If you were a curious fly on the wall listening to employers who hire teens and young adults, you might hear the following:
“I think he said ‘like’ or ‘uh’ more than anything else.”
“It looked like he just pulled that shirt out of the hamper.”
“She called me by the wrong name not once, but three times.”
“I didn’t get a sense that he had any clue what our company really does.”
Getting an employer to see your strengths, especially as a teen or young adult during an economic downturn, can seem impossible. For over ten years I developed and managed youth employment programs across one of the largest metropolitan and under-employed areas in the United States. Often hiring managers who had the upper hand were telling me directly about what makes a good interview, with no holding back or filtering their opinion. This gave me an inside (and sometimes shocking!) view of the many interviewing mistakes teens and young adults make in front of employers.
As a Career and Interview Coach, the youth that are referred to me are generally strong performers in sports or the arts, hold high test scores, and are involved in several leadership positions. However, there is one major lesson I have learned working with high school and college students who likely could be running future companies and even countries one day. No matter how many accomplishments and talents someone has, no one is immune to melting in the hot seat at a job interview.
But how do you avoid beginner errors and stand out positively against the competition? Here are five traps for you to completely avoid that many interview rookies make when it is their turn to talk with an employer:
- Being more concerned with solving your pain rather than their problems
Your empty wallet. Getting out of your parents’ house. Funding a car. Paying off school. Getting over that break-up. The list of your stressors may be long, but employers expect that you are aware of where they need the help. They are looking to bring on board and invest in training employees who will support them to achieve their mission, quotas, or other company goals.
Big or small, you can find useful information for your job interview by reviewing their website. Rather than only skimming like other jobseekers, spend some time looking over annual reports, learning the values of the business, and absorbing the information they want everyone to know about their brand. Use LinkedIn or other social media outlets to be resourceful and talk directly to employees who already work there or in the same field by requesting informational interviews. Often you can find a professional who is willing to give 15 minutes of their time in person, on Skype, or over email if you let them know you are exploring potential career paths.
When you make a new connection, be sure to ask what the top priorities are in their work day that the business has them focused on. This will give you the key information you need to start thinking about how your ideas and skills can help bring solutions to the company.
- Assuming that the employer sees the value of your leadership experiences
The list of positive contributions you have made to the world around you may already be long. Participating in an honor society. Being able to speak multiple languages. Holding a consistently excellent academic record. Serving as an ambassador of a group or being captain of a sports team. Even when you include all of these on your resume or CV, their value to you being selected for a job or internship is not automatic. Are you are prepared to talk about how each relates to the world of work in your interview?
Many less experienced interview candidates do not take this step to clearly connect leadership experience and their potential value as an employee. You will boost your impression with the employer when you make sure to explain what transferable work skills each accomplishment helped you obtain. For example, if you were captain of a team, make sure to bring up examples of how you helped different personalities work together towards the same mission. Looking for opportunities to talk about the lessons you learned in your previous success isn’t bragging. It is how you will paint a clear picture that the interviewer needs to see of your willingness to learn quickly, work in a diverse team, and adapt to difficult situations.
- Waiting until you are in the pressure cooker to use stress management skills
Sometimes you might wait to study right before a test or maybe you thrive on getting a paper done the night before it is due, skipping sleep entirely. I often see ambitious but misguided students stretch their luck and chances of getting a job using unhealthy ways to cope with interview stress. Most of the time, it comes back to bite them where it can hurt most—their bank account when no paychecks are coming in.
Stress reduction practices including using affirmations, yoga, meditation, deep breathing, and Reiki are not an instant fix, but their power does increase over time. The results will be more obvious and beneficial at a job interview when you have been doing a daily stress reduction practice for at least 5-10 minutes a day for over two months.
You may have already experienced many high pressure situations and have on hand your top stress relievers for well-being. Knowing them in your head and actually doing them regularly can be tricky with so many commitments on your plate. As you are approaching your job search and interview preparation time, are you reserving regular times in your schedule for healthy stress reduction?
Stress reducers not only help you for a better interview performance, but also for other times you will have that nervous-but-excited feeling. Knowing what works best for calming your nerves will help you through the jitters of your first day on the job, your first chaotic month of learning new responsibilities and later when you are tagged by your boss to assist with a first major crisis.
- Trying to put together your reply in your head instead of listening attentively
There are no points scored at most job interviews for how quickly you respond to a question. It’s okay to pause for one, two, and even three seconds after each question. This would save many interviews from taking a turn for the worse.
Many interview candidates jump right into talking off the top of their head, letting their nerves and discomfort with silence get the best of them. Allowing a moment to absorb the question before responding requires knowing how and having the patience to be an active listener. This means you are fully concentrating on what is being said and not thinking ahead to your response.
Employers do not interpret fast and rambling responses as eagerness and enthusiasm, but instead it makes the teen or young adult seem more inexperienced and immature. Those who strengthen their active listening skills before the job interview make much more of a genuine, positive connection with the hiring representative.
I remain hopeful that we will all be seeing more opportunities for beginners to enter the workforce in jobs that are connected to their strengths and interests. Policy-makers, activists, and businesses all play a role in helping to alleviate the youth unemployment crisis. As improvement in the labor markets expand, it is still up to you to make the most of any opportunity. Be sure to do your part by preparing fully to present a professional, problem-solving image at every job interview.
Most of all, when you are a boss at a top company in the future, don’t forget how challenging it can be to get started. Choose to be more flexible and open to hiring youth who want to work for you.