Monday, June 23, 2008

Counterintuitive Interview Advice

I met today with an "upper-level" staffing agency (a staffing agency to the stars!), which specializes not in any-old placement, but in placing people in the best of all possible jobs.

Part of the longish "get to know you" process was a mock interview.

The agent asked me what I had done at my last job.

I said that I had started out doing what could be considered traditional admin work, e.g. filing, scheduling, phone screening, and then my employer "discovered my talents" and put me to work writing, editing, creating promotional copy, etc.

The agent said "You've just talked me out of wanting to hire you."

She asked me to try a different question. Picking another job from my resume, she asked me what I enjoyed best about this particular experience.

I said that I had really enjoyed the amount of responsibility I was given by my supervisor; he had let me single-handedly manage an unclaimed property search in which I called unclaimed property representatives in all 50 states and negotiated for over $13,000 in funds to be returned to the company in the space of a month-and-a-half. I finished up with how much I enjoyed getting to work independently on such a complicated project.

And she said "You've just talked me out of hiring you again."

She explained that when people staff entry-level jobs, they want candidates who are excited to do an entry-level job. "When you say that an employer discovered your talents and moved you on to something beyond making schedules and answering the phones, you tell me that you're not interested in making schedules and answering the phones. When you say you liked working independently on a complicated project, you make me wonder if you're not a team player."

She told me that the way to get an entry-level job was to only express interest in the job itself. Don't mention anything you've done in the past that isn't one of the requirements of the current job. Don't let them think you want "more" than the job requirements.

I asked her if there was ever a time to mention additional skills, either in terms of value-add or in terms of (as I had done in the first example) going "above and beyond" the original job requirements.

"Ah," she said, smiling. "That's the biggest mistake recent graduates make. They're all so accomplished, just like you, and so they want to tell employers all of the great things they've done. But to an employer, that sounds like a person who doesn't want to pay her dues. It sounds like they're saying I'm a recent graduate, where's my corner office?"

It seems to contradict other kinds of advice, (after all, every other interview guide I've read has said that the "I did XYZ, and then my supervisor saw I could handle the job and added ABC" answer is a great way to show employers that you are capable of learning-adapting-performing-giving back value), but I'll gladly change my interview style if it helps me get a job.

Has anyone ever given any of y'all this kind of advice?

1 comment:

The Director said...

hmm.. if this is true, then I didn't do as well as I thought I did with my phone interview this afternoon, lol.