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.

Be A Problem Solver During Your Job Search

There are two ways to approach your job interview. The first is to take on a reactive role and hope that you can answer the questions being thrown at you. The second is to take charge of the conversation and assume the role of a problem solver. Whether you’re brand new to the job market or you’re a seasoned professional in transition, your number one responsibility during your job interview is to explain to the hiring manager how you are going to solve her problem. And what exactly is her problem? It’s simple: she has a position that needs to be filled.

By taking on the approach of a problem solver you’re giving yourself the confidence you need to articulate how you can add value to an organization. You might be the shyest, most introspective person in the world or, conversely, you could be loud and gregarious. No matter the case, if you assume a “let me help you solve your problem” attitude during your interview, you’ll have an enormously positive impact on the individual or panel of individuals trying to determine whether or not to bring you on board.

If you’ve taken the time to prepare for your interview you’ll be empowered to be a problem solver throughout the conversation. If you’ve researched the company, if you’ve thought about questions you’ll be asked, if you’ve thought about questions you would like to ask, and if you’ve thought about how you have overcome certain challenges in the past, you will greatly enhance your confidence level during your interviews.

If you’ve practiced answering questions out loud; if you’ve practiced asking questions out loud and if you’ve practiced demonstrating examples of the work, or schoolwork, or volunteer work you’ve done in the past, you’ll boost your levels of confidence and will definitely carry yourself as the problem solver that you are.

Finally, if you’ve thought very carefully about your principles and any additional qualities that make you unique, and if you’ve practiced describing those principles, you will be adding even more clarity as to why you should be hired. To paraphrase the late, great Stephen R. Covey, principles are those guidelines of human behavior that have been proven over time to have value. Principles are very rarely discussed during job interviews, and because of this, I urge you to talk about them. If you care about what you do; if you’re interested in doing remarkable, ethically sound work; if you’re respectful of others; if you enjoy learning and pushing yourself – these are but a few examples of principles. Take the lead during your interviews and let it be known how your principles drive you and allow you to excel at what you do.

Remember that an interview is an unnatural act. You’re meeting with people you’ve never met before to address topics you don’t normally discuss, and the only thing at stake is the job. It’s an insane scenario, indeed! Because of this, it isn’t worth your while to take on a passive role during your interviews. Even if you have little or no work experience, your hard work ethic and great attitude could help your future employer solve her problem. Or if you’re more seasoned, your many experiences in life bring with them lessons that have taught you how to solve any number of challenges, thus making you a critically important contributor to the growth and success of any organization.