As Westminster College seniors prepare for graduation, many are also starting the job hunt in preparation to enter the workforce. It's a world Brianna Koucos, director of Westminster College's Career Center, knows intimately, with a specialization in helping students prepare for job interviews.
Koucos landed her first job after graduate school as a career counselor at Westminster College and later moved to Beaverton, Oregon, to work at Nike in its human resources department for two years. Afterward, she worked in career services at the University of Utah before coming back to where she started.
“I came back to Westminster because it was where I started my career, and I felt very grateful for the experience that I had when I first started," Koucos said. "I felt like it gave me a lot of skills and foundation.”
Koucos said she also wanted to return to Westminster to bring back what she's learned from her other jobs and to offer career services to Westminster's students and alumni, such as interview preparation.
Gulsum Bayazitova, a senior environmental studies major, said she has been using the Career Center to ease the stress of finding a job as she nears graduation.
"On a scale of one to 10, my stress level of doing an interview is around 8," Bayazitova said, "So usually I go there for help, including polishing my resume [and] cover letter. I also had a mock interview."
Bayazitova said she feels more confident since using the resources at the Career Center.
The Forum sat down with Koucos to hear her interview advice for Westminster students like Bayazitova who are preparing to enter the job market.
Q: What should a student prepare prior to an interview?
A: The most important is to know what the organization is and what the job is, what’s important to them, what’s their mission, what is the culture of the organization [and] what are they looking for in this candidate. The job description will be very helpful. If you ever wonder, 'How do I prepare for an interview?' [look at] the job description in any resources, like the website for an organization. Even their social media, LinkedIn pages [and] Facebook—the postings will really give you a very good sense of what’s important to the company. They will probably ask you some version of 'Why are you here?' 'Why do you want to work for us?' They really want to know that you have done the job to be prepared [and] done the work to understand what the job actually is.
Q: What tips do you have for students during an interview?
A: Listen to the questions carefully and do not anticipate what is asked.
People get very nervous. One of the big tips is to make sure that you listen to the question. Sometimes when you get so nervous, you are going to think that, 'I’m going to anticipate what they are going to ask' and you stop listening, so make sure that you are present in the moment. Don’t be afraid to breathe. Take a breath and make sure that you stay calm, but really, genuinely listen to the question. I’ve heard from a lot of recruiters that is sometimes frustrating because they feel like the candidates are answering a question that they didn’t really ask them, so a really good way to make an impression is to very thoroughly answer the question.
Prepare questions to ask the interviewers. “No questions” is not an option.
Be prepared with questions to ask when they ask you at the end, 'Do you have any questions for us?' Make sure that you have questions prepared—that’s a very good way to indicate that you are interested in the role. Make sure that you have three to five questions prepared. Please avoid ever saying, ‘No, I do not have any questions,’ because they won’t feel like you are interested in the position.
Know your skills well so you can sell your skills well.
A lot of people ask the question, 'Why do we want to hire you?' That’s a pretty common one. And a student might feel, ‘Gosh, how can I answer that question? I have no idea why.’ It makes people nervous. People don’t want to brag and they don’t want to look like they are being arrogant. Know the job description and know your skills and know how those two fit together. Knowing how you fit in with the position could be really valuable.
“Tell me about yourself” should be tailored to the position.
One common question that you definitely expect from an employer for an interview is ‘Tell me about yourself.' They are not asking where you are from, or what your hobbies are [or] if you have siblings or anything like that. What they want to know is 'Why are you here interviewing for this position?' So if the job asks for a bachelor’s degree in marketing, that will be something
that you’d include in that answer. You want to make sure your answer is tailored to that response and it’s relevant to the position.
Q: What should a student do after an interview?
A: Please follow up. Follow up with a thank you. Generally, there is no time for a hand written follow-up, which I still love. I think people still appreciate a handwritten thank you note, but things move very quickly during the process, so do make sure that you send an email as well— even if you do a handwritten note that you send later, make sure you also send an email. Thank them for their time and consideration. You can repeat something back, say, 'When I asked you the question about training opportunities, I really appreciated the answer that you gave me. It really gave me some good insight' and reiterate how great of a fit you are and have the skills for this position. Do that within 24 hours.
Q: What are some difficulties a student may face during an interview?
A: For anyone who has experienced a digital interview, Skype interview, or a prerecorded interview, make sure you understand how to use the technology and test everything out.
Difficulties in an in-person interview are just not being prepared. If someone asks you a question that you weren’t anticipating and that throws you off, just be okay with it. It happened, move on, bounce back and just make sure that you are confident with the rest of the answers. But there are really good ways to prepare, through knowing your resume, knowing yourself and being able to answer pretty much all the questions that they ask if you know what you can do. So what you want to know is your stories and explanations of your skills and accomplishments so that you can apply those to any questions that you get. That will alleviate the pressure of feeling that you have to guess the questions.
Q: What are some suggestions you have for current seniors who are about to graduate?
A: For anyone that is out there seeking opportunities and doing interviews, what I would say is practice. That’s when the Career Center could be really helpful because we can help with mock interviews. The practice piece of an interview is very important because the more you practice and the more confident you are, the less likely those nerves can affect your performance. Be prepared and have a sense of what you want to say. Whether you practice in the mirror or in front of family or friends, get some feedback on your nonverbal communication, as well. When you get to the interview itself, it’s less about 'What should I say? How should I say it?' because you have already worked on that part. It’s more about being present and engaging in the experience. But there’s some work that is involved—some preparation—so allow yourself enough time to really do the preparation process properly.