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Nailing the Interview

I fell rather clumsily into my real first job interview.

Like it is for most college seniors, last fall was a breathtaking, frightening period in which I realized that real life was coming at me. I needed a plan—quick. So I bought the requisite black suit and leather folio, made a resume, took a deep breath and ventured into the sea of booths at my school’s career fair.

The first few recruiters I spoke to shook my hand, took my resume, spoke glowingly of their company and the “growth opportunities” contained therein (a phrase, my friends, of which you will quickly tire) and handed me glossy pamphlets with pictures of smiling people playing golf. Everyone assured me that I should just apply online, and they’d get back to me.

So with a slightly more relaxed smile and somewhat steadier hands, I approached a table for another consulting company sporting the requisite made-up name and held out my resume.

To my more-than-mild dismay, the recruiter spent the next 15 minutes criticizing my resume—the color of the paper, the font, the layout, the ordering of the information. He said that if he just received my resume in an application, he’d ignore it without a second thought. “Get down to your career center and have them tear it apart,” he said, with a disheartening expression of glee.

I was intimidated, but I was a little ticked off, too. So, I explained that my paper was all that the campus bookstore had, that I’d shown a professor the resume and he thought it was great, and that despite my apparently substandard result, I was a talented, experienced, unique individual who could contribute positively to his organization. Or something like that.

Then I collected the pieces of my ego that were scattered somewhere down around my toes, thanked him and marched away, fully convinced that I would be a failure and left paying off my college loans by selling batteries on the subway or Scotch tape door to door.

That night, after I’d gone home and soaked my aching feet for a while, I checked my messages. To my shock, I heard a gruff man’s voice saying, “Hi, Alissa, we have an opening tomorrow at 8:00 a.m. for an interview, and we’d really like you to come in.”

So I called and went to the interview the next morning. It consisted of two half-hour back-to-back interviews. And guess who conducted my second interview?

Yep. The resume nazi.

To my shock, he was friendly this time. I’d revised my resume, and he liked it much better—but more than that, he had backed off. He wasn’t belligerent. It was as if he suddenly respected me. We chatted for a while about the company and its products, and I left feeling like the effort had been at least a mild success.

Throughout the remainder of the recruiting season, I participated in interviews with a dozen more companies, and I gleaned some ideas for helping to make interviews a success:

1. Relax. Cliché, but true. Recruiters notice people who are smiling and relaxed and can laugh at the recruiter’s jokes.

2. Do your research. I know it’s really hard—trying to go to school full time, interviewing for jobs and attempting to retain what sanity you have left. But take 20 minutes and read over the company’s website. Find out what they pride themselves on and what their expertise is. Think about how you could fit into that picture, and then hammer that home during the interview.

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3. If they push, push back. That interviewer may just be testing you, particularly if you’re going into an industry where you need to react well to pressure. Don’t be afraid to challenge the interviewer and put forth your capabilities.

4. Remember: This isn’t the only job out there. If you don’t like it, you don’t have to take it. If you think you might like it, but you don’t get that elusive offer, there are probably at least half a dozen other very similar companies with similar positions. Consider the earlier, unsuccessful one a practice run for next time.

5. Go a step further. Be genuinely interested in the interviewer and his or her life experience. You might be shocked at who you meet. I remember finishing a double interview at a top investment bank and realizing I’d just met two senior vice presidents. You can learn a lot just from asking them about their experiences. And upper management, after a day of listening to stock answers from terrified kids in suits, will find you refreshing—and subsequently remember your name.

6. Be humble. Don’t play down your skills, abilities and experiences—but don’t be afraid to take some advice. A recruiter may know within five minutes that you aren’t right for the job, but if you have been friendly, they may give you advice to help you out next time. And that advice just may land you the Big One.

7. Remember who you work for. Your ultimate boss will always be God. He’s watching over you, He provides for you, and when that perfect job He has planned for you comes along, nothing you can do will screw up your chances—as long as you are asking for His guidance. So if things look hopeless and you aren’t getting interviews, realize that it just means He has something better in store for you that you can’t see yet.

I didn’t end up taking the job with the nebulously named company, but I did take that experience and apply it to my other interviews—most of which were much more successful. And today, I ride the subways to work, no batteries in sight, and thank God for His provision for me.

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