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June 18, 2013
A Two-Way Street: Post-Graduation Interviewing Guidelines
Sorry, new grads: if you’re embarking on the wonderful world of job hunting, the studying isn’t necessarily over. But if it’s any consolation, even those well entrenched in the business world have things to learn when it comes to some of the basics, like interviewing.

Many college seniors inquire as to how best to interview when they graduate. I’ll argue the responsibility lies with not only with the new grad, but also with the interviewer in order for the process to work most effectively. Above all, it’s key to be respectful of each other. You’ve both accomplished a lot to be where you are right now — appreciate that. Foolishly, at times both the prospective new hire and the prospective manager see themselves as wielding all the decision-making power in the hiring process. Without the key element of respect at the start, the both of you could be in for a long job search.

When considering the generational differences in today’s workplace, it’s not a stretch to assume that working across generations with varying skillsets and work ethics can be challenging. But the relationship starts with the interview, and for some, that can be the most challenging piece of all. If you falter on this part of the process, you may risk either hiring the wrong person, accepting the wrong job, or worse, backing away from what otherwise could have been an outstanding partnership.

In general, here are some useful tips for new graduates as you start the interview process:

Do your Homework. I’ve witnessed many a candidate participate in an interview knowing nothing about the company, and nothing about the role he/she is interviewing for. Put simply, that’s just unacceptable. This is what is says to a hiring manager: you’re not resourceful, you haven’t put any work or effort into this meeting, and you are wasting my time. It’s OK to have questions, but if you haven’t checked out the company website or read the job description to gain a basic foundation, you shouldn’t be interviewing.

Don’t settle. You may have no idea what your career path looks like: no worries. But you must have some idea as to what you’re good at, the skills you can lend and the skills you want to build, and what interests you. Keep all those elements top of mind when reviewing job postings and researching companies. Don’t interview for a job you don’t want.

Look presentable. Really, it does matter. Especially if you are interviewing for a role that is client facing. A suit is great, but business casual is fine if it’s indicated by the interviewer/HR representative. Some sure fire ways to sabotage your first meeting are: exposing your tribal tattoos, flapping your flip flops through the hallway, or donning a tank top with no jacket or sweater. Hiring managers DO make knee-jerk judgments if you’re dressed like a slob, so don’t let an unprofessional appearance overshadow what you have to say and what you can bring to the table. 

Network, don’t advertise. Sometimes it is definitely who you know; but don’t advertise it and never rely on it. No one likes a name-dropper and some employees are inherently skeptical (and/or resentful) of a hire coming in without working for it. Make sure to have a strong resume and experience that stands on its own.

Leave your parents out of it. Yes, I have received calls from parents concerned about the status of their “child’s” candidacy. I’ve also had a parent call to request assistance in completing an employment application form for their “child.” What’s lost on the parent is that 1) their “child” at this point in his/her life is an adult, and 2) as a result of this expressed concern, they’ve categorized that candidate as a child in the eyes of HR and/or a Hiring Manager. You never want to be seen as “that kid.”

And to those Hiring Managers out there: I think it’s safe to say that even those well entrenched in the business world have things to learn when it comes to some of the basics, like interviewing. So here are some tips for you to consider when meeting these eager new graduates:

Remember when? You’ve been on the other side of the desk. Do you recall how you felt during your first interviews? Tap into this if you can; it may help ease your intimidation factor and remind you that both you and the candidate are equally important in this equation. This will help put both of you at ease, thus fostering more of a conversation versus the typical question and answer volley, or worse, interrogation.

Have a conversation. If you don’t want to hear rehearsed answers, don’t ask rehearsed, closed-ended questions. If you want to hear answers at all, stop talking and listen. Communication is critical to virtually all roles within a company. The only way to gain sight into a candidate’s communicative ability is to talk with them, not at them.

Focus on what’s important. There are some tried and true ways of vetting candidates, and those that are considered old school (not in a good way). How to tell what makes sense? Vet a candidate based on the job description and the culture, plain and simple. Will a 3.85/above GPA really matter if the candidate doesn’t have passion or common sense?  Is the lack of a specific major a larger deterrent than someone who can’t think on the fly or does not have the propensity to be a quick learner? Don’t be overly critical of things that don’t matter. 

Prepare to be inspired. Don’t assume that entry-level employees can’t be leaders, or can’t respond to questions surrounding critical thinking skills. Leaders and problem solvers are everywhere, and (albeit on a smaller scale) should be able to field the same conceptual questions on those subjects as experienced hires. Try them.

Hiring Managers: you want to secure passionate, bright, motivated talent.

New grads: you want a promising start to a fantastic career. Or a job that makes you happy for now.

The interview is the critical beginning to achieving both goals, and requires respect, learning, diligence, and plain common sense in order to ignite a great partnership.

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Christine Stack joined the media agency MEC in 2011 as Senior Partner, Director-Talent Acquisition; in that role, she is responsible for the creation, development, and delivery of strategies to attract and retain senior-level talent at the agency across North America. She is also a key member of MEC’s Talent executive committee. 
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