The Art of Interviewing to Nab That First Elusive Job

Interviewing: everyone’s favorite activity.  Kidding.  I know it’s stressful, but when you’re looking for that elusive first role the most important part of the process is the job interview.  And, there is another type of interview that could be key in helping you get there.  Here’s some advice for both. 

The Informational Interview

As you’re looking for that entry-level job out of school, learning from others with experience will always benefit you, whether it’s a measurable benefit - as in, actually leading to a job - or not. (I happen to think informational interviews are good at any time in your career!)  Whenever possible, try and get meetings with people of influence in your industry.  Use your research and your network - both professional and personal - to find these people. Suggest buying them a coffee or ask for a brief meeting and explain that twenty minutes of their time would be a massive help for you moving forward. Ensure them that it would be informal and there are no expectations on your part, because if they feel like they’ll be obliged in some way, they’ll find an excuse to pass. 

Once you get that meeting, prepare for it by doing your homework about the person, the company and any recent news trending about the company.  Your knowledge will impress.  Have a number of targeted questions that are appropriate and relevant.  Ask the most important ones first and don’t feel compelled to ask them all if you run out of time.  You don’t want to overstay your welcome.  

Don’t be pushy.  You’re there for their advice and knowledge about the industry.  That’s what you said to get the meeting in the first place so stick to that while you’re there. 

Having said that, you both know that you’re hoping that they may be able to help you find a job — whether it be directly or indirectly, now or in the near future — but you have to be subtle. Chances are, they don’t have a role conveniently sitting vacant for you to jump into.  So learn from their experience and soak up as much as you can.  Be interested and enthusiastic about them, their company, the industry.  You can certainly say (at the end of the interview) that you’d welcome the opportunity to work for their company if an opportunity arises, and you would appreciate them sending your resume to anyone who may be looking to hire. Then thank them and leave it at that.  

Keep in mind that when experience is lacking (and it is with almost all recent grads), attitude and personality go a long way to whether or not the executive you meet with will recommend you.  Whether it’s for immediate or future roles, either for their own company or to a colleague who may be hiring and asking for referrals, those soft skills will make the difference.

If you don’t get a response to your request for an informational interview, I’d recommend sending a follow-up request, brief and to the point, and if you still don’t hear back, just leave it.  You don’t want to go from coming across as proactive to annoying.  

The Job  Interview                                                                                     

If you’ve found some success in your job hunt, by now you’ve passed that big hurdle and been granted the coveted interview.  Yay!  It’s time to put your best foot forward…

·       Arrive on time, always.  Allow for traffic, finding parking, finding the right building - any number of things that could delay you.  If for some unfathomable reason you are late, sincerely apologize, explain how atypical that is for you and then put it behind you.

·       Be well-groomed and well-dressed.  Business-casual for the most part but when in doubt, overdress, don’t underdress.  If somehow you manage to get a stain on your shirt and don’t have time to change, own it, apologize and move on.

·       Body language says a lot.  Have a good firm handshake and use eye contact, and smile. Try to sit back and look poised but comfortable (even if you don’t feel it!) — it shows confidence.  

·       Let the interviewer lead the interview and listen well.  Answer the questions fully but don’t natter on (a common complaint by my hiring manager/HR clients).  Answer only what you’re asked, unless you truly feel expanding on the answer is relevant and beneficial.

·       Be prepared.  Do your homework about the company — find out as much as you can about the culture, the team, recent news, the hiring manager.  Knowledge is power, as they say.  

       Be ready to ask questions of them that may not have already been covered throughout the interview.  It’s a two-way street.  You’re both trying to determine if it’s a fit.

·       Be relevant.  Know the job description well.  Be clear about what they are looking for and answer with as much relevance as possible.  Emphasize your experience that best matches the job they’re looking to fill.

     Don’t try to make your experience out to be more than it is. The interviewer knows you have limited experience if you’ve just graduated, so don’t feel like you have to impress them with exaggerated examples. If it’s an entry level role - they’re not expecting too much in that regard. 

     And because entry-level candidates are short on that hands-on experience, a large part of the decision is based on personality fit, attitude, enthusiasm and initiative.  Most of the candidates they’re meeting likely have similar education and basic skills. The soft-skills usually will make the difference.  

·       At the end of the interview thank them and show enthusiasm for the role.  Ask about next steps.  Send a follow-up thank-you note where possible, either by email or by post.

Interviewing can be a stressful undertaking, especially when you’re starting out. But it is obviously a necessary part of the job hunt, so try to embrace it.  The more interviews you do, the more comfortable you’ll feel and the better you’ll get.  Sooner or later, you’ll nail the one that matters!

Susan Rogers Executive Recruitment provides career counselling and executive recruitment services, connecting companies with top Corporate Communications, Marketing Communications and Public Affairs experts.

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