Top Tips to Ace Your College and Career Interviews

No matter how much technology seems to take over our lives, face-to-face conversations, often in the form of interviews, play a pivotal role in some of  our most important life decisions. When the topic of interviews comes up, most high school students think in terms of the requirement to satisfy a portion of a job, school, or scholarship application. Undoubtedly, these interviews are important and one must be prepared to handle them well. But many students overlook an equally important interview opportunity that can help inform future job and school application choices, while also providing an excellent forum for practicing interview skills.

This other type of interview, which can help you choose a college major or even a career field, is called the “informational interview.” Informational interviews are typically arranged by the student and are intended to help the student learn more about majors, jobs, workplaces, equipment, and people in fields of interest. I recommend students do this before they decide on their major and career direction.

First we’ll look at some general interview tips and then zoom into the specifics of how to conduct successful informational interviews.

How to SHINE: Some General Interview Tips

Whether interviewing for a full-ride scholarship, a job, or simply to network and learn more about a career field, one must SHINE! Practice these skills before any interview, preferably in front of a mirror or during a mock interview with someone you know well.

Smile –it melts tension away

Highlight your strengths right after a firm, not limp, handshake. Thank the interviewer for the opportunity to learn more about the scholarship/job

Integrity – Be truthful; don’t exaggerate your qualifications

KNowledge acquisition is at the heart of an interview, which means the interviewer will ask questions and the interviewee needs to be ready with questions. Even the worst interview may be salvaged with a few keen questions.

Enthusiasm for the organization interviewing you communicates positivity that will set you above and beyond other applicants

Practice and Learn: How to Conduct an Informational Interview

Now that you have some basic interview tips under your belt, it’s time to get out there to experience real interviews and real work settings, and one of the best places to start is with an informational interview. To start the informational interview process, just following these steps:

  1. Brainstorm jobs and college majors of interest
  2. Generate a list of contacts, friends, and family members in the fields of interest
  3. Set up a time to meet the contacts in their actual workplaces. Visiting the workplace introduces students to real job settings.

Once you’ve got some interviews scheduled, you’ll want to practice your SHINE skills, perhaps with a friend, parent, teacher, or other mentor. It’s also a good idea to think about what you want to learn from each person you’ll interview with. Here are five great questions for students to ask during an informational interview:

  1. What do you like and dislike about your work or workplace?
  2. What steps did you take to become qualified for your job and hired, including your college major and college attended?
  3. If you were just starting out, what would you do differently?
  4. What is the average salary range for work in your field?
  5. Could you introduce me to someone else in your field? Get the interviewee’s business card or take a photo of it.

Following each interview, write a hand-written thank you note that includes a gracious reminder of their offer to introduce you to someone else in their field. This keeps the ball rolling, ensuring that your interview and application will be remembered by the one interviewing you.

Final Thoughts: Stay Calm and Appreciate the Process

An interview is just a conversation but it can feel intimidating; stay calm, but enthusiastic. With a little bit of practice and some helpful tips, you’re well on your way to a productive interview experience. Try to appreciate the process and what you’re learning along the way.

Dr. Beth Dennard, a Certified Educational Planner, licensed therapist, and Birkman Consultant earned her doctorate in education from the University of Houston. She has visited nearly 400 colleges and has worked in both college admissions and high school guidance. Beth introduced educational consulting to Houston’s Bay Area in 1999. Her professionalism and passion for helping people succeed is based on her approach; she simplifies the search, structures the application process and encourages students to communicate their strengths.  Beth and her team of 5 professionals work with clients locally and globally.  To learn more about their work, visit

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  • Kim Lifton

    Great info! Thanks. I am going to share it.