Published 5/20/2018 in The Maryland Daily Record
It’s that time of year when school is ending and students are starting summer internships and new, full-time positions post-graduation. We have long had interns in our office, so I am familiar with the range of what this experience can provide to our small business. We have had the good, the bad and the ugly in terms of readiness to work and ability to transition from school mode to professional life.
This summer, we have hired an intern who attends NYU – Stern School of Business. I share this to call out the way in which this young man set himself apart in the interview process and how this caused me to think about the advice that I would give to any new job seeker, from summer internship to full-time career employment.
Over the past several years, I have also had the pleasure of mentoring a rising senior in college who I have known since his freshman year of high school. I am so proud of his development and look forward to watching him continue to thrive. As much of a fine young man as he is growing up to become, it has not been without some very foundational lessons along the way. These core and basic actions really set a candidate apart.
These five key steps are the things that really stand out to me as an employer. I think these are universal characteristics or actions most employers respond to regardless of industry, size of company or geographic location:
Put your best foot forward. As cliché as can be – yet so very true. Our summer intern set himself apart for this summer opportunity to work with us by how absolutely prepared he was for the interview process. As a part of our interview criteria, we have all interns take a problem-solving test that combines understanding the scope of the problem, building a model in Excel to work with the set of data provided, forming a list of questions that need to be answered to arrive at a complete opinion and drawing a conclusion based on the available information. This needs to be presented in Excel to show the technical skill set as well in a format that a potential client could digest in Word of PowerPoint.
Needleless to say, this young man’s presentation created such a buzz of excitement among our team for how thorough his technical work was and how creative his presentation was. Not a single other applicant out of more than 20 came even close with the amount of thought and effort, which really set him apart.
Always do what you say you are going to do. The number of interviews that we conduct where people say they will call at a certain time or will do some type of follow up that doesn’t happen is genuinely a nonstarter. Follow up is one of these important steps. Always, always, always follow up after every step of the interview process. Recently, we referred someone for an open position at another company, and she then forgot completely about her in-person interview. Not good all around.
Handwritten notes. Connecting back to the young man whom I mentor, we’ve had a healthy debate about the value of a handwritten note. He felt uncomfortable and didn’t know what to write nor what paper to use. He didn’t know what kind of paper to write on. He felt he was being too awkward or trying too hard because no one his age does this.
Fast forward to last fall, when he was applying for summer internships. In an act of desperation, I sent him a set of high-end stationery with his name engraved on each card. We worked together to write a draft of a note he could send. He took the leap of faith and sent a handwritten note after an interview and later learned this simple action is what sealed things for him to be hired. His note set him apart from every other candidate. That simple.
Be confident. The ability to convey confidence comes through in many aspects of how we present ourselves. Our summer intern showed genuine belief in himself by being transparent about the other opportunities he was pursuing and his desire to work in an environment like ours. Being arrogant is a turn off, especially from a young job seeker. However, genuine confidence is a real attribute.
Be gracious. The basics – saying “Please” and “Thank you” go a long way in a world when these words are so often forgotten.
There are certainly many more ingredients to make this all come together however these are the key pieces that I look for when hiring. Every single one of these is completely within the control of any candidate out there, and that is a beautiful thing.
—Dorie Fain, founder and CEO of &Wealth