I recently met with a friend‘s son, Zach, who is a graduating senior from a top business school. Everything seemed to be in place for Zach in terms of his resume, good networking contacts and possible job opportunities. In fact, Zach was recently invited to tour the office headquarters of a large IT firm and meet some of the executives. Zach was excited to see what it was all about and felt really good about the opportunity. I asked Zach if he prepared for this meeting and he said,

“I’ve had plenty of interviews already. I’m great on my feet. I’m sure I’ll be fine. I’ll just wing it.”

When it comes to meeting with people in a casual setting or even a formal interview, the instinct is to let the other person lead and “see how things go”. It seems like a lot of effort to research and prepare ahead of time for an interaction. It’s so much easier to just rely on your “great skills and talent” to convince the employer why you are right for the job. Unfortunately, that’s not always the case.

When new or current graduates go out for their first professional opportunities, it is very likely that they will make mistakes or experience missteps. This is all very common as there is a learning curve as they encounter new experiences. However, preparedness vs. ‘winging it’ has a greater chance in helping job seekers navigate these moments and turn them into positive steps towards reaching their goals.

Before you go to an interview or even meet for a casual cup of coffee, make sure you think about the following:

  1. When you finish the meeting, what would you like that person (hiring manager) to do for you? The logical answer is for them to offer you the job, but that’s not always realistic when meeting for the first time. It may be a referral to a colleague or request to meet again. Maybe convince the hiring manager to introduce you to other employees to get a sense of the culture. When you ask the person to take an action on your behalf, it allows you to gain control over your next steps in the hiring process.
  1. What do you want the hiring manager to believe about you? In order for someone to take an action on your behalf, you first need to convince them that you have real skills that can offer a benefit to them. A very common answer to this is “I’m a hard worker” or “I’m responsible”. Every candidate says these things. Reply with real skills you have learned with examples of how they can benefit this company. For example, “I have experience directly selling to prospective clients when I worked in retail. I would put together clothing collections and sold an average of $300 per sale.”
  1. What questions can I ask this person? Having great questions prepared is just as important as sharing your skills. You can guide your conversation by asking insightful questions. It shows you have done your research on the company and that you are thinking about the challenges that face the hiring manager. Prepare yourself with knowledge about the company but avoid questions that can easily be answered by reading the company website. A few good ones are:
  • How do you measure your success?
  • What keeps you up at night?
  • If you could change one thing what would it be?
  • What are the most important criteria in assessing a candidate?

These questions help you plan ahead for a meeting, but when you have the meeting, you execute in reverse. First, you ask your questions and understand what’s important to them. Then, convince them of skills you can offer and validate that they believe you. Once they show validation that they believe you have the right skills, then ask them to take action.

As for Zach, although he met with the employer and felt it went “really well”, it was not enough. He was not offered the job. When he called back and asked why he didn’t get it, they said that he wasn’t qualified enough. After digging deeper, it turns out he did have the skill set required but did not address it well in the interview. He was too focused on himself and not enough on how to help the business solve their problems. An outgoing and positive personality is a great trait, but preparing with substance and understanding what is important to the employer will set you apart. Now he knows for next time. To get it right the first time, contact Next Great Step.