A powerful and practical tool kit
Interview tips for first job
I looked around nervously at the people waiting in line to go into the interview room. I realized that I was the only civil engineering student who had even made it to the list of eligible interview candidates for the first round of campus interviews. This was a leading software company that always managed to come to our campus first and take the “cream of the crop”. I considered myself to be the husk that actually got separated from the crop and thrown away, certainly nowhere near the cream – and hence was very surprised.
Enough with the agricultural analogies but just imagine my joy when I ended up being the first person in my class to land a job! I was certainly not the class valedictorian and I also did not know how to code. So how did this miracle happen? Was it sheer luck? Was it month after month of hard work and preparation? Was it my charismatic personality and irresistible charm? Read on to learn more!
Before we go on to talk about the actual interview, there are a few important things that I must mention.
How to prepare for your first job interview?
It is important to learn to think on your feet (in English!)
I devoured English fiction novels during my spare time as a child. My mom would always scold me and ask me to focus on my text books but I remember hiding my thick novel inside my equally thick Fluid mechanics book and reading anyway. Little did I know then, that I was learning to form fluent sentences and think my thoughts in English in the process. Our college had an impressive communication studies curriculum and our teacher helped us practice mock interviews and group discussions – this was immensely helpful as well.
Make them know your name
I knew that almost every good student in the college would be applying for a job at this company. I had noticed in previous years that our college admissions professor always seemed overwhelmed and needed help when these companies came to the campus. It was thankless work – seating the interviewers, giving them water and snacks, getting printouts, getting the students seated for the entrance test. But guess what? As a volunteer – you stood out!
You were seen as a leader and a selfless worker bee. So – I signed up to be a campus admission volunteer! By the time, I was actually called in for my interview, they knew my name and they had seen me lead, organize and manage students through the entire interview process. Many of the students were so nervous about their own interviews that they could not even imagine being a volunteer at the same time – but helping others – actually calmed me down and helped my confidence.
It’s not just the day of the interview, it’s everything you have done in the years leading up to it…
It’s not enough to just do well on the day of the interview, you have to have a solid academic background, projects and internships to show for yourself. While I was not the class topper, I had maintained good grades throughout my 4 years in engineering. It helps you make the eligibility criteria and it certainly helps avoid uncomfortable questions about why you had funny highs and lows in your mark sheet.
In addition, I was also the Ladies secretary and was the organizer of musical events at our college festival every year. I represented my college at several external musical events throughout the years. These events took precious time away from studies but were amazing highlights that I could brag about during the interview! I don’t think I could have gotten the job if I did not have a well rounded portfolio of achievements in my kitty.
The actual interview trick
Interview tips for first job
Have you seen the movie Zootopia? The sly fox tells the nervous bunny – “Okay press conference 101. You answer their question with your question and then you answer that question” and then he proceeds to demonstrate exactly how with great aplomb. That’s kind of how my first interview went.
It started off with a standard question – “Tell me a little bit about yourself”. I had prepared for it – there is absolutely no excuse for people to not answer this question well because it inevitably gets asked. I answered it while keeping an internal timer of 2 minutes or less (as people lose patience when you go on and on about yourself). I made sure that I highlighted my cultural achievements which led them to ask me questions about how I balanced academic and extracurricular activities.
With every question – I would pop in an interesting titbit about a personal interaction demonstrating leadership, common sense, problem solving – which would generate curiosity and further lead to a line of questioning that was right up my alley. By this time, we were almost out of time and I had pretty much controlled the flow of the entire interview.
Ultimately the interviewer said, “Look this was great but I do need to ask you if you know any software programming languages”. I did know some basic stuff but we were veering into uncomfortable territory. I looked at him in the eye and said, “You are interviewing a civil engineer – Ask me if I know how to build a bridge. Ask me if I know how to design a building that will withstand an earthquake of the highest magnitude.” And I proceeded to quickly design a basic bridge and showed him the approach for doing so. And then I said – “You are hiring me so that I can apply the knowledge of software to solve world problems.
I already know how to solve these world problems, once you teach me Java and C++, I will be getting you the Civil engineering projects for railways and municipal corporations where software applications will need to be built. Isn’t that why you are talking to me?” The interviewer started smiling and even laughed a little at my naive confidence. And his final words were – “Looking forward to working with you Nabarupa.”