ACING THE ENTRY-LEVEL INTERVIEW: Perspectives from a College Senior and a Communications Veteran

Co-authored by Christina Mahaffie, a College of Charleston senior majoring in communication and Patty Tucker, a Senior Communications Counselor, Executive-in-Residence at Jackson Healthcare and member of the College of Charleston Communication Advisory Council

Does anyone disagree that the majority of growth and learning in college happens in the space between classes?

The classroom is crucial to career readiness, of course, but more intellectual growth and life skills come from, well, living life … in dorms and coffee shops, on the job and sports field. In this piece, Christina and Patty each consider how recent graduates can frame their college experiences to best spotlight their skills and character in the entry-level job interview.

The Protégé Perspective

I’ve spent many an hour in stale library cubbies studying the key concepts of interpersonal communication and trudging through research. I’ve received an honorable mention on the President’s List every semester of my college career. I’ve been nominated for awards, honor societies, and prestigious programs. As an eager, even strenuous student, it took me just about all 16 years of my academic career to realize that there is more to education than classes, grades, and rankings; there is also life.

A funny little thing, life is. It’s actually not so little at all; it’s all-consuming, overwhelming, heartbreaking, thrilling, and inescapable. I am the young woman I am today not because of my research efforts, nor because of my continual mention on the President’s List, but rather because of the life experiences that fill the storylines of my college career. The ones that have thrown me into new territory, that have stripped me of my control, and that have broken me down — these are the ones that have built me.

Fights with friends, failed love, and moments of crushing disappointment have shown me how deeply I’m capable of loving – and how beautiful that is.

Those summers I worked at camp – the summers filled with international friends and overflowing stories that are characteristic of my twentysomething years – have influenced me more than any resume building internship ever could.

Recurrent struggles with body image, self-doubt, and anxiety have forced me to not only pull myself out of self-dug ruts, but to put down my shovel.

Choosing to write a new post about all-natural skincare for my blog instead of getting a head start on that paper has fulfilled me, not just my transcript.

College taught me how to find myself, how to understand myself, and how to take care of myself. My four years at the College of Charleston have broadened my mind, opened my spirit, and unleashed my future. Though my classes have undoubtedly bettered me along the way, it was that little thing called life that truly showed me who I am, and who I want to be.

The Mentor Perspective

Interviewers screening communications job candidates can quickly confirm your solid degree, reputable GPA and experience choices. That takes about one minute.

Those (might) get you the interview. How you convey your life experiences will get you the job.

Especially for an early or entry-level job, we’re looking for your competencies and character. We seek proof you’re detailed, thoughtful and proactive.  Are you good on deadline? Solution-oriented? Do you have grit and determination in the face of failure? Your writing must be strong, but will you also take editing well?

Your past behaviors are the best predictor of your future behaviors. So we need to hear specific anecdotes to know how you’ll fit into our team and culture. Interviewers will likely ask you to “Tell me about a time when you…” encountered circumstances so we hear how you actually (not theoretically) handled them. Prepare anecdotes in advance to convey your skills and character strengths.

For example, tell us about when you …

… Initiated something without supervision: Christina started her own blog to demonstrate her wellness passions and prove her mettle.

Learned from a mistake: Perhaps you missed a deadline for a club responsibility because you thought someone else was doing it, so now you confirm shared accountabilities.

Managed peers: Campaigns class and volunteer boards are treasure troves of personal insights. What did you learn about influencing others?

 …Navigated a difficult dynamic with an “adultier adult”: We want to know you will respectfully assert yourself when you need to “manage up.” How did you work with that one difficult professor to understand and deliver what he wanted?

… Learned to thrive on deadline: Maybe it was the semester you juggled a tough sports team schedule and rigorous class load; how’d you manage it?

… Enjoyed hard coaching: Talk about the teacher or coach who was toughest on you … and helped you grow the most.

Don’t be shy about using college examples; it’s no secret that your professional experience is limited. Help your interviewer know what kind of person you are… and they’ll not only appreciate your skills, but welcome your character.


This post was co-authored by Christina Mahaffie and Patty Tucker as part of the College of Charleston Department of Communication Advisory Council’s Mentor-Protégé Program. Follow the College of Charleston on LinkedIn for more co-authored posts by mentors and protégés