I’ve been fortunate enough to sit in on quite a few interviews over the past few years. They’ve been for a variety of positions both full time and intern level and have included candidates from many different schools and firms. After a while I began to notice a few common trends that make the superstar candidates stand out. And on the flip side of that, I’ve also noticed a few things that make me cringe and wonder “why?” So I thought I would share the things I’ve noticed – starting with the wow-that-was-awesome things and then I’ll do a followup post on the cringe-worthy please-don’t-ever-do-this things.
So here we go! Here are my 10 Do’s for an Amazing Interview:
1. Be prepared. Common sense right? You’d be surprised. Please know where you are going, when your interview is and who to ask for, take everything you need with you, be prompt, and be dressed professionally. Also, I think it’s a good habit to bring at least 3 copies of your resume and at least 1 hard copy of your portfolio to an interview. We try to have a copy of your resume on hand and maybe even your portfolio, but NEVER assume that the firm will have it all printed and sitting on the table when you walk in. AND, I know it’s easy to show your portfolio on an iPad or tablet, but it can be really hard for everyone in your interview to clearly see your work at one time. So if you are going to bring a digital portfolio on an iPad, I suggest also bringing at least one hard copy.
2. Have questions for the interviewers. Ask about the firm’s culture, ask if they support employees taking the ARE’s, ask the interviewers how long they’ve been there and why. The point is, please ask questions. When you have ZERO questions, it can make it seem like you are disinterested. Asking questions shows that you are interested in the company and the people that are giving up their time to talk with you.
3. Be ready to talk about yourself a little bit. We like to get to know our candidates, where they come from, where they went to school, what hobbies they have. So think about this before you go into an interview and be prepared to share a little about yourself.
4. Be able to explain your projects and work. Don’t just tell me the program and client information. Tell me the story of your building, walk me through it, explain your process and design concept. Candidates that can speak well and present themselves and their work well ALWAYS standout from other candidates. Storytelling is a HUGE part of our work, so get good at it 🙂
5. Let your excitement and your passion for what you do shine through. Now, careful. Don’t fake it or over do it. But I absolutely love when I can visibly see how much a candidate loves a project they worked on or are so passionate about their sector of work or organization they volunteer with. To me, this shows that this candidate genuinely cares about what they do and the work they are a part of.
6. Do your research. Find out more about the firm and the specific office you are interviewing with. If you know who will be in your interview, try to find out a little about them, too. I was SHOCKED when a candidate for our internship program knew about my blog and my AIA involvement. She was also familiar with the firm’s work and values and even some of our local projects. Very impressive.
7. Find something that makes YOU stand out from everyone else. You will be extremely surprised at what might make someone remember you. In one of my interviews during college, I made a surprise connection with a fellow Sigma Kappa. In another interview they were fascinated to find out that I used to dragrace. Please don’t make something up. It doesn’t have to be something crazy. Some of the best interviews I remember from the last couple of years are students that spoke about their unique design-build projects or the new organization they started in their school or even showed pictures of their amazing furniture they built as a hobby.
8. Be confident. I know this can be hard, interviews are nerve wracking! I remember shaking during my first interview for a summer internship, but as I had more interviews the easier it all became. Do whatever you can to practice before an interview. Have a friend ask you questions and practice walking them through your portfolio. It breaks my heart when a candidate is so nervous that they cannot even walk us through a project in their portfolio. So practice and gain confidence in yourself. The more you practice and speak out loud to someone else, the more comfortable you will be during the real thing.
9. Know your strengths. You might have great work and not so much on the involvement or leadership side. Or maybe you have an amazing list of leadership roles and volunteer hours with a strong passion and drive. Sometimes you might have a nice combo of both. Either way, if you’re personality and drive can sell you more than your work, then make sure that comes out in your interview. If you have amazing work, make sure you can do it justice when you explain it.
10. Write a thank you note – a handwritten put in snail mail – thank you note. I know, I know. You’re thinking “but doesn’t an email do the same thing, and it’s way faster”. An email is good, especially just to do a quick follow-up. BUT, nothing stands out more than a handwritten thank you card that actually took time and effort to send. Sometimes “the old school way” is still the best way of doing things.
I hope this offers you some helpful insight for upcoming interviews! Good luck!