Crack Your First Interview In 2021 | For College Students

Updated: May 9, 2021

The interview is one of the most critical parts of the hiring process. It gives you a chance to impress the hiring manager with not only your skills and qualifications but also your confidence and how you carry yourself in person. Taking the necessary steps to prepare for your interview in advance can increase your confidence before you walk into the interview. In this article, we discuss 10 steps you can take to nail your next interview.

How to nail an interview

Follow these tips to stand out from other candidates and nail your next job interview.

  1. Do your research.

  2. Prepare an elevator pitch.

  3. Study your resume.

  4. Study the job description.

  5. Use the STAR method.

  6. Create a strong first impression.

  7. Be prepared for small talk.

  8. Body language.

  9. Be prepared with questions.

  10. Follow-up letter.

1. Do your research

Before your interview, set aside time to research the company, as knowledge about the company indicates a clear interest in the role. Review not only the company website, but also their social media pages to better understand the company culture. Look for any recent awards, accomplishments, initiatives and current events, especially those that could be relevant to the role for which you're applying. Throughout the interview, try to find opportunities to reference what you learned during your research to show that you have done your homework. Studies show that hiring managers are more likely to hire candidates who have knowledge of the company.

2. Prepare an elevator pitch

By preparing an elevator pitch, you'll have a succinct and convincing answer to the questions, 'tell me about yourself.' As you are creating an elevator pitch, try coming up with a story about what inspired you to get into this line of work or where, in your childhood, you demonstrated evidence of your passion for the field. Also, emphasize the relevant skills you have that align with those the company is looking for in a candidate.

3. Study your resume

During an interview, the hiring manager can reference anything included in your resume. For this reason, it's important to be able to speak intelligently about each of your previous positions, the skills you used in those roles and how they transfer to the position for which you're applying. Study your resume before the interview and know it well.

4. Study the job description

Prior to your interview, study the job description to fully understand what the company is looking for in a candidate. Write down the specific skills and experiences that the company prefers to see in a candidate and denote which qualifications you have. By reviewing the job description before your interview and aligning it with your own qualifications, you can better navigate the interview and discuss specific examples that will emphasize those skills.

5. Use the STAR method

Separate yourself from the other candidates by going to the interview prepared with stories that demonstrate your skills and abilities. The best stories tell the interviewer about the challenge you faced, what actions you took to overcome the obstacle and the results you achieved. To do this, practice the STAR method. STAR stands for:

  • Situation: Share the situation or challenge you were facing as well as any other relevant details.

  • Task: Describe your responsibility in the situation.

  • Action: Share how you overcame the challenge.

  • Result: Discuss the outcome you achieved by taking those actions.

Study relevant job listings and review lists of the top interview questions. Use these resources to think of 20 or more story responses you could share if asked the questions. Think through each story using the STAR framework. Keep the situation part of your story brief, focusing on pain points that will resonate with an employer. Explain your role or responsibility in the situation as well as the action you took to overcome it. If the action was carried out by your entire team, focus on the role that you played. When you share the results, be specific and quantify the impact you had.

Related: How to Prepare for a Behavioral Interview

6. Create a strong first impression

First impressions are important. During the first few minutes of your interview, make eye contact, smile confidently and shake the interviewer's hand firmly. Project an attitude of enthusiasm and energy. Find out what the dress code is so you can match your style to that of the company you're interviewing with. If the dress code is casual, you still want to show that you take the interview seriously. In these situations, it's best to dress in business casual attire.

7. Be prepared for small talk

Small talk at the beginning of an interview can help you build rapport with the interviewer. As part of your interview preparation, identify topics where you may have a shared interest. Think of topics where you and the interviewer may have shared interests so you're both able to ask and answer questions. Identify any news stories or other recent events that are relevant to the company. For any topic, you bring up, be prepared with an interesting thought of your own to contribute.

8. Body language

Be conscious of the body language you're projecting during your interview. It will communicate to the interviewer whether you're feeling confident, nervous or uncertain. In order to nail an interview, you want to project positive energy. Sit up straight or lean forward slightly as you talk. Listen carefully to everything the interviewer says to demonstrate that you're alert and look them directly in the eye.

9. Be prepared with questions

Be prepared for the interviewer to ask you what questions you have at the end of the interview. Always have two or three questions, whether about the position specifically or about career development, upcoming projects or what makes them a great organization to work for. Ask questions that will help you determine whether the company is a good fit for you. Remember that you're interviewing them as much as they're interviewing you.

