Local News

Grads: Time to ‘unlearn’ some interview techniques

By Teresa F. Lindeman
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Tis the season of advice, at least for college graduates.

President Barack Obama recently advised the Class of 2013 at Ohio State University to enjoy while they can the days of being able to sleep in and have breakfast at 11:30 a.m. — on a Tuesday.

But if they don’t get jobs — and the news on that front has been dire — that lifestyle might last longer than they actually want it to.

To avoid that fate, new graduates might need to unlearn some of the things they’ve been taught about interviewing for positions. Things like emphasizing their leadership skills, boasting about themselves and going after the perfect job.

“The company is more important than the job,” said Chris Forman, CEO of StartWire, a job search organizer based in Lebanon, N.H. But Forman’s involvement in the recruiting industry pre-dates the company’s launch in 2011.

His advice may sound a little retro to college students and new grads accustomed to being asked what kind of job they want. Yet even at a time in history when few people expect to work for the same business their entire careers, Forman believes there’s value in getting into a good company and working your way up. “Good companies recognize talent and create opportunities for talent,” he said.

Businesses that are growing, in particular, are likely to have opportunities for career movement. The managers at those businesses may be inclined to promote people who have already proven they’re smart, hard-working and good contributors.

So the goal, in Forman’s view, is getting a position in one of those companies. It may not be the dream job or the perfect schedule or the most fulfilling work. That’s OK.

This might be the moment for another retro concept — tapping into the network that your parents or your friends’ parents have. If someone will put in a good word for you, that might be welcome by the hiring manager buried in resumes.

At this point, any applicant who gets a phone call or even an interview should be thrilled — someone probably already sorted through stacks of letters and tossed out lots of great candidates to get to that point — but the job offer isn’t secure yet.

The key thing to remember, Forman said, is: “It’s not about you.”

Sure the interviewer will ask about your experiences and your qualifications and your hopes, but don’t get sidetracked. “Everyone has scores of war stories about interviewing really smart young people who come into the interview and think it’s about them,” he said.

It is, he argues, about solving a business problem. Those doing the hiring are trying to fill a need while not making a mistake.

The smart candidate will ask what issues the manager is dealing with and what he is trying to accomplish with this position. “They have a problem that is not being met,” Forman said.

The smart candidate does not ask about the hours, the vacation policy and the benefits until a job offer is made. “Once the offer is extended, then it’s OK to be a little bit about you,” he said, cautioning that a candidate fresh to the working world and to a particular field can’t be too demanding — with the possible exception of certain specialties such as computer science.

Oh, and tone down the self-promotion. Those leadership positions in college? They are on your resume already. Talk about the group of great people that you were lucky enough to work with. That helps show you’re a team player and reassure the hiring manager.

A little modesty is a good thing. As Forman noted, “There are a whole lot of summa cum laude graduates right now that are unemployed.”

Scripps Howard News Service

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