I have met many talented candidates, from all over the globe, with a diversity of majors and with interesting life and work experience. While I love meeting all these different people and engaging in fascinating conversation, my goal at the end of the day is to find the right people for my company. Given this experience, college students often ask for advice on how to stand out during the interview process.
While I’ve recruited across a variety of industries and for countless different roles, as I look across the talent that I’ve hired over the years, patterns begin to emerge. Successful employees are engaged, interested in continuous learning, enthusiastic about meeting the needs of clients and have strong communication skills. When I meet with college students, it’s not about their major; it’s about their passion for what they are studying. It’s not about their work experience but what they learned from that experience. It’s not about topics that they researched or projects that they worked on but that they were engaged in and excited about the process of learning. Whether they mowed lawns all summer or interned at an investment bank, it’s that they worked hard and can point to the results of their work and the impact they had on their company or their client.
If you are currently in college or a recent grad and these characteristics describe you, here are some ways to stand out during the interview process:
- Attend career fairs and recruiting events on campus. They are a great way to learn about new companies and industries that you might not even be aware of.
- Come to your interview prepared. That can be as basic as bringing paper and pen to take notes (you’d be surprised how many people show up empty-handed). It also means spending time learning about the company with which you are interviewing. I’m looking for people who have invested time in trying to understand the services my company provides and the clients we serve.
- Sell yourself. This is an opportunity for you to tell me about how you would add value. Tell me about your great internship experience but do so in a way that I understand how you added value to that company. Relay how you can do the same at your next employer.
- Be yourself. I can’t stress this one enough. Companies want to get to know the real you, not the one you think they want to meet. At the end of the day, they may not be the right fit for you and vice versa but no one will know that if you don’t let them see who you really are. It’s okay to let them know that you have a fun side too.
- Ask questions. Be engaged in the conversation. See the interview as an opportunity to learn about the company and the things that matter to you: career advancement, work life balance, office culture, etc. Asking questions shows them that you’ve given some thought to what they do (see bullet #2) and if they are the right place for you.
- Follow up. Your engagement doesn’t end when you walk out the door or hang up the phone. Send an email to say thanks but also to focus on a particularly meaningful part of conversation. That added touch will set you apart.