7 Tips for Students to Be More Professional at a Job Interview

Going to your first job interview as a college student can be intimidating. However, coming across as a professional adult is possible with just a bit of practice. The more you practice, the more comfortable you’ll feel, so take these 7 job interview tips into account. 

A business person offering a handshake.

1. Dress to impress

The first step to professionalism is looking the part. Dressing appropriately for your interview will benefit you in multiple ways: firstly, it makes you come across as respectful and mature. Secondly, it puts you in the right frame of mind to be at your absolute best. Wearing a well-fitting and professional outfit makes you stand up a little taller; it makes you feel like you belong in that work environment. It doesn’t matter if you are even going for a McDonald’s interview, dressing well is one of the most important factors in getting the manager’s attention.

There’s no blanket rule for what to wear. Different industries have different standards — applying to work in a creative field warrants a different outfit than applying for a finance position.

Don’t hesitate to ask the administrative assistant or hiring manager about the typical dress code when you’re scheduling your interview. If you’re not sure, err towards being overdressed rather than under-dressed. It’s better to look overly eager than to look like you don’t care whether you get the job or not.

Buying the right style of clothes is just half of the battle. You also need clothes that fit you properly. They should be clean and pressed. Your hairstyle and grooming should also be office-appropriate.

2. Show up on time

If you do not show up to your interview on time, hiring managers can only assume that you’re habitually poor with time management. Even showing up 5 minutes late sends a message.

Aim to show up 5 or 10 minutes before your scheduled start time. That gives you time to settle in without inconveniencing the interviewer.

Additionally, when you’re figuring out how long it’ll take to get to the interview, it’s always a good idea to give yourself a bit of buffer time. That way, you don’t have to worry about being late in case anything goes wrong en route, like traffic or a missed train.

3. Practice at a mock interview first

Practicing with a mock interview at a college career center can greatly improve your performance at the actual interview. Mock interviews teach you about the types of questions that you can expect to receive and help you prepare for the ones that may be more difficult to answer. An interview coach can also improve your communication skills.

Another benefit of mock interviews is that they make you feel less nervous about the actual interview. Nervousness can get in the way of presenting yourself well, so the more prepared and comfortable you feel, the better.

Make sure to take the mock interview as seriously as you would take a real job interview. Otherwise, you’ll miss out on many of these benefits.

4. Don’t memorize rote answers

Although it’s important to practice answering interview questions beforehand, it’s also important to sound natural and unrehearsed. Hiring decisions are often based on personality and whether the candidate seems like they’d be a good cultural fit, so sounding like a robot isn’t going to work to your advantage.

Rather than rehearsing rote answers, try thinking of stories you want to tell about specific aspects of your experiences. For example, you can think of situations where you’ve been able to shine or where you overcame a challenge. Then, when a relevant question comes up, simply tell that story in a way that makes sense for the context.

5. Demonstrate your relevant experience

Don’t assume that interviewers know why you’re qualified for the job based on your resume. Getting this across in person at an interview demonstrates self-awareness and ambition. You should aim to tell a cohesive story about your experiences thus far that make you uniquely suited for this role.

When you speak about past jobs, internships, or volunteer experiences, try to link your responsibilities there to the job you’re interviewing for — even if the work wasn’t necessarily in a similar role or field. You can talk about how you developed skills like working on a team or communicating well, for instance.

There’s a reason why you think you’d be able to do this job, and interviewers should know it.

6. Speak confidently

Don’t be overly humble in your interview. While you certainly don’t want to exaggerate your accomplishments, make sure to talk about your past experiences in a positive manner that highlights your own successes. Equally important, make sure that your tone and body language conveys confidence.

Be thoughtful in your speech. Avoid filler language and informal, casual language. Speak loudly and clearly enough that the interviewer can hear you, and speak more slowly than you naturally do. Think of interviewing like giving a speech — you have to make certain adjustments to your natural tone of voice so that your words come across the way you want them to.

Speaking confidently is often a skill that must be learned over time, so don’t be scared to practice until you get it right.

7. Follow up

Send a brief email to the interviewer(s) thanking them for their time and perhaps commenting on something specific about your conversation with them, like a topic you enjoyed exploring.

This is a simple step that can go a long way toward showing enthusiasm for the job. Sending a thank you note won’t make or break your application, but it’s a way to show that you’re truly interested and it will help you stand out above candidates who didn’t bother.

These 7 simple tips will help you interview with confidence and get started on the career track of your dreams.

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