Whenever I help college students with their job interviewing skills, one of the most challenging moments for them is when I ask the following question: “Why?”

If a student tells me her favorite subject is biology, the first thing I ask her is why. Or if she tells me that volleyball is her favorite sport and that modern dance is her favorite extra-curricular activity, I’ll always ask why.

And why do I ask “why?”  Because it’s a hard question to answer. You might instinctively know why you’ve chosen to do something or why you like something, but when it comes to articulating your answers out loud you stumble.

Some “why?” questions are easy to answer. “Why am I wearing a raincoat? Because it’s raining.”  Or, “Why am I going to the gas station? Because my gas tank is almost empty.” Those answers don’t need to be rehearsed because they’re so patently obvious.

But what about the subtleties or complexities involved in describing why you like something or why you are angry about something or why a manager’s behavior annoyed you? Or how good are you at explaining why you’ve chosen a particular career or a particular major in college?

And how good are you at explaining why you want the job?

You need to be able to answer “why?” questions seamlessly and eloquently. Why? Because the reasoning, integrity and confident delivery of your answers will speak volumes about how you will add value to any group or organization.

Don’t stumble unnecessarily in your interviews. Anticipate that you’ll be asked plenty of “why?” questions, so write out your answers beforehand and practice answering them out loud. Do this again and again. Why? Because it works.

Who’s In Charge Of Your Job Search?

For the past 7 years I’ve been teaching a workshop to college students entitled, “How To Tell Your Story & Interview Well During Your Job Search.” It’s a workshop I started teaching at Citrus College, then at Rio Hondo College, Long Beach City College, El Camino College, Santa Monica College, Pasadena City College, Mt. San Antonio College, and more. The journey – as always – is incredibly satisfying for me because I enjoy helping these talented and hard-working students have a better understanding of how to cross the bridge from the classroom to the workplace.
This particular workshop is targeted at students and recent grads, but the fundamentals are applicable to any candidates seeking new opportunities. The most important of these fundamentals is the necessity to recognize that you are in charge of your job search. No one else is in charge. Not a job board, not a colleague, not a friend, and not your aunt Bessie (even though she loves you).
If you have truly taken charge of your own job search, this means you’ve taken four fundamental steps:
1. You’ve established your goals and are able to articulate out loud why you’re looking for work, what kind of work you’re seeking, and how much money you need to earn.
2. You’ve built your own story in a short, succinct narrative with a beginning, a middle and an end. This narrative allows you to introduce yourself and explain your current situation; it allows you to describe what you’d like to do ideally; and it allows you to describe some of your core principles and unique qualities.
3. You’ve begun networking by telling your story to trusted family members, trusted friends, and trusted colleagues, and prospective employers.
4. You’ve begun setting up and conducting informational interviews with qualified professionals who can give you advice about industries, companies, jobs, job functions, and more.
If you’re stuck in your job search and find you’re spinning your wheels, take a step back from your current strategy (if you have one) and consider the four steps mentioned above. Have you written down your goals? Have you taken the time to build your story, and have you practiced telling your story? Have you come up with a list of those folks whom you really trust and who would take the time to understand your goals, listen to your story and then wave the flag on your behalf?
Remember: you are in charge of your job search. It takes perseverance and patience, but it also requires having a strategy that allows you to lead the charge.