How to Prepare for Your First Job Interview in 10 Years
Not until you find yourself browsing the aisles of an electronics store do you realize how much time has passed since you bought your last TV. At the time it was the most technologically advanced model available and it seemed to be miles better than your previous model. Now that it's broken you and you need to replace it, you see that all of the models are thin, the picture quality is better and you don't understand what half of its features are. And you don't want to let the salesperson know that you're out of your element.
You can get that same feeling if you return to the job market after a decade or more away. If you're a parent who stayed home to raise your children or you were recently laid off, your résumé is outdated and your interview skills are probably rusty. The workplace has also changed, and employers want to hire someone who doesn't need a lot of hand holding. In other words, you have a lot of work to do and you need somewhere to start.
According to Nancy DeCrescenzo, director of Eastern Connecticut State University's Office of Career Services, confidence is essential. Without confidence your job search will be fruitless.
"Regardless of how long a job seeker has been out of work, success is always influenced by confidence," DeCrescenzo says. "Until you're able to convince yourself that you're the candidate for the job, you'll never be able to convince anyone else."
Getting to that point takes a little work, but it can pay off big.
The technology issue
Perhaps the biggest concern a job seeker in this situation might have is proving technological savvy. Karen Friedman, author of 'Shut Up and Say Something,' encourages to avoid appearing incompetent in today's Web 2.0 world.
"Be careful not to talk about how inexperienced or confused you are by technology or how you have no use for social networking," Friedman says. "Just the other day, an experienced, very bright, turning-60 colleague told me she doesn't need a smart phone because she's gotten by all these years with a regular phone. You can sound out of date, especially if you are talking to younger people."
Friedman reminds job seekers that a recent Pew study found technology to be the most significant gap between generations at work. Employers know this -- and you don't want to prove them right.
"Be careful of inadvertently giving an impression that you are closed to new ideas and fresh approaches. While you don't have to be expert in the latest gadgets or trend, it is important to continually build and update your skills so you appear fresh, informed and experienced."
Know what to expect
"Interviews have been evolving over the past decade. Most organizations have gone to more behavioral interview questions where they ask hypothetical questions that don't permit a simple response," says Kurt Weyerhauser, managing partner for Kensington Stone, an search firm. "Instead the questions are more open ended and require you to respond in greater detail."
A what-if scenario shows employers how you think and how you handle yourself in difficult situations. Even if you've never worked in this particular industry before or faced that specific challenge, you should expect to explain why you would do something and how you could carry it out.
"Some [interviewers] will care more about your looks, some more interested in hearing something specific in answering their questions, some will be most interested in your previous experience, etc.," Weyerhauser explains. "Ultimately, the best any candidate can do is be as genuine as they can. There is no need to build a facade or act in any particular way. If an organization has a preference for a style, culture and personality that is entirely different from your own, then it's most important to remain true to yourself. [If] you fake your way into this organization, they'll expect that person to hide behind that facade every day on the job. That's simply not how most people today are willing to live."
What to remember
For professionals embarking on their first job search in a decade, Weyerhauser suggests four key points to remember:
1. Know what you have to offer.
"Many job candidates don't reflect much on their skills, experiences and competencies. It's difficult to be effective when you really don't know what you are good at and what benefit you can bring to a company. So you have to really 'reflect' on what your true skills and capabilities are. The more you understand what you offer, the more confident you will be going in and the more focused you will be in sharing your skills and abilities," he says.
2. Be yourself -- it will benefit the company and you.
"Understand that today it's less about conforming to a new company; instead it's all about naturally fitting into an organization," Weyerhauser says. "If it's a good fit, being genuine will resonate with them. If it's not a good fit, it won't resonate with them. But that's exactly what is supposed to happen. It's no longer about simply landing a job; today it's far more important to land the 'right' job."
3. Give a good answer, not a quick one.
"There is no need to respond the very second the interviewer has stopped talking. If a question is more involved, don't just start jabbering away. Think it through for a few seconds and think of one or two key points you want to make and then answer. It's actually more correct and positive for an interviewee to say, 'That's an interesting question, I'll need a moment to think about that.'"
4. Give concrete examples
"It's nice if you say that you are a team player, but adding a real life example makes it even more powerful and believable. A simple answer to a question is not as powerful as an answer that is accompanied with an actual example," he explains.