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Career Tips: How to Ace an Interview

Preparing for an interview doesn’t have to be a nightmare. It’s one step closer to achieving your dreams.

Okay, so you’ve found your perfect internship, and the company is interested…or maybe you have to prepare for an interview for a competitive study abroad program…now what?? Chances are, you’re going to have to prove yourself to the company or admissions officers in some way. More often than not, that process involves at least one interview. Typically you’ll have to go through a phone interview and maybe even a second interview in person.

Preparing for an interview can be nerve wracking, but it doesn’t have to be. You’ve already proven something to the company, and you have their interest. Now you just need to fully sell yourself to them. It’s important to remember how qualified you are. Know that the interviewers want to see you succeed, and they’re not out to get you. However, if you’re still feeling a little stuck, here are some handy tips to get you through the whole thing from preparation to follow up:

Preparing for the Interview:
  • Know Yourself: Take time to think about your strengths and weaknesses. Really think about what it is that you bring to this position.

  • Research and Know the Field: Compare similar positions and dig into what kind of work you will be doing. It’s important to know if the position is truly right for you.

  • Research and Know the Organization: Impress your interviewer with your knowledge of the company. You should know their mission and their values. You don’t want to waste the interviewers time asking obvious questions about the company that could be easily googled.

  • Read the Job Description Thoroughly: Highlight the necessary qualifications in order to use those buzz words throughout the interview.

  • Practice Interview Questions: Practice makes perfect. Research common questions (I have a few to get you started below). Enlist a roommate or friend to sit down and ask you questions. This will ease the anxiety and help you feel prepared. Some school career centers even offer mock interviewing. Take advantage of all your resources.

Make a 30 Second Pitch:

A lot of people call this “the elevator pitch.” If you’re in the elevator with a top executive of your dream company, what do you tell them about yourself before they get off? Thinking about your 30 second pitch will help you answer the common question, “tell me about yourself.” The answer to that question doesn’t mean mention your three cats or your entire history. Here’s how to structure the pitch:

  • Keep it short and professional

  • Mention your degree and when you’re graduating

  • Inform them of what you’ve been involved in and how that relates to the position

  • Specifically state why you’re qualified for the industry

  • Indicate your projected career path

The Interview (Common Questions):

It’s good to know what to expect. While you can’t entirely predict what you’ll be asked in an interview, you can at least be prepared for some common questions you may encounter:

  • Tell me about yourself

  • What are your strengths and weaknesses?

  • How will your education help you in this position/program?

  • Why are you interested in working for our company?

  • Why did you choose this career?

  • What job do you want in 2-3 years?

  • Why should we hire you?

Some of these are more straightforward than others. A lot of people are intimidated by the weaknesses question. Don’t be. It’s all a matter of spinning it appropriately. Don’t use the “I’m a perfectionist answer.” You’re on the right track with the idea of spinning it into a positive, but you want to make yourself unique and memorable.  Instead, say something like “my relative inexperience compared to others may be a weakness, but I am a quick learner and feel prepared for the position based on [reasons why you’re awesome].” You still answered the question but used it as an opportunity to sell more of your strengths. That’s the way to do it!

Behavioral Based Interviews:

A new form of interviewing has emerged recently, and it’s based on the idea that past behaviors indicate future performance. In this type of interview, you will be asked to describe a situation. I’ll detail how to format your answer in a moment, but just as an example here are a few potential questions (I recommend googling more if you’re preparing for this type of interview):

  • Tell me about a time you failed.

  • Tell me about a time you made an unpopular decision and had to convince others you were right.

  • Tell me about a time you had too much on your plate and how you handled it.

  • Tell me about a time you lost someone’s trust and had to earn it back.

  • Tell me about a time you missed a deadline.

These questions can definitely be intimidating, but the key is to keep your answer focused and follow a simple formula called “STAR.” Once you have your example prepared, use the STAR formula to answer:

SITUATION: Provide some background information and frame the story.

TASK: Describe what needed to happen.

ACTION: Inform the interviewer what you did to make that happen.

RESULT: List the results focusing on what you learned and what others did.

The most important part of this formula is action and result. Don’t spend too much time on the background information.  The interviewer is most interested in what it was you did and what happened as a result.

Phone Interview Tips

It’s really a matter of personal preference, but here are a few things I try to do any time I have a phone interview:

  • Have pen and paper to take notes

  • Warm up your voice

  • Find somewhere comfortable to talk

  • Turn off any background noises

  • Dress professionally to feel confident

  • Smile. Even if your interviewer can’t see you, they can hear your confidence in your voice.

Watch

And now the waiting game begins…

Interview Follow Up Questions

At the end of the interview, you have time to ask questions about the company. Use this time wisely! Always ask something. You want to show you’re interested. However, don’t ask obvious questions that could be easily googled. Try to be personal. Here’s a few to get you started:

  • What is your favorite thing about working for [company]?

  • How would you describe the office environment?

  • How would you describe an ideal employee?

  • What kind of work can I expect to be doing the first year? What opportunities are there for growth?

  • What are the next steps in the hiring process?

Post Interview
  • Follow up within 24 hours, but wait a few hours before contacting. Don’t send a thank you as soon as you hang up or walk out of the office, but be prompt.

  • Let it go: you’re only going to make yourself anxious if you continue to think about it all the time before hearing any news. Try to keep yourself busy for the next two to three weeks or whatever the hiring process term may be. It’s certainly easier said than done, but it will keep you sane.

Courtney Guth

University of Maryland | 31 stories

Courtney Guth is a senior English major at the University of Maryland College Park actively seeking an answer to the age-old question, “so what are you going to do with that?” Her answer currently involves working in communications and development for a small non-profit in Washington, D.C. If she’s not exploring the nation’s capital, she’s probably watching an old movie, attempting to cook, or losing her voice at a Maryland Terrapins’ game. She believes the adage that “the world is a book, and those who do not travel only read one page” but why just read when you can write?


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