Friday, August 03, 2007

Successful Transitions: College Graduate to Working Professional

Part 1: Interview Tips for College Grads

The Radio Show Recap...

Summer is here which means the Washington Metro area is crawling with recent college graduates who are making the transition from student to professional. The skills needed for success in the workplace are very different from the skills needed for success at school. In order to help young adults survive and thrive in the workplace we dedicated a few shows to learning what it takes to make a successful student to professional transition.

In this segment of “The Working Life,” O'Keyla Smith and I discussed how recent college graduates can ace a job interview and make a great impression on potential employers.

O’Keyla’s Question: Interviewing can be really scary and nerve wracking! What do young people need to understand about the interviewing process? Are employers looking for certain qualities?

My Thoughts: Yes they are! It is really important for young people to understand what employers are looking for. Employers don’t actually expect you to have a whole of technical skills or experience—they expect you to have some—but what they are really looking for are your personal and transferable skills. In other words—what kind of employee you are going to be? Employers are looking for young people with strong communication and teamwork skills. They want employees who have a readiness to learn, and who are reliable and responsible. In survey after survey, employers rate following list of skills and traits as being the most important:
• Communication & interpersonal skills
• Honesty and integrity
• Teamwork skills
• Reliable, responsible, and mature
• Strong work ethic
• Motivated and flexible
• Analytical skills
• Computer skills
• Organizational skills

In short, employers want to know who you are as a person. They want to know if you’ve got what it takes to succeed in their organization. They are prepared to teach you the technical skills—provided you can prove yourself worthy of their investment.

O’Keyla’s Question: What kind of preparation should young people do before an interview? What mistakes do you see young adults make?

My Thoughts: The mistakes I most often see young people make is not taking the time to properly research the organization before the interview. Prepping before an interview is absolutely essential to differentiating yourself. Thanks to Google and the Internet, researching the company is easy and quick. There are 4 areas you should research before an interview—and you really do need to cover all of them:

  1. The company/organization. You need to know the company’s products, services, markets, etc. Be familiar with their history, their structure, management, recent trends, growth areas, stock price, etc. What are their key business challenges? What is their culture like? What kind of people do they hire?
  2. The Job. As much as possible find out about the job itself: What are the general responsibilities? Deliverables? Reporting structure? Find out as much as you can beforehand so your questions during the interview will be smarter and more targeted.
  3. Learn about the interviewer. Find out who will be conducting your interview ahead of time. If possible, learn about his/her background and career progressions. A key element of succeeding in a job interview is building rapport with the interviewer. So it helps to find out about him/her if you can.
  4. Be up to date on the industry. At the job interview you should be able to discuss industry trends and challenges, etc. What is happening in the industry? Being able to intelligently discuss trends and challenges will truly set you apart and make you stand out.

Remember—you are more than a candidate for a job—you are a potential problem solver and contributor! So the smarter and more knowledgeable you are about the business and the company, the more you’ll impress.

O’Keyla’s Question: For people who have never been on an interview, what should they expect to happen?

My Thoughts: Expect to be judged and evaluated! Interviewing is about marketing yourself effectively to a potential employer. Here is what the interviewer wants to know:
  • Do you have what it takes to succeed in the job?
  • Will you fit in the organization?
  • Do you understand the company and its purpose/goals/challenges?
  • How do you compare to your competition?
  • Do you want the job?
So to succeed in an interview, you need to understand how your responses will be evaluated based on the above questions. Everything you say must assure the interviewer that you’ve got what it takes.

O’Keyla’s Question: Lets talk about the interview itself. Are there common questions that interviewers ask? Can you give some examples of how to answer these questions?

My Thoughts: A quick Internet search will quickly provide you with a plethora of resources that outline typical interview questions. The key here is to PRACTICE standard interview questions before going into an interview. Practice your answers out loud—you might even consider taping them to get a better sense of how you sound. Employ the “2-Minute Rule.” Meaning that it should never take you more than 2 minutes to answer any question. You’ll need to be able to answers questions about: previous jobs and experiences, skills, talents, and ambitions. Learn how to answer behavioral interview questions. Be succinct and to the point. Don’t ramble. Answer the question asked as thoughtfully and succinctly as possible.

And don’t forget to have a great answer prepared for when the interviewer says, “Tell me about yourself.” This is often the first question asked and if you answer it well, you’ll get your interview off to a great start.

O’Keyla’s Question: Let’s talk about image and dress. How do you know what to wear? How does one create a professional persona?

My Thoughts: This is a critical aspect of the interviewing process. First of all, you have to look like you belong in the game—you have to dress the part. The business world is a financial venture conducted through a social system. This means that your image has to both inspires trust and confidence and one that matches the culture or the industry or organization. Dressing for the interview is not about standing out as a unique individual—it is about appearing to belong in a particular culture—a business culture. Dress for the career you want—not for the career you are leaving. Match your dress and image to the profession or business in which you want to succeed in. Dress better than you have to. When you make an effort to look the part—you broadcast to the world that you take yourself seriously and the job seriously.

O’Keyla’s Question: What about body language? They say the 70% of communication is non-verbal. What are some of the do’s and don’ts?

My Thoughts: People form a first impression in 3 seconds. Since most of us can’t even say hello in 3 seconds, a first impression is formed largely on body language and attire. Your body language has to communicate confidence, trustworthiness, and maturity. Some simple do’s and don’ts:
• Good straight posture (both standing and sitting)
• Open body language
• Smiling
• Eye contact
• Firm handshake

• Slouch or slump
• Fidget
• Tap foot, twirl hair, touch face or other nervous tics
• Avoid eye contact/look away
• Stuff hands in pockets
• Close body language (fold arms, clench fists, etc.)

O’Keyla’s Question: What about follow-up after the interview? Is e-mail okay or does it have to be handwritten?

My Thoughts: It is very important to have a clear follow-up process. This will depend on the timing of the recruitment process. If you are one of the first to interview—then you may be looking at a longer turnaround time. During the interview, ask the interviewer (or recruiter) where they are in their interviewing/hiring process. Ask about the decision-making process and timeline. Most interviewers should be able to give you some idea about when you might expect to hear something. Let them guide you into an appropriate follow-up process. Don’t be afraid to ask! It is a completely legitimate and mature question. They will actually appreciate your taking responsibility by asking.

As for thank you notes, I’m old school. I think the handwritten note (on excellent card stock) makes you stand out. And besides, it is just classier.

O’Keyla’s Question: Any other tips?

My Thoughts: Don’t be late for the interview. If you are going to be late—you better call with a really great excuse. Being late is a pretty big hurdle to overcome—so do everything you can to ensure you arrive on time.

Be nice to everyone you meet on site—and I mean everyone. Some organizations incorporate the impressions of other employees (like the receptionist and security guard) when evaluating a candidate. Smile and say hello to all you encounter!

Also, watch your cell phone calls! Don’t talk about your interview or the company anywhere nears the interview site! You never know who is walking behind you up the steps…

To Listen to an archive of this show:

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