And the critical question now is: How do I know which side I am on? Well, doing your research right, learning as much as you can before you send in that resume, before you go into that interview, before accepting that job, is critical. And that's why you're reading this - because you want to learn. Good!
A Real-Life Example to Make My Point
Let's look at some questions and right and wrong answers.
As so often, I want to drive my point home with a practical story I experienced last week. In my current position, I work closely with the person that interviewed me and was mainly responsible for hiring me. From the start, I got along with him very well, which, of course, never hurts. So every so often, we have our two-minute water cooler talks. About a week ago, he told me he needed to shift our meeting because he had to go do an interview. So after he got back from it, I initiated one of those water cooler minutes and asked him how it went. His response didn't need any words - his facial expression said it all. (It was not very positive). So I thought this would be a good moment to reveal that I blog about this sort of stuff and, in turn, interview him about mistakes this person obviously made and how to avoid them.
Well, it turns out that the girl he interviewed for an internship already had had a telephone interview with him before coming in. During that interview, she seemed quite smart and she was told what the main account was she would be working on (this is for a large PR agency). So now that she came in, he asked her some follow-up questions, and she was dumb-founded. I will now list some of the questions and her answers and hope that this will teach you the very valuable lesson of DOING YOUR RESEARCH!
Question 1: You will be working on one account mainly, but you'll also have your time split over nine other major accounts. Do you think you'll be comfortable doing that?
(Editor's Note: When you work at a big PR agency, it is normal that you work on several accounts simultaneously. PR agencies are very busy.)
Her answer: "Oh... I don't know. I've worked in-house before, so I've only worked on just that one product."
Right answer: "Well, I've worked in-house before. So even though that would be equal to only one client, they did have several project going on and I helped with many of them. So I'm excited to switch to agency now and learn about this new aspect of working on several clients. But I do think I am well equipped to handle it and I am a fast learner and highly organized.
Lesson learned: If you don't have the exact skills needed, you think of a transferable skill. You also never say no! Never. Just don't.
Question 2: You know that this is a full-time internship, so you'll work 40 hours a week, from about 9-5:30, including lunch, Monday through Friday. Does that sound like a schedule you can handle?
Her answer: Yes, that's fine. But I do want to say that I come from North Orange County, so I may not be on time every day.
(Editor's note: Anything in North Orange county is about 30 miles removed from this office and you do have to take a horribly backed-up freeway during rush hour.)
Right answer: Yes, that's fine.
Lesson learned: Never - again, I repeat NEVER, volunteer negative information. Especially not if that information makes you sound like a slacker, uncoordinated, unorganized, or simply careless. In most entry-level jobs, these qualities are absolutely essential. If you already know you'll have a tough commute, you just get up a half hour earlier. Worst case scenario: You get to work half an hour early. You are not late for an interview; just the same, you are not late for work. Every so often that will happen for reasons outside your control (like an accident that closes the whole freeway and you're literally stuck) - but you never suggest that this might be an ongoing thing for no reason other than you not getting up on time.
Lesson learned: Less is more. Do not ramble. Do not answer questions that weren't asked, unless you have something really good to say. Remember: No one asked "Were you ever late for work?" Or "Do you think you might be late for work?" The question was: Does this sound like a schedule you can handle? It's a yes or no answer. And this is something you know in advance. If your answer to it is no, you shouldn't be wasting anyone's time by coming to the interview in the first place. Find something closer to home. And by the way: If they did ask if you thought you might be late for work, your answer is: "No, of course not. I know I'll have a tough commute on the 5 and I already tested out how long it takes me to get here, so I know when I have to leave my house to make it." Period. -See now, you've volunteered a wholly positive detail that made you look prepared and showed you're thinking ahead.
Question 3: As we have discussed on the phone, the main account you'll work on is the XYZ Project. What do you know about this project? How do you feel about it?
Her answer: Oh, I don't know, I haven't worked on it yet, so I'm not familiar with the project.
Right answer: Well, this answer should be as long as your answer makes business-sense and you can speak intelligently about this project and what you've learned during your research. And this is a good time to also throw in intelligent questions about this project, as far as your work on it is concerned, for example.
Lesson learned: When they give you a freebee and already tell you in advance exactly what it is that you'll be working on - you research it! To death! Until you can't find any more information on it. And during the interview, you might even find a way to volunteer that information to show initiative, before you're even asked about it. This is where the research part comes in. They won't hire you because you're pretty. They'll hire you because they think you're intelligent and you can handle the job and are prepared.
Needless to say that the girl did not get the internship. And I was a bit embarrassed, because she graduated from the same school and the same program I graduated from. And I was just really wondering why you would give answers like that... and I came to the conclusion that it is because people just talk too much (We're nervous in interviews) ... or are too honest (Yes, you will be late for work. They know that. Everyone is every so often. But you just don't say that!) ... or just don't think their answers through, and don't consider all possible consequences. It's not because they're stupid, it's because they weren't prepped.
Help Me To Help You!
So the key is to do your research and learn as much as you can. Not just about the company you're interviewing for, but about interviewing and this whole process of getting a job in general. At this point, I would like to ask you for your opinion: What is it that YOU would like to learn more about? What do you think might be your biggest deficiency and you just don't know where to turn for it? What have you researched and just haven't found satisfying answers, or what you found simply didn't work? Please let me know! Email me directly at anne.pelczar AT yahoo DOT com or leave a comment. I want to help!