When you’re still in college (or fresh out of school), it can feel daunting searching for your first job. It seems like every employer wants a candidate with years of experience, which is quite a catch-22 for a college student. After all, if you do not have work experience in your field, how are you supposed to meet the experience requirements set by employers?
Thankfully, there are ways to bridge the gap and one of those ways is to talk about your practical skills during an interview. Because you haven’t worked yet in your chosen career, your answers will have to be angled more towards your potential than your previous work history. You will have to leverage experience that you had in school, which is why extra-curricular clubs and events are important to mention.
One way to ensure you are prepared is by doing video interview practice online to determine how you would respond to mock questions. You can use the Interview Simulator on our website which will give you specific questions for your particular field. Also we have compiled these mock interview questions and answers for students to help guide you to formulate your own responses:
Question: “What are your goals and where do you see yourself next year?”
When you’re a student, your life is constantly changing. You may not clearly know where you will be in the next few years. The employer is asking this question because they want to know whether you’re looking for a temporary gig that is a stepping stone to something else or if you see yourself growing within their company. There is no reason to be dishonest—it’s all about figuring out if you’re a good fit for the company. If you’re not sure what your plans are you can try being politely ambiguous:
Answer: “I want to gain more experience in this field so that I can contribute as best as I can. I see your company as a great vehicle for growing. By next year, I would like to be in a position that allows me to utilize the experience that I have gained to solve problems and make an impact in this industry.”
If the interviewer asks point blank if you see yourself working for the company in five years, then be honest. If you don’t know, it’s okay to tell them that you’re uncertain about your long-term plans. Most people are, anyway. You could play this off as a good trait by mentioning that you’re flexible about the future. Although you may not know the specifics of what that future looks like, it will be one where you are making meaningful change.
Question: “How well do you work within a group? Give me a few examples of times when you had to use team work to get something accomplished.”
Group projects are very common in school, and they’re great practice for when you’re out in the real world and have to constantly work with other people. How did you do with your group projects in school? Were you the kind of student who dreaded group projects, or did you feel more energized when you worked with a lot of different people? If your interviewer asks this question, then they want to know that you work well with others. If you start complaining about how you always “do all the work” in group projects, the interviewer won’t be impressed. They may see you as someone who doesn’t know how to delegate effectively. Make sure that you offer an answer that balances how you did your own work and how you used your leadership skills to help others get the job done as well. A mock answer might be something like:
Answer: “I work well in groups and enjoy the collaborative nature of it. For our final in [specific class], we had to do a group project on [subject]. It was four of us working together, and I was the unofficial lead. I took care of outlining all of our to-do lists, the project plan and taking care of [Part A] of the project. It was tough at first with the huge amount of work, but we ended up with an A in the end, so it was worth it.”
If you’re asked follow up questions about this, make sure to emphasize how you used your communication skills to solve problems. These are invaluable to an employer and they want to know that you’re good at managing people with clear and effective direction.
Question: “Let’s say you have two projects that are due roughly at the same time and you feel overwhelmed. What do you do?”
In addition to asking about your past school experience, your interviewer will want to understand how you might behave in the workplace. For a question like the one above, they want to understand how you will react to an inevitable time management conflict. Will you handle it intelligently, or will you use inefficient coping mechanisms that are likely to waste your time?
The key here is to not be afraid to tell them that you’ll ask for help. Employers certainly want self-starter employees who can handle their own problems, but they also want team players who know their own limits. An appropriate answer to a question like this would work best if you incorporated examples from the past, to give some “evidence” that you already know the right thing to do when you are under pressure. For example:
Answer: “Well, something like that happened last year when I was volunteering for [organization]. We were short-staffed and there were two very urgent projects that needed to be done at the same time. [Briefly describe tasks]. I called a short meeting and we prioritized what needed to be done for each. We were actually able to cut down the task list quite a bit, until it was very manageable.”
This shows that you are able to see your work in terms of essentials. Sometimes it’s not always realistic to get everything done at the same time, but if you know how to prioritize, this is an important skill that every employer is looking for. If you consulted others and were willing to share the decision-making, this also shows that you’re able to put your ego aside and work as a team.
Question: “What is your biggest accomplishment to date?”
This is your opportunity to brag about what you were up to in school, though your interviewer isn’t asking this in order to be impressed. Basically, they want to know what your values are. The things that you see as important successes and accomplishments are a clue as to who you are as a person. For instance, while some people might find that starting their own successful business was their shining moment, others might consider acing their hardest class to be more important, and still others might consider working for a charity to be a huge accomplishment. When you talk about your accomplishments, you can choose from a variety of things, but try to stick to two guidelines: try to mention accomplishments that were as global as possible—meaning, that they didn’t just benefit you personally—and try to choose successes that showcase your creativity or some other important trait. A good answer might be something like:
Answer: “In my Object Oriented Programming class, we learned to write software for robotic arms. We helped our professor solve a really important problem that was plaguing his own research. The functions that we wrote for that class are now being used to help amputees control electronic prosthetics, and I’m really proud of that.”
Your answer doesn’t need to be quite as extreme. It is not necessary to have saved a dozen children from a burning orphanage or anything like that, but it’s a good idea to incorporate these key elements in your answer:
• A basic skill that ideally has something to do with your prospective job. (It doesn’t have to be related, but it’s helpful.)
• A personality trait or personal “soft skill” like team work, persistence, or flexibility.
• An element of global benefit. Talk about how your accomplishment benefited people around you.
Question: “Why do you want to work here?”
Finally, what makes you a good fit for the company you’re looking at? What do you think you will get out of working for this company? The best way to approach this question is to frame it in terms of mutual benefit. Try to show the interviewer how you’ll “fit” in the workplace. Ideally, you’ll have a feel for what the company culture is like, and you should have done some research about their values already. Try to inject that into your answer.
Possible Answer: “I want to learn as much as I can about [industry]. This company has goals and values that really align with the way I see the world and how I want to contribute to it.”
In other words, don’t be afraid to flatter them a little bit and tell them about how you admire the company. If it’s been your dream to work there for a while, mention it. Of course, make sure to back that up with plenty of reasons why they should want you to work for them, too.
Looking for a job as a student can be a bit confusing and even nerve-racking at first, but with a little video interview practice online, you should be able to gain some confidence. Go through these mock interview questions and answers for students a few times, and it will make the real thing a little easier.