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Interviewing 101: 'See Yourself As A Resource' To Employers


We're going to turn now from navigating rent to navigating your career. Spring college graduates are swarming the job market, as well as, I don't know, people with more experience who find themselves in transition, including some, ahem, broadcasters you might know. You might've heard that our show winds down in August. So we thought this was as good a time as any for a refresher on interviewing. Things like what to wear and how to answer those annoying but typical questions like what's your greatest weakness? Joining us now to provide answers to this and other questions are Richard Bolles, he's author of the classic career navigation guide "What Color Is Your Parachute?: A Practical Manual For Job-Hunters And Career Changers." He's with us now from San Francisco, California. Mr. Bolles, thank you for joining us.

RICHARD BOLLES: I'm delighted to be with you.

MARTIN: Also joining us from Washington, D.C., Christine Cruzvergara, she's director of university career services at George Mason University. Welcome to you as well. Thanks for coming

CHRISTINE CRUZVERGARA: Thanks for having me.

MARTIN: So let's start before the interview actually happens. Now Christine, I'm going to take this question to you first because these days, so many have to apply online. And they say they can't even get to the interview stage because, you know, they get screened out by whatever online metrics are being used. For example, a science teacher applies in a school district, but all he or she receives in return are job postings for orchestra or gym teacher. Do you have any just - I understand that every situation's different, but do you have any kind of general guidelines for getting through those online screens?

CRUZVERGARA: Yeah, absolutely. It's actually an old-fashioned answer, which is you have to network. You need to know your industry. You need to know the people that are in your industry and you want to make this customized connections. That's one of the easiest ways to be able to make it past an ATS system or an applicant tracking system. And you want to learn the tricks of the trade within your industry to know how to navigate that application process as seamlessly as possible.

MARTIN: Richard Bolles, what is the most common interview mistake that you've seen people make over the years?

BOLLES: How long do you have?


BOLLES: The most common one is assuming the employer has all the power. And that you are to approach that employer as essentially a job maker, instead of seeing yourself as a real resource that can be very useful and helpful to them. So people give away their power in the sense they approach the interviews over a test and they have to run through a ring of questions and ace every single answer that they're giving to those questions. When in reality, an interview should be viewed as a conversation. It's two people - the activity's most analogous in other human behavior to dating. Do we like each other? Do we want to try going steady? That's the atmosphere that ought to pervade the interview.

MARTIN: Christine, I'm interested in your perspective on this because you're dealing with people who may or may not have previous work experience.

CRUZVERGARA: That's right.

MARTIN: And so it might be very hard for them to visualize themselves...

CRUZVERGARA: As a resource.

MARTIN: ...As a resource. Talk to me about - what would be your answer to the question?


MARTIN: What's a common interview mistake you see people make?

CRUZVERGARA: Yeah. I actually think this is even beyond just the interview, but a common mistake is people not recognizing that they are - they're their own brand. And so sometimes they look at themselves and they think I have a professional brand or I have a personal brand, and not really recognizing that as an individual, you have one brand. And how you present yourself, from the moment you apply with your resume and your cover letter, all the way through the interview, needs to be a consistent brand. And you - what you're putting out there on social media, on the web, things like that, that's your digital footprint. But what others are putting out there about you, that's your digital shadow. And you really need to make sure that that's all consistent with how you want to be perceived by your future employers.

MARTIN: Richard Bolles, what are your thoughts about that? I mean, I think that there are certain mores that have changed over the years. Like I remember - blue suit or the black suit? That was pretty much the choice, right? No matter like - blue suit or black suit, right? And apparently not anymore. But what do you think about that, like how you should kind of present yourself and prepare for an interview?

BOLLES: The rule is generally if you can and you do know the place at all, that you dress as the other employees do. But if you - failing any guidance in that direction, you don't really know how they dress, the answer is always overdress rather than under-dress. Every employer that has any brains knows full well you are coming on your best behavior, therefore in your best presentation of yourself when you come for an interview. So they make allowances for the fact that you may wear a suit when nobody there is even heard of a suit, or whatever. But if you under-dress, then they consider that to be sometimes disrespectful or sometimes showing you have no clue about how people get hired.

