Written By: Deserai Wills-Smith ’15
After waiting five awkward minutes, I’m invited into the office. I shake my interviewer’s hand and say, “Nice to meet you.” He replies, “Nice to meet you too. Have a seat.” I head over to my chair. I know it’s mine because it’s opposite the large wooden desk. Those desks get me every time. They’re very intimidating. He sits down, glances at my resume, and says in a manner neither friendly nor hostile, “So tell me a little about yourself.”
It seems impossible not to be nervous at this moment. When I envisioned this interview I envisioned the part where I got the job. I was not expecting this. By ‘this’ I mean I thought he would be doing most of the talking – not me – and now I have to tell him about myself and I’m getting the sense that he wants a specific answer. What the heck?!
This was part of what happened during an interview for the position of organizing intern with United Cerebral Palsy of RI. I was really excited about getting that interview. I was dressed to a T (yes, capital T) but I had no understanding of how to interview or what to talk about and maybe you guessed already but I did not get that job.
Now part of the reason had to do with the fact that I was so nervous, but more importantly I came into the interview with the wrong attitude. I thought interviews work something like magic. You go in, the employer sees something in you, and then you get the job. WRONG! From this and many other failed interviews, I learned that the interview is your stage and the interviewer your audience. You’ve got to know how to appeal to your audience part of that is knowing what they want the other part is showing them that you are what they want.
Now let’s deal first with knowing what the interviewer wants. This is the easy part. You don’t have to talk to the interviewer to have an idea of what they’re looking for. Any job posting has these details in the post. I recommend looking back at the job description and articulating out loud what work/volunteer experience you have that matches the description and what personal characteristics you have that make you a good fit. You probably wrote this in your cover letter but it will be beneficial to you to articulate it briefly out loud to yourself. This is about making clear to yourself what you have to offer because the interviewer will want to know what you have to contribute to the organization.
As for showing them you’re the right candidate, I say you’ve got to practice, listen, and be honest. Who hasn’t heard that practice makes perfect? The same goes for interviews. The more time you spend asking yourself, “Why do you want this job?” and “What are your strengths and weaknesses?” the less nervous you’ll be when asked in an interview and the juicier your answer will be. That’s right. I said juicy and I mean it too. Give your interviewer juicy answers bubbling with genuine well thought out responses. Practice with a friend, your mom, your cat, your reflection, or swing by CDO (that’s what we’re here for!). If you prefer to practice alone here are some common and (more interestingly) not-so common interview questions to get you started.
Next is to listen. I think Jeff Hadden raises a crucial point when he says, “No matter how much research you’ve done, you can’t truly know you want the job until you know everything possible about the job” (9 Things Interviewers Never Tell Job Candidates, But Should). During some of my own interviews I wanted the job so bad I didn’t really care too much about the details. For example when I worked as a cashier I accepted a late night shift. I didn’t realize how tired I’d be after my shift or how much went into cleaning up before I was able to clock out. The point is that sometimes in our excitement (because getting an interview or, even better, the position itself is exciting) we overlook some things that we should take into consideration. So during the interview make sure you listen and ask questions for your own benefit to make sure it’s a job you’re happy to stick with for a while. With that said, be honest with yourself about what you’ve heard. Are you able to put in the time required? If you were excited about one specific aspect of the position are you still interested after finding out the position requires that you spend the bulk of your time doing something else? Are you willing to compromise? Know that it’s okay to say no to a job. As much work as you put into finding and applying for opportunities in the end you want to secure something that best suits you.