Heart of the Matter

Andy Chan's Blog for Parents, Mentors and Teachers


Top 10 Interview Tips for New College Graduates

One of the most critical stages of the job search process is the interview. While resumes, cover letters and networking might get you into the room, the job offer often comes down to the interview. After all, employers are hiring a person, not a piece of paper. Therefore, it is critical that students and recent graduates be prepared so they can thrive in interviews.

Recently, I was asked for the unique things that today’s college students must know and do to succeed in interviews. What I realized is that because students have almost no job interview experience, students don’t know what they don’t know. With help from our career counselors, I developed a list of Top 10 interview tips for college students:

1. Do your homework on the job, the organization, the competition and the industry. Reading the website is the minimum. Tap your college and/or high school alumni network and your parents’ network to get the inside scoop. Most students don’t read business magazines, newspapers or trade journals, so when you do, you’ll stand out from the crowd. Doing this homework will prevent you from asking really obvious — and naïve — questions.

2. Anticipate and prepare for the typical questions with strong personal answers.“Tell me about yourself.” “What are your strengths and weaknesses?” “Tell me about your greatest accomplishments.” “Share a time you failed and how you responded to the situation.” “Why do you want this job?” “Why this organization?” Have your answers and examples so well rehearsed that it’s natural.

3. Develop 5-7 adaptable stories from your resume related to the job you’re seeking. Start with the situation by describing the context and problem. Then explain what you did to improve the situation and describe the results in quantifiable terms. This demonstrates that you understand the importance and the impact of your personal contributions. With these stories prepared in advance, you can adapt them to various questions.

4. Frame your answers to show how you will add value to the organization. Many students too often focus on why they want the job, what they will get out of it, and why it will be good for them. Turn the tables and explain how and why you can and will benefit the organization. Find ways to tactfully mention what they’d gain if they hired you (or how much they’d miss out on if they didn’t).

5. Use the right vocabulary. Surprise an employer by actually being able to translate how your academic or extracurricular experiences have helped to prepare you for the role you’re interviewing for — using words in the job description. Very few students can do this. For example, if you’re a theatre major, describe how you managed and promoted a play or musical production using your project management, creativity and sales skills.

6. Prepare two or three ‘go-to’ questions that demonstrate you prepared in advance and your strategic thinking. There’s a difference between “Tell me about the culture” and “Tell me about how major decisions are made here and provide an example of a recent decision and the process used.” Or, “I read that the organization is changing its strategic direction. How will that affect this business unit?” Avoid questions where answers are on the website.

7. Practice interviewing out loud with mentors, adult fans or even in the mirror. Most students have not done many (if any) job interviews – and definitely not when under pressure. It’s important to hear the words you intend to speak, including the tone, emphasis, inflections and facial impressions, so that you don’t blow it when it really counts. It’s rare to get a second chance.

8. Demeanor, humble self-confidence, personality and enthusiasm really matter.Smile! Allow your voice tone, words and body language to communicate your genuine excitement about the opportunity. It will be a significant decision factor for your interviewer. If you don’t, your interviewer will question if you really want the job or if you’re going to be committed to the organization. This is one of the top reasons why people do not get job offers.

9. Don’t judge a book by its cover. Many students have difficulty getting excited about entry-level jobs because they feel overqualified or discouraged that the work will not be fulfilling. In each interview, your primary objective is to get invited back for another interview and to eventually secure an offer. As you progress through the process, many find that the job and organization are much more interesting than they originally thought.

10. Finish strong and follow up. Always close with a final statement that makes it crystal clear that you are genuinely excited and interested in the opportunity, including why you’d be a great hire and fit for the job and organization. Clarify next steps and the timeline. Email a thank you note less than 24 hours after the interview while it is still fresh on your mind. Articulate your fit and why they should hire you specific to the interview conversations. Every interviewer expects a thank you note from each candidate, so no note is a sign of no interest and no professionalism. To really stand out, also send a neatly hand-written thank you note soon after the interview.


Andy Chan’s Top 10 Interview Tips for New College Graduates first appeared on The Huffington Post College Blog on June 14, 2013. 

Online Job Search and Career Resources

Even though the OPCD’s office is open from 8:30 am – 5:00 pm Monday – Friday, we realize college students operate on a different schedule. In order to ensure our tools and resources are available to Wake Forest students at any time night or day, we have identified a wide variety of quality resources that are available on our website 24 hours a day. Some of these resources are offered by reputable third parties and are paid for by Wake Forest (which would cost a student or alumnus hundreds of dollars if they had to purchase access on their own); others have been developed through partnerships with other colleges and universities; and some have been created by the OPCD team and are specifically designed for Wake Forest students.

Our foremost challenge is getting students to know about and use all these resources in their career development and job search process. Many students mistakenly think that DeaconSource is the only online resource they need and are left unhappy because it did not meet their expectations. DeaconSource is a very important tool that enables students to receive tailored information and news from the OPCD based on their interests, yet students still need to look further and utilize other resources to find what they really need.

Parents – you can help your student by making them aware of the online resources that fit with their interests and needs. Below is a list of some of the most valuable and utilized resources on the OCPD website.

Job and Internship Search 

  • Career Shift – Online networking tool that enables jobseekers to identify, research and cross-reference jobs and contacts.
  • Going Global – Features 33 Country Career guides, 43 USA City Career guides, corporate profiles and more than 600,000 internship and job listings within the USA and around the world.
  • The Internship Center – Online internship database that categorizes popular internships by city and career field.

