If your resume is less than stellar, it doesn’t have to be a liability. Here’s what you need to do ace your job interview.
OK, I admit it: I watch reality TV. Specifically, Million Dollar Listing, which follows real estate brokers closing deals in New York. I’m embarrassed, but…
In one episode, the broker was entrusted to sell a spacious apartment in a great neighborhood with beautiful finishes. An absolutely stunning apartment, but with one problem: Part of its main view faced a brick wall. Not so appealing.
How would the realtor sell this apartment at top dollar?
His solution was creative. He invited other brokers representing potential buyers to a nighttime rave party with drinks and neon lights — and kept the living room lights off. He wanted his guests to feel the apartment’s large space, to see some of the finishes, but to avoid the eyesore immediately outside the main window.
When the guests arrived, he accentuated the apartment’s many positive features to get the brokers excited, knowing that he had to make them as passionate about the listing as he was. He could deal with the eyesore later; his first job was to get them to love the apartment.
What does Million Dollar Listing have to do with a job interview? (Click here to tweet this question.)
If you’re the college student equivalent of a Manhattan penthouse — ranked near the top of your class at a target school with several gold-standard internships — you can stop reading right now; you have zero to worry about. Employers will find you.
But if you’re that apartment that’s mostly great, but with a quickly identifiable weakness, you need to read on.
With a resume alone, recruiters will see your “brick walls,” but miss many of your best features. Below are three interview tips that will move your interview past the brick wall:
1. Know your brick wall
The three most common factors recruiters look for in college graduates are their schools, GPA and internships. If you attended a good school, but not a great school, be ready to explain why. If you were a late bloomer, focus on how you’ve excelled at your school and maximized every moment. If you had to stay close to home, explain why.
If your GPA doesn’t place you near the top of your class, talk about your priorities. Was it because you focused on the hardest classes? Did you immerse yourself in extracurricular activities? Were you a varsity athlete committing a huge amount of time to compete at the highest level? Did a dramatic life event affect your performance?
And last, if you didn’t have a top-tier internship, you better have a good reason why: Did you volunteer that summer? Travel the world? Care for a family member?
2. Know your story
Your resume reveals a list of key decisions, accomplishments and opportunities earned, but rarely does it convey the passion you live your life by or evoke the emotion needed to make the interviewer your advocate. The one-on-one meeting is your one chance to convey your achievements and explain your core values.
If you know your story and, more importantly, can tell it with passion, without regret and with confidence, it’ll be easy for the interviewer to project your path to success in their organization.
3. Lead the interviewer
Remember our real estate agent who wanted to postpone the brick wall discussion? He prepared himself to lead the buyers’ agents to the strengths of the condo first. You’ll have to do something similar in interviews.
Most of them begin with brief small talk and a leading statement by the interviewer: “So, tell me about yourself.”This is your opportunity to direct traffic and lead the interviewer to your strengths.
Make your first statement count. This doesn’t mean you should make it long, but make sure it leads to your strengths. I wish I knew this when I was interviewing at age 21. Looking back, here’s how I would’ve answered that question:
“I am a first-generation college student, and I was fortunate to have a family that instilled in me the value of education, the pride in hard work and the virtue of loyalty. I measure my success not by where I stand, but by where I am going and by how far I’ve come. I am really excited about being here because my core values would make me a great fit for a position in your company.”
With that one succinct statement, I would’ve given the interviewer a blueprint of where this interview would go on my terms. At each turn, I could’ve reverted to my core values and carefully woven my answers back to my initial statement.
My brick walls, which were a good-not-great GPA and a lack of a strong internship, wouldn’t have been so daunting because they were only part of my complete story of determination, passion and potential.
Your job interviews will be games of chess, not checkers. The interviewers start off in control because they ask the questions, but you must regain control by addressing your brick walls, by telling your story with passion and by leading the discussion back to where you want to go.
Your resume is just a lifeless piece of paper until you make it come alive. Tell your story, show your passion and be confident in yourself.
Felix Frey is the head options trader at a billion-dollar hedge fund and the creator of the Wall St Combine, a competition for students that uses non-traditional methods to find, prepare and mentor great talent.