Surviving the Job Interview

Your life depends on it

If you’re at all like me, your instinctive drive for success, your passion for competition, and your yearning for invaluable work experience are the reasons you are searching for a summer job. Or the fact that your parents have threatened to cut you off if you don’t get off your lazy butt and make something of yourself because they are “sick and tired” of watching you waste your summer watching reruns of Full House while eating mounds of SpaghettiOs. Either way, if you want to score a summer internship or a fulltime job, then you will have to face the inevitable horrors that await you in job interviews.

This fear of the job interview among students is certainly warranted. After all, it is your only chance to prove to prospective employers that you are not, in fact, an incompetent moron, which the C+ on your transcript from that Science B class suggests. My anxiety about interviews originated when I discovered the many nuances of the process that could make or break my chances of getting the job. Fortunately my parents gave me plenty of advice, including a 45-minute seminar on the proper technique of asking someone for their business card. It’s a good thing they went over this with me, because I was planning on just putting the guy in a headlock and demanding it.

Given the profound effect that a job interview has on your entire life, there are a few things that you should keep in mind while going through the process. First and foremost, always make sure to make a good initial impression on your interviewer. If that is too hard for you, then at the very least try not to make a complete ass of yourself. One time I approached the conference room with my interviewer, only to spend 30 seconds pushing on the door while the word “PULL” stared us both in the face. I’m still waiting to hear back from that company.

It is also critical that you display confidence in yourself. Be wary, however, as I’ve found that displaying confidence can often be very dangerous. For instance, in one interview of mine the first question asked was, “What year are you?”, to which I, displaying astounding self-assurance and poise, confidently responded with “Eric Kester.” Unfortunately this scenario doubles as an example of a “don’t” in the “good first impression” category.

During the interview, be prepared for the unexpected. While most prospective employers are interested to hear your response to standard questions about your career goals, work habits, etc., their line of questions are mostly aimed to see if you have the specific skills that are absolutely vital to success in the business world, such as the ability to accurately estimate the number of dentists in the country of Sweden.

These questions may seem irrelevant, but don’t take them lightly. Companies need to be sure that, if a cataclysmic event occurred where all computers and calculators were disintegrated, you could multiply 76 times 147 in your head and help them close a big deal. Some questions may seem totally over your head, but you must not get flustered. If they ask you to estimate how many golf balls could fit in the room, don’t worry too much–they are only looking for a response that falls in a reasonable range. As long as you are within 10 of the actual answer, you’re golden.

I hate to say it, but there are some questions an interviewer may ask you where you will have to straight up lie. For instance, I was once asked what I thought was my greatest accomplishment. If I were to answer truthfully, I would have said that it was the time that I beat the game “Gears of War” with the difficulty set to “Insane” while playing with a controller whose buttons kept sticking, preventing me from effectively zooming in with my sniper rifle and throwing accurate grenades. Unfortunately, my video game skills, while the sole cause of most of my friendships, would not be looked upon favorably by interviewers.

As a result, I had to tell them a tiny, but believable lie about an accomplishment that they are more likely to be impressed with, such as the time my friends and I founded a little company that we called eBay. Another time you may have to lie is when an interviewer asks you what you think is your biggest weakness. Even though it may be true, it probably isn’t a good idea to tell the interviewer that, from time to time, you suffer from uncontrollable rage. My strategy for answering this question is to avoid it somewhat by answering with a joke: “My biggest weaknesses? That would definitely be garlic, wooden stakes, and crosses.” Companies love a guy who knows the appropriate times to inject a little comic relief.

When in doubt during interviews, always try to show your sense of humor. Studies have shown that humorists are the most likely people to be successful in landing jobs. I’m serious. Look it up. Now leave me alone while I preorder my industrial-sized case of SpaghettiOs.

­Eric Kester ’08 is an anthropology concentrator in Winthrop House. His column appears on alternate Fridays.