Interviews Demystified

Advice for recent graduates on preparing for job interviews and making a strong first impression.

By Stanley O. King, II

Congratulations masters and doctoral graduates! Guess what? Student loan payments start in 6 months! Sorry to spoil the celebration and interrupt the goodbyes, but I have advice on how to get by when your graduation money or last stipend check starts running low. Get a job!

Of course, as many of you know, that is easier said than done, but you have many options -- both academic and non-academic.

Regardless of your career path, first you have to find a job you’re interested in. Next is the application, which probably includes a resume/CV and cover letter.  Then if you are one of the chosen few you have to interview. However, let’s be positive! Besides being on the road to riches, if you are selected for an interview it is safe to say someone has a genuine interest in you. So relax, adjust your Facebook privacy settings (seriously), and read the five tips below to help you best prepare for your interview.  The last three are most appropriate for those interested in an academic career and all five tips are applicable to those looking for non-traditional career options.

1. Get acquainted with your school’s graduate career services office.

Although often underutilized by students and alumni, these places offer a wealth of valuable information and services. Stop by and schedule a mock interview with professional feedback for practice before embarking on the real thing.

2. Check your alumni database for contacts.

Often someone in career services can help you access this information, but if not, try your alumni office. Basically, you are seeking information about future job opportunities at a company that is not readily available on the company’s website. Yes, this is allowed. It is called informational interviewing. This is a great way to show you are serious about working at the company and to gain an advantage over other applicants. Plus, it is an easy way to develop your network.

3. Read and re-read the job announcement.

Try to think of past experiences that demonstrate you have each of the qualifications that are being sought in their future hire. Moreover, be prepared to give an example and/or tell a brief story that proves you have the necessary skills to do this job. Feel free to pull experiences from masters or doctoral theses, classes, or extracurricular activities including hobbies, sports, and volunteering.

4. Find out who will be interviewing you.

Get names of interviewers in advance so you can check their research interests, Google them or look them up on their company/school website. This is especially important if more than one person will be interviewing you or if you are having a phone interview. Formulate a few questions for each person ahead of time and look for commonalities in their background and yours that may help you facilitate rapport during the interview. Also, having this information will make sure you spell their names correctly for the thank you cards.

5. Send thank you cards.

Handwritten thank you cards are preferred over an email or electronic card. These should be brief and unique for each person that participated in your interview. Send these as soon as possible after your interview. Think of them as a possible tiebreaker or as a way to provide further information to a question you feel you could have answered better.

Good luck! And remember: you can get to the second and third round of interviews, but you can only make a first impression once. Use these tips, prepare appropriately, and make each interview your best one possible.

Stanley O. King II, a graduate student at the University of Virginia, is the behavioral neuroscience representative on the APA Science Student Council.  His research interests are focused on how arousal modulates learning and memory.