A week before my interview with the Fellowship, I was still on a frantic search for professional clothes. My friend’s older sister had lent me an itchy pantsuit and several shirts, but nothing felt quite right. Looking at the list of companies—a blend of start-ups and corporations—I wasn’t sure how formally I should dress in the first place. On top of that, I hadn’t even started researching companies or practicing questions for the interview.
Navigating today’s interview world can feel like preparing to take a test without any materials. I wasn’t sure where to begin.
Enter the career services team at my school, lots of Google searches, and training with an old fellow. Here’s advice from someone who learned a lot about job interviews through the Fellowship process.
Learn the basics of the company: the CEO’s name, the company’s history, and the organization’s overarching mission. Many companies will expect you to be able to summarize their products and services as well as their company culture in the interview. Don’t worry if you don’t know all the details; making an effort shows interest.
Take the time to look through the company’s website, Instagram, Twitter, and LinkedIn, and follow companies on social media. Lots of start-ups post about their company culture on Instagram stories. Perusing the platforms can give you an idea of the day-to-day life in the company, which is a great talking point to bring up in the interview.
Find out what excites you in what they are doing, who they are, or their goals for the future. Passion and enthusiasm for a business can be marketable.
Before the interview process, make a list of experiences you’d like to highlight in conversation. Then, reexamine each company’s mission and culture. Create a thesis idea that defines how you are a match for each company. Then, match those answers with accomplishments that support this thesis.
When I interviewed for my home company, they asked about difficult classes that I had taken in school. I knew that they valued high performance without ego, so I talked about the hours-long editing classes I took in school. Each workshop was painful, but I learned to value critique instead of loathe it. My hope was to share a story that illustrated how I fit the company’s culture.
Find a list of basic job interview questions online. Then, turn pieces of your resume into stories to answer each question. Match stories with different answers, finally writing out a full response to each question. Everyone prepares differently, but I noticed that I usually said more than I needed to or got lost on bunny trails if I didn’t write out my answers.
On that note, practice out loud. With all this preparation, it’s easy to get stuck in your head. Repeating my answers helped me find more succinct ways to answer each question. When I had gotten stories where I wanted them, I called my mom or other finalists to practice answering questions with another person on the line.
If possible, set up a practice interview with the career services team at your school. Doing so can help you master basic errors you might be making in an interview setting. When I did a mock interview, I learned that I usually looked away from the interviewer when I was thinking. Getting her feedback helped me find errors that I wouldn’t have noticed on my own.
What most interviewees don’t realize, however, is that you’re evaluating the company as much as they are evaluating you. We suggest writing out three (or more) tactical questions for each company. Consider where the company is going, how they are hoping to get there, and ways to succeed at the company.
In one interview, the company asked me about three questions, then opened up the floor for my questions for the next fifteen minutes of the interview. That to say, companies will expect you to have questions at the ready.
Finally, reflect on what you need out of each company. Even though you’re in a high pressure situation, consider where you want to live, how much you value company culture or your salary, and the actual logistics of your day-to-day position at that company. Don’t be afraid to ask questions like, “What are you looking for in a fellow?” or “What is the day-to-day life of an employee in this position?” Doing so might save you a lot of time in the future.