My first professional internship job offer was in my junior year of college. It happened during a fast-paced campus recruiting season. I wasn’t prepared for it.
It went something like this
I walked into the business school’s main building and plowed my way through a sea of figures in blue and gray attire.
I confidently climbed the stairs leading directly to the waiting area of the interview hall.
“Hello, my name is Jeff and I am here for an interview with XXX.”
The student at the reception desk checked the list of scheduled interviews on that day.
I presented my student ID, filled out a form on a laptop and sat down in a nearby chair.
There was a couple of students who were also waiting and I remember that they looked tense as hell. Poor people, they probably thought their life depended on the success of the imminent interview.
“Please have a seat.”
I sat in the chair across the table and gently adjusted my Jos. A. Bank suit (never again with JAB).
The interview process went quite fast. I wasn’t the only candidate and the firm’s representative didn’t have all day to interview students who were throwing their resumes at firms to see where it sticks.
“Please tell me about yourself.”
I was ready for that answer because I didn’t see how difficult it could be to tell someone about myself (ha ha ha).
She skipped the section about my classes and grades because the candidates had already been screened and if you didn’t meet the benchmark, you wouldn’t be invited to the interview anyways.
At that point in my college career, besides my extracurricular activities, I didn’t have any corporate internship experience. But I had done summer jobs a couple of times.
“I see you had an interesting experience here…managing a store in Philadelphia during the summer…”
It wasn’t clear if she was thinking out loud or it was a question. Since it was an interview session, I was preemptive and assumed it was a question.
I smiled and replied “yes I did.”
“Please tell me more about that.”
My cousin and her husband used to own an African and Caribbean foods and miscellaneous store in Philadelphia. Since senior year in high school, I would travel to Philadelphia to help them manage the store. I liked the experience because I was given the liberty to be creative and implement my own strategies.
“I liked the job because I realized that I could test and put into practice what I considered to be abstract discussions from the classroom…accounting, marketing, management, and so on.”
She nodded her head unconvincingly as she glanced further at my resume.
“I see here that you’ve helped to increase sales last year in the store. Please explain how you did that.”
I thought she asked the question to trap me. Like how most students put “advanced skills in Excel” on their resume when the most “advanced” tool they know is a pivot table.
Again, I was ready for this question.
“I did a few things. May I give an example?”
“Uh-huh”. She put my resume down on the table and listened to me with a deep curiosity. Was she really interested in knowing how I increased sales in a grocery store or did she want to identify any gaps in my example to determine if I was full of it?
I couldn’t tell, but it didn’t matter anyways since I really did help lift the bottom line of the store.
“A customer came in once with a DVD that he bought and which simply didn’t work. We had a no-return policy on our DVD purchases.”
“So, what did you do?”
I explained to her that when the customer initially came in to buy a DVD, we spoke for a long while on various topics and I found his experience quite intriguing. He had traveled across all the continents and had interesting adventures which he was willing to share. I thought that beyond the possibility that he could be a good regular customer for the store, he could also be someone to be friends with.
“So, I exchanged the DVD for him, no questions asked.”
“How was that a good decision if the store had a no-return policy?”
“It turns out the customer sold African CDs and DVDs across various states and in the Caribbean using his own distribution channel. He returned the next day and bought 90% of our shelf.”
I knew I nailed the answer because she kept nodding her head and was frantically jotting down notes.
Suddenly, I don’t know what came over me and I felt I needed to say something else.
“Don’t worry, the DVDs I sold were all PG-13.”
I chuckled slightly when I said this.
She stopped taking notes and burst out laughing.
I joined her in the laughter: “HA HA HA”
After about 10 seconds of good laughter, she put her palms against her mouth and said while chuckling: “Sorry, but that was funny”.
The vibe totally changed and the rest of the interview was like sipping a tea.
I secured the in-office interview and eventually received an offer.
Why this anecdote?
“Don’t try to be funny during a job interview”. Prior to my interview, our professors and career advisors hammered this advice into our heads.
“Whoever is interviewing you is not there to listen to your clichéd jokes”.
They were right. A job interview is not a comedy show. It’s an opportunity for firms to assess if you are a good fit for them.
But then again, an interview is also an opportunity for you the interviewee to assess your potential fit with the job and the firm. Make sure you’re alert to pick up cues that would give you indication of the work environment or the type of people you would be working with.
Had her reaction to my joke been unfavorable, it would have enabled me to gauge the culture of the firm.
Authenticity: you can’t ignore who you are
Remember that whoever is interviewing you is also a human and therefore subject to similar emotions. For this reason, don’t be afraid — be you.
This may seem cliché, but it’s a really important principle when going for a job interview.
Obviously, you wouldn’t go to a job interview while sporting a bathrobe. You wouldn’t also talk about your intimate life just because you are a transparent person. The reality is that as long as we are with people, we can never be entirely ourselves.
Still, you shouldn’t completely isolate your true self and put on a persona simply because you want to get a job or work at a particular firm. 85% of people are unhappy with their jobs. Try to be part of the other 15%. You owe this to yourself and the firm that will hire you.