Monday, October 18, 2004

Expect the unexpected... and the expected

Well, the job hunt has officially begun: I had my first interview today. It wasn't anything big, just a part-time internship for this quarter, but it was with a small downtown brand consultancy where I'd get an excellent chance to really see which (if any) of my IMC skillz is worth pursuing. It was the perfect reintroduction to interviewing (I haven't had an interview, at least not in the I-really-care-about-this-and-so-I'm-totally-going-to-stress-out kind of way, in almost two years): I'm interested enough in this business that I actually care about getting the internship to some extent, but at the same time, it's a small gig where getting it or not isn't the life and death situation that big, career-jumpstarting jobs can be (and it's further mitigated by the fact that I'm not really sure I have the time to devote to this outside of class and still be able to do everything well).

Maybe it's just that I haven't been on that many interviews, but I have certain expectations of the interview process (that I call it that to begin with connotes something): most of the companies where I'll be applying are the kind that I would expect to have to go through several rounds of interviews, beginning in HR and eventually meeting some of the people I'd actually be working with and those who'd be managing me. And I think that perception of a well-oiled hiring machine is probably correct, in many cases.

In the course of my interview preparation today, I learned that the company at which I was applying was actually kind of well-known globally; they've done work for almost every major brand you can think of. They have a great address on Michigan Avenue. They're owned by WPP. So imagine how freaked out I was to arrive at the reception desk in their building and have security look at me strangely when I mentioned the name. Those guys had no idea what I was talking about. Thankfully, I remembered the floor number from the website, and one of the security guys escorted me up to that floor. Shock #2: that receptionist has no idea what I'm talking about, either. So of course I chalk this up to the fact that I failed to remember the information correctly, and kick myself really hard for not having brought the phone number I'd been given to get in touch with my contact there. I've really hit the ground running in this job search thing.

It eventually worked out; it turns out the company just moved to the floor below a few weeks ago, and at the moment they only consist of five people anyway. The interview was pretty informal; I talked with two of the guys with whom I'd be working, and while the flow was pretty casual, the questions I was asked were the standard, somewhat scary interview questions. "Tell me a little bit about yourself"--I still don't know how to answer that one, but I guess it's ok because I haven't had too many of the slick HR people asking it as of yet. If I hadn't had much experience as an interviewer, I'd probably go with that one too. "What are your goals after you graduate?" "Talk about how your coursework experience is relevant to work you'd be doing here." Etc. Stuff I really should have prepared for. (I spent most of my prep time deciding what to wear and figuring out where the office is physically located.)

I think my general lack of preparedness may have worked in my favor, though. My resume had already done a lot of the selling for me and answers that were clearly off-the-cuff just made me sound more genuine. Of course, I say this knowing that I was the first candidate interviewed (let's go primacy!) and not knowing if, at the end of the day, I'll be the one selected. It could be that my cute little unrehearsed bit is no match for planned-out replies. That's likely the case when one interviews with HR folk (they're so used to giving well-rehearsed questions and replies that failing to measure up to that is an automatic strike against you because it's something they consider to be the norm). Which is somewhat depressing, because they have to know that everything is a little inflated. Then again, they make a habit of collecting tough questions in order to catch someone off their guard at least once. That doesn't bode well for me either; someone else's "off their guard" is probably my "hey, I'll bet I can make it through that window".

Well, it's something I'd better face up to. The interview process, I mean, not jumping through windows. It all gets harder from here: stakes get higher, interviewers get better, competition gets greater. And it isn't even the kind of adversity that makes for a good story.

Wish me luck. And then try not to look too bored when I tell the story anyway.

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