As commencement season approaches, a flood of freshly minted graduates will soon hit the job market. Preparation is key. Too often those who struggle make the same basic mistakes: arriving late, dressing inappropriately, chewing gum as they talk, handing over sloppy resumes or simply not responding to recruiters’ requests for information.
Recently, KPMG conducted interviews with recruiters for clues on what unsuccessful candidates do wrong. More than 52 percent of the 172 recruiters said that poor interviewing skills were the most common shortcoming among job candidates followed by lack of etiquette and resume problems. Specifically, they said that the top four biggest turnoffs in interviews are job candidates who provide answers lacking specific examples, are not able to articulate past experiences, have little understanding of the company, and ask inappropriate questions.
Sarah Shuey, a senior manager in KPMG’s audit practice in Washington, offered several tips for succeeding in the interview, including:
Engage in mock interviews and role-playing so you will be able to convey strength and confidence. Confidence and presentation was the No. 1 behavior noted by recruiters as giving one job candidate an edge over another candidate.
Talk about relevant aspects of previous work (whether paid or volunteer) to demonstrate you can do the job.
Make sure the interviewer understands the work you do and how it is relevant to the job you are seeking.
Give respect to the person doing the interviews. Sometimes the recruiters are high-level managers, owners or partners in the firm, yet students may treat them like they are their fraternity buddies (e.g., “Hey dude, whadya think about that game last night.”). No matter what their position in the firm, recruiters deserve your professional respect and consideration. Remember, how you treat them tells them something about how you might treat a client of the firm.
Likewise, Jeffrey Kudisch, managing director of the Office of Career Services at the Robert H. Smith School of Business, offers the following tips to applicants to shine in interviews:
Do your research. Make sure you have a working knowledge of the company, including its mission, products/services and industry. Get on their Web site and learn about their strategic information such as their core competencies and values.
Be relevant and concise. When discussing your career accomplishments make sure you match them to what the company is looking for. Focus on how you can create value for the company. Keep your answers concise, about two minutes in length. Tangents and rambling turn off recruiters.
Be engaged and don’t dominate. Recruiters like candidates who can engage in meaningful conversations. On the other hand, too much initiative can derail an exchange. Avoid overselling yourself to a recruiter. Remember, a conversation is a dialogue, not a monologue.
Ask great questions. Prepare a list of questions you want to ask an interviewer. Pose questions that demonstrate your knowledge of the organization and subtly convey your expertise. Also, ask questions to better understand the recruiter’s interests. Avoid being overly aggressive — excessive questions can discourage potential employers.
The interview is one of the most commonly used tools to select individuals for jobs. All applicants, particularly college graduates, should make sure they have spent the time to effectively prepare for these interviews.
As the KPMG survey data revealed, most recruiters are not seeking perfection from college students, and are okay if applicants fall short on some dimensions. They do, however, expect them to come well prepared. Remember, if it’s a choice between you and another applicant, the better-prepared person usually walks away with the job.
Joyce E. A. Russell is the director of the Executive Coaching and Leadership Development Program at the University of Maryland’s Robert H. Smith School of Business. She is a licensed industrial and organizational psychologist and has more than 25 years of experience coaching executives and consulting on leadership and career management. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.