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"Proceed With Confidence" - A Day of Mock Interviews with College Students

This week I was honored to spend the day with a local university as a guest mock interviewer for some of their communication degree students. I always enjoy this experience and am taken back to my 20’s when I started working, my first job, at a university in Texas. Guiding and mentoring young people has always been a passion of mine and I find that even after 25 years, things still haven’t changed much.

The conversation of careers and finding the first job has become more and more challenging as more young adults find college accessible. I’m not going to quote statistics because everyone, who has any access to the media, knows the difficulties graduates are experiencing as they find their first job. It’s not rocket science, but there is a method to the madness. I began teaching professional and personal etiquette at Angelo State University because I saw a need. Growing up with a father who traveled internationally for business, (I was blessed to join him) and a mother from Southampton, Long Island, NY, I grew up knowing the importance of social graces. Don’t get me wrong…I’m not perfect (and… humble as Tip #1) but the “devil is in the details” and this goes for preparing for the almighty interview.

Tip #1: Be Humble

As each new group sat down for me to fire questions at them, I found them poised and ready to fire back. They were very impressive, focused and ready to receive the constructive feedback I had for them. A question I always ask is “Tell me a time when you received constructive criticism, what was it and how did you handle it?” Some struggled to find a situation, some were spot on answering how every employer would want, and others shared the story mentioning they were “insulted” by the comments from their employer but ultimately made the changes. I knew that response would come and I shared with them the perception that exists that this generation is not open to feedback. They know it all! We talked about how, as new professionals, you do NOT know it all. You aren’t supposed to! What you should take away is the desire to be “humble” and learn, learn, learn. Life is about learning from others and growing and the only way you get better is to ask for feedback. Honest, constructive, downright hard to hear, feedback! In our society, we often view conflict as a bad thing and that someone loses. Strive to learn to be open to both good and bad interactions makes you a better force to be reckoned with.

Tip #2: Connect, Connect, Connect!

I ask the question “How many of you are on LinkedIn?” Only a hand full of students raise their hand. Like I’m known to do, I gave them an assignment…get on there before the end of the week! There is NO TIME in your life where you are going to be around people who are in the same situation as you than right now! This is your own little Chamber of Commerce so take advantage! You are missing the opportunity to build your professional connections and personal branding. I had one student, after the session, send me a connection and invite me to lunch to talk about my financial portfolio as she was an intern for a well know insurance company. Although I graciously declined, I LOVED she took the bull by the horns, reached out and asked me to lunch! ROCK ON!

As Chairman of the local Chamber of Commerce, I’d be remiss to not talk about the importance of networking at local professional organization events. I remember attending my very first Chamber meeting while in college in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Buying my first suit, I was dressed for success and ready to mingle! Little did I realize that the little tag that is attached to the sleeve of suit SHOULD come off before you leave the house after a new purchase. What’s even funnier is NO ONE mentioned it to me at the Chamber event, showing how seasoned professionals are so kind. It’s hard to walk into a room full of people you don’t know, especially for introverts! But it matters! 90% of the jobs people get is because of WHO THEY KNOW. 90%! Get inexpensive business cards, dress for success and feel confident as you learn about other people and what they do. Listen, listen, listen and then connect on LinkedIn.

Tip #3: Social Media is for Social Communication…LOCK IT DOWN!

Social media was created for this generation. This age group knows better than mine however it continues to amaze me the most important piece is missing. LOCK DOWN YOUR PAGES! I shared a story of when I was hiring for a position and as I did my “research” I found a candidate who posted a video of herself on her Facebook page swinging on a pole in a bar. Although very talented, that was not the person I wanted representing the organization I was hiring for. Right, wrong, doesn’t matter! It’s reality. When you walk into that interview, for the skilled manager, they have already done their research on you, just as you’ve done your research on them. Your face to face interview is NOT your first impression, your social media is.

Tip #4: So…What’s Your Starting Salary Requirements?

This question continues to amaze me. I end each session with this question and a majority of the time I get THE exact same answer. $50K. It’s now more of a research opportunity on my part because I do enjoy data and constantly wonder “Where are they getting this figure?” Obviously, this figure is directly related to degree, past experience, location, etc. but for the “majority” of college graduates, it’s high. Do not put a value on what you are paid in relation to what you are worth with your first job! The goal is to get your foot in the door, work your tail OFF and show you are willing to do whatever it takes to move up! Your worth comes from your performance and ability to get along with others. I often wonder what the correlation between the statistics about young adults not being able to get a job in relation to not getting a job that they accept because the salary isn’t X? Yes, we all know you are the best gift to the workforce but first prove it.

Tip #5: Bad News…The Most Qualified Person DOESN’T Get The Job!

Oh the stories I could tell, and I know from other colleagues, they have them too! Unfortunately, the truth is, even though you are THE best person for the job, you have the highest GPA, every activity known to man on your resume and are saving the world…you may not get the job. This is a hard pill to swallow but its reality. So what makes you different? What makes you stand out? I was absolutely blown away by the amount of students who had created their own companies this week. They aren’t waiting for college to be over, they are jumping in feet first now, which I think is incredible! Make sure you are coming out of college “balanced!” What does that mean? GET INVOLVED! Find an organization you truly care about or create one. Don’t do it to put something on your resume, do it because you’re passionate about it. VOLUNTEER! Find a cause that speaks to you. There are more non-profit organizations looking for people to lend their time than can be solicited. MAKE A DIFFERENCE! Create a company or non-profit and lead the cause. When I look to hire people, I want depth. I want diversity. I want someone who is more than a high GPA. I want the whole package and someone who can balance the demands of life. Care about something more than your career, because, make no mistake, you are replaceable.

Tip #6: And Most Important…PROCEED WITH CONFIDENCE!

Finding your first job could possibly be the most stressful time you have experienced to date. There is nothing more soul shaking than putting yourself out there and being told “You aren’t good enough.” With each young adult I visited with this week, I truly wanted to put my arms around them and say “It’s going to be okay…I promise!” What was the most eye-catching quality I saw in the ones that stood out to me? CONFIDENCE! I saw it in their eyes, their smile, their face, their demeanor. Did they have the perfect answers to the questions? Nope. Did they make me take notice and want to know more, YES! My company tagline is “Proceed with Confidence” because I believe it with every ounce of my being. No matter what you do, whether you mess up or not, it’s how you handle the situation, the stress and the interaction. We’ve all been there! And most people are empathetic.

So when you don’t get that dream job, learn from the process, be gracious in your follow-ups, and keep Proceeding with Confidence!

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