Career corner: Interviews may be intimidating, but they aren’t impossible to navigate

A man in a tie sits nervously in a yellow chair. An off-screen interviewer asks through blue speech bubbles, "What makes you unique? what are your weaknesses?"
Graphic by Annie Wu

You open your inbox and see an email from an unfamiliar sender. You click on it and see … not a phishing email asking you to immediately wire $1,000 to someone overseas, but a message from a recruiter asking to interview you for your dream internship.

You reread the email a few times and feel that pre-interview nervousness creeping up despite all your excitement, but don’t fret. It’s not too good to be true, and there are ways to prepare so you can ace an intimidating interview.

There are several mediums for interviews — video call, phone call, recorded, in person — as well as interviews with either a panel of interviewers or only one. There are also different types of interviews — some are industry-specific, some are general. Interviews usually last anywhere from 15 minutes to over an hour, but most interviews are usually 30 to 45 minutes.

Regardless of your interview type, you want to dress appropriately, which usually means business casual or business formal clothing. Even if the interviewer says you don’t need to dress up, you should. 

That being said, you probably don’t need to wear a suit to an interview for a position making milkshakes at In-N-Out, but it never hurts to look nice. Good posture helps you look professional, too.

To prepare for your interview, I recommend thinking of questions that your interviewer may ask. If you’re unsure, you can do some research

Interview questions may vary based on your field and position level, but expect them to ask about your related experience and test you on your knowledge of the company. If you are applying to intern for a member of the Senate, for example, you should know some of their major policies, and maybe even some trivia about the senator. 

When answering questions during an interview or preparing your responses, think of the STAR method to frame your answer: skill, the task that required the skill, actions you took to accomplish the task and the result of your actions — the response should be a one to two-minute story. With STAR, you develop the essential details of an answer and prevent rambling. 

The skills you focused on in your cover letter would be a great place to start. You can also talk about other experiences, even if they aren’t on your resume; just keep them professional. Avoid making your interviewer uncomfortable with overly personal details.

Other key ideas: be honest, but be positive. Sure, not everything is perfect, but “go high” and think of past lows with a growth mindset. What did you learn? 

Also, don’t trash talk old bosses or coworkers! For real, that only reflects poorly on you.

If you want some face-to-face practice, schedule a mock interview with your campus career center or ask an adviser or mentor to ask you some practice questions. A familiar face might make practicing a little more comfortable, but someone who has years of work experience may be more helpful than your best friend in this situation.

At the end of your interview, you’ll probably get asked if you have any questions. No matter what, you should. It shows interest and gives you an opportunity to learn more about the company. 

These questions can be about the company, about something the interviewer(s) said or what they like about the company, about the position or any other related topic. You can ask the same questions after every interview — no one will know! Try to ask at least two, but be respectful of the interviewer’s time. 

Your interviewer is human, too. Don’t be afraid to make some small talk at your interview to start things off, and don’t forget to say thank you at the end and to send a thoughtful note via email (good) or in the mail (better). I’ve heard of cases where a handwritten thank you note makes a difference in who gets an offer, but interview thank yous are in general a nice thing to do. 

The key to reducing interview nerves is preparation. You’ll likely feel a bit nervous no matter what, like when you take an exam, but it will be empowering to know you studied and can put your best foot forward.

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Olivia Truesdale SC ’21 is TSL’s career columnist. She’s a career consultant at Scripps Career Planning & Resources and currently studying abroad in Seoul, South Korea. She encourages you to check out the resources available at your campus career center.

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