A couple days before the applications were due, I decided on a whim to apply for The Program to Aid Career Exploration (PACE) at my university. The PACE program at my school is an internship-like work program in which students work with professors in their field of study. The posted positions seemed rather daunting; something perfect for a senior with lots of prior experience, but something completely out of reach for an incoming sophomore like myself. I had no previous experience in my field and I ignored the age-old advice to get involved during your first semester of college (I really should have listened), so I was the absolute definition of inexperienced. But I applied anyway because you never know unless you try!
Applying to positions
I applied to twelve positions. I was invited to interview for four of the positions, but only ended up actually interviewing for two. My odds of getting a job were steadily decreasing, but I wasn’t too worried because I was surprised I was even invited to interview for any.
But as I prepared myself for my online interviews, the worrying found its way to me and set in. I am such an over-thinker and I get serious anxiety before interviews. I try to come up with the questions that I think the person interviewing me is going to ask, I prepare my answers, and then I completely freeze when they (inevitably) don’t ask me those questions.
Practice, practice, practice
If you struggle with the same problem, my advice to you is to come up with topics such as your interviewer’s research, your goals, why you want this job, and decide what your thoughts on those topics are. If you’re interviewing for a position with a professor, they will likely be the person interviewing you. Look them up on your school’s website and read about them and their work, and let your opinions develop on their own. You will sound educated and interested if you can ask them questions about what they do and express why that particular thing interests you too. Decide why you applied to the position and why you think it would benefit the person you’re interviewing with to hire you, as well as how it would benefit yourself. Always make sure your interviewer knows what you would bring to their team, not just why working with them will benefit you. Developing my thoughts on my interviewer’s research, why I want to work for them, and my goals if I got the job helped me immensely with knowing what I wanted to say and knowing how I felt about things without basically rehearsing a script in my head (which always hurts me). It prepared me for a variety of questions rather than preparing for one specific question that might not even be asked.
After I thought through potential topics, I constantly reminded myself that an interview is just a conversation. I reminded myself that I have no problem conversing with people I have just met, so I should have no problem in an interview, because it’s the same thing. It’s small, and it might not help everybody, but giving myself that constant reminder helped me stay true to myself and remain calm and casual. In previous interviews, I found myself answering questions the way I thought they should be answered instead of giving my honest answers, which eventually led to me not enjoying my job because I felt like I wasn’t fully being myself, I was being the girl they interviewed. This time around, I kept in mind that the people close to me value me for who I am and a good employer will too!
The interview (and the cherry on top)
Then came the interview. My interview for the position that I ended up getting was rather uneventful. Since the world is going through a literal pandemic right now, the nature of my potential job was kind of up in the air, so we didn’t discuss the position as much as I had expected. I didn’t glean much information about the job itself from the interview, but I did decide that the man I interviewed with was someone I would want to work for, so immediately afterwards I sent him an email thanking him for his time and expressing how interested I was in the position one last time. Here was his response:
Grace- To be honest, I was strongly considering just giving this position to a senior student who probably has a bit more “experience”. But in MY experience anyone who reaches out to say thank you after an interview is a gem. Word of advice: keep it up. You’re hired. Let me know if you accept.
Oh. My. Gosh. I can’t even express how excited I was at that moment. My assumption that a senior with more experience would be the preferred candidate wasn’t necessarily wrong, but I was completely blown away by how far a simple ‘thank you’ could take me. So that’s my last word of advice. Always always ALWAYS send a sincere thank you, employers appreciate it a lot more than you might think.