Whether hiring for internships or full-time positions, most recruiters have heard statements like these from college students over and over again:
- "I have strong communication skills."
- "I'm self-motivated."
- "I'm good at managing my time."
- "I have excellent leadership qualities."
- "I work well with others."
When you make claims like these in your interviews -- perhaps in response to a question like, "What are your greatest strengths?" -- you're not likely to blow the recruiter away with originality. In fact, the recruiter may think, "If you only knew how many times I've heard that one. How do I know that's true?"
Stand out by providing specific examples to back up the statements you've made. It's not difficult, especially if you prepare beforehand, and it will greatly elevate your standing in the recruiter's eyes.
For example: A recruiter is interviewing a new college graduate for an entry-level job and asks, "What's your greatest strength?" Which statement would grab your attention more if you were a recruiter?
1. "Well, I'm very self-motivated. I often start projects on my own without direction from others, because I enjoy it. Compared to most people my age, I have more self-discipline and more willingness to try new things."
2. "Well, I'm very self-motivated. I know you've probably heard that before, so let me give you an example. For the last couple of years, I've volunteered part-time at my college's computer help desk. I wanted experience helping people with computer-related problems, so I approached the information technology director and asked her if she'd teach me to work on the help desk in exchange for my time and efforts. It's turned out to be great for both of us. She's gotten much-needed help, and I've been able to gain hands-on experience I wouldn't have gotten otherwise."
Clearly, the second response is more compelling. Why? Because the student not only makes a claim, but he backs it up with tangible evidence. Recruiters like evidence, especially since they don't hear it from candidates often enough.
You can even use this give-an-example approach to answer an employer's more hypothetical questions. The recruiter says, "You're working with a small team and you have a significant conflict with one of your team members. What would you do?" Which response is more convincing?
1. "I would try talking with the person first, to see what we could do about our differences. If that didn't work, I guess I'd probably go to my supervisor and see if he could intervene somehow. It would be important to get our conflict resolved."
2. "That actually happened to me once in a social psychology course I took. We were doing a group project, and it was clear that one person wasn't doing his share of the work. I talked with other people in the group about it, and they felt the same way I did. So I offered to talk to this person about our concerns. I'm really glad I did. As it turns out, he was stressed out, because his father had been in the hospital for several weeks having tests done. He was having trouble in all of his classes. So I mentioned the fact that our school has a counseling center and encouraged him to go there. He did, and he got the help he needed. The rest of us then divided up his work."
Again, the second response is much more persuasive, because the student has gone beyond simply predicting what she would do in a conflict situation; rather, she illustrated how she handled such a situation before, leaving the employer to conclude that the student would likely resolve future conflicts in a similarly professional way.
Examples will always beat mere words in job interviews. So as you think about the questions an employer will ask, be sure to prepare responses that feature your real-life experiences -- stories that will leave the employer thinking, "Now here's someone who isn't just telling me something, but showing me something. This one's a keeper."