By Judy Panagakos, Career Coach

Spring is around the corner – and with this peak-interview season fast approaching, early careerists, college students, and soon-to-be graduates need to be getting ready now to impress prospective employers. For anyone looking for an internship for the summer, or for their first full time job, preparation is key. Investing in individual readiness work now will pay off during upcoming appointments and throughout your working life.

You’re On Your Own – Prep Like It

For people entering the workforce for the first time, interviewing is one of the first experiences that is all about you, all on your own. People can help you do many things in your job search – proof read your resume, help you draft a cover letter, share network contacts. However during an interview or screening call, you are center stage and need to nail your part with aplomb.

At Priority Candidates, our coaches spend significant time promoting this concept of preparedness, even before an initial interview, as well as during a sequence of interviews with a firm. Using a series of detailed question sets, we have each client prepare responses to and practice methods of delivery. We work to ensure that the individual is building confidence in how they want to present their skills and experience. Clients who have completed their preparation, demonstrate at a very young age the gravitas that you might find in a more seasoned professional or executive; and that comfort level, once achieved, is lasting.

Two Pillars: Foundation & Personalization

There are essentially two levels of readiness that a job seeker needs to factor into their preparation. The first is crafting a foundation that will allow them to position any experience that is discussed, or any question that is asked, in such a way that their unique background will shine through. If this preparation is done earnestly and deeply, this foundation will be a resource for a lifetime. To achieve this, candidates must work through a range of behavioral questions that companies use to evaluate one’s ability to contribute and adapt to a dynamic work environment. Additionally, depending on the career focus of the individual, candidates may need to demonstrate how academic and work experiences have contributed to a mastery of technical concepts.

The second level of preparation is what is done for the specific context – getting ready for the session with this particular firm, at this stage of the interview process, and incorporating current business events. A deep knowledge of the firm demonstrates that the candidate has invested time in learning about their potential new employer. This showcases a respect for the recruiters and interviewers, and must be done before every interview.

This event-based preparation will also help the candidate generate meaningful questions for the interviewers. Candidates can differentiate themselves by asking timely questions that are unique to the organization and that will stimulate a discussion, versus general questions that will only solicit a quick answer from the interviewer. Be ready to share something with the people interviewing you that might be new to them – this may be something you read that recently appeared in the media, material you found by researching competitors, or thoughts on how events in the headquarters’ location might have an impact on their business in the short term.

Don’t act like you “care”, demonstrate that you care. Imagine that you work at the company now, and wonder what changes in the business climate will mean for your role in the firm.

Your Story, Your Way

Cheryl Lambert, interview skills specialist, shared recently that there is no one formula to prepare. Each candidate must individually express remembrances of their distinctive experiences, coupled with their vision for their future, and refine a powerful telling of that unique story. Cheryl helps candidates learn to deliver their story in an engaging way, and to concisely convey key messages. She objectively reviews a candidate’s background and personal style to help them hone their own unique professional voice, empowering candidates to fully recognize their own strengths and achievements.

Expect the Unexpected

Part of preparing for the interview process means understanding that things may change – successful candidates must manage their expectations and be ready for anything. While interviews have common stages, companies are deploying a variety of approaches and may vary them as a recruitment unfolds. Be prepared and ready to interview in any medium: recorded web interviews, live phone-based interviews, robotic phone-based interviews, online assessments, super-day interviews, and panel-style interviews.

By preparing in advance, you will walk in confident and ready to tell your story in a way that will be attractive and memorable to your new employer – and this skill will serve you well in interviews throughout your professional career.