First Job vs. Next Job: Your Interview

As discussed in my last three blog posts, there are many differences between the application process you go through right after college and the process you experience after you’ve climbed one or more jobs on your career ladder. Today I’m going to offer some suggestions about how to prepare for the job interview in each of these situations.

While there are many standard questions that are often asked in a job interview (and you can see a list of some of them in my book’s Appendix K: Typical Interview Questions), the type of response that the employer expects is what’s going to change the most. If this is your first job after college, you can expect the interview to focus on four things:

  • Your college experiences, including your coursework and your involvement in extracurricular activities;
  • Your work experience, especially any relevant internships or co-ops;
  • Your knowledge of the company where you are applying and the specific job you hope to get; and
  • Your long-term goals.

I often remind my students that there is no substitute for research about any company where you’re seeking a job. You will want to read through their website carefully, talk with their representatives at career fairs whenever they’re available, and, if possible, consider conduct information interviews prior to the application process. (For more suggestions about information interviews, see Tip 6 Conduct information interviews and Appendix A: Formulating questions for the information interview.)

When you’re applying for your next job, you’ll still need to do the same type of research on the company (and you’ll still need to talk about your long-term goals) , but some of the other aspects of the interview are going to change. Now you can expect the employer to ask you about:

  • Your current job, including what you do, what you’ve learned, what you like (and don’t like) about it;
  • Why you want to make a change; and
  • Why you see the position you applied for as your logical next move.

It is incredibly important that you talk about your current job as positively as possible. Even if you want to leave because you’re unhappy—with your assignments, your co-workers, your boss, the organizational culture, or your pay—you should not speak negatively about current (or former) employers.

If you were downsized (or fired), you’re likely to be asked questions about why you think you (or your position) were terminated. This can be a difficult question to answer, but just be as honest as you can without revealing anger or a sense of unfairness about the situation.

One final word about preparing for the interview: Regardless of whether this is your first job or your fifteenth, go into the interview with questions you want answered. An interview is a two-way street. It’s your best opportunity to learn about them and to let them get to know you as something besides words on sheets of paper.