Wednesday, December 22, 2010

What You Need to Say in an Interview

Sometimes I really feel for my kids. As a career columnist, I've been full of advice -- from how to behave at work to how to choose the right career -- since they were about 3-years-old. But the reason I feel so strongly about giving them as much information about the workplace as possible is because I hear all too often from employers who have unbelievable tales about young people who come in for interviews and say, "So, what is it you do here?"

Or, when I talk to college classes and ask, "How many of you know that what you post online will be checked out by an employer?" -- only a smattering of hands go up.

That's why I hope this column I wrote for Gannett/USA Today will provide some insight for parents and their children...

Those graduating from college soon may have only one request of Santa this year: Bring me a job.

As employers remain cautious about hiring because of concerns over taxes, health care and the global economy, graduates are facing some dismal conditions for finding work. Competition for jobs is even tougher as many graduates from last year still search for full-time employment, and more experienced job hunters are striving for jobs that the inexperienced once filled.

Still, some employers are hiring college graduates, and you can gain their attention.

Garrett Miller, president and chief executive of CoTria and former recruiter for Pfizer, has some advice for college students in the job hunt now or those who may soon join it. He says the key is showing employers you have the traits most of them are looking for: work ethic, humility, integrity and maturity.

"Employers are dying to hire phenomenal people, and most kids have what it takes — they just don't know how to package it," says Miller, author ofHire on a WHIM (Dog Ear Publishing, $14.95).

Garrett says you can grab the attention of employers several ways:

• Show you make the grade. While some managers may demand that a student make a certain grade-point average to be considered for a job, others are looking for those who have demonstrated they're ready to enter the world of work.

"I have always looked at students who have been busy with a purpose," he says.

That means if you were active in a fraternity or sorority, a sports team or club, talk about how these activities required motivation, self-improvement and purpose — a work ethic. Talk about how working a job while going to school taught you important lessons.

"Employers are looking for those who worked hard for something, those who have a 'put me in coach mentality,' " he says.

• Tell your story. Don't just recite a list of your grades, clubs, hobbies and job interests to employers, Miller says.

"Tell your story with excitement. Sit on the edge of your seat and say, 'I'm really glad you asked me that question,' " he says.

Don't be afraid to talk about how you failed or were disappointed in a certain situation — such as receiving a poor grade — but always frame it as a lesson learned and something that helped you to grow, he says.

Showing humility to employers is important, he says, because many millenials "are getting beaned" for not being seen as "teachable," Miller says. "A lot of recruiters are shying away from young people because they think that this generation can't take criticism or direction."

• Step up. Employers also are looking for young job seekers to show they understand what it means to have integrity, Miller says.

Job candidates should share a story about how they took responsibility for a failure in their life and how they faced a moment of "moral ambiguity," he says. Employers also will be watching for those who seem to blame others for their travails, such as someone who says, "I would have gotten an A on that project if it hadn't been for my classmate."

Miller says employers want those who are willing to accept responsibility for outcomes.

• Demonstrate maturity. Don't just show up for an interview and say, "So what is it you do here?" Do your homework.

Look for information online about the company or read trade articles mentioning the company or the industry. Have questions prepared to ask.

"This shows your engagement and interest and that you're curious and willing to learn," Miller says.

He also suggests being open about personal experiences that may have shaped you into the person you are today — and the person you hope to be years from now.

Any other advice for young people you'd like to share?


4 comments: said...

I participated in a panel webinar and my topic was the importance of soft skills at the office and in all your examples I can see that as well. Things like integrity, humility, anticipation are all the things that will make you a good fit (or help you to stand out). An HR VP I know says in all her 45 years experience in HR, 95% of new hires don't pass the probation period because of their lack of soft skills.

Anonymous said...

I agree with you wholeheartedly. I also want to mention that interviewing is a two-way street and both sides have the responsibility to be prepared. The interviewer can read the resume and have some pertinent questions prepared. I'm sure you have always done this and more but not everyone does.

Not all who wander are lost. said...

After reading your new years entry - on the word "so" , I found it interesting how many of your examples in this entry started with "So".

There are so many resources out there for interviewing these days that there's really no excuse not to be prepared. You can search youtube for examples of interviews or just search career advice sites such as yours, or one of my favorites, I keep on folder of good articles, blogs, and advice I find because it seems I'm interviewing every few years these days. Just reading over the information and practicing responses to few questions really boosts your confidence in the interview as well.

Jobsearch said...

If you really want to see a good list, have it written by people who’ve had to actually search for a job. Unless those writers have had to actually pound the pavement, they very likely only know the surface. This is especially true when so few people actually plan their careers and can tell you step by step just how they got to where they are today.Thanks for this productive information you've searched that really brought me essential understanding.