Ellingson: Getting a good job requires getting the interview right, not just the degree

Caitlin Ellingson

As college students, our primary goal in the end is to obtain a higher education so that we can get a nice job in the field of our choice. Students who are graduating in a few months are now actively job hunting and hoping to find employment straight out of college. For those who are not graduating just yet, finding internships are becoming a crucial part of your education (whether they’re required or not for your major). Nevertheless, one thing everyone has in common is that for any job or internship you apply for, you will have to go through an interview process and you need to leave a good impression.

Job searching can be tiresome and stressful, and a lot of the tension and emotion from that can make an appearance during an interview if you’re not careful. One way to stay calm and collected is to be prepared ahead of time. At Iowa State, the College of Business offers many guides, resources and tips (much more than I can mention in this column) on its website for anyone to utilize. They also offer ways to search for internships and jobs on their career management services page. And even though it’s on the College of Business’s website, you can search jobs for just about any major, not just business majors.

Before you do anything, it’s important to research the position you’re applying for and to look into the company itself. In an interview, you will appear more knowledgeable, and you’ll have the background information that will allow you to ask questions and engage in conversation with your potential employer about the company and their goals. By knowing exactly what the position is, you can talk about your related experiences in the field and can show them that you are an ideal candidate for the job.

Next, make sure you have all the papers you will need and a proper portfolio to contain them. Documents and items you should have on hand at an interview include copies of your resume (more than one if multiple people are interviewing you), transcript, reference list, cover letter, a pen and notepad, and a list of questions you want to ask. You can’t be too prepared for an interview, but you can be underprepared and that’s what your interviewer will notice if they ask to see certain documents and you’re unable to provide them.

Appearances do matter. If you go into an interview for a law firm in a hoodie and jeans, it doesn’t matter if you have a 4.0 GPA and graduated with honors because your interviewer will judge your appearance before you even open your mouth and has probably already written you off. To put it simply: you need to look professional and conservative in order for many places to take you seriously. Investing in some nice business attire can only benefit you.

Men should wear a dark-colored suit, a simple long-sleeved shirt (white is a good choice), a tie that goes well with your outfit, long socks with minimal to no pattern, a dark one-inch belt, matching shoes that preferably have a leather sole and a nice coat. They should also minimize their facial hair and get a nice haircut.

Women should wear a dark-colored suit with either long pants or a skirt that falls below the knee, a simple light-colored shirt (avoid tight fitting or low cut styles), matching shoes that have a low to medium heel (avoid open toe shoes), and a nice coat. Jewelry, perfume and makeup should be worn at a minimum because they can be distracting in an interview.

During the interview, be sure to sell yourself as much as you can and be enthusiastic while doing so. It’s not considered arrogant in an interview to talk about your strengths, especially when you’re probably facing a lot of competition for the job. In today’s economy, you can’t really afford to be too modest if you hope to get anywhere. If that’s not easy for you to do, then pretend you’re talking someone else up. That being said, don’t lie about your skills either. Talk about what you can do and how good at those skills you are. When you leave the interview you want to have given the hiring manager (or whoever you spoke with) the impression that you are essentially perfect for their company, and they’d be a fool not to hire you.

The world is getting more and more competitive for the jobs people want. Getting a college degree doesn’t mean you’re guaranteed a job, and there is no employer that is obligated to hire you. So if you hope to get anywhere you need to be impressive and stand out by being confident and showing off your abilities in the interview.


Caitlin Ellingson is a senior in journalism and mass communication and environmental studies from Milo, Iowa.