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The Ultimate Job Interviewing Guide for College Grads


May 17, 2023

You’ve landed a job interview – congrats! Getting a job interview is an important first step to landing your dream job. Next step: acing the interview.

If you’re a recent college (or high school) grad, you may not have much experience in the job interview process. The whole thing can be pretty intimidating! Fortunately, there are plenty of things you can do before, during, and after your job interview to position yourself for success.

Before The Job Interview: Prepare and Practice

Check for free resources from your college

Your first stop should be your college’s HR or career resource center either in person or online. Many colleges and universities offer help to alumni including career counseling and job interview prep. Check for online resources and/or in-person events to help you in your job search, and take advantage of all the resources available to you.

Research the company

Learn about the company you’re applying to. You can easily find basic information online, such as where it’s headquartered, when it was founded, how many employees it has in how many locations around the country or world, what products or services it offers, and how it’s different from its competitors.

Research the position

Find out as much as you can about the job you’ve applied for, including how the position fits within the company and what it entails day to day. What elements of your education and experience make you a good fit for the role?

Research the interviewer

Look up the person who will be interviewing you on LinkedIn or the company website to get some basic information. Maybe you’ll discover some common points of connection you can bring up during the interview, like sharing the same hometown, alma mater, or college major. Keep it surface level; getting too personal by digging through their social media accounts can feel like a violation of privacy.

Prepare to answer common questions

Prepare answers to common interview questions like “Can you tell me about yourself?” and “Where do you see yourself in five years?” Here’s a list of typical interview questions to get you started. While you don’t need to have a canned response ready for each one on the list, you should generally know what you’ll say if asked.

Know your numbers

Compensation and benefits often don’t come up in a first interview, but be prepared in case your interviewer asks what your salary expectations are. Provide a range rather than a set number. If you have no idea what’s reasonable in terms of salary, find a ballpark figure for your job and location on Glassdoor.

Prepare for pushback

Your interviewer might ask some tough questions that you should be prepared to answer. You can anticipate tough questions by looking at where your education, experience, and skills don’t line up 100% with the job description. For example, they want a candidate with two years of experience but you only have a 6-month internship under your belt. Be prepared to explain why you believe your experience has adequately prepared you for the role you’re applying for.

Come up with your own questions

Your interviewer may ask if you have any questions during the interview, so come up with two or three questions of your own. Asking questions sends a strong signal that you’re actively interested in the company and role. Don’t ask about salary or benefits unless the interviewer brings the topic up first. It’s best to leave these discussions for later in the hiring process when compensation is being discussed.  

Some great questions to ask include:

  • What would success in [role] at [company] look like?
  • Are there opportunities for professional development in this role?
  • Can you describe a typical career advancement path for this role?
  • How will my performance be evaluated? What metrics do you measure?
  • What are some of the biggest challenges facing this department right now?
  • What are the next steps in the interview process?

Practice with friends or family

Ask friends or family members to help you practice by holding a mock job interview where they ask you questions and you answer as you would in the real interview.  

Pro Tip: AI can help you practice! Visit ChatGPT and create an account if you don’t already have one. Enter this prompt into ChatGPT, filling in the bracketed placeholders with information about the role you’re interviewing for:

Act as an interviewer for [company] for the role of [job title]. Ask me questions as you would during a job interview for this role. After I respond to a question, provide a critical analysis of my response listing things I’ve done well and ways in which I could improve. Continue asking questions until I say “stop.”

Sample ChatGPT Job Interview Practice Prompt

Reach out to existing connections

Reach out to anyone you know who works at the company you’re applying to. They may have good advice or insights that could help you succeed in your interview. Don’t ask them to “put in a good word” for you, though; asking can put them in an awkward position, and if they believe in you enough, they’ll do it without being asked.

Look for new alumni connections

Check your alma mater’s alumni directory or look on LinkedIn for people who graduated from your school and who now work at the company you’re interviewing with. Send a brief message introducing yourself and say you’d appreciate any advice or insights they have before your job interview. They may not respond at all, or they may be more than willing to help out; either way, a quick message doesn’t hurt.  

Pick out your interview day outfit

Choose what you’ll wear to the interview in advance and try it on to make sure it’s clean, in good shape, and fits well. Don’t forget to choose your shoes, bag, and other accessories in advance, too. You don’t want any surprises like a stain or missing button to stress you out on interview day.

Related: Build a Professional Wardrobe on a Budget

Plan your route

Look up how to get to your interview location and plan your route in advance. You may even want to go there in advance to see how long it takes and, if you’re driving, where to park.

Test your video

As remote work became more common, so have video interviews. It’s a good idea to test your video setup so you’re good to go on interview day. Look at yourself on camera in self-view. Can you improve your lighting? Tidy up the background or add a blur/virtual background? Is your audio working properly? Is your location free from external noises and distractions? Video and audio issues can distract from an otherwise awesome interview, so do your best to head them off in advance.

