Tips from the Candidate Coaching Table
Last week I attended “The Placement Exchange”(TPE), the annual career fair for those seeking jobs in student affairs. While I had gone through TPE back in 2008 and 2011 as a candidate, this year I was part of my institution’s employer squad: we were looking for some awesome candidates to come work with us in residential life. A few weeks prior to going to TPE, I received an email asking for volunteers for on-site candidate coaching, where we would assist job-seekers in assist in individualized job search coaching. I signed up and worked about 4 hours worth of shifts and from that here are a few nuggets of wisdom I bestowed onto some candidates:
Shake it off (yes, you read that correctly: shake it out — not off)
The first candidate who came to me was nervous about interviewing for their dream job. I could tell from the moment they sat down and spoke to me that while excited, they were very much caught up on not messing up for a chance at their dream job in their dream location. After they went through what help they needed, I told them to stand up and shake their arm. This person looked at me kind of strangely, and I explained
You have so much pent up nervousness and excitement in your blood right now — you need to stand up and shake it out.
Still not believing me, I stood up and proceeded to shake my arm, hand, and leg to demonstrate. I have no shame, and neither should they. But guess what — it works. After that, we were able to have a great conversation about the position they wanted and it helped them to focus on the job, rather than be nervous.
I can read your resume, tell me about you.
If I had a dollar for every candidate I interviewed for jobs and spoke with during candidate coaching that regurgitated their resume when I asked for their elevator pitch or the “tell me about you” question, I would retire from my job indefinitely. When candidates came to me in the coaching area, I introduced myself, got to know them a little better, and asked them to give me their elevator pitch. They did. They all recited their resumes. I stopped most of them mid-way through their pitches and told them to tell me something about themselves, after all, I did ask them to tell me about themselves. For those of you who struggle with this prompt, I found some really great resources to help folks in answering that question: Here , here, and here . You want your answer to line up with that of with the job to which you are applying. You want to be concise, but show who you are. Be Yourself – talking about yourself should be easy because you know how awesome you are. Don’t be afraid to talk about YOU.
Woo and be Woo’d
This actually has nothing to do with StrengthsQuest – but rather a first date. I had a candidate come speak with me about some poor advice he had gotten from another candidate coach earlier that day. They said that the coach had led them to believe that their materials were a perfect match for the job they wanted. They said they interviewed and then when they checked their mailbox, got a thanks, but no thanks message. This candidate was crushed and couldn’t fathom why they didn’t move forward in the employer’s process. They tried to blame the candidate coach for poor advice, but then I suggested that we go over what they said to the employer. I pretended to be the employer and asked “tell me about yourself and why you want this position” . The candidate proceeds to tell me that they wanted this job to: get their foot in the door to open up other doors at the institution, to get their PhD, to live in XYZ place, etc. As I was listening, I couldn’t help but think that the reason this candidate wanted this position was for their own agenda. The candidate mentioned nothing about why they wanted the position, let alone why they wanted to work at the institution. So we talked about Wooing – like how on a first date you can’t make it all about you, but you have to make it about your date too. In this sense, while this candidate wanted all of these things for them, they never woo’d the employer. I made them start over again, and include why working for this employer would impact their career.
What I took away from this experience
One of my biggest takeaways, aside from the talented up-and-coming grad students we have entering the field, is the fact that we don’t do a lot to prep our students for interviews. I know at my institution, we do mock placement, but I have heard we are one of the few that do. As I spoke with these candidates, I wondered how we, as a profession, can assist our grads and new professionals (who might be searching for that next step) on how to interview, not only in a placement exchange situation, but also at on campus interviews. I know there have been many webinars, blogs, and other forms of relaying this information, but it’s not enough to help our candidates.