Counselor Perspectives

Interviewing: A 30 Minute Sales Pitch

by Bill Shadid, Career Counselor

Resume - DONE. Cover letters - DONE. Closed lists - TOO MANY TO COUNT. You've worked hard, your job search strategy paid off, and now you're ready to interview for those jobs or internships you've dreamed about. Just one thing left - INTERVIEW PREPARATION! The job interview is where the rubber hits the road, the ---- hits the fan, it's the finish line at the Boston Marathon, the Super Bowl of the job search world ... well, you get the picture.

In all seriousness, the job interview is the culmination of the long, intense job search process you have followed. For this reason, you should put as much or more effort into preparing for your job interviews as you put into the job search that got you there. Interview preparation should involve knowing yourself better than you ever have before, but also having a thorough and in depth knowledge of both the company and industry for which you are interviewing. Preparing for job interviews should occur at two levels of scope. First, you should prepare your general interview strategy that is your platform for communicating your key skill sets to a company. Second, you should prepare for each interview with a specific focus on that company and industry. This will enable you to not only market your capabilities in a professional, convincing manner, but also will enable you to customize your sales pitch to specific companies and industries.

Begin your broad scope interview preparation by building off of the personal learnings you have achieved through investigating various careers, preparing your resume, and writing your cover letters. Hopefully, by the time you are ready to interview, you have identified several key traits, skill sets, and transferable skills (for those of us who are career changers) that you believe are important to communicate to potential employers. Now you need to establish stories and examples within which to communicate these awesome skills you have developed. A good framework to follow is to develop an interview agenda matrix (examples of this can be picked up at OCD). This is a simple framework that lists your key attributes and skill sets that you want to communicate across the top, and provides space for a minimum of 3 examples to support each attribute or skill set.

To cut to the chase, you should have a minimum of two to three supporting examples for each attribute or skill set that you plan on marketing. Each of these examples should be outlined in a story format. However, the danger here is that most people tend to ramble when telling their stories and take too much time to say too little. For this reason, a convenient tool called C.A.R. has been developed and is available for your use at no extra charge. C.A.R. does not stand for that sexy machine you are going to purchase with the huge signing bonus you will get upon graduation. It is an acronym standing for Context Action Results. This is the structure to follow for communicating your supporting examples. Discuss the context of the situation you were in, the actions you took, and the results of your actions in a concise, clear style. Using this format is crucial, as many recruiters look for it, and it allows you to communicate more of your strong points in the limited time allowed for job interviews. It is a good idea to have examples from all of the full-time jobs you have held that are relevant (part-time for you BBA's), experiences here at the B-school, and any examples from community groups and charities with which you have been involved.

Once you have developed your personal marketing platform, customize it for each interview you have. Emphasize particularly relevant experiences or skills from your platform that may apply to a particular company or industry. Talk to our alumni who work at the company or recruiters you have met prior to the interview to determine the key traits and skill sets for which they are searching. Networking with alumni and recruiters prior to the interview is actually a very important part of the interview preparation process, as it allows you to show interest in the company, obtain information that may be helpful in the interview, and learn more about the company to determine your interest level.

In addition, you should also prepare for each specific interview by researching the company and industry so that you know as much about them as possible. This will provide you with information that can be used to customize your self-marketing strategy for that company, help you to learn whether the job is really something you want, and will enable you to develop a list of questions that you can ask at the end of the interview. The questions you ask are VERY IMPORTANT to the success of your interview. Competition is strong, and recruiters sometimes use the questions asked by the interviewees as a means of helping to determine who gets callbacks. Also, it is usually not a good idea to ask a lot of logistical questions, such as what the job entails, salaries and signing bonuses, etc. Try to ask specific questions regarding the company's strategies, recent business dealings, or trends in the industry. Research to develop these questions can be done in the Kresge library, through trade magazines and newspapers, and through talking to alumni and recruiters.

Now, there is just one more step. Practice, practice, and more practice. No matter how much you have interviewed before, you need to practice so that you are calm, collected, and quick to respond with answers to the interviewer's questions. Plan on practicing by completing mock interviews with career counselors at OCD and with companies that provide this service at the B-school Also, practice with your peers or by yourself. The more you say your stories and examples out loud, the more you will improve them and the better you will know them.

Okay, I know this sounds like a lot of hard work, that's because it is, but keep in mind why you came here in the first place. It probably wasn't to go tens of thousands of dollars into debt just for fun. Preparing thoroughly and practicing extensively for your job interviews will give you the confidence to perform at your peak level for that brief period of time you have to convince your potential employer that you are the person they are looking for. And by all means, have fun with this. You will be a lot more relaxed if you're having fun, and will seem a lot more interested to the person interviewing you if he or she is not distracted by your nervousness or stuttering. Good luck, and remember - nobody is going to hand you that perfect job - it's up to you to go after it and get it.

Bill Shadid practiced as a licensed architect for over nine years before B-school. Bill had a Marketing internship in Brand Management at Kraft Foods in Chicago. In the Recipe Cheese Division at Kraft, Bill worked on the Velveeta brand team.

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