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Westside Toastmasters is located in Los Angeles and Santa Monica, California

21. Job Interviews

It is never too late to be what you might have been.

—George Eliot (pseudonym of Marian Evans Cross)

Designing or redesigning a career highlights how many are better at positioning products and companies than we are at positioning ourselves. Many of us are so self-critical that we fail to enjoy the journey, but if you think of yourself or your purpose as a project and give it a "handle" or a name, it's easier to grab on to.

Whether you are guesting on a talk show or in a job interview, "Sit on your feet and think on your seat." That means to sit up straight with your head up, shoulders back for relaxed but full breathing, comfortably perched on the front half of your chair.

You will feel almost as much energy as if you were standing, pushing against the floor with your feet. Notice that on the network morning shows on the alphabet stations, the hosts assume this position, particularly on sloppy chairs and couches, to appear bright, interested, and involved in the interview. Do the same in your interview. It not only helps you look better, but think better as well.

One seasoned job applicant thought well and quickly in an interview by answering the question, "Did you ever make a mistake?" with "Sure, I'm certainly human. But I never made a mistake that I didn't fix before it became a disaster." A perfect example of candor, creativity, and confidence. He didn't go into dangerous and damning detail about the errors of his ways; instead, he answered the interviewer's "unasked" question of whether they could count on him to help the company survive and succeed, particularly in crisis.

Most interviewers have just such a favorite loaded or negative question or two to separate the wheat from the chaff. One of my favorites is a version of "Now that you've presented your strengths, what do you consider your greatest weakness?" It's another opportunity for you to be concise, candid, and charismatic. Very often, what bugs you the most about yourself and you consider to be a fault — preferring to work alone, being compulsively neat, getting lots of input before making a decision — is just what the employer is looking for in the office mix.

Think of each job interview as another time at bat in the game of your career. It's when you strike out that you learn the most.

The philosopher Soren Kierkegaard said life can only be understood backwards, but it must be lived forwards. The same is true for careers. No one is ever quite sure where a business career path will lead. We gradually get to know what we're good at, but often neglect what we could be good at.

Most of us grow up with a certain set of blueprints, based on our parents' expectations of what our careers and lives should look like. But they were never us, living in our time. So, when opportunity knocks, things are presented that may not necessarily be in your script. Consider them carefully, anyway.

The "F" Words

While you are learning the skills to flourish, don't be ashamed to fake it until you make it. This does not mean lying or being deceitful. It means acting "as if" until you really know how. As the coach Yogi Berra said, "You can observe a lot by watching." Notice what successful people do.

Beliefs influence actions. Actions influence habits. Habits influence character. Character influences destiny. So look to your beliefs. Are you flourishing there?

The number-one concern parents usually have is who their kids' friends are — who they hang with. What are they learning? In parenting yourself and guiding your career, what can you learn from the people around you who are the more creative, successful, talented, disciplined, organized, or patient?

I've always believed that before your 20s you learn your lessons, in your 20s you pay your dues, in your 30s you do your own thing, in your 40s and 50s (the high income producing years) you exploit what you know, and in your 60s and beyond, you share it. But you should never stop learning. And to get a job, you have to know what careers appeal to you.

Being good with words is always a good thing. One director of European operations graduated from college with a degree in electrical engineering but began to get jobs as a freelance technical writer when he realized that he liked talking about engineering better than he liked doing it. "Because engineers and marketers don't speak the same language," he reports, "I became the tech guys' translator for speeches, ad copy, journals and press releases.

But before you pursue a career solely in communications, be sure that you have something to communicate. It was some of the best advice my father ever gave me. His colleagues' kids were getting out of the prestigious journalism schools with no background in anything else to report on.

There are only so many people who can cover the subject of "breaking news," and it takes a long time to get there. In the meantime, it's helpful to have a second major, a minor, even a hobby or a sport in which you excel or have specialized knowledge to report on in landing a job in communications.

And spell check, spell check, spell check! Resumes with even one typo get no response from most employers.

The Interview

Being a little early and immaculately dressed and groomed shows your respect for the position and the people as well as your desire to get the job. Make it your goal to be offered every job you apply for so you can pick and choose.

Sit where and when you are invited to do so. Don't wait till you are in the lobby to read the annual report. All of your homework should have been done online from home. But if there is an interesting reprint or article about the company in the lobby, you know they are proud of it and may be a good conversation starter once the interview begins.

Accept a beverage if you are offered one, use a coaster or napkin if provided, and do not litter the office by not at least making a gesture of carrying the can or cup out with you.

According to manners pundit Marjabelle Stewart, 90 percent of success in an initial job interview is how you present yourself. "Be polite to everyone you meet. The receptionist may be as responsive to you as a light fixture, but she may also be a spy for the interviewer. She can report back that you were (a) extremely congenial or (b) rather snobbish, brash, or whatever else, and this might cost you the job."

Unless you're independently wealthy, about the only way to avoid the occasional round of job interviews is to go into business for yourself. As a long-time entrepreneur, I will tell you that that may be overreacting.

It is estimated that in the 40 to 45 years between graduation and retirement, we will each have, on average, five different careers. So knowing how to present yourself to your best advantage to a potential employer is very important.

Look at the process as a way of networking within your industry.

Do what you can to not be too desperate or too cavalier about the job. Employers are people too, and want their opportunity to be valued, but not as a last resort. So stop yourself before you get too discouraged, depressed, or desperate. To paraphrase an old saying, when the employee is ready, the job will come. So, continue to prepare yourself with more education, skills, industry-specific information, and knowledge of trends.

One job applicant had a brand spanking new MBA but not a clue where to get a job. We assigned him the task of choosing three industries that interested him or he had some background in. He was to research and read each industry's trade publications, attend industry functions, and be prepared to explain to an interviewer why the industry, company, product, or service was a good fit for him.

Learn as much as you can to ask intelligent questions of genuine interest to you. But don't try to impress the interviewer with your knowledge. Presumably, he or she will know much more.

Every resume has a few Achilles heels. Have you never worked in this industry before? Was there a long stretch of time that you were out of work? Might you seem too much of a dinosaur because you were working in the industry before your interviewer was even born? This was the case for one entertainment industry applicant, so we dropped his early experience on TV shows that were too old to remember in favor of more details of his experience on recent shows.

A wheelchair-bound associate added humor to her profile by saying that she first wanted to be a dance instructor, but decided instead to use her talent as a software engineer ... and she never looked back.

In another case, a friend was proud of his name, Mohammad, but acknowledged that it had been impossible for him to land a job in the years after 9/11. He learned to proactively mention his Middle Eastern background and explain how it had propelled him to attend a very prestigious graduate school in the United States for his MBA.

If your resume contains a topic that might be considered the "elephant in the room", address it to open the subject for discussion, if necessary. More often than not, a simple comment bridged to a related benefit will be more than enough to dispel the issue. And you may well hear your interviewer using your explanation in presenting you to his or her peers.

Some industry executives will spend time with you, even if there is no position currently available. Take this opportunity because every industry is a small town and you never know who knows whom. Avoid the phrase "pick your brain," which is not a very appealing word picture for the victim. Still, learning what you can both before the interview and during it, will make you that much savvier in the next one.

Avoid conveying contempt at all costs, but be ready to hear the insider gossip. Let it roll off your back without being judgmental or condescending. And never, never, never repeat it. You never know where alliances lie.

Westside Toastmasters on Meetup

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