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What College Grads Seeking Jobs in Higher Education Can Do to Sharpen Their Interview Skills. - By

The tight economy has been no friend of college grads seeking higher-ed jobs in recent years. The economy is still not improving at a rate fast enough to accommodate the multitude of these young job seekers fresh out of college.

According to the latest report from HigherEdJobs, the number of jobs in higher education ticked upward in the 3rd quarter of 2014 by 3,200 jobs, but this change was minor compared with the 57,500 higher education jobs lost between 2013 and 2014.

Considering this competitive environment, today’s college grads need to hone their interview skills more than ever before. Soft skills, like carrying on a well-paced conversation with an interviewer with good give and take can mean the difference between landing a desired job or not.

One such skill, is knowing as much as you can about the college or university you’ll interview with. Research is a must. For example, log onto the website of the college or university you’ll interview with to understand its mission and culture. Google the name to see what more information you can retrieve. Because higher education institutions distribute news releases online, check out releases on the websites of the institution to see announcements of importance.

During your interview, you can refer to the research you’ve completed to demonstrate your knowledge of, and interest in, an organization. Tie in references to what you know about the institution with your job-seeking goals and why you want to work there.

Relative to your job-seeking needs, check out groups on LinkedIn where you can connect online with people who may have attended the college or university you’re aiming for and who can tell you about the school.

Take a look at your online presence and what you post on the web. It’s not unheard of for an interviewer to run a Google or Facebook search to see how you present yourself online. He or she can then form impressions about you before you arrive in person.

For better or for worse, know that your online presence and reputation can precede you. Change what you need to change. Just as important, make sure your email address is not offensive to someone who may consider interviewing you. An email address like tom@thepartyguy.com will surely offend.

You can make points by asking questions during your interviews. It’s perfectly acceptable to ask something like, “I’m young just starting out, and I’ve researched your university. I was wondering how you think someone like me and my background could fit in here to be a member of your team.”

At some point, you may want to ask the interviewer, “Could you tell me what’s your favorite thing about working here?”

Be sure to recount your team experiences while in college. In most organizations, the uppermost skill revolves around someone’s ability to build relationships at the workday level to complete projects. It’s a plus to be identified as a team player.

Another aspect about asking questions is this: An interview is like a sales meeting. You’re there to sell yourself diplomatically for a job. In this regard, it’s important to note that the person who asks the questions usually controls the interview. This doesn’t mean that you should keep asking question after question and avoiding answering an interviewer’s questions. It does mean that you should not be the only one answering questions. You’ll find it a good practice to write out questions beforehand to ask during your interview.

Remember that an interview conversation isn’t a ping-pong match, where the interviewer asks questions and all you do is answer and wait for the next one. Avoid limiting yourself solely to answering questions posed to you. It’s perfectly acceptable to ask something like, “Have I given you the information you’re looking for? If not, I’d be happy to explain in more detail.”

Remember this: People who hire can be good at weeding out people their college or university shouldn’t hire, especially in a buyer’s market like this, when employers can afford to be highly selective in the people they hire. The ability to articulate yourself well goes a long way to being hired.

Be sure to speak acceptable, professional English during your interview. Talk the way people who interview you talk. Leave friend-speak and street-speak at home. In particular, lose words such as “like” and avoid referring to female or male interviewers as “guys.”

If you’re writing a cover letter, be sure to write professionally as well. Use good grammar as you introduce yourself and express your interest in working for the college or university. Ask someone who knows good grammar to proof your cover letter for you and by all means, watch for and correct all typos and spelling errors. Typos, in particular, could rule you out of an interview.

The point is to sound and write professionally, but that’s not all. You need to look professional as well. “Unless someone tells you otherwise, wear a suit and tie to an interview,” says Jan Ferri-Reed, PhD, President of KeyGroup Consulting and co-author of Keeping the Millennials: Why Companies Are Losing Billions To This Generation And What To Do About It.

“For that matter,” she continued, “arrange for someone to conduct a mock interview or two with you and to provide feedback to help you improve your interviewing skills. This is good practice, because most people don’t realize how they look and sound to others.” Better yet, have someone video record your practice interviews.

As you see and listen to the playback of your practice interviews, you’ll realize how your voice and body language will or won’t come across properly during an interview. For example, you’ll know if you tend to slouch rather than sit upright or if you don’t speak clearly enough to be well understood.”

At the close of your interview, ask about possible next steps and what more you can do to round out your interview. Knowing what might come next will settle your mind and offering to do more will express your enthusiasm about being hired for the job for which you were interviewed.

When you return home, remember to email a thank you note to the person who interviewed you. Express your appreciation and your continued eagerness to start.

Cheryl Hyatt is Managing Partner of Hyatt-Fennell, LLC