So I had a relatively embarrassing thing happen to me the other day and I thought that I should share it with all of my readers to, I hope, help them from making the same mistakes that I made. The event with which I am referring to was my first professional interview. On Friday afternoon I had my first legitimate interview and I failed miserably. Now first let me give you some background information to set the scene a little bit and then I’ll give you some tips based on what I learned.
So I have had interviews before, but they’ve been at McDonald’s, and Meijer, a small local zoo, etc.; you know, small part-time positions. These were positions where they only requirement for employment is to be able to count, stand, speak, and not physically harm people (which, I admit, is quite difficult at times). These interviews usually consist of profoundly existential questions like “What’s your greatest weakness?” or “Are you legally permitted to work in the United States?”. Now, these types of interviews, I excel at. The low expectations of the hirer, paired with my ability to use enough big words to make it sound like I know what I’m talking about, make me seem like an ideal candidate. This is been sufficient thus far, and I assumed it would serve me well in the future. Well I was wrong. In order to for you to properly understand my advice let me illustrate how my experience went.
I arrived at the location early, as I always do, and prepared myself mentally for the interview that was about to take place. Granted, I was preparing myself for my the interview I thought I was walking into (a mix of my previous interview experiences, but with a fancier suit, and a nicer office), which was all wrong, but still, I was getting focused. I adjusted my clothes, popped a mint into my mouth, gathered my folder of resumes and reference sheets, and nervously walked inside. After a short wait, the interviewer walked out, greeted me, and led me back to her office. At this point I was breathing heavily and had managed to eliminate all of the saliva from my mouth. She asked me to tell her a little about myself and which I did with no problem.
Now here’s where things stray from my “plan”. As we continue she begins to ask me questions about my answers to previous questions, things like “Why did you chose that major?”, and “What did you mean by this, or that?”. Now, in my nervous state, this caused me to panic just enough to turn my brains into, what I like to think was, a substance with the consistency of that ugly, manila envelope colored, foam from inside couch cushions. This I wasn’t prepared for. I began to search for the words to explain what I wanted to say, but they weren’t there. As I stumbled over each sentence, trying to decide how to say everything in the most impressive way, my mind suddenly became very aware of how stupid I was sounding. If sounding like a kid with a speech problem wasn’t bad enough, the awareness of my failure caused me to completely forget where I was trying to go with my answers. Reaching this new low, I apologized, took a deep breath, and tried to refocus myself. I think at that point, it was too late. I struggled through the last 15 minutes or so, and was able to formulate some coherent thought, but the damage was done. After a brief second interview with another manager, which went better, I thanked them both for their time, and drove home in shame.
So, as I need to continually remind myself, this was, at the very least, a great learning opportunity. I was able to figure out, albeit the hard way, what a “real” interview is like, and how I’ll need to prepare. Luckily for you, I’m going to share what I’ve learned with you so you can be better prepared than I was. Here are some tips to help you:
1. Know what you are getting yourself into.
So, like I said earlier, without any other knowledge of what to expect, I just assumed that this would be like any other interview. I was wrong. A professional interview has several differences. First, and perhaps the most intimidating in the moment, is that the interviewer is much smarter than some of the other ones you may have dealt with. Now, I am in no way saying that some of your previous interviewers are stupid, but at part time jobs, they tend to “dumb it down”, for lack of a better term, because they are usually hiring uneducated adults, or high school students, or retirees who are just looking for supplemental income. When you are in a professional interview they treat you like a peer; they know that you are educated, and knowledgeable and they want to better understand the extend of your knowledge.
The second major area where you might notice a difference is in the questions. At part-time places they ask you mostly situational questions like “How would you handle a dishonest coworker?” or “Tell me about a time when you’ve had to go above and beyond the call of duty” and so on. In a professional interview they only want to know about your experience and how you would fit what they are looking for. You’ll get questions like “Tell me about this position?” and “We are looking for someone who can do (fill in task), do you have any experience with this?”. It is your responsibility to take these questions and fill them with as much information as possible. You should use generalities to make your positions sound bigger than it might have been, or use industry specific keywords to let them know that you can “talk the talk”. This is your opportunity, perhaps your only one, to use these answers to show them that you are a perfect fit for the position. This leads me to my second tip.
2. Prepare yourself
Before we get into this, I want you to know that it’s impossible to be fully prepared for an interview, especially if it’s your first, but there are steps that you can take to minimize the unexpected.
The first step is to look over your resume and know your own history. They will ask you about your previous positions, what you did there, how that job might have prepared you for the job you are interview for, etc. Think about what you want to say, how you want to say it. Think about how you can fit your history into what they are looking for.
Second, look at the job description. Know what they are looking for and know what areas you should highlight and which you should minimize. For example, if you are overqualified for some of the their criteria, and under qualified for others, play up the areas where you exceed their needs. Also, like I said before, try to take your history, and it can be more than just your work history, and come up with one thing for each of their criteria. If you are unable to than do some research on that skill. One such situation that worked for me involved a software that they used and wanted me to be proficient in. I downloaded a trial of the software, and messed around with it for an hour. I was then able to go into the interview and tell them that I was “familiar” with that software.
Last, but not least, learn as much as you can. Whether you are applying for a job in Marketing or Massage Therapy, make sure you understand how things work in the industry you are looking to get into. Learn about the company you are applying with, and their major competitors. Learn their website, their social media, and anything else you can get your hands on. Learn about their products and understand their tone.
What I mean by that is you need to learn how the company presents itself. If they are a very formal and traditional company, that only posts very professional and proper content, than you should present yourself as formal and professional as possible. If they are a casual or modern outfit that posts things that are funny, or maybe less appropriate than other places, than you are able to relax a little more and be yourself.
3. Be nervous, It’s okay.
Here’s something that I forgot, and was reminded of later. This isn’t their first interview. They’ve seen plenty of nervous people sitting in front of them stammering on their answers, and forgetting words. It’s normal for them to see nervous applicants, especially if they are interview for an entry level position. Just keep in mind how they see things. They have spent a good amount of time learning about you; studying your resume, checking your Facebook, or Linkedin and so on. They know how old you are, they know if this is your first interview, or if you have a lot of experience or none. Keep all this mind.
Being nervous is a normal thing, and it’s important to not try to suppress your nervousness, that will cause it to manifest itself in another way; usually one you can’t control. In my case it was replacing my internal dictionary with a children’s book.
4. Ask Questions
This is something that’s talked about quite a bit online, but in my opinion I think it’s importance is undersold. During the course of the interview it’s good to ask questions. This will accomplish several things. First, it will turn the interview from an inquisition to a conversation. This will ease your nerves and allow you to be yourself; not so much of the robot that is spewing rehearsed answers. Second, it will show the interviewer that you are not afraid to interject yourself in an uncomfortable conversation. It shows confidence. Finally, it will provide you with some additional information that you might be able to use later in the interview. One example is to ask the question “Outside of the technical criteria, what are you looking for in an ideal candidate?”, or something similar. This will hopefully get them to describe the personality of their ideal candidate. This allows you to highlight any of those traits, if they are ones you possess, as well as tie them into your subsequent answers.
Never, before Friday, have I had a “real” interview for a full-time career type job. I now have had one. I have learned a great deal from the first one and I hope you can use these tips to be more prepared for your first interview. Everything I’ve listed are things I wish I would have known before I walked into that room last week. Good Luck to you all, I hope this helps.