Full disclaimer: All of the events that follow actually happened. Some of the mistakes I made should never, under any circumstance, have happened. I write in the hopes that you will learn from my errors and land the job that’s perfect for you.
Every job I have ever worked had an expiration date. While I learned so much at all of my past internships and I’m forever grateful for the experiences, it’s overwhelming to be in a perpetual transitory state. Knowing that my internship ended upon graduation or that this job was complete after the contract was up. Knowing I would need to find a new address, meet new coworkers, and learn new brands. I’ve never had a job with real stability. So I set out to land that full-time, long-term dream job and am happy to say I did.
This somewhat ridiculous job search journey has taken me to the east coast and back. After 6 interviews, 3 plane rides, 2 train trips, about 800 miles on the Honda Civic, 4 couches, and 1 air mattress, I think it’s safe to say I’ve learned what to and what not to do during an interview.
Mostly what not to do.
So, here is my list of resume and interview tidbits. Please learn from my (many) mistakes.
1. Know every detail
In a usual pre-interview conversation, I was told to show up to my interview at exactly 1:30 and no earlier. The reception area in the office was very small and someone was interviewing right before me. No problem, the office was in a neighborhood I was familiar with. I found the office with ease and stood outside, making sure everything was just right.
At about 1:25, I walked up to the door to make sure I knew how to get in. Sometimes intercoms trick me. Upon walking to the front of the building, I realize the marquee reads, “Gone to Lollapalooza. Head next door to hear some great live music!” or something of the sort. What? After realizing the doors are indeed chained, I find a small side door and press the red button a few times. No answer. I look at my watch, it’s 1:27 (whisper explicit). I go to a dining establishment next door to ask if the address of the building I’m looking for is left or right on this street. The waiter answers with a yes. 1:31 (explicit becomes more audible). I proceed outside to make a quick phone call to the person I’ve been keeping correspondence with, who just so happens to be the co-founder of this company. I call his direct line, no answer. 1:33 (a couple turns around when they hear this explicit).
I decide to check our e-mail chain in the hopes of finding some hidden clue as to where I’m supposed to be interviewing. As it turns out, the building number was 505, not 500. I buzz up at exactly 1:36. Needless to say, the job is not mine.
2. Toot your own horn
In the interview I just described, I was asked the following question. “If your past supervisors were to rate your performance on a scale of 1-10, how would they rate you and why?”
I know very well that past directors, bosses, and managers would give me a high 9-10. I’m a hard worker and I have done incredibly well in all of my past positions. But as I recently told a friend, I’m a damn good employee, I just don’t interview well. As my response should tell you.
I answered with a hesitant, “Ahh… ooh… good question. I don’t like to toot my own horn (I actually said that out loud) but I really do believe that my previous bosses would give me a 9 or 10.” I fumbled through the rest of the answer, giving half-ass reasons and support for these ratings. In my mind, I was telling myself that they would give me 9’s or 10’s because I’m dependable and motivated. I stick to deadlines and I manage my time and projects well. Instead, the words that actually came out of my mouth made me sound like an unconfident preadolescent who didn’t have the experience to succeed in this role.
When I gave the ridiculous “horn toot” line, the other woman interviewing me put it perfectly.
“Well, let them toot it for you.”
3. Get the low down on the company you’re applying for
I flew out to Boston for an interview that, in my right mind, I knew I was unqualified for. But they asked to meet me and who was I to turn down this opportunity? Plus, Boston is one of my favorite cities and I have good friends living there, so why not. I flew out a day before the interview, ready to sleep on my friend’s air mattress for the next month if offered the job. I researched the company and the brands it managed. I felt confident going into the interview. I might have a chance after all.
I found my way to the office and sat in the lobby, happy to be greeted by two very outgoing department representatives. The job was within the event planning realm, so the interview was laid back as were the questions; I was asked what a giant penguin wearing a sombrero would say upon entering the room at that moment. Midway through the interview, I felt great. The conversation was flowing and they responded well to my portfolio. Then they asked if I used their product and what I knew about the company.
The product, a cluster of radio stations, is local and I once again fumbled through my answer. I know that I should have answered with, “Yes, of course. I listened to [this particular radio show] this morning and loved when the hosts talked about [this segment] or [that celebrity]. I love [this other station’s] format and I really love what you’ve done with [this particular giveaway]. It’s endlessly frustrating because I did do my research. I did listen to the morning show for a week before interviewing, I knew the formats up and down, and I could talk all about the current promotions.
What came out of my mouth instead? “Yeah, sometimes. I’ll be honest, I’m not from the Boston area. I didn’t grow up here, so I’m not the dedicated listener that many people may be.” And so on and so forth, trying to make up for the mistake of an answer. As soon as it left my mouth, I knew it was lost.
4. Be creative
Do you use LinkedIn? If not, go get yourself a profile. There really is no better social networking tool to utilize when on the job hunt. However, it may be a bit discouraging when you find a job you just know you’re perfect for, only to see a little red flame next to the “apply for” button, letting you know that 337 other people have applied for that very same position.
One thing I have done well during the job search? Standing out with my resume and cover letter. I’m a firm believer that, according to job and industry, you must ditch the black and white resume. My past resumes are atrocious and would understandably put any hiring manager to sleep; I’d be looked over in a sea of 300 other applicants, no doubt. I am looking for creative marketing/event planning jobs and now have two resumes I switch between using, both incredibly creative and a bit untraditional.
My cover letters have been just as unconventional. If the job is laid back, like the one at the radio station, I’m not afraid to get a bit goofy; I made a Dave Matthews Band reference in that CL. Are you truly passionate about the job or industry you’re after? Show it. Don’t give the uptight, overdone, traditional CL spiel. You know what I’m talking about. Travel is a huge passion of mine, so I let that show in my cover letter and was asked for an interview at an international education related job the day after I sent it.
And please, please do not talk about yourself the entire time. Show that you know about the company you’re applying for. Give mentions straight from their core values or mission statement. Talk about how much you admire their innovation and creativity. Which means that you absolutely cannot create one generic cover letter to send to multiple companies, interchanging one or two words. You might as well not bother sending it in the first place. The cover letter writing process is meticulous and time consuming. But, if you do it right, I’m certain it will put you at the head of the applicant pool.
The first interview I had was an absolute joke. The second was laughable, but decent. By the third in-person interview, I was incredibly confident. I had practiced all of my answers, knew what to expect, and knew what to say. Take advantage of your career services center. Go to mock interviews with complete strangers that will ask the questions you will most certainly hear. Sit in front of the mirror and talk to yourself. Write down and organize your thoughts.
6. Remember names. Ask questions. Leave something behind. Follow up.
I was rusty during my first interview, I’m not afraid to admit it. I was introduced to the two people interviewing me and almost immediately forgot what they said. Thankfully their names were said throughout the duration of the interview, saving me from embarrassment. Pay special attention to your introductions.
You should always have questions prepared to ask at the end of the interview.
My favorites include:
“What is an average day like working here?”
“What is your favorite part about coming into work/being on this team?”
“In the past, what has been the most challenging/rewarding part of this position?”
“What could someone in this position do to exceed your expectations?”
The next tip is my own golden rule. Never leave an interview without leaving something behind. I have a print portfolio that I will leave for employers with examples of work projects and writing samples. It’s a snazzy little book that was inexpensive to print but always wows my interviewers. Leave a resume and cover letter, a presentation or a prezi. Just leave something.
And as all interviews should conclude, send that legendary follow-up thank you email. Personalize it and mention something you talked about during the interview. And remember the names of the people you interviewed with so you know who to address it to.