The Gal from Queens Speaks Again

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a woman in need of office support must be in want of an assistant.

Which is why, just a fortnight ago, I  had the pleasure of interviewing several college students for an assistant position in my department. Why college students? Because, as fortune would have it, my place of business is situated on a university campus, so the hiring of students, as some might be inclined to say, is an easy-peasy thing to do.  Indeed, I would even venture to add, it is a win-win!  For the students acquire much needed experience and the employer gets the aid of some very capable, bright young people, who are eager to learn and do great work. For many of them, this is their first real office job.

But sometimes you have to pick through a lot of clams to find the pearl. And the best way to do this is in the job interview.

Now friends, I’m sure you remember the commencement speech I gave right here during graduation season—all because no university would contact me to speak at their ceremonies, thank you very much. In it, I gave the Class of 2011 some very sound advice—and without charging the $30,000 or so that Snookie commands when she speaks at Rutger’s University. My advice was so stellar that I’m sure any young graduate who followed it to the “T” is now on the career path to CEO.  The CEO’s assistant, that is.

So, just in time for Labor Day and students heading back to school—and in search of part-time jobs that will help them offset the cost of higher learning—I have a few words of wisdom to impart.  The advice I’m about to give will be helpful to you now and even later when you’re looking for a full-time job. Trust me, after 30 odd years in the workforce, I know a thing or two about what employers are looking for from an assistant. As such, here are some basic rules to consider when, thanks to good fortune, you score a job interview.

Just like your mother said, first impressions do count!  Which is why I implore you, on behalf of employers everywhere, do not wear anything sexy or revealing. After all, it is a job interview, not a night out clubbing.  So unless you’re interviewing for a job in a bar or as a pole dancer, I do not want to see your naval or your new tattoos. Dress as if you’re meeting Grandma Betsy for tea. Tastefully and conservatively.

Know the company before you go for your interview. Think about it. Who goes into Macy’s or the Apple store and asks, “So, what is it you do here?” Visit their web site. What is their mission? What are their goals? What do they sell or what services do they provide? You want to know this before the interview.

If your cell phone rings, please refrain from taking the call during the interview. Even if it is Aunt Zelda wanting to know if you’ll be bringing your famous crème brûlée over for Sunday dinner.  Same goes for texting.  Keep your thumbs in check and don’t text! Unless, you’re absolutely positive you don’t want the job. Best to play it safe and turn off the phone before you arrive.

Know how to pronounce the name of the company.  If their name is an acronym (FBI, IBM or AT&T, for example) practice pronouncing each letter, in the proper order, a few times before the interview so that you don’t jumble the letters during the interview.

If you’re asked, “Why do you want this job?” do not respond by saying any of the following:

  • Because I need the work.
  • Because my last job was stressful and busy, but here, you don’t look so busy.
  • I’m looking for a situation where I can do my homework.
  • Because it’ll look good on my resume.

Call it selfish, but these responses do not make me want to hire you.  So, instead, talk about what you can offer the company.  How your skills will help the company reach its goals.  In other words, they don’t want to know what’s in it for you; they want to know what’s in it for them!

So the gal from Queens has spoken. Stick with these suggestions and you’ll be well on your way to the part-time job of your dreams—whether it’s flipping burgers, or answering phones.  In no time at all, you’ll be raking in the big bucks hand over fist! (And by big bucks I mean minimum wage or thereabouts.)

So go get ‘em!

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30 thoughts on “The Gal from Queens Speaks Again

  1. Monica – Great advice for students and many adults as well. I was interviewing for sales people a few years ago and it was sad to interview people who had no communication skills. Support people do not know how to answer a telephone or write basic emails. I’m so glad I spent a year at Katherine Gibbs School after college graduation and I learned everything about working in an office. Best part of my education overall! Get the information out there!!

    • It was the best part of your education, no doubt, because it actually gave you hands-on information, real life skills that you could apply to your work! For the most part people don’t take advantage of those opportunities and think it’s easy to jump in to the office world and work. I’ve got news for them. You need some basic skills, starting with the interview! 🙂

  2. Girl, you missed your calling! Now that is what my nana would call sound advice! Imagine if all guidance counselors prepared students with information like the one you’ve provided! Young adults would have better chances of being hired! Talking about pole dancing…we could make a fast buck, you and I, were we to tap into that market. Think about it–the money we make could be used to establish our divorce counseling services. You know, the one that empowers women and helps them pick up the pieces after they been put through the ringer? With your talent and my sense of humor, we could be up and running fortifying the sisterhood and possibly even getting a woman into the presidency! Methinks we should consider it. I hear Latinas are in demand! hee hee! 🙂

    • Most definitely! We have a lot more savvy, and know-how than any 20 men running the government! It’s time they heard what a Latina has to say! And boy, do we have a lot. Wisdom for the ages–and a keen sense of humor, to boot. Together, there’s no stopping us! Vamonos!

