5 Interview Tips I Learned From Landing My Entry-Level Career Job

workingAh, the entry-level job interview. It brings back #dark memories of 22-year-old Lauren lightly shaking in a too-small Express blazer trying desperately not to bite her nails. Usually the night before said interview, I would research the company I was being interviewed for, paint my nails, and chug sip wine to calm myself. I really dislike interviews because I have a mild fear of public speaking. When you combine that with having to interview for your first “big girl” job, it can feel overwhelming.

In these interviews in can be difficult to communicate how you’re different from the pack of applicants behind you when you lack the professional experience to back you up. How do you illuminate your skills with colorful stories about conflict resolution in the workplace when you’ve only been out of school for a short period of time? It feels like the chicken or the egg argument — in order to get a job you need to have experience, but it’s difficult to obtain professional experience without first having a job.

I’ve been on a fair number of interviews in my life, so I have a been there done that attitude when I look back at how I overcame the entry-level job hump. I’ve done a ton of research into interview techniques and methods (I love Lily Zhang’s articles on the subject) because it was an area in which I needed a lot of work. While interviews aren’t part of life for me currently, I’ve gathered five ways I learned to interview better which I feel can help anyone interview with greater confidence. Remember, each interview is a chance to prove yourself and become more comfortable with selling your skills — you want to leave the room feeling great. Check it out!


Prepare to answer negative questions.

You’re bound to be asked at least one of those vague, open-ended questions where the person
interviewing asks you to share a negative character trait or situation that went awry. It’s important to always show maturity and professionalism when answering a dreaded “tell me about a time when you didn’t meet a client expectation” question. Not only are recruiters looking to see what they can learn from the experience you share, but they’re also looking to see the way in which you react to a potentially awkward question. If you’re asked how you handle difficult coworkers, be honest. However, be careful how you answer. You always want to illustrate helpful strategies for how you can make a situation better. You don’t want to cut someone else down unnecessarily

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Understand what recruiters want, and prepare specific examples.
The biggest mistake I made when I first graduated college and began interviewing was when I was too vague and danced around answers. This was partly due to my nerves, but it was mostly because I felt as if I had nothing to say. During your interview, you’re going to be asked questions that will help a hiring manager understand the way you work, how you problem solve, and how they can expect you to react under pressure. For example, one of the most important qualities you can offer at this stage is a team player mentality. In her article 5 Skills You Must Show Off To Land Your First Job (And Every One After That),
author Lily Zhang writes:

In fact, Skyller Jordan, a hiring manager at best practice insight and technology company CEB, says a track record of problem solving is such an essential skill that she wouldn’t consider hiring someone without it. What does that mean, exactly? According to Jordan, “being able to look at the larger goal, understanding the levers to pull to get there (and historical patterns that have led to success), and prioritizing the most effective means to get the job done” makes someone the kind of problem solver she’d hire.”

If all parties involved are going to get the most out of an interview, you have to give specific details about the skills you’ve developed at past jobs. Drawing upon specific scenarios (which prove your capabilities) is a must, so think about this ahead of time and create a short list.

Always come with follow-up questions you’ve prepared for each job interview.
Don’t ever leave an interview without asking the person interviewing you at least one or two questions. It’s essential to understand the position on the table as best as you can, especially because it’s most likely your first one out of the gate. At this stage in your career you have very little insight as to what you want and/or need out of a job, so it’s crucial to milk the interviewer for all the information they can provide. This article provides insanely useful examples of questions you should ask such as “how has this job evolved over time?” and “how long has the position been available?”

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Get the jitters out by practicing (a lot) with mock interviews.
Fortune favors the prepared IMO, and practice truly makes perfect. I used to video tape myself answering questions, or work with my boyfriend on giving clear, snappy, and engaging answers. While it might seem like overkill, you can’t imagine how smoothly interviews go when you take enough time to prepare.

In the article 5 Tips To Ace Your Entry-Level Job Interview author William Frierson writes:

Mock interviews not only help you practice for the interview, but they also help in boosting your confidence. Nobody can foresee the actual questions asked during an interview, but you will be able to answer every question more confidently if you have practiced enough.

Confidence means selling yourself to your full potential!

Tell a story — answer questions thoughtfully and in a linear fashion. 
Think about the way in which you would describe something incredible happening to you with your group of friends: you’d make eye contact, provide engaging descriptions, capture the facts, and show a (decent) amount of enthusiasm. Answering interview questions should feel just as natural. A lot of experts recommend the STAR technique when answering difficult interview questions, so it’s a useful tactic to implement! Don’t forget that this is your chance to allow your personality to shine through and capture the attention of your audience. Keep your thoughts organized, and think before you begin answering the next question. Everyone is bound to have a few slip ups on their first few interviews, but know that it does get easier. It’s important to remember that you do have talents and skills to offer even if you don’t bring years of professional work experience with you. It’s all about translating what you have learned in school, life, and work into relevant stories recruiters and hiring managers want to hear. Be honest. Be confident. Be prepared!

More resources and links:

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