Your first interview: Planning a career or a part-time job?
Whether you’re looking for a summer gig, need something a bit more permanent to last throughout the school year or hope to learn some professional skills with an internship for planning a career, you’ll need to make your way through a job interview first.
There are a lot of employment opportunities available for students and many people who want the same job you do. How do you make yourself stand out from the crowd?
The first impression
Preparing for a successful job interview begins with the choices you make before you even leave for the appointment.
“The interview is the first opportunity to impress a potential employer,” says Kathy L. Sims, director of the University of California Los Angeles Career Center. “You should dress the way you expect the people in the organization to be dressed when you go to the interview.”
Avoid wearing a lot of jewelry or perfume. Pull your hair back so the interviewer can see your face. Walk into your interview confidently with a smile and a sincere handshake. Throughout the interview, make sure you maintain good eye contact and proper posture. Show the interviewers you are listening to what they are saying.
Though there is no way to know exactly what direction the interview will take, there are a few questions you can anticipate. One of the most common—and first—questions asked during an interview is why you’ve applied for the job. Do your homework before the interview so you know what the organization is and generally what the job entails, then answer this question honestly and intelligently. If you are applying for an internship, let the interviewer know long-term career plans.
“Why should we hire you?” is another common question during interviews. David Philippi, community partnership coordinator at Northwest Career & Technical Academy in Las Vegas, Nev., says the best way to answer this question is to be specific. “Talk about specific projects in school that relate to that type of position,” he says.
It’s OK if you don’t have actual employment experience—no one does when applying for their first job—but talk about skills you’ve learned in school, clubs and volunteer work.
“All of those things are valued in an employment setting,” Sims says. “Don’t underestimate those experiences.”
Toward the end of the interview, you’ll probably be given the chance to ask questions. Take advantage of this opportunity to get clarification about the job or the company. Asking questions shows that you are excited by the job. However, Sims says it is best not to ask about hours of work or pay unless the interviewer brings it up.
“You don’t want to leave the interview without asking what you can expect to happen next,” Sims says. Find out when and how the organization expects to follow up with you. And, Philippi says, don’t forget to get a business card from the interviewer.
“Make sure you send a thank you note, especially if you are applying for an internship,” he says. “It should be short and to the point.”
Remember that you are capable of the duties required by the job, but you have to sell yourself to the organization. Put your best foot forward because the organization is doing you a favor by inviting you in for the interview. Be confident and honest, and don’t give your potential employer any reason to hire someone else.
JoAnna Haugen (joannahaugen.com) worked in a grocery store, at a coffee stand and in numerous restaurants to save money for and pay her way through college. Now she interviews others as a freelance writer.