    • It’s what you know now that counts. Lessons learned. And your job now is to pass on your wisdom to our youth. Tell a kid not to mess it up and it’ll make you feel better, so the memories no longer hurt. 😉

  3. This is hysterical! And sadly, so true! I don’t know how these “kids” think they’ll get anywhere in life. They come in dressed inappropriately thinking we owe them a job. Where do they get off, I ask? Well, not in our offices.

    • I know. I’ve interviewed many students over the years, but this was the worst yet and I felt I had to say something. If only for their own good. Now, if they’ll only read this. Then they’ll be set!

  4. Oh, Monica. I’m all over this. I taught Business Communication for years and I dreaded the job search project each semester. As for the “Why do you want to work here” question, they didn’t even have enough sense to BS. They’d tell me — those just credits away from a business management degree — “I don’t know. They just advertised a management position.” The worst, though, were those who didn’t even try to learn the skills of job search, resume writing, and interview skills. They’d say “Why do I have to revise this resume. I’m just going to go work in my uncle’s company” (it was an elite set of students). I’d say something like, “Well, perish the thought but your uncle may die of a heart attack and whoever takes over may not love you as much. You’ll need the skills then. And you still get a C.”

    So glad I left all of this before having to have a segment of the course devoted to “cell phone etiquette during job interviews.”

  5. LOVED IT! I am an HR professional by day and I could share some stories too!
    Me: “Do you have any questions for me?” Candidate: “Yeah, what’s your sick leave policy like?”
    I also second Mikalee’s advice about proofreading! Hilarious!
    Good luck with your hiring decision, Monica 🙂

    • I actually found a terrific student, who did all the right things, like dressing up for the interview in a suit and tie, no less! This was a far cry from a student who once arrived in sweatshirt, shorts and flip flops. But going through all those interviews made me realize, these kids need help. Not all, but many.

      Glad to know that an HR professional has given this post the stamp of approval. 😉

  6. My friend Susan used to work for a temp agency and part of her job was working with the applicants. She would do mock interviews and come home with the craziest stories. She’d have people show up in tank tops, shorts and flip flops. Smacking gum, high, smelling bad. She had some great stories. Knowing that your “don’ts” come from actual interviews is just frightening.

  7. May I add one, from my years of hiring j-school students and grads for journalism-related jobs? When I was the managing editor of a regional magazine, I once received a resume from a recent grad for an assistant editor position. Sadly, his resume included the following job entry: “Freelance waiter and editor.”

    Now, I’m guessing here…but I think he meant “freelance writer and editor.” Unless he frequently asked “do you want fries with that?” while correcting comma splices in narrative pieces…

    Proofread, proofread, proofread! The resume is the way IN. Or IN to the circular file! 😉

    • I love your addition. Duh. That is a no-brainer and too often I’ve seen typos, etc. I cannot consider them if they cannot spell. And in this world of texting and tweeting, the ability to spell correctly has become more of a lost art.

      Always glad to see you stop by!

  8. Can we pleaseeeee pass this out to any and all students entering the workforce!? They NEED to know! It’s appalling that so many students are ill-informed as to how to properly present themselves in an interview!!! Great advice, Monica– let’s see who we can share this with!

    • Absolutely! It should be posted on the bulletin board of every HR office, and at student centers. I just cringe when they respond in this way. Bottom line, I really want to see these kids succeed! So the more ways we can share, the better!

    • No, I’m actually a pole dancer. 😉

      Ok, really, answer to your question is, not really. We’re separated into 3 categories: faculty, staff and students. I fall into the middle category–everyone from cafeteria and maintenance personnel to office managers. Thanks for stopping by and I hope you have a great weekend!

  9. Great advice! I wish I’d known someone like you years ago when I had my first real interview. I dressed the part in a new navy suit, but I was so shy that I could barely answer questions, much less ask any of my own. I learned a lot from that disaster, though, and all future interviews went much better.

    • Oh, I think we all have our interviews from hell. It can be very mortifying. Good thing we learn our lessons. Here, I’m just trying to make a preemptive strike, based, of course, on recent experience conducting interviews. Yikes.

  10. Awesome advice, Monica! Have you thought about expanding on it, printing it out, and giving it to your local junior or senior colleges? I’m sure their guidance officers would be grateful to have something to hand out to students before they go job-hunting!

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