Over the years, I’ve had the opportunity to interview tons of college students. Because this is the first time many are having a professional interview, missteps are expected, and we all make them along the way. The great part of making mistakes is sharing the lessons learned, and helping others avoid them. Here are a few characters I see pop up often in college recruiting:
The Unapologetic Overachiever
We’ve all met this guy. He has the 4.0, is President of three school clubs, and knows 5 languages. On paper, he is the perfect candidate, and all of the companies fight over one another for the first crack at him. And we all know he’ll land somewhere great, at some top pick. So where can he go wrong in an interview? Lack of humility.
Nothing can be more of a turnoff than the guy that not only does a great job of talking about himself, but doesn’t know how to NOT talk about himself. He is so used to being great that questions about failure, dealing with adversity, and challenges during college are all treated as very minor details in his story of greatness.
What he doesn’t realize is all of those things show character, and can demonstrate to a potential employer, or even admission committee, that if he falls, he knows how to get back up. It also shows that he understands he isn’t perfect, and has weaknesses, because he’s human.
Advice: Always remember that no matter how competitive of an applicant you are, and how confident you are in your ability to do a great job, you should always be humble for the opportunity. While it seems like a no-brainer to you, you did not have to be chosen. There is a very fine line between cockiness and confidence; learn to walk this line with grace.
Sweaty Palms McGee
This is the candidate that is so nervous, that no matter how great of a fit he might be for a position, his nerves do most of the talking.
Nerves can manifest themselves verbally, whether it’s blanking on a question, a shaky voice, or incessant blabbing about every topic except the one being asked. They also show up in nonverbal ways, including the leg tap, playing with objects (pens, hair, earrings, etc.), or lack of facial expressions.
In so many practice interviews, I’ve seen candidates turn into droids, devoid of personality or feeling. As soon as the practice portion is over, the human form returns. Unfortunately, in an actual interview, there is often only one chance to wow the interviewer, and build rapport. S/he can’t build rapport with a robot.
Advice: RELAX. Yes, interviews are nerve-wrecking. Yes, for some of you, it always feels like one of the few opportunities you’ll have to secure a job or internship. But remember, a little practice and preparation can go a long way in settling your jitters. Unpreparedness is often the culprit in candidates feeling unready for their big chance. If you remember why they chose you, remember you’re a good candidate, and know how to tell that story, you’ll be fine.
The Great Debater
This is a candidate I’ve run across quite a few times over the years, and often it’s someone who has experience on the debate team. It’s the girl who spent many years in high school and college on debate teams, learning tactics for quickly creating and articulating sound arguments for any position. Again, on paper, this applicant’s skill set is super valuable in many fields. Being able to process information quickly and problem solve can be an asset to anyone. But in an interview, I’ve noticed 2 patterns with this applicant: the need to answer a question too quickly, and the super game face.
Advice: An interview should feel like a conversation between new acquaintances. It should not have the flow of an interrogation. Question-Quick Answer-Back to You Interviewer! It’s okay to take a moment before answering a question, gather your thoughts, and present the best possible reply.
Interviewers don’t mind if you take a moment. Giving yourself a few seconds to breathe can also relax your demeanor.
In addition, lighten up! You don’t have to be overly friendly, since this isn’t your buddy, but you are allowed to smile, laugh when appropriate, and well, prove your humanness.
She’s got a solid GPA, is accomplished in and outside of the classroom, and is instantly everyone’s favorite and most valued team member. So what’s the problem? You may not learn any of this from her resume, and if she does get the interview, she may not tell you then either. She could easily be kin to the Unapologetic Overachiever, but it’s just not in her personality. And while this wins her lots of accolades and affection in life, it can be detrimental in a job search.
Candidates that don’t know how to talk about themselves without feeling like a braggadocio miss opportunities to demonstrate all that makes them special. In many cultures (not often American culture, but sometimes), humility is respected and expected more than showcasing success. So for many international candidates especially, I’ve seen this as a challenge and a struggle, although it is definitely something candidates of all backgrounds grapple with as well.
Advice: It’s important to be able to talk about your strengths, for an interviewer can’t read your mind and extract the good stuff. But you must also realize that some of this is just factual.
Sometimes it helps to make a list; take inventory of all that you’ve done to build your character, specific and desired skills, and peer-based and professional relationships. Seeing it on paper may make it feel less subjective. What you’ve accomplished, where you’ve excelled, the positive moments you’ve experienced while working with others- feel comfortable in talking about what is true.
You don’t have to brag or boast, or exaggerate, but you have to find a way to share pertinent information with potential employers.