Q&A: How to nail your interview, from GW’s top career official

Still so nervous about your resumé that the only change you’ve made to it is the font size? Here are some tips from the head of career services Rachel Brown about mistakes every applicant makes, overcoming awkward interview moments and what to cut – and keep – on your resumé.

Hatchet: What are common mistakes every applicant makes? What should be left off a resumé?

Brown: Common mistakes typically stem from a lack of preparation and research. Any successful job search begins by asking and addressing “who I am” – knowing your skills and
experiences and how they relate to the opportunity at hand.

It is also important to know your values, interests and preferences as they help to determine your best fit within an organization or position. Additionally, specifically knowing “what I want”– which could be the industry, the type of position, the kind of work you want to do or the problem you want to solve – is part of establishing your foundation.

Most often mistakes on resumés and cover letters can be avoided by carefully critiquing them and having them reviewed by multiple people, especially for avoidable mistakes such as grammatical errors. With the competitive job market, sometimes employers need to find reasons to eliminate a candidate, and we don’t want students to give them a reason.

Hatchet: Could you share some anecdotes about the strongest and weakest job interviews you’ve seen?

Brown: Sometimes the strongest interviews come out of the potentially weakest moments. Students should expect the unexpected and be prepared. It is important to maintain your confidence, composure and poise.

I’ve been part of interviews where something unexpected happened – a person was late, they spilled their coffee or had technical difficulties – that could have been detrimental to the interview process, but what was most important was how the person responded to the situation. Acknowledge that there is an error and move forward with confidence and professionalism.

Stay focused and “in the moment” – listen to what your interviewers are saying and asking; respond with specific and concise responses that articulate what I mentioned above, show your enthusiasm and be on your “A game” all of the time.

Hatchet: What experiences – outside jobs and internships – stand out most on a resumé?

Brown: At the Center for Career Services, we often encourage students to think of experiences as broadly as possible. One way to think about and define an experience is that it is something that has broadened your skillset or perspective.

For example, being a student leader, participating in a research project or working as part of a group for a class project, community service experience, study abroad, being a student athlete or veteran (this is not exhaustive but some experiences to consider). Sometimes we have to step back with students to help them think more broadly about experiences, particularly with first year students who might not have as much traditional experience.

Hatchet: How can you make a cover letter stand out?

Brown: What helps a resumé and cover letter stand out is making what is in each relevant to the reader. It goes back to the idea of knowing who you are and what you want. Lastly, be as specific as possible and quantify when you can – if you know the number of volunteers or dollars raised, include that information.

It is not about what you “did” but what you contributed or learned. For resumés, most often, less is more. You don’t need – or want – to tell the reader everything, just enough to land an interview.

Hatchet: What questions do you think most job seekers forget to ask at the end of a job interview?

Brown: You should make sure you know what the next steps in process are, and if you are unsure, ask. However, at the end of the interview, it may not be the last question you ask, but your closing statement that is critical. Your statement should reiterate your interest in the position and why you’re a good fit. Throughout the interview you should show your enthusiasm. Many times when I’ve spoken with employers about candidates, they’ve told me that if they have two equally qualified candidates, they will pick the one who seemed the most enthusiastic.

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