It has been approximately three months since I graduated from Marist College, and approximately six months since I started looking for a job. Although I have had only three interviews, I have sent out countless (literally--I lost count) résumés and cover letters, and have learned a lot along the way. Now, I would like to share a few things that I have figured out. Past readers have probably noticed that I am a fan of lists and bullet points, but surprise, surprise, I am going with traditional paragraph format for this one. (caution: long post)
Possibly the most important thing I have learned thus far is that though it is good to be confident and available while interviewing, it can go too far and become negative. This is what I call the "Eager Beaver." In one interview I went through, the two interviewers were very friendly and I felt comfortable with them. Perhaps too comfortable, because for some reason I felt it was appropriate to make painfully obvious the fact that I had nothing going on in my life and that getting the job would help me not die of boredom. I vividly remember my answer when they asked me when I could start if I got the job: without a moment's hesitation I said "Tomorrow." They asked others questions like "Is your schedule flexible?" and "Why do you want this job?", and I responded way too openly, explaining how my one friend is moving to China and my other friends are going back to school so I had absolutely no plans for the foreseeable future. I was trying to show why I could be so flexible and committed to the job, when really I came off as desperate.
The opposite of the "Eager Beaver" is "The Undercut." This mistake is when you sell yourself short for fear of misrepresenting your abilities and qualifications. Or simply because you do not want to come off as cocky. But being confident and using affirmative phrases like "I can do that" or "I'm a fast learner, I could pick up that project" are not cocky--and even if it does come off like that, employers want people who are sure of themselves. In an interview different from "Eager Beaver," I exemplified "The Undercut." I primarily made this mistake when it came to computer skills. Compared to my information technology, engineering, tech geek, and overall brilliant friends and colleagues, I probably possess average to decent computer skills. But I was so nervous about over-qualifying myself and then falling flat on my face that I severely undercut myself in this area which in all likelihood hurt me in the end. I was kicking myself later, knowing full well that I could have said that although I am an average computer user I can usually figure out programs and databases with some direction.
Another interview mistake is one that I would win every time if it were a competition: "Mouth Open, No Sentence." Ah, yes. I am the grand master of opening my mouth too quickly without forming a coherent thought first. Words start pouring out, not really forming proper sentences, and my grasp on the English language (which is something I'm supposed to have a splendid hold on) starts to loosen. When the answer is finally pieced together the interviewer usually likes what I have to offer, but is a little disoriented by the delivery. Recently I had an interview for a job I am really interested in and the woman was very nice and welcoming. But "Mouth Open, No Sentence" set in and I ended up tripping over my tongue so badly I had to make a joke about it to save myself ("It does say 'Communication' as my major on my résumé, right?"). It was not until later that I remembered something the director of Marist's Career Services, Stephen Cole, had told me once: it is okay to take a moment to think about your answer before starting to speak. The interviewer knows that you're nervous and would probably prefer a little awkward pause rather than having to hunt through a poorly-worded monologue for an answer.
Not only should an interviewee have answers, but they should also have questions. Usually at the end of an interview the interviewer will ask if you have any questions for them. Even if you honestly do not have any questions, at least have a few "gimme" questions ready ("Does your office use Outlook?" "How many clients do you have?" "What did your company do to earn X Award?") to show that you're interested and you did a little research about the company. And actually do some research on the company before you pursue a job with them. I made the mistake of not doing that once and was very excited about a job lead until Deirdre Sepp from Marist's Career Services told me that the owner of the company had been convicted of fraud. Oops. The last interview tip I have is to always have a conflict/resolution story to tell. Chances are an interview will ask some kind of question about handling crises or problems and it helps to have a real life example--"One day I had an irate customer on the phone and this is how I handled it..."
My final suggestion is that job seekers should make their own opportunities. It recently dawned on me to check out the online freelance community and it turns out there are a lot of resources. I have been working on a profile on oDesk, a place where media/communication/journalism freelancers can find jobs and clients can find contractors. You can take tests to show your skill levels at certain things, like word usage if you're a proofreader or social media if you're into public relations. Other freelance websites include freelancer.com, flexjobs.com, OnlineWritingJobs.com, and ifreelance.com. But you don't have to look only online to make your own opportunities. A friend of mine has the kind of personality where he can make friends with anybody anywhere he goes and is always talking to new people. Just by talking to people, engaging them, and mentioning his skills does he discover job leads. For example, he's a magician so he easily engages people by asking if they want to see a magic trick and later suggesting that the venue may be a good place to have a magic show. I'm not saying we should all go out and buy a deck of cards and a rabbit, but use what you have to make it happen for yourself.
I hope this post helped at least one person like me, plugging along looking for their break. Please do not be shy if you need advice or resources or just want to talk about media/journalism/writing/et cetera--I can at least direct you to someone who will help. Until next time.