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The Truth About Interviewing: Tips For Recent & Soon-To-Be College Grads

The Truth About Interviewing: Tips for Recent & Soon-To-Be College Grads

I recently had the pleasure of guest speaking at an undergraduate marketing class at my alma mater, DePaul University’s Driehaus College of Business.  The class was called “Navigating Marketing Careers” and consisted of an academic quarter’s worth of content on “creating and managing a successful marketing job-search campaign”, including resume development, interview preparation and skills, job-search and networking.

The experience of interacting with young millennials about preparing for their future drew many parallels with my insights work with millennials via Consumer Truth®.  They were eager to learn, asked many smart questions – both before and after my talk – and were even polite enough to applaud me at the end.  Okay – that doesn’t happen when I’m interviewing millennials (or any other demo for that matter!) 

My talk focused on preparing for and achieving a successful interview and tips on what to do when offers are received.  While I have been conducting one on one (as well as focus group) interviews for a living for the past 18 years, I thought it would be more relevant to draw more heavily on my years as an MBA recruiter for Management Training Program candidates for J. Walter Thompson’s New York training program back in the early nineties.  At the time I interviewed at Wharton, Columbia, New York University and Boston University’s MBA programs.  As you can imagine from that caliber of programs, I had some excellent candidates in the room.  One after the other.

The DePaul students asked some great questions, some of which were submitted to me before my talk and some fielded there during the Q&A session, including “What are interviewers really looking for when they ask where you want to be in 5 years?” I could only respond with what I was looking for – and that was mostly how articulate they were in expressing their goals. But more importantly, that they have goals and aspirations.  And it’s not “sitting on a pile of money within 5 years of retirement.” While that could be where they actually envision themselves in 5 years, it’s sort of superficial and distasteful to say it out loud. We don’t expect a mapped-out list of every aspect of their lives five years hence, but only that there has been some thought expended toward the future and that they can confidently  – and succinctly – express it.

I recalled for these DePaul undergrads some tough questions I’d ask MBA candidates interviewing for the JWT training program and the answers I was looking for to help separate the person who’s resume got turned over on the pile versus those that got pulled out of the pile.  I explained how I was looking for answers that gave me insight into their character, their ability to articulate and to think on their feet.  Someone that I’d want to work alongside.  Here’s one example I used:  Imagine you and your best friend were applying for this training program.  You’re both qualified on paper, but I only have one more spot left.  Why should I hire you?  And why should I NOT hire your best friend?  What I was looking for was for the candidate to focus on their own achievements, experience and qualifications first – in the absolute – and not compare themselves to their friend. Then, as to why I should NOT hire their best friend, I was looking for them to build their friend up rather than criticize them and then turn the topic back around to why I should hire them. I remember one NYU candidate tell me I should just hire the friend who really deserved the job and worked harder to land the interview.  We ended up offering that candidate a position in the training program.  On the spot.

I left the DePaul undergrad marketing class with three things to ponder that I believe are essential to a successful interview:

  1. Confidence gets hired.  Being confident comes from being prepared to be in that room.  Confidence is palpable – to the same degree that insecurity and being unsure is as well. Confidence is attractive. Confidence is fun to be around. Confidence is contagious.  Being prepared comes from having done your homework – by researching everything possible about the company, the job/internship and if possible, the interviewer.  Being prepared lends a sense of presence, assuredness, relaxation.  I couldn’t agree more with Alexander Graham Bell, who said, “Before anything else, preparation is the key to success.”  And you simply cannot be confident in an interview, ask smart questions and give smart answers unless you are prepared to be there.  Express confidence in your dress, your handshake, your tone and volume of voice, your posture, your questions, your answers, your follow up. But – don’t take it over the top.  There is a thin line between “confident” and “cocky.”  And nobody likes “cocky.” 

  2. Manners matter.  I stressed to the class that saying “thank you” is not only polite, it’s absolutely essential.  “Thank you” are two words that speak volumes about you. It shows appreciation for the interviewer’s time, for what they have done prior to the interview and what may be done after the interview.  It’s important to express appreciation at all stages of the process – whether it’s a phone call, an email, or during an online or in person interview.  There’s simply no negative response to the words “thank you” – so it can only leave a positive impression.  “Thank you” should be engaged at the beginning of the interview, at the end of the interview and following the interview – and for every other point of contact made.
    1. “thank you for having me”
    1. “thank you for your time”
    1. “thank you for getting back to me”
    1. “thank you for the referral”
    1. “thank you for the opportunity – I’m so excited to work here!” 

  3. Follow Up is critical. I expressed to the class that while they may be dwelling on that interview and checking email every 10 minutes for a possible response, they probably weren’t top of mind on their interviewers’ list of things to do in any given day.  And that waiting to be contacted by a prospective employer is tantamount to waiting to be forgotten.  I conveyed an experience with my own college age student in the same situation.  When I asked if he had followed up from a previous contact, he said, “Not yet. I’m waiting for them to respond to my email.”  The thing is – employers are busy doing their jobs and running their business, so other priorities may creep up on their list of follow-ups.

No matter the method – whether by email or phone – after a reasonable period (but not more than a week), it is critical to follow up with some form of “what’s next?” question.  Following up shows initiative and communicates:

  • You are on the ball
  • You look forward to hearing from them
  • You are enthusiastic about the prospect of employment
  • Your name stands out above others who may not have followed up

Finally, in a world of texts, tweets and posts, I reminded the class of the importance of getting an offer and providing an acceptance – in writing.  And that the offer should confirm job title, job responsibilities, start date, salary, benefits and name of direct report.  A written acceptance (likely email) is necessary to officially thank them (again), acknowledge and accept the terms of the offer, to express excitement and enthusiasm about the opportunity and to ask any remaining questions.

And while it may seem like a given, I told them how important it was that they show up, be flexible and do the job they were hired to do.  And even if it turned out not being what they thought, that a year goes by quickly and that any experience – especially that first job out of college – is good experience. It was great to be in the classroom back at DePaul! And it was extremely gratifying to hear from the class director that the class “definitely came away with a few nuggets of truth from you!” Interviewing Truth. Loved that.

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