Just before graduation, many of my classmates worried how to separate themselves from the pack. It was a two-part worry. First, they had to land a job once they got out of school; and second, they had to make an immediate splash once they got the position so that they could get off to a great start and ultimately angle themselves for promotion.
The key to both objectives, I realized then as now, is strong interviewing and interpersonal skills. I can't emphasize this enough. You'll need to call on these skills not only to land a job but to do well once you start working, because the way you carry yourself in meetings, the way you interact with your bosses, the way you collaborate with your new peers will have everything to do with how you're viewed at your place of employment. It's all interviewing, of a kind. It's basic communication. As a (relatively) young woman who now works in upper management, I have a unique, twentysomething perspective on the ways young people go through these particular motions. I'm young enough to remember how tough the interviewing process was for me and for a lot of my friends back in school and fortunate enough to occupy a post where I get to see from a management perspective how recent graduates handle the transition. A lot of candidates don't do such a good job of it, I'm afraid. Now that I'm on the other side of the desk, I've met many applicants who looked impressive on paper but couldn't seem to get out of their own way in an interview. In a competitive business environment where MBAs are fighting over entry-level positions, there's no longer any room to make a poor impression in an interview.
I often find myself sitting across the table from someone very close to my own age. That's a bit unusual, I suppose. I mean, a lot of my friends are still pounding the pavement looking for their dream jobs— actually, in a lousy economy, many of them would settle for any job, at least for the short term. Yet here I am, interviewing other freshly minted graduates on the prowl for dream jobs of their own. I understand how daunting the interview process can seem for a young person just starting out (I get an earful of horror stories from my unemployed girlfriends every week!), but as an executive I can't understand why these otherwise qualified candidates don't spend a little extra time on their presentation skills to give themselves the edge they certainly deserve.
A word of advice: your interview is about you. It's not about the school you went to, what you majored in, what your GPA was, or who your parents happen to be or know. Most of that stuff is right on your résumé, and it might even have gotten you into the room, but it won't get you much farther. Once you land an interview, you must light it up with your knowledge, confidence, and enthusiasm. With you.
Make an effort to surprise the person across the table—not in a shocking, what-the-hell-is-wrong-with-this-person? Sort of way but in a pleasing, gee-that's-a-wonderfully-unexpected-turn! sort of way. Tell that person something he or she might not usually hear and show why you'd be an interesting person to have around the office. Be charming, but be yourself. (That shouldn't be so hard, should it?)
Keep in mind that in addition to evaluating whether you possess the skills and experience needed for the position, interviewers are also assessing whether you are someone they could work with.