Interview Preparation

  • Interview Stream – Practice mock interviewing from your computer any place, any time. Tailored questions are available by career field and you can get feedback on your mock interviews from friends, mentors, parents, career counselors and advisors.
  • STAR Method Worksheet – Interview preparation worksheet to help students organize their responses to behavioral interview questions by the Situations and Tasks they encountered, the Actions they took, and the Results they achieved.


  • Wake Forest Career Connectors – LinkedIn group of over 6000 alumni, students, parents, and faculty dedicated to providing advice and information to current Wake Forest students. Instructional videos guide students to build professional LinkedIn profiles. At least 50% of the Wake Forest student body is connected on LinkedIn each year.
  • Networking Tracking Tool – Pre-formatted Excel template helps students organize and track their opportunities and contacts.
  • Vault – Huge library of career and industry guides helps students in their research and exploration. Very useful before meeting networking contacts and conducting informational interviews in order to avoid asking basic questions and to be well-prepared for the conversation.

These are just a few of the many resources available to students. More online job search and career development tools and resources can be found on the OPCD website.

I’ll do anything

When asked by networking contacts, “What are you looking for in your next job?”, many job seekers reply, “I’ll do anything.” Since this answer seems to communicate that you are open and flexible, it’s a tempting response.

However, it’s a terrible response. Why?

1. Most people won’t do “just anything”. When questioned further, the job seeker typically admits “I won’t move to Toledo (no offense to Toledo residents)” or “I really hate sales” or “I have no interest in technology”. It’s pretty uncomfortable to be caught in a lie while in the middle of an informational interview. And it sounds like you have no idea what you’re looking for.

2. It sounds desperate. Employers prefer to hire people who are confident, positive and have opinons (but not over-confident, arrogant and stubborn). Networking contacts retreat from people who are desperate and not clear about what they are looking for. They will not refer job seekers to other people when the job seeker is not clear regarding what they are looking for and why.

Here’s a better response.

“I have experience in consumer marketing and am an avid gamer. I would like to perform a marketing role in a video game software company like Electronic Arts or Sony or Valve, which made Half Life and Steam. I’d prefer to stay in the San Francisco Bay Area and I am open to other U.S. cities in the west coast like Seattle or Los Angeles.”

A. The role/function is general. This demonstrates that you are not title- or role-constrained. A VP in one company could be a director in another. If you’re too specific, you may never get in the door to find out.

B. The industry sector is specific. It’s not just any old software company. Sector-specificity enables greater chance of finding relevant contacts by breaking down large industries into manageable chunks for the networking contacts. It’s easier to remember, too.

C. Company names and products provide another memorable anchor. If you haven’t done enough homework to have a list of at least 10 companies that are interesting to you, you’re probably not ready to be having networking meetings.

D. You may have very rigid location constraints. If you do, say so. If you’re open, be specific about where you are willing to move.

If you’re not sure about what you want, then take the time to figure that out before you start networking. Meet with a career advisor or career coach. Use some self-assessment tools, like the 100 Jobs Exercise or CareerLeader. If you’re in the early stages of the networking process, you can answer instead, ” I am interested in marketing and consumer products like video games. I am hoping to learn more about the field and possible opportunities through meeting with people like you.”

But never say “I’ll do anything.” It’s a killer answer – for you.

What are YOU looking for in your next job? Share your pitch.

My blown interview

I had an interview today with Bloomberg News. It was a live feed, a type of interview I have never before experienced. It didn’t go very well. I blew it.

I thought that I was prepared. I dressed the part. I arrived early. I had been given instructions by my media relations manager. I had a list of possible questions. I had prepared answers in my mind.

That’s where things went wrong.

For the live feed, I entered a dark room with very bright lights shining on a lone black chair in front of a very wide screen tv panel (not the friendliest scene!). A cameraman directed me to put a earpiece in my ear, place the wire microphone on my jacket lapel and sit down. As I sat in the chair, I could not see the tv camera and had trouble figuring out where to direct my eyesight. I could hear the live television show featuring an interview with Connecticut Senator Joe Lieberman. With 10 minutes to go, the producer, Jonah, introduced himself through the earpiece and I asked him what questions they wanted to me answer. He said “We’re interested in what you are doing at Stanford to help your students in this job market.”

I spent the next 5 minutes pondering my answer to that question. The news anchor, Deidre Bolton, introduced herself to me. She soon launched into the segment. Her first question had nothing to do with Jonah’s topic or any of the questions I had prepared. I was caught so off guard that I didn’t know what to say. ON LIVE TV!

I bumbled through the first question and launched into my prepared remarks. Deidre actually tried to stop me, but then let me finish. Since I couldn’t see her, I wondered if she was making grimacing at my answers. My head was spinning. I was shaking inside. Did I say ON LIVE TV?

I took a deep breath and listened to her next question. Yes! I can answer that one. And the next one. Just as I was starting to groove, it was over.

I learned a few things today:

  1. Practice my answers in the mirror and say them out loud. Rehearsing them in my head wasn’t sufficient.
  2. Listen attentively to the question and remain in the present. I was so committed to what I wanted to say that I wasn’t ready for, nor did I listen closely to, Deidre’s first question.
  3. If the environment isn’t comfortable, try to adjust it. When I couldn’t see the camera, I should have asked the cameraman about it. I spoke with him afterwards and he said “Oh, I would have put a piece of white tape on the camera for you to focus on – if you had said something.” Doh!

I can’t wait to do it again. Seriously.

What have you learned from your blown interviews?