As I sat at the graduation ceremony for my oldest son recently (he has a master’s degree now, yay!), I surveyed the vast audience of new graduates, wondering how the economy can absorb so many people seeking jobs. And to think, new graduates are being let loose on the country all over. So many of them, swarming across the spring landscape. I know not all will slip seamlessly into the perfect jobs. It might take a while. For some, it might take a long while.
It reminded me of a job I had once that was a great fit. As a public service, I’d like to offer some job interview secrets that might help new grads, and employers, too. I am not doing this to show how great I am or because I am a chocolate-covered narcissist with narcissistic filling. Well, maybe I’m a little narcissistic. (Said the woman with a blog about herself.)
Seven years ago, I started feeling overworked and underpaid at my job. I also had a relatively recent master’s degree. Armed with that, and with the restlessness that seems to go with mid-life, I decided to look for a different job. The first one I applied for was a public affairs consultant position with Mayo Clinic in southern Minnesota. The very next day I received a call for an interview. I figured that meant either they were desperate to fill the position, the timing was right, or they were excited by my application. Turns out, it was a combination of all three.
They paid my way for the interview, which included an overnight stay in a hotel. The next morning, I hoofed it through a winter’s chill over to the historic Plummer Building, walking through its ornate brass doors and trying not to be too impressed and overwhelmed by the hallway chandeliers and bathroom stalls made out of marble.
I met the chair of the search committee and the administrative assistant who would be guiding me to other buildings to fill out human resources paperwork and for an informal interview with the head of the Public Affairs Department. Then the search committee chair (who later became my boss) did something for which I will be eternally grateful. She gave me the interview questions ahead of time and allowed me a few minutes to think over my answers.
Why don’t more employers do this? I had never had that happen before, or since (even when I asked). It cut my nervousness by about 85% and it made my answers more cogent, thus making better use of the committee’s time. I mean, half the battle with job interviews is the fear of the unknown. You don’t know what they’re going to ask you, so go into flight or fight mode and freak out. As it was, I had just enough time to write a little outline of my answers for each question.
The interview went well. Then I was given over to the administrative assistant for the trek to the other buildings. In case you’re not aware, Mayo Clinic is comprised of many buildings, taking up a good chunk of downtown Rochester, Minn.
I decided to make use of my time with the assistant. I figured she would be a good person to talk to about how she liked working for Mayo. So we talked as we walked. Sometimes I opened building doors for her, sometimes she opened them for me. My interview with the department head was conducted as we sat in a hallway. Keeping from laughing was the hardest part for me because a bunch of boisterous ladies wearing purple dresses and red hats kept passing us. (For the uninformed, see the Red Hat Society.) That interview seemed to go all right, too. Then we were off to human resources and back to the Plumber Building. When we got back to the room where we started, the administrative assistant took off her coat. I saw she was pregnant, so we had a typical “Oh, when are you due?” chat about that.
Experience over, I was free to go. A week later I had a phone interview with the PA Department head’s boss. That went okay, too. Soon after, they offered me the job, and I ended up accepting. Months later, I found out that the reasons my boss reacted so quickly to my application was that a hiring freeze was looming (this was during the 2009 recession) and because she was excited to see my qualifications.
She also said one of the reasons I got the job and the five others they had interviewed before me didn’t, was that I was nice to the administrative assistant. She said the fatal errors by the others were that they were arrogant and treated the assistant as an underling. An organization like Mayo runs on teamwork and compassion, so that was her secret test to see if the job candidates would fit into the work culture.
So, the message I have for employers is to give job candidates a few minutes to review the interview questions beforehand. It will help both them and you.
To job candidates, my message is to study the mission and vision statements for the organization you’re being interviewed by, and try to demonstrate those values. (And just be a good person!)
I am no longer working for Mayo Clinic, but I loved the job. I’m glad I took the chance and made the change. The aftermath wasn’t easy to deal with, but it’s led me to where I am today, which is also a good place.
Good luck grads!