 10–15 minutes before the appointed time. That way, you can put the final polish on your appearance and feel calm when you walk through the door. Greet everyone you encounter with a smile and a firm handshake.

Don’t Assume Anything

People often assume that the interviewer remembers the applicant's resume and cover letter. Don’t fall into this trap. Ideally, the interviewer has had time to focus on your application before the interview, but all too often people are busy and this doesn’t happen.

For example, your interviewer may have met with a number of people that day. Maybe the person received your application from a human resources professional just before meeting with you. Or perhaps they read your resume the week before and haven’t revisited it since. If you assume the person knows what you have to offer, you will miss opportunities to present yourself as the strongest candidate possible.

When you greet the interviewer, offer a copy of your resume. They will likely have your resume in hand and decline. Only insist if it’s an updated resume with critical new information.

It Doesn’t Have to Be About Your Paid Experience

You don’t always have to have full-time work in the specific field to show relevant experience or skills.

Internships or volunteer positions can provide the opportunities you need to gain experience and demonstrate interest. When discussing your skills, experiences and accomplishments, don’t hesitate to use relevant anecdotes from all facets of your life. Even classroom activities, such as group projects, can provide good examples to employers of how you can contribute.

“Paid or unpaid experience is irrelevant to me,” says David Coffey, executive director of the Recovery Café, a nonprofit organization in Seattle, Washington. “What I’m listening for is do they truly care about this or are they saying what they think I want to hear; and what was the situation and how did they handle it. Someone who has been in a challenging situation and responded in a creative, dynamic way is the sort of person I want on my team.”

Be Yourself

“One of the most important recommendations for an interview is to be authentic,” notes Emmy Yokoyama, senior country officer for the Andean countries at the World Bank in Washington, D.C. “Otherwise, you could be lost in the middle of the conversation.”

You want to be positive and enthusiastic, but your words also need to sound natural. If you’re not being yourself, you won’t know if you’re the right fit. Remember, it’s just as important for you to decide whether you fit in there as it is for your potential employer to decide about you. If the interviewer is uncomfortable with the real you, then it’s a good indication that you should keep looking.

However, you want to be your most professional self at all times. Turn off your phone and other noisemakers. Stay focused on the interview and the interviewer.

“But don’t be too formal,” adds Yokoyama. “I remember a candidate who was too formal and looked nervous. I had a feeling he might collapse any moment and wanted to finish the conversation quickly. And now that we use video conferencing for interviews, it’s important for candidates to keep in mind that their behavior can be amplified.”

Interviewing can be stressful, but you can channel your nerves and be your best by keeping these ideas in mind. Stay tuned for more interviewing tips, including strategies for answering questions and what to ask employers.


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