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Leave Your Parents at Home! Advice for Young Job Seekers

Leave Your Parents at Home! Advice for Young Job Seekers

interviewOriginally published on October 4, 2013 in the Philadelphia Business Journal.

On a recent weekend, I spent about an hour on the phone coaching a young family friend in preparation for a phone interview. For months, he has been holding down a job that he does not like and trying to find the time to interview for other roles. I wanted to see this young guy impress his interviewers so I offered to schedule a coaching session with him. A number of the things we discussed are widely applicable to job seekers, particularly to those who are less experienced in the job search process. Here are some highlights from our conversation:

Be engaging and confident without being cocky. I asked this young man what he thought were some of the keys to a successful phone interview, and he got it right. Your energy and personality on the phone are almost as important as your answers to the questions you get asked in this type of interview. When I am making a phone call, I always make myself smile (whether or not I am particularly cheery) before I start talking. I kid you not, the “sound” of that smile will carry through the phone line. Sounds dumb till you try it, and then you will always do it.

Quantify your accomplishments whenever and wherever possible. Hiring managers respond to numbers, but most inexperienced job seekers do not or cannot quantify what they have accomplished. The young friend I spoke with has been a retail store manager for the last couple of years. His résumé states that his store was “the only one in the district to exceed projected sales goals.” By the time we were done, he was more specific. His store, at 112 percent of its sales goal, was the only store out of 10 to meet or exceed its goals. The next closest store was 85 percent, the third ranking store only achieved 60 percent of its of target. He was especially proud of this accomplishment because it occurred during the time when Hurricane Sandy hit his area and negatively impacted retail sales. Numerical accomplishments like this sell a lot better than words alone.

Make sure you can describe how you achieved your accomplishments. The most important question in an interview is the follow up question. So, for example, if this young guy tells an interviewer that his retail store was the only one out of 10 in the district to exceed its sales quota, the next logical question to ask is, “How did you accomplish that?” He needs to make sure he is ready with an answer.

After we worked it through, he could succinctly respond with three points. He exceeded his sales goal because: 1. He always tried to hire outgoing, energetic people because he felt they made the best retail salespeople. 2. He helped all of his salespeople to be confident and knowledgeable with customers by teaching them where to find answers to product questions 3. During Hurricane Sandy, he took the initiative to move all the batteries and flashlights and other products you need during a storm to the front display windows. These are great answers.

Make sure to talk about solving problems for them. My wife runs a nonprofit involved in the world of food and childhood nutrition. Everyone who interviews with her (and I mean everyone) goes on and on about how passionate they are about food, whether that be local-grown food, organic food, non-manufactured food … you get the picture. The fact that people care about the mission of the organization is important, but she also needs people who are organized, results focused, take responsibility and ownership and get things done. In other words, she needs people who are effective workers. So does every other hiring manager on the planet. Yes, talk about why the mission of an organization appeals to you. But don’t just focus on this — communicate how you can solve practical problems for the people who are interviewing you.

Leave Mom and Dad at home. Yes, more and more companies are ceding to the supposed desire of Millennials to have their parents involved in the interview process. By and large, however, I can tell you to leave Mom and Dad at home and navigate the interview process by yourself. If your parents are a good source of advice, by all means leverage them — but keep them backstage. My peers who are doing a lot of hiring these days want to hurl themselves out the nearest window in despair over our society when parents get involved in the interview process.

The job interviewing process can be very frustrating for people, and often they under-prepare for it. The steps that I am recommending here help you to prepare for any and every job interview. Get someone to help you identify and quantify your accomplishments. Be prepared to describe, in simple steps, what you did to achieve those goals. Explain how you will solve real-life problems for the prospective employer. This kind of preparation and communication will help you to stand out from all the other people (and their parents) who are competing for the same role. Go for it, and good luck!



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