On the Day: Ace the Interview with Confidence

Be clean, well-groomed, and fragrance-free

It stands to reason that you want to look your best for the interview. Naturally, you’ll shower, style your hair, and do whatever’s necessary to look as clean and professional as you can. But don’t overdo it on scents! At best, a strong scent can be a distraction. At worst, you could encounter an interviewer who’s sensitive to fragrances.

Bring everything you need

Bring along a couple copies of your resume, cover letter, and any other documents you might need like a list of references or portfolio samples. You may also want to bring gum or breath mints, a bottle of water, tissues (great for stealthily wiping sweaty hands pre-handshake!), and a notebook and pen.

Arrive early

Don’t be late – it makes a terrible first impression and could even mean missing the interview altogether. Arriving early is better than running even a few minutes late, which can put you in a panic. But don’t arrive too early, which can potentially inconvenience your interviewer or other staff members. Aim to be at physical interviews about five minutes ahead of schedule. With video interviews, one minute is ideal.

Silence your phone

Turn off your phone entirely or at least silence all notifications so it doesn’t go off during the interview. If you have time to kill before the interview starts, stay off your phone and read a book or periodical instead. Scrolling on your phone incessantly while you wait for the interviewer can make you look as though you’re easily distracted.

Make a good first impression

Make a good first impression on your interviewer with a strong, confident handshake and eye contact. Be polite and professional to everyone you meet along the way, like receptionists and assistants.

Have a positive attitude

Keep a positive attitude from start to finish, even if some questions or topics are difficult. Show enthusiasm, and if you believe you are a great fit for the role and you really want the job, let the interviewer know (without making it sound like you’re desperate for a job just for the paycheck).

Let the interviewer steer the interview

Try not to dominate the conversation, especially if you tend to overtalk when nervous. Let the interviewer ask the questions and steer the interview. If and when the interviewer asks if you have questions, go ahead and ask the question(s) you prepared in advance.

Big up yourself

In other words, let the interviewer know how great you are! While you don’t want to be arrogant – and you definitely don’t want to lie or embellish your accomplishments – be sure to highlight your accomplishments, skills, and positive attributes. Remember that your mission right now is to convince the interviewer to take a chance on you, and you do that by connecting the dots to show how and why you’re the right person for the role. This may be challenging if you’re naturally humble, but it’s something you can practice in advance in mock interviews with friends and family.

Display confident body language

Even if you speak with confidence, your body may betray insecurity. Display confident body language: Don’t cross your arms, don’t fidget, and sit up straight.

Take notes, if appropriate

For a short, getting-to-know-you interview, you probably won’t need or want to take notes. But for a longer, more information-heavy interview, you may want to take notes. Ask first if it’s okay.

Avoid certain topics

Don’t get into controversial or sensitive topics, such as politics and religion, and avoid dumping your personal problems onto the interviewer. (One exception is if you are asked about a challenge you’ve overcome, in which case you might discuss how you overcame adversity in your personal or professional life.) Don’t swear, use offensive or derogatory language, or speak badly about anyone at the company.

Know the law

Under federal laws, employers are not allowed to ask about certain topics such as race, gender, sexual orientation, age, marital status, disability status, and religion, since it might be seen as discriminatory. If the interviewer does ask something you believe is off-limits, redirect the conversation to highlight your achievements, or be straightforward and say you don’t believe the question is relevant and you don’t want to answer.

Have some stress-busters up your sleeve

You may find yourself with a racing heart, dry mouth, and sweaty palms before or during the interview. Be prepared with some instant stress-relievers to calm you down: take five long, slow breaths; do some discreet EFT tapping on your wrist; or visualize a relaxing scene in your mind’s eye to calm you down.

After the Interview: Say “Thank You” and Keep Going

Send a thank-you note the same day

Send your interviewer a professional and polite email shortly after the interview. Depending on the workplace and how formal it is, you may want to send a thank-you card through the mail, too. Send it the same day so it arrives as quickly as possible.

Follow up a week or two later

If you haven’t heard back by phone or email within a week or two, send another email reiterating your interest in the position. If your follow-up email goes unanswered, you can assume they’ve chosen another candidate. Unfortunately, “ghosting” candidates has become more common. Even so, it’s best not to burn bridges by sending too many queries.

Carry on with the job search

It can take days or even weeks to hear back after a job interview. (And as we’ve said, sometimes you don’t hear back at all.) Even if you feel you nailed the interview, don’t assume you got the job. Continue to apply for other jobs in your field and go to other interviews. Every interview you do makes you stronger and more confident.

Mindset: Stay Positive and Be Persistent

Landing a first career-track job out of college can take many months. The National Association of Colleges and Employers found that just over half (55.3%) of college graduates of the class of 2021 had found full-time employment within six months after graduation. Knowing this can help you stay positive and persistent, even if the job search drags on for many months. Remind yourself that it’s only a matter of time before you land the job and embark on your professional career. Keep at it!