FYI: Thanks to Purple Briefcase for sponsoring this post. All opinions are entirely my own.
In my position at my “real job” (ya know, that one that pays for rent and groceries), I periodically interview new intern and associate candidates, most of whom are finishing their last year or two of college. As you know, I work in public accounting. That means that every year we employ a new “crop” of first year associates, most straight out of college, and we present them job offers nearly a year before their intended start dates in many cases. (When I graduated, I knew Thanksgiving of my senior year in college where I would be working the following September. It’s a good thing!)
Shameless Industry Plug: If you’re a college student interested in a job with a fair bit of job security, job offers locked in early in your senior year, and massive amounts of flexibility 5 – 7 years into your career, public accounting could be an awesome fit for you. Ok, most of you don’t care about my specific industry. Glad we got that over with.
Knowing I would be interviewing incoming job candidates, I wanted to wear something mildly more formal without actually dressing up (hello comfort at work when possible). So I threw on my refashioned pants (remember when I “skinnified” these pants?) and the thrifted blazer I’d been dying to wear but struggling to find a way to wear it. A blazer always makes outfits look more professional right? Or a structured jacket really since it doesn’t have a collar? If it doesn’t make it look more formal, I’m gonna continue to tell myself it does.
Trendy plaid aside (because it’s “in” right now, ya know), the interview process at my firm goes a little something like this:
After interviewing a boatload of students at their schools, we ask the best students to make a visit to our office for second round interviews a few weeks later. I typically get involved in the in-office interview activities, so that’s our starting point for today’s discussion. I interviewed my two candidates, spending 45 minutes with each of them, and then met with the team of interviewers and our campus recruiters for a half hour after the interview to “debrief.” (That just means offer our opinions on each applicant’s candidacy based on the interviews we did.)
One of my very favorite co-workers began to share her thoughts on the two candidates she interviewed, and as she explained why she liked one over the other she said, “he’s…cool.” No doubt, she got some grief. He’s cool? So that’s why you want to work with him? But really, she’s a very smart lady who happened to be at a loss for words at the moment, just like we all experience at times. And she really intended to say that she appreciated that he was genuine. GENUINE! I couldn’t agree more!
Having interviewed many candidates over the years, colleges and career centers better prepare their candidates for interviews each year. The students come in knowing the ‘stories’ that support their resume like the back of their hand. Having this foundation proves utterly important to effectively applying your resume experiences to situations about which interviewers will ask. But the responses are rehearsed! And they sound rehearsed. And I hate it! I want insight into who these candidates are, not just to listen to their over-practiced monologues about the prepared stories that they’ve shaped to fit the myriad questions they’re being asked by each interviewer. (Disclaimer: I did the same thing as a job applicant. And I advocate for knowing your stories and knowing them well.) But then take it a step further and let me see a bit of what makes you… you.
In all my interviews, well into the interview, I ask a question like “So what do you do outside of work and school? What passions do you have? What really excites you?” And the answers I often receive are… BOOORINGGG. It’s not supposed to be a trick question to lure a candidate into over exposing themselves. I know these people have passions, right?
Ok, we’re accountants. I know we have a reputation for being boring. But really, even if I think their passion is boring, don’t you think there’s something outside of “building their resume” that gets their juices flowing?! Heck – do they love dungeons and dragons? Are they passionate about Mensa puzzles? Would they spend all day on a basketball court if they could? Do they totally love their fourteen cats? Anything, please. I want to know a little bit about who they are and get a glimpse into their personality. (I’ll be spending a LOT of time with these people, after all.)
I suspect, like many people and circumstances in life, they’ve sterilized their answers for fear of distancing themselves from a particular interviewer or turning someone off who might not have the same passions as them. But these empty rehearsed answers leave me sitting in our debrief meetings without cause to either support or decline their candidacy. I don’t really know whether or not we should hire them because any one can repeat the sanitized answers their career centers coached them to give. Like I mentioned earlier, this practiced foundation proves extremely important, but I always want the candidate to color that story with their personality beyond the facts and circumstances that tie that story into my formal interview question.
I doubt all of us are looking for new jobs right now. And certainly very few of you, if any, are accounting majors searching for your first job as an associate at a national public accounting firm. But no matter what you’re “interviewing” for or who you’re trying to impress (that goes for you too bloggers – this applies to being genuine and true to yourself and to your audience), give me a taste of who you really are. An “opinionless,” passionless, personality is barely a personality at all. It’s just plain boring.
So when you’re heading off to your next “interview,” think about who you really are. Please! And don’t be afraid to share it, just a little bit. If this potential employer doesn’t like even the most benign taste of the real you, do you want to spend forty plus hours of each week in that environment not feeling accepted as yourself or pretending to be something your not?
Now that we’ve skipped right over the meat of the interview preparation (nailing down those foundational stories and skills), let’s circle back to it. Not many companies will hire a great personality without experience and skill to support it.
Let me introduce you to Purple Briefcase. A company that’s been helping college students navigate the job search process and land them a great job out of school, Purple Briefcase offers myriad career services and professional development curriculum, geared primarily toward college students, to help them “Get Noticed. Be Prepared.” in today’s competitive job market.
For those of you familiar with college-age students (or pretty much anyone with a smart phone), attention spans are limited and visual seems to be the media mode of choice. Recognizing these factors, Purple Briefcase has created a larger series of short videos about every job-hunting topic under the sun a college student might encounter from the pros and cons of studying abroad, what to wear (and not wear) to interviews, and considerations about what to include in your resume.
To date, Purple Briefcase has extensive experience working with colleges and universities acting a bit like a career center to the student as a resource for all-things-job-hunting. As they move into working directly with more individuals (college students or maybe parents of college students who might need a little extra budge to get on the “job search bandwagon”), I had a chance to check out their offerings.
I perused their tools to upload resumes and resume information, search job boards, and house links to job hunting resources provided by them and also from the user’s personal experiences. Saving the most exciting tool for last, I finished my exploration by digging through their large collection of tutorial-in-nature videos. Many of them proved very helpful, like their short clip about the importance of landing a meaningful internship or employment opportunity over holiday break and some advice on how to succeed in this effort.
In fact, several videos seemed applicable not only to new college students just dipping their toes in the professional world but also to those of us who’ve been rockin’ our business casual and morning commutes for years. Videos like “Amp Your Brand” highlighting the importance of building your personal brand through effective use of LinkedIn and “How to Work the Room” sharing tips about how to garner the most genuine benefit out of a typical networking opportunity have great information that I can still apply to my developed career today.
At the end of the day, Purple Briefcase can’t be the parent or the mentor forcing the lazy job seeker (or “non-seeker” for that matter) to “get off the couch!” But it’s a great resource for those motivated, career dreamers to learn what to expect in the process, traits employers search for (and which they try to avoid), unwritten expectations that may seem obvious to all but the novice interview candidate, and myriad other considerations that will undoubtedly help a college students “Get Noticed” and “Be Prepared.”
Do you know anyone currently or soon-to-be in the midst of a job search? Send them over to Purple Briefcase for guidance (and refreshers for non-first-timers) to lead them through the job search process and discover a one-stop shop to retain all of their job-search-related information, resources, tools, etc…