Interview Tips for College Grads

Last Updated Sep 13, 2011 10:55 PM EDT

When I landed one of my first jobs at a local TV station in 2004, I was positive it was because I had done everything right. I had written a killer cover letter. I arrived at the interview beyond prepared, having studied the news channel and its programming for weeks. I knew the strengths and weaknesses of the business news unit (where I was applying to be a producer). I also wore a sensible suit. And to top it off, I brought along a bulleted presentation of my ideas and how I would potentially help the news team. Yes, it was slightly nerdy, but if anyone doubted that I was serious about the job, I hoped my PowerPoint deck would prove them wrong.

Years later I discovered that it wasn't just my presentation and preparedness that impressed the hiring team. Rather, it was that so many fellow interviewees before me had failed the basics of a job interview. Many didn't make eye contact; one candidate answered her cell phone during the interview (no lie); and another kept reminding the interviewer "who my father is." OK, he was a powerful person ... but really?

I thought the job market was rough back then. Today it's even thornier, especially for first-time job seekers. For guidance, I recently spoke with Fred Ball, a career coach and author of Killer Interviews: Success Strategies for Young Professionals. He explains how young adults can score highest during an interview and leave employers wanting more. We talked for so long I couldn't include all advice into one blog post, so I'm divvying them up. Here's part 1 of our conversation:

It can take several months before landing a job in this market. That's both exhausting and also frustrating for a first-time job seeker. How can you stay motivated?

Young people have been brought up in an atmosphere whose parents told them how good they are, encouraged them, and patted them on the back. ... So this job market is like getting a cold dose of water thrown in your face. Think about the biggest hero you've ever had. Think about someone who's been a mentor to you. Think about the hard work it took to get these people where they are. ... Sit down and rework your resume and understand every bullet on your resume has to be qualified. You may have to go back to the drawing board.

If you've only got a few days to prepare for an interview, what's the least you should do to get ready?

One, think about your dress. The simple guideline is to be conservative and be careful about the jewelry. Also, learn as much as about the company as you can through the Web. If it's a small or private firm, pick up the phone and ask the company to send you some information. Or arrive to the interview an hour early and review the material then. Always make sure you have more than enough resumes [with you].

What do you say when you're asked about your weaknesses. I personally hate this question.

Give them an answer that is something you have corrected or can correct. A great answer is: "One of the weaknesses I would have is that I wouldn't know the people and culture here when I first start - but I would learn quickly by working with my boss to make a schedule to meet people one on one."

How do you explain time off on your resume - when, say, you were out of work?

Have a good reason. Say you traveled, started a club, consulted (even if for no pay), volunteered, etc. Have some reasons for what you've been doing in the interim, in addition to looking for employment opportunities.

In part 2 of our conversation, Ball explains how to deal with the stickiest of all questions: What's your salary requirement?

Photo courtesy bpsusf from Flickr


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    Farnoosh Torabi is a personal finance journalist and commentator. She is the author of the new book Psych Yourself Rich, Get the Mindset and Discipline You Need to Build Your Financial Life. Follow her at www.farnoosh.tv and on Twitter at @farnoosh.

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