10. Follow-up letter

Within 24 hours of your interview, it's important to send a follow-up letter expressing your appreciation for their time and consideration. Immediately after your interview, write down one or two things that you and the hiring manager focused on during the interview and what makes you most excited to work there. This will help you to write a more impactful letter later.

Preparing for a Phone Interview

In many ways, you should approach a phone interview in the same way that you would a face-to-face interview.

  • Make a list of potential questions and prepare responses.

  • Rehearse walking an interviewer through your resume and reviewing all of your previous jobs.

  • Make a list of your top accomplishments

  • Think about the best ways to present your strengths and weaknesses

Remember, getting prepared for a phone interview isn’t just about you; you also want to prepare your environment and eliminate distractions.

  • Place your resume in an easy-to-reach location.

  • Next to your resume, set out your list of accomplishments and any other notes that you have prepared.

  • Turn off call waiting; you don’t want to be interrupted during the interview.

  • Mute your computer and other electronics nearby

  • To avoid dropped calls or static, use a landline rather than a cell phone.

  • Keep a pen and paper ready so you can take notes.

  • Close the door and lock it if there’s a danger of someone barging in.

If a recruiter or employer calls for a phone interview when you’re not prepared or will be unable to stay on the phone without interruption, consider asking to reschedule and suggest some alternate times.

Practice Interviewing By Phone

Many job searchers make the mistake of thinking that a phone interview is going to be easier than a face-to-face interview, so they don’t think they need to practice. The truth of the matter is that phone interviews can be tricky.

After all, you can be caught off guard just as easily on the phone as in person. Also, you won’t be able to see and respond to facial expressions and body language, which can feel awkward and throw you off.

This is why practicing the phone interview is helpful. The best way to practice is to role play with a close friend or family member.

Remember to tape the interview so you can play it back later. Listening to the mock interview will allow you to hear where you need work and help you identify bad habits like “ums” and throat clearing.

During the Phone Interview

When the time comes for the actual phone interview, the following tips will help you sound more professional and increase your chances of getting called in for a face-to-face interview for the job.

  • Avoid eating, chewing gum, and smoking. An occasional sip of water to prevent dry mouth is okay.

  • Even though you are on the phone, you will still want to smile. Smiling will change the tone of your voice, which can mean the difference between a positive and a negative image.

  • You may want to stand during the phone interview. A standing posture can help you feel more confident and strong, which interviewers will notice.

  • Be friendly, but not overly familiar. Never use the interviewer’s first name unless they specifically ask you to.

  • Allow the interviewer to finish speaking before you answer any questions; be careful not to interrupt them.

  • Keep your answers short and to the point. Remember that you don’t have to answer right away, you can take a few seconds to get your thoughts together. Don’t nervously fill the silence.

  • At the end of the phone call, remember to thank your interviewer. Now is also the time to politely ask if it would be possible to meet in person. Try to set a day and time for your face-to-face session.

Once the Phone Interview is Over

After you hang up, grab your pen and paper and jot down a few notes. Write down the questions that you were asked so you can use them to practice for your next phone interview or in-person interview.

You should also make note of how you answered the questions. Which questions did you nail? Which ones stumped you? Analyzing your performance will help you improve for next time.

Finally, you will want to send a thank you note or email to the interviewer. A good thank you note will express gratitude for the interviewer’s time, communicate your enthusiasm about the job, and reiterate your strongest qualifications for the position.

After reviewing the tips above, you should be prepared to wow any recruiter or hiring manager during a phone manager. Good luck!

Classic Questions

These frequently asked questions touch on the essentials hiring managers want to know about every candidate: who you are, why you’re a fit for the job, and what you’re good at. You may not be asked exactly these questions in exactly these words, but if you have answers in mind for them, you’ll be prepared for just about anything the interviewer throws your way.

1. Tell Me About Yourself.

This question seems simple, so many people fail to prepare for it, but it’s crucial. Here's the deal: Don’t give your complete employment (or personal) history. Instead, give a pitch—one that’s concise and compelling and that shows exactly why you’re the right fit for the job. Muse writer and MIT career counselor Lily Zhang recommends using a present, past, future formula. Talk a little bit about your current role (including the scope and perhaps one big accomplishment), then give some background as to how you got there and the experience you have that’s relevant. Finally, segue into why you want—and would be perfect for—this role.

Read More: A Complete Guide to Answering “Tell Me About Yourself” in an Interview (Plus Examples!)

2. How Did You Hear About This Position?

Another seemingly innocuous interview question, this is actually a perfect opportunity to stand out and show your passion for and connection to the company. For example, if you found out about the gig through a friend or professional contact, name-drop that person, then share why you were so excited about the job. If you discovered the company through an event or article, share that. Even if you found the listing through a random job board, share what, specifically, caught your eye about the role.

