Whiting column: Winning an interview is tough
Continuing last column’s thesis of graduation isn’t a finish but a start — it involves progressing to employment. Obtaining a rewarding career can be complicated.
Step No. 1 is working during education, whether it be high school or post-secondary. Work not only makes money, it’s the best reference. Without actual work experience, graduates haven’t proven the basics: showing up on time, working with people, meeting a deadline, completing designated tasks to an acceptable level.
I remember telling my father that I couldn’t wait to graduate and start work because I wouldn’t be as busy. He was chuckling as he responded, “Sorry to disappoint you, but if you choose to do your job well, you’ll be busier than college.” He was right.
The next step is convincing an employer your graduation was of value. Not to you, but to him. Remember that to an employer, hiring you has one big disadvantage. He must pay you. Consequently, his need to hire must be significant. It’s your job to convince him you can meet that need.
Your graduation and GPA are résumé items — essential, but employers don’t hire because of your résumé. It’s your ticket to the interview, then irrelevant. Your résumé must convince the employer you’re worth the time necessary for an interview. Everyone interviewing has an adequate résumé. If they didn’t, they wouldn’t be there.
To get the job, you must win the interview. It’s that literal. One person will win, and the rest lose — direct competition. Consequently, you must separate yourself from the others. Interview strategies vary, but they can be difficult, stressful and complex. You may think everyone is looking for employees. True, but the best situations go first. Most employee-oriented opportunities with the best location, boss, chances for advancement have the most competition.
The biggest difference between good and bad interviews is focus. Bad interviews are “I” oriented. Good ones are “you” oriented. Sadly, most interviews are composed of the potential employee saying, “I did this, I did that.” Remember, you’re not being hired because you graduated and need a job. That’s your need, not the employer’s. He hires whoever can best meet his needs. It can be time- or skill-based, a planned expansion, project or a myriad of other potential needs. “You” oriented interviews are focused on him; you’re meeting his specific need to hire. Get beyond the job description and specifically ask, “What are the three main responsibilities of this position?” Don’t wait for him to offer. Take command and ask. He will appreciate and note your initiative.
After he answers, don’t make the mistake of responding “I can do that.” Convince him by “I can meet your first need ____ because of ____ whatever in your background proves it.” Do the same with need No. 2 and No. 3.
Good interviews are not dominated by the employer asking you to answer. It’s a conversation. Continue to ask questions. “What are two characteristics successful employees possess?” “What are the top three goals your company has this year?”
Be prepared for difficult questions. Employers use questions to determine characteristics for which direct questions aren’t effective. Asking “Are you a hard worker and possess work ethic?” doesn’t help; the answer is obvious. Consequently, they ask a question that seems simplistic. “College was a fun time. What did you do last spring break?” If your response is “Had a great time in Mexico,” that doesn’t help. That’s why you should work when it’s inconvenient. If you could answer “I didn’t go anywhere, I was working,” it may not have been fun, but the boss will take note. Working when it’s inconvenient proves work ethic better than any words.
Bosses like “plus-minus questions.” “What are the two best characteristics we can take advantage of if we hire you?” “What is your worst characteristic we will have to deal with?” “What was your biggest accomplishment in your last position?” “What was the biggest mistake there?” He isn’t looking for perfection. He’s looking for truth and learning.
Because he has checked your references, he may ask questions to which he already knows the answer. It’s an honesty test. “If I talk to your last boss, what would he tell me is your best attribute?” “What would he tell me is your worst?” Or if applicable, “Why did you get fired from your last position?” You should also be prepared to perform whatever skills you profess to possess. If you want to separate yourself, beat him to the punch. Ask to perform your skills.
Don’t count on technology to cover a lack of skill. ChatGPT isn’t going to be any help if the boss gives you a list of issues, facts, statistics, recommendations about a situation and says, “Here is paper. Write me the two-page report I might request in that situation.” Bosses can be tricky. It might be an online interview, but don’t be surprised if he asks you to stand. He wants to see if your bottom half is dressed as appropriately as the half he can see.
After winning the interview, remember to do the work. At my 50-year fraternity reunion, Don returned a multi-millionaire. His college roommate Allen? Not so much. Allen asked what the secret was when they both had the same business degree. Don asked Allen if he watched all 73 episodes of The Game of Thrones. Allen proudly answered, “Yes.” Don paused and responded, “I didn’t.”
Bryan Whiting feels most of our issues are best solved by personal responsibility and an understanding of non-partisan economics rather than government intervention. Comments and column suggestions to: email@example.com.
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