By Gwynnie Frey
In my last post, I described navigating the challenges of creating a resume and attending the career fair.
That was only the beginning of the process!
Once interviewing began, it didn’t stop for a full month.
I interviewed with 12 companies for a variety of positions before deciding to accept a position in technology consulting, and while the process was tiring, it was essential to finding a position that I would be excited about and ready to take on.
My first round interviews happened both on-campus and over the phone. While the interviews in both settings were similar, I was significantly more nervous for the interviews where I was meeting someone in person. Even as I write this, that tingling sensation returns to my stomach!
I found that the key to having a successful interview was being prepared. Whether the interview was in person or on the phone, I went through the same steps to prepare myself.
I always spent the morning before the interview totally absorbed in the company website, job description, and my own resume. I went to the interview with a very clear concept of what I am about, what the company is about, and how I thought we would fit together. I also took a written list of questions that I had for the person who was interviewing me, which usually made while researching their company.
I also made a practice of writing out a couple of journal entries of challenging work experiences I had in the past. In the entry, I described the situation, what the challenges were, what I did to address them, and what I now see I could have done better. Questions about these situations always tended to come up, so I made sure I was prepared with examples that I thought through ahead of time. Not only did this give me a clear perspective on the experiences themselves, but it also helped me formulate language to communicate them correctly. If I had already found words to concisely describe what happened, it made it much easier to clearly communicate those ideas verbally to someone else.
Each interview was a little different. Some were very relaxed and informal. Some were very formal and nerve-racking. I tried to remain consistent in my approach to each interview.
Not only did I prepare for the interview itself (as described above), I also prepared for the week surrounding the interview. I scheduled my week in a way that would allow me to get my work done and have a relaxing few hours around the interview time. Planning was essential so that I never felt rushed or unprepared.
When I walked into the interview room, I was not focused on my clothes at all. I carefully selected clothes that were physically comfortable (no tight waistbands or jackets that pulled at the shoulder), and very professional. Suits are easy, because if they fit right, they look good. I made sure I bought my suit plenty of time before the interviews began, so if I had trouble finding one, I wouldn’t be in a panic at the last minute.
While waiting for the interview to begin, I would occasionally have a thought about something I had read, or a memory that might be relevant, so it helped to have paper and pen to quickly jot it down so I wouldn’t forget about it.
I arrived at the interview at least 15 minutes early every time. This way, I could use the restroom, smooth my hair, and sit quietly before going in. I used the time before the interview to meditate and really compose myself, quieting my mind. I did this for phone interviews as well, and made a habit of reserving a quiet room where I wouldn’t be interrupted for the duration of the call.
All of my preparation was for one reason: so I wouldn’t feel cornered and start saying things that weren’t really me. I also tried to remember that my interviewer was a person too, and they would have to spend all day talking to people who were nervous and anxious.This helped me be a little more relaxed.
I was prepared, the rest followed.
If I laid the groundwork properly, the interviews went fine. There are no perfect answers in an interview, so I believe that planning responses doesn’t work very well. Similarly, asking pre-programmed questions is not a very natural thing to do if I have just spent 30 minutes talking to someone one-on-one. If I had been listening carefully to what he/she said, I found that the questions came naturally. Occasionally I would mentally refer back to my written list, but usually I responded real-time to the interviewer.
I found it was so important to communicate clearly and authentically, and most of all, to connect with the person across the table in a genuine way. There is nothing I could do to fake a genuine interaction, so the best I could do was make sure I was as prepared as possible and then go in there being present.
Some of the interviews went really well, some were pretty uncomfortable, but the more I did, the more comfortable I felt doing them. By the end of the first round interviews, I had learned a lot about how to stay calm and say what I meant. Also, the physical nerves quickly subsided.
Look for my next post on Second Round interviews, traveling, and case interviews.
Gwynnie Frey is a 2nd year Masters student in the Information Management program at Syracuse University. She is interested in management of large data sets and exploring the human interaction factors that inform data collection and the design of data management systems. She received her BFA in Sculpture from the University of Colorado at Boulder in 2008. Follow her on Twitter @gwynniem.