I was fortunate to have some great mentors when I started out in my career.
I sometimes leaned on these folks when an upcoming job interview had my gut in knots. The advice was simple yet greatly profound: Be yourself, one mentor said.
Young adults – and plenty of older ones – often falter when interviewing for a job. Their nerves or lack of preparation can make them do some crazy things.
In a recent survey conducted by Harris Poll on behalf of CareerBuilder, more than 2,500 human resource managers shared their most memorable interviews with job candidates. One applicant put lotion on her feet. Another candidate brought her pet bird. And someone called in for a phone interview from the bathroom and was heard flushing the toilet.
But it doesn’t take bizarre behavior to tank your interview. It also doesn’t take long for a first impression to kick you out of the running for the job. Fifty percent of hiring managers said they know within the first five minutes of an interview if a candidate is a good fit.
There is an art to interviewing. It’s a skill that needs to be developed. So, just in time for graduation season, I’m recommending Private Notes of a Headhunter: Proven Job Search and Interviewing Techniques for College Students & Recent Grads by Kenneth A. Heinzel, a retired professor, entrepreneur and headhunter.
After a decade of recruiting as a headhunter hiring about 2,000 people, Heinzel describes the practical but also the psychological aspects of job interviewing.
“In the final analysis, a job search is also a search for yourself,” he writes. “It requires not only a sure knowledge of the territory, but also knowledge of who you are and what you really want in life.”
Let’s start with job-search fundamentals. The goal is to “know yourself as best you can, from your strengths and weaknesses to your overall outlook on life,” Heinzel says.
The book aptly covers the basics – the do’s and don’t’s for your resume, what makes for a good cover letter, and the importance of networking. But it’s the probing of who you are, what you want and how to sell yourself, that I think will be especially helpful to young adults.
Here are four basic questions Heinzel says are asked in some form during a job interview, and how to prepare for them:
▪ Who are you? Rehearse your two-minute bio. It’s your highlight reel.
▪ Why are you here? If you’ve just graduated with little work experience, pull from your history of internships, leadership positions and activities while in college.
▪ What can you do for me? “Yes, there is always something personal in it for the interviewer/hiring manager,” Heinzel says. “When you consider that approximately 20 percent of all new hires don’t make it past the first year for whatever reason, you can see why things can get real personal for the hiring manager – your success or failure will reflect on them.”
▪ Why should I hire you? Boldly make a case for why this job is yours, Heinzel writes. “This is where you must concentrate on translating your strengths into benefits to the company that specifically relate to helping them make, raise and/or save money.”
Do you wonder or worry what interviewers think during the hiring process? Heinzel has an appendix that’s a cheat sheet for managers. He encourages applicants to use it to prepare. You put yourself in a better position when you know what the manager needs to get out of the interview.
And what if you do everything right and it’s just not going well or the hiring manager is inept?
There’s a handy “What Ifs” chapter that covers a lot of what could go wrong and how to recover.
Get used to interviewing, Heinzel tells young folks. Because, these days, you'll be doing it a lot. The average job tenure in 2014 was 4.6 years, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
So give your graduate a useful guide for a process that might take place often throughout his or her career. And if you want to make sure the book at least gets opened, maybe put some money inside.