How to Stand Out in an Interview

The biggest hurdle after graduating with a college degree is applying for and landing a job.

But many recent graduates, whether they studied online or on campus, may not have much experience with a vital skill when it comes to landing a job – the all-important job interview.

A job interview can be intimidating. It’s the only chance to make a first impression and may be impossible to change. That can be great if you make a good one, but not so great if you don’t.

So, here’s some guidance on how to get yourself ready.

Be Prepared. You should know as much as possible about a potential employer before sitting down for the interview. Research the employer and company officials online. Get an idea how the company is structured and look for reviews. Have an understanding of the industry and where that specific company fits. Check news sites for articles about the company and the industry.

Have a Strategy. What’s the most important information you want to convey to a potential employer during an interview? What qualities do you have that will benefit the company or advance its performance? Before you set foot inside the interview room, know what you want to say and how you want to say it. Practice your introduction so it becomes second nature. People like stories, but if you decide to share an anecdotal moment from your past, be concise and stay on point. Don’t ramble. The first 30 seconds of an interview can be the most critical, and if you present with confidence, a clear voice and a comfortable demeanor, the rest should fall into place.

Emphasize but Don’t Overstate. Play up your potential. Point to instances where you have demonstrated the ability to learn quickly and adapt to changing circumstances. Don’t be boastful and don’t try to oversell your abilities. If you make a statement, be prepared to back it up with real-world experience. Depending on the position, it may help to take your portfolio so you can point to specific examples of your work when discussing your experience or ability. If someone at the company referred you, find a way to mention that individual without looking like you’re just dropping a name.

Look the Part. Presenting a professional appearance may seem superficial, but many employers expect employees to look a certain way, so dress professionally and show you take the interview and job seriously. Shake hands firmly but not aggressively. Make and maintain eye contact. Don’t be afraid to smile or even laugh if the interviewer makes a joke. If more than one person is present for the interview, introduce yourself to everyone and make sure you take note of names.

Be Enthusiastic, Not Frantic. Employers understand that job interviews can be stressful, but don’t let your nerves get the best of you. Employers also like employees who are excited about their job. But don’t allow your enthusiasm to come across as over-the-top or insincere.

Prepare for Tough Questions. Some employers will focus on things that you don’t like to discuss – a series of short stints at different jobs, a gap in work history or other possible blemishes. You should not be surprised if you’re asked about an obvious issue, and you should respond directly to the question, but not in great detail. If the interviewer asks a follow-up question, have a longer, more detailed response ready. Don’t act surprised and don’t try to shrug it off as if it’s not important.

Don’t Jump Out When the Car is Moving. Job interviews are impossible to predict. You can plan and prepare for days and then be caught completely off guard by the interviewer’s demeanor or even the environment where the interview takes place. A good rule is not to try to speak over the person asking the questions. Don’t rush your answers. Be patient and attentive and maintain a measured, casual, professional demeanor and tone. If it’s clear that the interview is going poorly, don’t give up. Fight the urge to overthink and instead focus on giving the best possible answer to the next question you receive.

Turn off Your Phone. This is common sense, but has to be said. If you must take your phone into the interview, make sure it’s turned off rather than set to vibrate, or the interviewer will still know you got a call or text and wonder what could be more important to you than the interview. If possible, leave the phone in your car. If that’s impossible, keep it in a briefcase, pocket or purse, but still be sure it is off.

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