Top five tips for your next interview

While May Term is a lot about fun and games, it’s also time to think about that big post-graduation interview. Whether you’re aiming to land a position at a career-building company, get into grad school, or just get a summer job, these tips from Derek Solheim, associate director of Pathways Center for Career Services, can help you be better prepared.

 

Know your audience.

Understand the focus and mission of the organization you’re interviewing at. Know what’s new and exciting about the organization. Know if they’re experiencing layoffs or slumps in sales. Research any relevant news items about the organization or ones like it.

“Everyone likes when you’ve taken time to research and know the culture,” Solheim said. “Look at the language the company uses. If they talk about community engagement, and your resume says ‘volunteer service,’ change your resume to match their language.”

 

Practice PAR for behavioral-based questions.

PAR stands for problem, action, result. Most behavioral-based questions follow this format. Solheim suggested making a “cheat sheet,” an Excel document that lists possible questions you could be asked, like, “Describe a time when you had an issue with a coworker,” or “Tell me about a time when you were overwhelmed with your work load.”

Then, create columns that list the problems for these situations, the actions you took and the results. Practice these answers over and over. That way you can keep an interview flowing when you’re asked a behavioral-based question.

Solheim said students can even take their cheat sheets to interviews. Just make sure you’re not reading from it and only glancing for a reminder. Solheim said there’s no reason to make up answers.

“The results part of PAR questions doesn’t always have to be positive,” Solheim said, “as long as you show personal growth in the situation.”

Senior Kendra Kregel recently interviewed for the occupational therapy graduate program at Creighton University.

“I was nervous about them asking me questions that I wasn’t prepared for. I was also worried that they wouldn’t like me, or I would say something they would think was not intelligent,” Kregel said.

Solheim also suggested practicing in front of a mirror or recording yourself. He said many people have mannerisms they don’t even realize.

 

Don’t focus on what you want out of the interview.

Even if you’re trying to climb the career ladder, employers want to know what you can do for them. Try to focus your answers on how your experiences can specifically benefit their company. Even a simple question like, “What’s you major?” can be an opportunity, Solheim said. “You could say, ‘I’m a biology major, but what you should know about me is that I’m involved on campus as a lab assistant and that’s helped prepare me for a position at your company.’”

 

Remember to size up the organization.

As much as you’re being evaluated in an interview, it’s also your chance to evaluate the organization you might be working for, Solheim said. Think about if you will fit in, if the company will provide opportunities for growth, if you can see yourself working there long term. Don’t be afraid to ask questions, Solheim said.

 

Don’t email-blast employers.

When you’re on the job hunt, it’s easy to send every employer in Iowa in your field the same resume and cover letter. However, customization is the key. If you do start making changes to your cover letter and resume, make sure you are sending the correct one to the matching employer, Solheim said. He said it’s a common mistake to forget about the objective line and send the cover letter that says you want a job at KWWL to KCRG and KGAN as well.

Also, be careful about name-dropping, Solheim said. While you might think working for your current employer is a huge resume-booster, throwing around your boss’s name might not help you. Other people might not feel the same way about this person.

Solheim said students  can make business cards through the career and vocation services home page on Wartburg’s website. They can have 100 printed for $7. Students can also request a mock interview at any time. Pathways will create specific questions based on the organization the student is interviewing at.

Kregel said students should be over-prepared for interviews but not forget to relax and be themselves.

“If the place did not see you academically able to get through their program, they wouldn’t offer an interview in the first place,” Kregel said. “The interview is your time to shine and show them who you are, so be yourself and be confident.”

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