One of the most challenging and frustrating aspects of a job search is that there is no one "right way" to handle any aspect of the process. The interview is no exception; every employer has an idea about what constitutes a good answer to a key question. Candidates can follow otherwise good advice that backfires because their desired employers have different expectations from the norm.
What's a job seeker to do? Prepare to balance important, desirable traits with the types of replies employers are likely to want to hear. Tim Elmore, founder and president of a nonprofit firm focused on youth leadership development called Growing Leaders (www.GrowingLeaders.com), offers this advice. It's particularly geared to young job seekers to help them succeed at an interview:
1. Balance confidence with teachability. Elmore notes: "Research from a variety of employment sources reveal that the majority of young employees believe their boss can learn a lot from them."
Elmore also acknowledges that while it may be true that more experienced interviewers do have a lot to learn from young employees, an interviewee who appears arrogant may repel a baby boomer. He suggests communicating your strong value, but without leaving the employer with the feeling you believe you know everything.
2. Balance warmth with formality. It's easy to get very comfortable, especially when interviewing in informal workplaces, where most of the interviewers are casually dressed and invite you to open up and share your true personality. "Often, recent college grads become far too informal, joking about personal elements in their lives or about the interviewer themselves. This is risky," Elmore notes.
Many human resources professionals suggest young candidates don't take interviews seriously enough, and that this is the No. 1 problem with hiring young employees. Some candidates even text or take a phone call during the interview. Elmore suggests candidates make an effort to be warm and friendly, but maintain a professional distance that is appropriate for a first meeting.
3. Balance creativity with cooperation. Elmore explains: "Today, 83 percent of new graduates are looking for a place where their creativity is valued. Two out of three want to invent their own position at work." Keep in mind, this is a terrific aspiration, but your new employer may expect you to first function within the company's existing structure. Elmore says, "Let the interviewer know you have creative ideas, but leave the impression that you're prepared to get on board with the organization's plans."
4. Balance ambition with humility. Employers love ambition. Just be sure yours doesn't make you look cocky. Elmore says, "Many call this balance 'humbitious,' meaning humble yet ambitious. It's a rare skill set."
Even if you know you have a lot to offer, make sure you don't leave the employer with the impression that you think you are ready to do his or her job. Elmore suggests: "Be humble. Get hired, then show them how good you are." Clearly, this is a balancing act, as you want to make it clear what you offer, but not at the risk of making the employer think you are too big for your britches.
5. Balance research and listening with initiative. One of the biggest mistakes job seekers make is they fail to research the organization before their interview. Employers are impressed when candidates can cite data, note the issues the organization faces and make a clear connection between what the company needs and how they can help. Elmore says job seekers should "find out who the key leaders are, and greet them by name when you see them. In the job interview, answer questions clearly and candidly, but ask informed questions as well, as this is likely to impress the interviewer."
Elmore also suggests a job seeker pose questions that show he or she understands the organization's mission. A job seeker should also ask about the future and demonstrate his or her initiative while also proving he or she is a good researcher and listener.
6. Balance passion with work ethic. Employers appreciate someone who has passion for the job. "Can you show some passion for the smaller, mundane task you'll do as you stand on the bottom rung of the career ladder?" Elmore asks. If so, it may impress your interviewer, who will value your skills when you can demonstrate them in the context of how you can help a company accomplish its goals.
Miriam Salpeter is a job search and social media consultant, career coach, author, speaker, resume writer, and owner of Keppie Careers. She is author of Social Networking for Career Success and 100 Conversations for Career Success. Miriam teaches job seekers and entrepreneurs how to incorporate social media tools along with traditional strategies to reach their goals.