Both sides of the interview table

How to leave the right impression in your job interviews.

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Zurich Lewis, Writer

Today is the day. The big day. Your chance to land a job and put another notch in your resume to climb the ladder up to the dream at the top. The position is incredibly competitive and you know you are just as qualified as the other interviewees are, but there is just one question that nags you — how do I stand out?

Over the course of my nascent career I have had different job interviews for various positions, including the title you see below my name on this piece, but I learned the most from being on the other side of the table acting in my capacity as an interviewer. As an elected board member for Cerritos Community College, one of the main duties, perhaps even the most important, is hiring the Chief Executive Officer of the college. The President/Superintendent, the official CEO title, is the top administrative official of the college that oversees all aspects and manages every facet from classes to counseling to sports and everything in between. They are the main drivers of where the college will be going during and after their tenure. As one of the seven board members that will be making the decision on who to hire, I have come to find that out of all the particulars required of a president/superintendent, there are certain principles that we as a board look for in a candidate that are universal to every kind of job.

The first of these universal principles is what your parents have nagged you about for most of your life — do your homework! When looking into joining any kind of organization, from a fast food restaurant to a Fortune 500 company, knowing about the organization and its current strategies, products or other particulars goes a long way. Being aware of the goals and direction of the organization will impress the interviewers by showing you are not only truly interested in the job, which duties you should also be intimately familiar with, but also have superb instincts to be thorough and trustworthy on the job. This does not mean a recitation of what you found out about them on Wikipedia — this means having the working knowledge to be conversational about where you fit in their master plan. The interviewers want to know how you can be an asset to them.

Another principle is the intangible, implied question — “Do you fit?” You cannot prepare yourself for this by studying anything, nor should you pretend to be someone you are not. Instead, by doing your homework on what the organization is looking for, you can present your best qualities by tailoring your responses to answer the question of whether they can “work with you.” This means answering their questions about your experience by keeping it relevant to what your new job will entail. An interview really is a chance to brag about yourself and take pride in the accomplishments you have made and believe you will make, but the employer that hires you wants to know not only that you fit the job requirements written on paper but also fit the team dynamic. Many employers will choose the person whose personality best fits the team over another more qualified individual. From an employer’s perspective, anyone who fits the minimum criteria can do the job, but what makes or breaks a decision is the impressions the candidate left on the interviewers. Remember, these are people you are looking to interact with on a frequent, if not daily, basis. They want to know that you can do the job well, with whatever personality fits the type of job, but also if they can envision partnering with you as a co-worker.

So as you go out to interview for summer jobs, from cashier to intern to CEO and everything in between, remember to be yourself and do your homework.

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