MARTIN: If you're just joining us, we are having interview 101. Our guests are Richard Bolles, he's author of the ever popular, the classic career navigation book "What Color Is Your Parachute?" Also with us Christine Cruzvergara. She's director of university career services at George Mason University. Richard Bolles, is there anything you've changed your mind about over the years, about how people should approach an interview, something that you used to advise people to do years ago, but you no longer do or anything that you want to switch up for people who may have the early copy of the book like me and...


BOLLES: You're referring to the 1970 or the 1972 edition?

MARTIN: Oh, I'm not telling.


MARTIN: Y'all can Google me.


BOLLES: No, there's a distinction to be made. I mean, I'm 87 years old now, so I'm - I've got more wisdom than I had when I first wrote the book. And I do revise it every year. But there's a distinction to be made that's very important. And that is between the form and the content. The content of the interview has not changed one whit over the years. It's still two people circling each other, trying to figure out if they like each other enough to actually spend time together in a productive relationship. What has changed is the form. We used to tell people go to your Sunday metropolitan newspaper and look for ads. Well, now we say go on Monster or Career Builder or Dice or one of the others and look for the postings of whatever vacancies there may be there. But I've not seen much change in the absolute substance of the interview as such. I think that has remained the same because human nature has not changed.

MARTIN: Is there a question that a lot of interviewees or the people that you counsel just can't stand, like they hate that question and they want some advice about how best to answer that question? So Richard, do you want to start us off?


MARTIN: What is the question that everybody hates? Tell them how to answer it.

BOLLES: They hate the question of tell me about yourself because they don't know how to answer that. Do you want to know where I went to school, or what is it you want to know the answer to that question? And so the correct answer is they want to know what it is about you that fits you to do this job. In other words, they want a very particular narrowing. And many employers have told me they use this test as a way of deciding who they're going to interview further, or who they're going to let the going to let the interview kind of wind down. By the way in which the person answers the question, it's deliberately left open by employers - vague. They want to see how do you think on your feet? How do you answer a question you didn't see coming? But you talk to one job hunter after another, they're very scared about that question and they have a right to be because it's not clear. There's a definite answer you should give, except that it should be only that about you which is relevant to the job you're applying for.

MARTIN: And then the biggest weakness question - this is, I think I started out with this. So Christine, I will ask you this question.


MARTIN: And this is one, it drives people crazy, when somebody asks you like, what's your biggest weakness? What should you say?


MARTIN: I'm too modest?


CRUZVERGARA: Well, I think the biggest mistake you can make is trying to turn one of your strengths into a weakness. HR professionals see right through that, and it ends up coming across as extremely lame and just not real, honestly. So I think what you should do is...

MARTIN: I care too much about my work.

CRUZVERGARA: That's right.


CRUZVERGARA: It's just not going to fly.

BOLLES: Can I throw in a quick thought on that...



BOLLES: ...On the tail of Christine's answer? All jobs devolve into skills with people or skills with data or information or skills with things. If you analyze a job you are competing for or applying for, and you decided primarily this job requires skills with people and with information, then when they say what's your weakness, mention a skill in the area they don't care about, which would be your skills with things. There you can honestly say I'm not that good with such and such and such and such.

But because you know they are primarily looking for skills in the other two families, you will not put yourself out of the running for that job.

CRUZVERGARA: I would agree with Richard. And I'd also add onto that - talk about how you're working on it. A lot of employers want to see some level of initiative and being proactive. So if you know that you're not particularly great at being organized, for example, talk about what strategies are you putting in place to help you navigate that.

MARTIN: All right Christine, final thought. Thank you note, yes or no? And if so, when?

CRUZVERGARA: Yes, absolutely. And I say within 24 hours.

MARTIN: Within 24 hours?

CRUZVERGARA: Twenty-four to 48 hours, yes. Personalized thank you note, as soon as possible.

MARTIN: But not, like, pink perfumed stationary.



MARTIN: Christine Cruzvergara is director of university career services at George Mason University. She was nice enough to join us from our studios in Washington, D.C. Richard Bolles is author of the career navigation bible "What Color Is Your Parachute?: A Practical Manual For Job-Hunters And Career Changers." The 43rd edition comes out this August and he was kind enough to join us from NPR member station KQED, which is in San Francisco, California. Thank you note to follow promptly. Thank you both so much for speaking to us.

CRUZVERGARA: Thank you, Michel.

BOLLES: You're very welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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