You may have aced Intermediate Accounting, but you didn’t count on getting lost on the way to your first big job interview. So you arrived late and flustered, chugged a restorative cup of coffee in the reception area and then offered your interviewer a sweaty handshake.
Those simple mistakes may have cost you the job, according to Patricia D. Sadar, a 20-year veteran of Human Resources Management and author of Congratulations …You Aced the Interview and Congratulations …You’re Hired, for recent college graduates.
“Students and parents alike spend their valuable time and hard-earned money to get into the right school and earn their college degree,” said Sadar, an adjunct professor at Florida International University. “It seems as though they forget the big picture—landing the job."
That’s an even greater challenge in today’s market, which can be especially hard to crack for young workers. 60% of recent college graduates do not have full-time jobs in their fields of study, according to a May 2011 study.
But Sadar has some tips to succeed, even in this dismal market:
Tailor Your Résumé to the Job
Recruiters often simply scan résumés, so be sure the experience and skills being sought are easy to spot, and the same information is repeated in your cover letter. Include a professional summary, competencies, strengths and accomplishments all focused on the position for which you’re applying.
Prepare for Before, During and After the Interview
Know how to get there and allow extra time so you don’t arrive late. Don’t use strong cologne or tobacco products, and don’t drink coffee beforehand, all of which can be smelly turn-offs. Do pop a breath mint—not chewing gum, which has no place in an interview. If your palms are sweaty, wipe your hand discreetly before giving a firm handshake. Follow up with a thank-you note to the interviewer within 24 hours. (For how to dress for an interview, read our tips.)
Be Truthful When Asked About Weaknesses
People often avoid these questions or answer by presenting what they consider to be a strength as a weakness, such as “I’m a workaholic” or “I’m a perfectionist.” The interviewer wants to know if you can recognize your weaknesses and how you’re working on them, or whether you can admit mistakes and learn from them. Be prepared to honestly discuss one weakness and one past mistake.
Ask Questions, but Not About Salary, Benefits, Sick or Vacation Time
Go prepared to ask three to five questions about the company, the department or the position. You might ask the interviewer to describe the ideal candidate for the job, what he or she most enjoys about working for the company or what the company’s biggest challenges will be in the coming year.
Mealtime Interviews Are Not About the Food
Order a conservatively priced meal that doesn’t have a strong smell and that you can eat without making a mess. Don’t order an alcoholic beverage, even if your interviewer does, and mind your table manners.
Be Courteous to Everyone You Meet, From Parking Lot to Restroom
Don’t underestimate the importance of parking attendants, receptionists and security guards, who often have influence with decision-makers. The person in the elevator or at the lavatory could be the CEO or a potential future boss.
Patricia D. Sadar is CEO of People2Strategy, a strategic Human Resources consulting firm and is an adjunct professor at Florida International. She is also a faculty member at University of Phoenix, as well as a speaker, career coach and author. A graduate of Nova Southeastern University, she holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees in Business Administration.