Many graduates think applying for internships and scholarships is simply a lesser version of a job search. Why is this not the case?
The world of employment is a much more competitive landscape today. New grads need to realize that thousands of other kids their age are in the same boat and there are a lot less dream jobs than dream seekers. With unemployment at a rate of 7.4% the competition also extends to experienced job seekers who are willing to take unpaid internships just get their “foot back in the door.”
Scholarships are also highly competitive – if your grades are exceptional, if you’re athletically talented, if you have some strong performance talent, or if you’re deeply engaged in community service, you may be able to qualify for a scholarship — but you will be competing with hundreds of other talented students for the same scholarship.
What are some of the unique interview challenges new grads face when compared to their more-seasoned counterparts?
Great question! The unique interview challenges that all new grads face as they enter the job market include:
- Lack of Experience: This is the big “Chicken and Egg” problem that all New Grads face. You need experience to be able to get a job. However, in order to gain experience, you need a job. It’s a problem that every Entry Level Job seeker must overcome in order to start their career.
- Debt and Dwindling Resources: As the average debt-load of a college graduate continues to climb, so does the pressure to pay it off. Grace periods generally last no more than six months, meaning that you risk falling behind on your payments if you don’t find a job right after school. This only increases the level of pressure to find work, potentially leading to desperation (which can often lead to lost opportunities).
- Sense of Entitlement: One of the biggest complaints that employers have is that New Grads feel entitled. Entitled to high salaries, early promotions, and respect before it is deserved. Even if you don’t display these characteristics, you may still have to overcome the stereotype.
- Poor Job Market: Last but not least, the job market itself is one of the biggest challenges that a New Grad has to overcome. A catastrophic downturn in the economy has led to astronomical unemployment rates for recent graduates. This is yet another blow to anyone who is fresh out of school and looking to start a career.
Are there any advantages to being a fresh graduate interviewing for jobs?
The answer is easy, if you have the confidence to market yourself, your youth and fresh approach to the job can become assets if you know how to position them. Here are some strengths you should always mention.
- Your youth and energy. As a new graduate in your first real job, your energy and enthusiasm will be a tremendous asset. Presumably, you have a passion for your field, and have been preparing four years (or more) for your first big chance. Play up the fact that you’re very excited about this opportunity.
- Your flexibility. Brand new to the field, you have no pre-conceived ideas of how things should be done. Many employers worry that young workers expect too much too quickly – that they’re not willing to start at the bottom and earn promotions. In addition to being flexible about your schedule, emphasize the fact that you’re here to learn. Sometimes more experienced workers want to dictate how things will be done, or have trouble breaking old habits. Your approach to work as an opportunity to watch and learn from experts will be refreshing.
- Being technology savvy. Many young people have a technology advantage as well. If you’re like most young graduates, you’ve grown up with the Internet and mastered computer skills in grade school. If you’re employed in a field where technology changes often, you’ll have the skills to master new systems easily. Emphasize your comfort with technology and how wiling you are to share your knowledge.
- Your connection to the community. As a young person, you represent a group that is of great value to your employer. If young people are targeted by your company as customers, your connection to the way they think and make decisions can be extremely helpful. If young people have not traditionally been targeted as customers or employees, offer to help create a plan for outreach.
What are your top interview tips for new grads?
My top 5 interview tips for new grads to improve your chances for success are:
- Do your Homework and Be Prepared. Preparation is the key to succeed at any interview. But most fresh graduates don’t prepare enough, which is why they fail. If you want to get the job, then you need to prove it that you’ve done your research.
- Have Examples & Draft Stories. Your interviewer wants to see how your current skills complement the requirements of the job. The best way to prove them is to share stories about your previous achievements. Why? Because interviewers like to see examples of your behaviors and how you handled certain situations…stories are by far more convincing than factual data.
- 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.
- Do Some Mock Interviews & Practice Out Loud with mentors, family, and 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.
- Prepare 2 or 3 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.
Now pick your number 1 tip. Would you elaborate on why this is the best piece of advice for novice interviewers?
#1 Tip: Do Your Homework and Be Prepared
We hear this all the time from Employers: “The candidate was unprepared” [and] “had no idea about our product or service offerings.” Seasoned folks all know preparation is the key to succeed at any interview. But most fresh graduates don’t prepare enough, which is why they fail. If you want to get the job, then you need to prove it that you’ve done your homework. You need to go out of your way to find out as much as you can about the company, about its culture, the industry trends, and so on. That’s how you demonstrate your worth to the interviewer.
Do your homework on the job, the organization, the competition and the industry. Read the press releases on their website. Look for articles in the business press evaluating the progress of the organization. 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 and set you apart from your competition.
Is there anything else you’d like to say about this topic?
Focus On Your Potential.
Emphasize your potential, which clearly shows that you have what it takes to succeed at the job. If you don’t have real world experience to boast of or if your past achievements aren’t relevant to the job, then you should talk about your quick learning and adapting abilities. It helps you win the confidence of your interviewer to a great extent.
Remember, as a fresh graduate, you might not have highly specialized skills and years of experience under your belt, but everybody has something unique to offer. That’s the uniqueness that you need to use to make an impact on your interviewer.
Being a New Graduate is tough. At times, it can seem like the world is against you. You feel everything from the weight of your parents expectations, to the size of your student loans, to the unspoken competition from your friends and classmates for scarce jobs.
These challenges are not insurmountable. Searching for a job is something that everyone will do at some point or several points in his or her life. It is the combination of years of education, reaching goals, and individual success. It seems like it should be a very natural process, yet most people spend more time planning their vacations than planning their job searches! It takes time and planning to be able to land the job you really want.
Happy Job Hunting!
About the Author
Ms. Luba S. Sydor holds a Master’s Degree in Human Resources and a BBA in Business. With over 25 years experience, she has held a variety of human resources management positions with oversight for people strategies, programs & processes in both large and smaller growth companies, namely within the pharmaceutical, medical device and biotech industries.
She is the founder of Person 2 Person, LLC which specializes in human resources consulting, career counseling and executive search in Life Sciences. She has placed over 400+ employees with Fortune 500 firms nationally.