Why is it that some people who have the skills, the intellect, the right education and a positive attitude can’t get hired after a year’s worth of interviews, while others with none of the above (and often as dumb as dirt!) get a job offer from every interview they’ve ever had?
When we talk to people who do the hiring, they say some people will get called back to two or three interviews whereas others have the job four minutes into the first interview! When we delve deeper into this, the interviewers cite reasons like “They seemed teachable,” “It felt like they were a fit for our culture,” “It felt like they would stay with us” and “They seemed committed.” What we do not hear from them is “Great resume!” and “Impressive education.”
If you’re a young person trying to find a job, it may be tough to accept that where you went to school and all the extracurricular activities that robbed you of quality party time might be irrelevant. And if you’re young and don’t have professional work experience (all that time spent working for your friend’s crazy mom doesn’t count), this news can make you feel not only like you’re unable to repay your student loans but – even worse – you’ve been ripped off! No one told you that organizations don’t hire experience and education; they actually hire people.
On the surface, that sounds discouraging, but you can turn it in your favor. We’ve learned that certain actions, attitudes and behaviors can help you get hired on your first interview, regardless of your experience, education or inspired thought. Here’s a short list:
- Make sure the interviewer does most of the talking. Ask questions that are personal to the interviewer. For example, “What is your opinion on what this company looks for from employees long term? What do you think is the most important outcome of this position? How do you think this position helps the bottom line? Do you think I can really make a difference?” Do not ask questions like “How soon after I start can I take vacation days?” or “Do you guys recycle?”
- Be confident but not overconfident. If you’re under 30 years old, the school system built your self-esteem stronger than that of previous generations. People 40 and older can perceive you as cocky or arrogant because of your strong belief in your abilities. So be calm and be confident, but let them know you weren’t convinced you were The Solution the minute you walked in the door. Instead, ask questions that indicate you’re discovering how qualified you are by what they’ve told you. Say something like “Based on what you just told me, it sounds like I might be a very good fit.” Do not say “Let me tell you how I’m qualified for the job.” And never say “I’m totally smart and, like, I’m supergood at stuff I don’t know anything about.”
- If your interviewers want to talk the whole time, let them, and don’t interrupt. Focus on how they feel and give verbal cues like “Yes,” “Right,” “I agree” and “That’s true.” And say “wow” at anything that seems interesting (or almost interesting). People like to feel heard. They want to be listened to. So if they say something that they’re clearly hot about, respond with “Wow, tell me more about that.” They will hit a whole new gear, and they’ll instantly see you as someone who shares their interests. The longer you listen, the more they like you if you follow these tips.
- When you get the chance to talk, be very clear and focused. Be prepared to explain your value. Explain how your education and work experience enhance your natural traits – for example, “I’m very good at getting things done right the first time. My degree in history helps me look deep into the problem’s past to see how the issue started so I can move into the solution phase.” They like to know you’re not just using trial and error. They want to hear you’re applying something that you know. “And my job for two summers at the grocery store taught me to make sure the product count was right the first time so I would not have to do it over.” If you can make a history degree and stocking shelves at midnight look like assets, you can make any experience look good! The point is to use whatever you have to show your experience. (Although if you’ve spent the past two years on Mom and Dad’s couch smoking weed and playing Xbox, you might want to leave out what you’ve learned … which you’ve probably forgotten anyway!)
- Look like you’re employable.
- A mohawk is out; a faux hawk is passable. One makes you look like an unemployed serial killer, and the other just makes it seems like you have a pointy head.
- Make sure your clothes are not old, worn out or superwrinkled. No one wants to hire a hobo.
- Shave! I know it’s very cool to look like you just woke up, and you may be very proud of what little hair you’ve managed to grow, but employers comment on this all the time. When you get the job, this might not matter, but in the interview it does!
- Women: don’t dress like it’s prom night. Six-inch heels may be very “in,” but interviewers over 40 won’t think you’re there for business. They’ll think you’re in the world’s oldest business. (That’s prostitution.) Fashion is a strange thing; each generation dislikes much of what the next generation wears. They expect you to dress your age but be practical – flats, not flops. Or choose heels that don’t imply you have a performance later that night that involves a pole.
- The secret weapon: Throw your generation under the bus. Most people believe that if you’re under 30 you lack a solid work ethic and you won’t work hard enough. It’s the No. 1 complaint, true or perceived. To combat this preconception, say “Unlike a lot of people my age, I’m willing to work hard and stay late sometimes to get the job done.” Your potential employer now sees you as a young person he or she can count on. For bonus points, add that you will show up on time consistently.
You may think these tactics seem a bit manipulative, and many would agree with you. But when the job market is tough, you have to make a decision. Do you want to see how you compete in the world based on your own merit, or would you like to get hired quickly for a job that you want?
Many people have used these tips with great success. You can ask your parents’ opinion, but I think you already know what they will say!