Read More: 3 Ways People Mess Up the (Simple) Answer to "How Did You Come Across This Job Opportunity?"

3. Why Do You Want to Work at This Company?

Beware of generic answers! If what you say can apply to a whole slew of other companies, or if your response makes you sound like every other candidate, you’re missing an opportunity to stand out. Zhang recommends one of four strategies: Do your research and point to something that makes the company unique that really appeals to you; talk about how you’ve watched the company grow and change since you first heard of it; focus on the organization’s opportunities for future growth and how you can contribute to it; or share what’s gotten you excited from your interactions with employees so far. Whichever route you choose, make sure to be specific. And if you can’t figure out why you’d want to work at the company you’re interviewing with by the time you’re well into the hiring process? It might be a red flag telling you that this position is not the right fit.

Read More: 4 Better Ways to Answer “Why Do You Want to Work at This Company?”

4. Why Do You Want This Job?

Again, companies want to hire people who are passionate about the job, so you should have a great answer about why you want the position. (And if you don’t? You probably should apply elsewhere.) First, identify a couple of key factors that make the role a great fit for you (e.g., “I love customer support because I love the constant human interaction and the satisfaction that comes from helping someone solve a problem”), then share why you love the company (e.g., “I’ve always been passionate about education, and I think you’re doing great things, so I want to be a part of it”).

Read More: 3 Steps for Answering “Why Do You Want This Job?”

5. Why Should We Hire You?

This interview question seems forward (not to mention intimidating!), but if you’re asked it, you’re in luck: There’s no better setup for you to sell yourself and your skills to the hiring manager. Your job here is to craft an answer that covers three things: that you can not only do the work, but also deliver great results; that you’ll really fit in with the team and culture; and that you’d be a better hire than any of the other candidates.

Read More: 3 Better Ways to Answer “Why Should We Hire You?”

6. What Can You Bring to the Company?

When interviewers ask this question, they don’t just want to hear about your background. They want to see that you understand what problems and challenges they’re facing as a company or department as well as how you’ll fit into the existing organization. Read the job description closely, do your research on the company, and make sure you pay attention in your early-round interviews to understand any issues you’re being hired to solve. Then, the key is to connect your skills and experiences to what the company needs and share an example that shows how you’ve done similar or transferable work in the past.

Read More: What Interviewers Really Want to Hear When They Ask “What Can You Bring to the Company?”

7. What Are Your Greatest Strengths?

Here’s an opening to talk about something that makes you great—and a great fit for this role. When you’re answering this question, think quality, not quantity. In other words, don’t rattle off a list of adjectives. Instead, pick one or a few (depending on the question) specific qualities that are relevant to this position and illustrate them with examples. Stories are always more memorable than generalizations. And if there’s something you were hoping to

mention because it makes you a great candidate, but you haven’t had a chance yet, this would be a perfect time.

Read More: 3 Smart Strategies for Answering “What's Your Greatest Strength?”

8. What Do You Consider to Be Your Weaknesses?

What your interviewer is really trying to do with this question—beyond identifying any major red flags—is to gauge your self-awareness and honesty. So, “I can’t meet a deadline to save my life” is not an option—but neither is “Nothing! I’m perfect!” Strike a balance by thinking of something that you struggle with but that you’re working to improve. For example, maybe you’ve never been strong at public speaking, but you’ve recently volunteered to run meetings to help you get more comfortable when addressing a crowd.

Read More: 4 Ways to Answer “What Is Your Greatest Weakness?” That Actually Sound Believable

Questions About Your Work History

The meat of any job interview is your track record at work: what you accomplished, how you succeeded or failed (and how you dealt with it), and how you behaved in real time in actual work environments. If you prep a few versatile stories to tell about your work history and practice answering behavioral interview questions, you’ll be ready to go.

9. What Is Your Greatest Professional Achievement?

Nothing says “hire me” better than a track record of achieving amazing results in past jobs, so don’t be shy when answering this interview question! A great way to do so is by using the STAR method: situation, task, action, results. Set up the situation and the task that you were required to complete to provide the interviewer with background context (e.g., “In my last job as a junior analyst, it was my role to manage the invoicing process”), then describe what you did (the action) and what you achieved (the result): “In one month, I streamlined the process, which saved my group 10 person-hours each month and reduced errors on invoices by 25%.”

Read More: The Perfect Formula for Answering “What Is Your Greatest Accomplishment” in an Interview