Shaindy and Tova have both just earned their degrees and are eager to enter the job market. Both young women are highly qualified, and both are well equipped with impressive resumes and a long list of prestigious references. But while Shaindy finds employment almost instantly, Tova finds herself wandering aimlessly from one interview to another, never quite landing the job that she’s looking for. What’s the difference between the two young ladies? Shaindy prepared herself for the interview process in advance. She knew how to present herself and what to say. Tova, unfortunately, did not.
Whether it’s fair or not, first impressions count for a lot. And no first impression is more crucial to one’s employment than the job interview. In fact, an entire industry of interview coaching has been created to help prospective job seekers learn how to deal with the interview process. These coaches cover topics such as what to wear to the interview, what to say, how to speak and even how to sit.
In my practice, parents of young adults often ask me to help their children ace the interview process. These parents understand that the precious minutes spent with the interviewer are crucial to a candidate’s ultimate success. What I usually do is conduct a mini interview with the client, as if I was a prospective employer. Within minutes I can determine an individual’s strengths and weaknesses and help him or her to vastly improve personal interview skills. You would be surprised at how a few simple changes can make a big difference in helping to achieve the ultimate goal of getting that job.
Let’s not kid ourselves. These skills are crucial in many other areas as well. Knowing how to conduct oneself during an interview is also essential for those who are in the shidduch parsha and certainly for anyone who is interested in making a good first impression. That’s why I’m going to present a few general rules of thumb that are tried and true – and highly recommended by interview coaches across the spectrum.
According to experts, the first ten seconds of an interview are the most crucial, as that is when the interviewer sizes up the potential candidate. So even if Tova has a sterling resume and all the right credentials, if she is not exuding confidence and competence during the first moments of her interview she will probably be passed up. Here are some suggestions for her and others —
1. It’s important to relax during a job interview, which is of course easier said than done. Be positive and confident and try to make others around you feel the same. Think of the interview as a conversation, not an interrogation. And above all, be focused on the issue at hand — you really want that job.
2. Be properly dressed. For men, this means wearing a suit (and perhaps a hat and tie, depending on the circumstances.) For women, this does not mean that it’s time to run out and buy a new wardrobe. It does not mean that one’s shoes must match one’s bag and one’s jewelry has to glitter. It does not mean one needs to wear heavy makeup and high heels. It does mean that one should come well groomed, dressed neatly in a suit or ensemble that says to the world, “I’m ready to go out there and work!” According to Carole Martin, interview coach guru, “Your clothes and accessories should be conservative and neutral rather than wild and loud. Your clothes are your packaging and should not take attention away from the product.”
3. Just as important as what you wear is that intangible concept that we like to call “body language.” Every one of our actions speaks volumes. To exhibit self-confidence, walk in to the interview with a smile, maintain eye contact and (when halachically appropriate) offer a firm handshake. Sit up straight and tall and maintain a relaxed position. Do not chew gum, swing your legs, cross your arms, slouch, or play with your clothing. I know these “rules” may seem trivial, but believe me when I tell you that there are many people who “blow” the interview because of annoying little behaviors like these.
4. Be on time – or even better, be about ten minutes early. In an article for Job Search, Alison Doyle writes, “If need be, take some time to drive to the office ahead of time so you know exactly where you’re going.” Make all babysitting arrangements well in advance. Leave the house at least a half hour earlier than you normally would, just in case there’s an unforseen delay. Remember that your timeliness is evidence of your commitment, dependability, and professionalism. If, despite all your best efforts, there is still a delay, make sure to call ahead of time to give notice.
5. Bring along any necessary papers and documentation, including samples of your past works and accomplishments, if necessary. Also bring a copy of your resume and a list of references. By all means, do not fold or scrunch your papers in order to fit them into your purse or pocket. Instead, place them neatly in a folder and carry a bag or briefcase. Your interviewer will certainly notice the attention to detail.
6. Your voice and your vocabulary says a lot about you. Don’t speak too loudly, but don’t mumble either. Remember that most interviewers are looking for “enthusiasm and energy,” and these are the qualities you are trying to convey. Be upbeat and optimistic without coming off like a cheerleader.
7. It’s always a good idea to review potential interview questions ahead of time. If you study the job announcement carefully, you will have a good idea of what the employer is looking for and you can hone your answers accordingly. Do a little research on the company itself and get a feel of what the firm is all about. There’s a good chance your interviewer will ask, “What do you know about our company?” and “Why do you want to work here?” Be prepared for these questions. You want to come off sounding polished, professional and knowledgeable.
8. During the interview, you are selling yourself. Answer questions with an illustrative story rather than with a simple yes or no. An article in Job Bank USA states, “Whenever possible, answer questions with a short story that gives specific examples of your experiences. A quick story will be remembered by the interviewer.” For example, if you are interviewing for a job as a sheitel macher’s assistant and you are asked whether you can work under pressure don’t just say yes. Instead, tell them about the time you fixed a kallah’s wig moments before her Shabbos sheva brochos started. Or about the time your mother’s friend dropped off four sheitels that needed to be washed and set by the next day. These are the kinds of stories that stay in people’s heads.
9. When the interviewer is asking about your past accomplishments, he is really trying to determine what you can potentially accomplish in the future. Therefore, according to Job Bank USA, “The key is to talk about your past accomplishments in a way that shows how they are relevant to the job for which you are interviewing. ” So tell them about your job last summer, but focus on how you were able to maximize your productivity and handle your workload effectively, even under challenging conditions. That’s what your interviewer wants to hear.
10. When it’s all over, thank the interviewer and ask if you can call within the next few days to inquire about the status of your application. If they offer to contact you instead, ask politely when you should expect to receive a call. When you get home, it’s a good idea to send a brief thank you note to the interviewer, reminding him or her once again of your desire to gain a position in the company. If you are not contacted within a week, follow up with a phone call.
Sometimes, despite all of our best efforts, the interview goes awry and we don’t get the job. Don’t let it get you down. It’s important to remain optimistic. Remember that we are not “in charge” of our destiny, and that our hishtadlus notwithstanding, some things are simply not bashert. Ultimately, it’s siyata d’Shmaya that plays an integral role in our success in any endeavor. With this in mind, I’d like to wish hatzlacha rabba to Tova and all the other job interview candidates out there.
An acclaimed educator and education consultant, Mrs. Rifka Schonfeld has served the Jewish community for close to thirty years. She founded and directs the widely acclaimed educational program, SOS, servicing all grade levels in secular as well as Hebrew studies. A kriah and reading specialist, she has given dynamic workshops and has set up reading labs in many schools. In addition, she offers evaluations G.E.D. preparation,, social skills training and shidduch coaching, focusing on building self-esteem and self-awareness. She can be reached at 718-382-5437 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.Rifka Schonfeld