College Success

Land Your Dream Job: Interview Tips for Undergrads

Congratulations, you landed an interview! Now you can prove why you’re the best person for the job. Employers want to know how your skills will meet their needs, as well as how your character and personal attributes will mesh with their company culture. Here’s how to stand out from the crowd throughout the interview process.

Before the Interview

While your resume can get you in the door, the interview is where employers get to see the “real you.” To put your best foot forward, you should:

Prepare yourself.

Why do you want this job? Review the job description again and identify how you meet the specific requirements. Your resume will provide a framework for the interview, so you must know it backwards and forwards. Be ready to talk about the details of your work experience and class projects. In addition, make a list of common interview questions and prepare your answers to them. These may include:

  • Why did you choose this major/industry?
  • What are your strengths and weaknesses?
  • Can you describe a difficult work situation/project and how you resolved it?
  • What’s your ideal work environment?
  • How do you handle stress and pressure?
  • Where do you see yourself in five years?
  • What do you know about us?


Find out everything you can about the position, the company and the industry so you can sprinkle relevant details into your answers. Review the company’s website to learn about their key products, partners and philanthropic activities. Google the company to see what the trade magazines are saying, and learn a little bit about their competitors. This will help you ask smart questions and ensure the company is the right fit for you.


Consider practicing the interview with a friend or mentor, so you can rehearse your answers to the standard questions. Talk about your successes by telling a few personal stories—between 30 to 90 seconds each.

Dress for success.

Even if the work environment is casual, be sure to make a good impression by dressing as professionally as possible. Play it safe with conservative shoes and styles. Limit your jewelry and skip the dangly earrings. Wear light makeup and no perfume. It’s a good idea to do whatever you can ahead of time—ironed clothes, polished shoes and clean fingernails are essential.

Be on time.

If you’re late to an interview, you can kiss the job goodbye. Allow extra time for traffic, parking and slow elevators. Do whatever it takes to arrive 10-15 minutes before the interview, but don’t check in with the receptionist any earlier than this. Being too early can disrupt your potential employer’s already busy schedule. Bring several copies of your resume, a list of references, and a pen and paper for taking notes. Of course, you should turn off your cell phone and refrain from chewing gum.

During the Interview

Show time! Once you’ve arrived at your interview, your main goal is to make an outstanding impression on everyone you meet. Be sure to:

Sell yourself.

The first few minutes will set the tone of the interview. Don’t be afraid to show your enthusiasm. Shake hands firmly, make eye contact throughout the interview and project your confidence. A positive attitude can work wonders.

Stay focused.

Keep your answers concise and to the point. As you talk about your work history, give specific examples of your accomplishments. If possible, explain how these experiences will help you meet the requirements of your desired position. Ask for clarification, whenever necessary. And keep in mind that you can always take a moment or two to frame your responses appropriately.

Ask questions.

Remember that an interview should be a conversation. Your questions show your level of interest and another aspect of your personality. To determine if the job is a good fit for you, ask about the supervisor’s management style and the potential for growth. Find out how well the team works together. Using your research, learn more about the future of the company and the industry. Don’t forget to ask how soon a decision will be made. However, avoid asking questions about salary or benefits.

Be true to yourself.

Connecting with the interviewer on a personal level can be the most important part of an interview. Every answer doesn’t have to be rehearsed. Speak with honesty about your experiences and share personal anecdotes. This will make you a more memorable candidate.

Leave on a high note.

Before leaving, make a point to thank the interviewer and shake hands again. Reiterate your excitement about the chance to work together. Be sure to collect business cards, so you can follow up with everyone later. Also, find out when you can expect to hear back from them with a decision.

After the Interview

Even if you’re a whiz at the interview, you can help influence the hiring decisions in the days following your meeting. After the interview, you should:

Follow up.

Within two business days, formally thank the interviewer for their time. Although an email is appropriate, you might also send a handwritten note to make a stronger impact. Go the extra step to personalize your letter—summarize your conversation and re-emphasize how your skills will benefit the company. This could help put you ahead of other candidates.

Contact your references.

During the interview or immediately afterwards, you may be asked for a list of references. Naturally, you should already have the permission of anyone on this list. It’s a good idea to let your references know about your interview plans, and give them a copy of your resume. You can expect to have your references checked before getting an offer.

Gather documents.

Some employers may require an official copy of your transcript to verify grades, coursework and dates of attendance. A letter of recommendation may also be requested. These may be written by an employer, professor or community leader—anyone who can confirm your past accomplishments and overall work ethics.

Remember, even if you ace the interview, you may not hear back from the prospective employer. Don’t be discouraged. Simply follow up with them after a few weeks to reiterate your interest. If you still don’t get a response, check in with them again a month or two later—the position may have been put on hold for awhile, or there may even be a new opening. Be persistent about getting the job you want. It’s a great way to take charge of your career!

Learn more about Forté’s Rising Stars program a free opportunity to develop new skills, connect with powerful women, and show leading employers that you have what it takes to succeed in the workplace.

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