Preparing for Your First Job: How to Ace the Interview and Your First Day on the Job

Thursday, October 13, 2022
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When you take your first job, you will suddenly see a whole new world that can be quite different from what you’re used to at school.  Here are some tips to help you hit the ground running. 

The Interview as a Conversation

Many people find interviews intimidating.  This may be particularly true if this is your first job interview.  

An interview is an opportunity -- not an oral exam.  School prepares you to be constantly graded on your ability to provide the “right” answer.  But an interview provides the opportunity for you to express yourself and show what makes you stand out.  

Communicate your best qualities. The interviewer ultimately is not trying to “trick” you, though it may feel that way sometimes.  While they may ask you some specific questions to demonstrate your knowledge, they will also be gauging more qualitative aspects of what you could bring to the company, including your:

  • Work ethic and drive
  • Personality and ability to work with others
  • Maturity and confidence
  • Uniqueness:  what makes you a special person

Personalize the interviewer.  One huge, missed opportunity most job candidates make is that they never ask the interviewer any questions.  At a good moment in the interview, don’t be afraid to ask your interviewer how they came to work at the company, and how they like it.  This can “humanize” the interview into more of a conversation.  (People like to talk about themselves – even interviewers!)   It also demonstrates maturity, initiative, and personability.

Prepare, Prepare, Prepare

Having a dress-to-impress outfit will give you a confidence boost.  But the best way to overcome interview jitters is to put in the time to properly prepare.

Bring documentation.  You should have multiple copies of your C.V., your cover letter, and any other related materials in a professional-looking folder.  You can find a transparent accordion folder online that will allow you to see all of your documents neatly arranged inside.   You can put one of those on the table between you and the interviewer and impress them with your organization and preparedness – even if you never take out a single document!

Record a mock video interview to become aware of your body language.  While you want to appear attentive (upright posture, leaning forward slightly, hands still, both feet on the ground), you don’t want to appear too stiff.  The best way to practice this is by videotaping a mock interview.  Watching yourself on video can provide you with a surprising new awareness of how you present yourself.  You can ask your school career counselor for help with this.   (Note:  body language is still important in Zoom interviews.)

Research the employer extensively.  This is the easiest way to impress an interviewer… yet most candidates totally fail to do it.  You should research as much as you can about your employer – their history, their competitors, their mission, etc.  Then, write up a list of 5-10 intelligent questions that you can ask.  (For example, “the company began offering this new service a couple of years ago.  How has that worked out so far?  Are there more growth plans in that area?”)  

Rehearse your narrative.  You should practice your “elevator pitch”:  imagine you step onto an elevator  and have only 10 floors to explain to an interviewer why you are a good candidate.  In those 3-5 sentences, you want to clearly articulate your primary accomplishments and goals.  You should conclude with the reason that this job is a perfect fit for you.  Practice responding to interview questions (you can find sample interviews online), making sure that your answers are consistent with your elevator pitch.

Take notes.  If the interviewer is providing you with a lot of information, ask politely if you can take notes.  This makes you look serious about the job.  (Note:  it looks more professional to take notes on a laptop than on your phone.)   

Arrive 10 min. early.  If you arrive late, you may have already lost the job.

Go light on the coffee.  Too much caffeine can make you jittery.  You want to be alert and attentive.  Being a bit nervous is natural.  If you practice interview questions in advance, you’ll feel much more confident when you start to answer questions.    

Put.  Your.  Phone.  Away.

Follow-Up.  A standard business protocol is to send an email thanking your interviewer afterwards.  Keep it short: thank the interviewer for their time, and pick one thing to reference about the interview (something important you learned, a highlight of the conversation, and/or a follow-up item.) 

The First Day

No need to self-promote.  Sometimes employees arrive with the same mindset as when they interviewed for the job.  The interview is over, so you don’t need to convince other employees of your qualifications.  Instead, focus on absorbing information and asking intelligent questions.  

Respect the time demands of the employee training you.  On your first day, you will be relying heavily on another employee to show you the ropes.   Be aware they have their own job responsibilities.   While it’s common for them to say, “if you have any questions, just ask me any time”, you don’t want to pester them every 5 minutes.  Try to put together a short-list of questions, rather than going to them every single time a question pops up.

Prepare for a long day.  If you haven’t been working full-time, your first day on the job can feel like a marathon.  Avoid eating a big lunch so that you don’t lapse into a food coma in the afternoon.  Bringing a couple of snacks can help.  If you’re a coffee drinker, the majority of workplaces will have coffee – but you might want to bring your own caffeinated beverage just in case.

Finish strong.  Leave your workstation tidy.  Thank your trainer for their help.  Check in with your manager before you leave.  Ask if there’s anything else you can do.  Say goodbye to any staff you met during the day.  

Go home and rest.  There is an old maxim that says that junior employees should never leave before their boss.  While this is sometimes true, it’s rarely necessary on the first day.  Go home, rest up, and show up 20 minutes early on day two!

Learn More

The National Society of High School Scholars (NSHSS) is committed to helping students prepare for their future career.  Check out our blog for more helpful articles on career readiness and career preparation.