“Do you have any experience managing projects?”
“You mean like a group project in school? I sure do!”
Believe it or not, that was my genuine answer to the question.
Four years of college, and all I have to show for it are my rookie mistakes at interviews. Maybe those years in college never prepared me for the nerve-wracking feeling of sitting across from a bunch of surly-looking would-be employers; Maybe it’s not fair to be questioned on experience when I’m just a fresh graduate. But I shouldn’t think that I’m not good enough for the working world just because I’m a nervous newbie, and neither should you. So here are some pointers that I hope future newbie-grads can learn from to avoid certain (career) death.
While we fresh grads cannot help things like our lack of experience with work and interviews, it frustrates me to no end to see some fresh grads trip up over some very basic strategies that you don’t need experience or college to have figured out. I’ll admit that I tripped up plenty too, which is why I put together these 5 rules that’ll get you part-ways through life, like:
1) Getting to the interview on time.
“Sorry I was late, there was traffic and I couldn’t find your building, so, yeah…”
Seriously? Four years of college and you don’t even know how to Google-map for your life? Nothing signals ‘unprepared’ to employers than a candidate who was late for an interview (serious car accidents aside). If you have a few days before your interview, make the journey to their office and back just to make sure that you know the route. You can even do this on the day of the interview itself, but start hours in advance. Someone once told me that “it’s better to be seen pacing in the lobby 20 minutes before an interview than to show up 5 minutes late for it” so if your interview is at 10am, then you better be there at 9am, even if it means getting up at 6am to beat traffic. Interviews and work, unlike class, are not optional—you don’t get a number of inexcusable absences. And speaking of inexcusable behavior, some people throw themselves out there without:
2) Knowing the position you’re applying for.
I’m not sure why some fresh graduates apply for all the positions they see posted online or at the career fair and then get confused over the tasks described to them in the interview. If you applied for a position as an administrator, they’re going to ask you management-related questions. Same goes for any vacancy; to some level the interviewers will explain the role to you and ask you whether you think you’re up for it or not, but the best way to impress them is to show them that you already have a good idea of what that position entails. So do your research, ask some working friends or give some people a call. You can even call the company and talk to the receptionist (don’t tell them it’s you! Be a spy, scout the place), they’ll tell you about the company and the people they’re looking for. And while we’re on the topic of research…
3) Know your interviewers’ company
“Hmm, why your company? Hmm, well, I decided to apply for Ernst and Young because you’re like me, I am young and earnest!”
If they haven’t thrown you from the room by the end of the sentence, you should be kicking yourself out. Again, four years of college should have taught you to use Google, so when someone emails or calls you from a company you don’t recognize, just calmly and professionally tell them you’ll be there and then Google the crap out of them. Find out where their headquarters are, what their main operating activities are, how are they based in the Middle East and what do they want from a kid like you? Which leads me to my next point:
4) Know what you have to offer.
Yeah, I’m a newbie. Yeah people can see that I’m still a little wet behind the ears, but guess what that makes me? The perfect candidate to mold into a super-employee. Expound on qualities that make you the best newbie there is in the sea of newbies: you’re enthusiastic and a fast-learner. And oh my God guess what? You actually have the experience to prove this! Whether it’s classes, extra-curricular activities or previous internship/work experience, you can give useful examples of how you learned something and ran with it. Point to your grades, or point to your clubs, or talk about your internship. If you have any misgivings on these qualities or answers, practice with friends who are working, or your professors, or even your parents. Maybe your parents haven’t been interviewed in years but they would know and they know you better than any new interviewer, so why not enlist their help?
So maybe you’ve done all these steps and have gone to many interviews, but they haven’t worked out. Maybe by the 600th failed interview you’re starting to feel down on yourself, but here’s something else people don’t seem to tell us fresh grads:
5) Experience with interviews is still counted as experience.
I didn’t realize this myself until my last interview, which led to my current job. The time it took between my graduation and my first successful interview was about five or six months. In those five or six months I worked odd jobs and stumbled through many, many many, many intimidating interviews, from Abu Dhabi to Sharjah. I didn’t know it, but by the time I got to my current job, I was relaxed. I had been through enough interviews to feel relaxed enough with the idea that I’ll give it my all, even if it doesn’t work out. I had done my research, showed up an hour early, had copies of my CV, dressed presentably, and kept my hopes moderate. The interviewers were pleasantly surprised that I knew about their company and could point out the things I liked and the things I didn’t like but would change. They wanted to know what I expected to do and I told them that as a new person I would at first ask many questions before taking on bigger responsibilities. After the interview I felt alright but I wasn’t hoping for much—I had had other interviews that felt like they went well but never amounted to a call-back. So it was with surprise that I got the job. Later when I asked them what made them choose me, they said that I had seemed comfortable and confident in the interview, and that my research is what impressed them the most.
So the interviews that didn’t work out, should they be labeled as ‘failed interviews’ or ‘experience’? I’d say that classifying them as the latter will get you a lot further in your job search. So do your research, give yourself credit for the skills and experience that you do have, and don’t let one (or several) bad interviews hold you back. Just do your goddamn research yo.