Career Resources

Monday, July 11, 2016

"He said WHAT on his interview?" How to avoid being that guy.

Recruiters I know who interview lots of people as part of their job will sometimes share stories of the ridiculous things that people said or did on their interviews (anonymously, of course!). We often shake our heads in disbelief and question, “How could they have possibly done something like that!”
You definitely don’t want to be that guy (or girl)! 
The way you avoid being that guy or girl is to conduct a mock, or practice interview, with a career coach or counselor. This way you can get your dumb mistakes out of the way before the real interview and get feedback about them before they become grist for recruiters’ water cooler banter. Believe me, everyone makes mistakes on interviews at some point in their lives, often unknowingly. You don’t know what you don’t know, but your career counselor does, so make sure to tap into his or her interviewing wisdom.

Because we’re nearing the end of the academic year, I’ve been conducting a lot of mock interviews with students who are looking to land their first job out of college. I applaud these students for realizing the importance of preparing for their interviews and soliciting feedback so that they can ace the real interview. For the benefit of helping my readers, I’m sharing three of their stories below.

I was conducting a mock interview recently with a student who had a real interview coming up for a tax position with PricewaterhouseCoopers. “So tell me, what’s your greatest weakness,” I asked her. “Well,” she said, “I have a real weakness for chocolate and can never resist having some no matter how hard I try.” The minute she said “chocolate,” I cringed. Up until this point she had been doing a fantastic job and was answering all of the questions extremely well. For this question, however, her answer was inappropriate, and I explained to her that she should give an example of a professional weakness and then explain what she was doing in order to improve upon it. We then brainstormed examples to use. Here’s some advice from my From College to Career blog regarding how to effectively answer the dreaded weakness question. I am happy to report that I got an email yesterday from this student stating that she got the job!

Another time recently, I was conducting a mock interview with an international student who was preparing for a real interview for a supply chain position with an American firm. I asked him why he wanted to pursue a career in supply chain and he said, “I want to learn everything about supply chain that I can in America and take my knowledge back home to help my country.” While the student’s response was true and admirable, it would not be the response that an employer would want to hear and probably would have jeopardized his getting an offer. Why? When companies hire an employee, they invest a lot of time, energy and resources in the hiring and training process, and they want a return on their investment. So they’re obviously going to frown upon a candidate who says he plans to go back home because this wouldn’t be a good investment on their part. Instead, I advised this student to talk about how he wanted to build a career with the company and the ways that he could contribute to the company’s growth and success. While he may in fact go home in a few years, he doesn’t need to share that on the interview.

My last mock interview example is of a student who, whenever I would ask him a question, would detail his failures before getting to his successes. He had an upcoming interview with a company he had interviewed with before. When I asked him, “So tell me about yourself,” he began by saying how he had gotten rejected by the company last year because he did a poor job on his interview. While that may have been the case, I suggested instead that he focus on the positive by saying how excited he was to be interviewing with them again, that he felt confident he was now a good candidate and to tell them about his recent accomplishments. Later, when I asked him about a current position on his resume, he again began to outline how he didn’t get the job the first time around. Some people may think that these are great examples of persistence and perseverance, but after a while, the pattern of hearing about his failures was establishing a negative impression. Instead, I recommended he focus on sharing only his successes. I saw this student a few days after his interview, and he thinks it went very well.

In general, I advise students to always stay positive during an interview and to avoid saying anything negative. I also tell them that an interview is not a confessional, which I wrote about in my personal blog, From College to Career. Sometimes students starting out in their careers feel that they need to reveal all during an interview. Again, conducting a mock interview is a way to avoid spilling your guts on the real interview.If you were scheduled to perform in a concert, a play, or a key athletic game, what would you do? Practice, of course. You certainly wouldn’t want to wing it. The same should be true of your interviews since there's a job at stake. Most college career centers offer mock interviews as part of their services. Make sure to take advantage of them!