Don’t Lose Them at Hello… Or Goodbye.

28 May

This morning on the F train into Manhattan I overheard a conversation between two women.  One was the Creative Director for a handbag company, and the second appeared to be a young woman whom she had just interviewed and hired for a part-time job.  The former was recapping a phone interview with a young woman seeking an internship in the fashion industry, and how she wouldn’t be calling her back for an in-person interview.

Apparently the candidate had approached the interview with the Creative Director saying that she was really interested in working for her company, so long as the internship was “doing all creative stuff”, as that was where her interests lie.  The Creative Director recapped this part of the conversation to her new colleague, adding that while she was talking to the candidate, she was thinking “This girl wants to do all creative stuff in her job.  Yet I’m the Creative Director of this company, and I STILL only do about 10% creative stuff in my job every day, simply because of logistics.”

As most employers would agree, the Creative Director considered the internship  an opportunity to gain valuable experience, not an obligation to the employer to provide the intern with their dream job, full of creative and visible responsibilities.  While the candidate surely meant well, the Creative Director was turned off by the young woman’s “Me! Me! Me!” attitude, and fairly convinced that she was more invested in her own self-interest of making the internship what she wanted, rather than partnering with the organization for a mutually beneficial experience.  And thus she turned to her new colleague and announced, “Obviously, I won’t be calling her back in for an interview.”

Now this is not a testament to the low-level expectations of being an intern these days.  By all means, one can find an incredibly rewarding and enjoyable internship that is everything they hoped.  However, the important take-away is to understand the role for which you are presenting yourself, so that you can best market yourself to the company in a way that screams “I will be an asset to any company I join!”  And one can do this in a number of ways – enthusiasm, ambition, positive attitude, being knowledgeable, being proactive, etc., etc..  But no matter what level of job you’re applying for, whether you’re the intern or the CEO, leave your checklist of surface “must-haves” at home and focus in on the unique and developed skills and opportunities YOU bring to the company, and not vice-versa.  Certainly keep in line with your values, by all mean.  But be informed.  Speak to other people in the industry who have been in your shoes and understand better the politics of the industry and what it takes to move up the ranks.  This is a fantastic opportunity to clarify your own expectations of the job, and make sure it’s mutually beneficial to both you and your employer.

So how could she have approached this more positively?

While I can only gather so much from being on one end of the conversation, it sure sounds like this candidate didn’t do her homework.  Find out – what does it mean to be an intern with this company?  What is expected of me?  How can I grow?  What is the company culture?  What opportunities will I have to demonstrate my capabilities and the knowledge I’ve developed?  And once she sold herself to the Creative Director and nabbed that internship, she could have gone in there and THEN demonstrated how “creative” she was, in her tasks, problem-solving, and wherever else the opportunity can be created to do so, rather than demanding it upfront.  Needless to say the impact would be much more positive.

So ask yourself before your next interview, or even your next email – “Am I presenting myself in the best possible manner, as the professional, accomplished and enthusiastic candidate I am?”

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One Response to “Don’t Lose Them at Hello… Or Goodbye.

  1. Joe D'Eramo May 28, 2010 at 12:53 pm #

    It’s a shame that the people who need it the most probably will not heed this advice. In fact, the candidate strikes me as somebody who probably will not follow up if she does not get the internship and find out why.

    Then again, it might be nice for the Creative Director to type up a short e-mail and explain why she’s not hiring her as an intern. Politely and delicately, of course. It could be a lesson that serves this particular candidate far better than anything she learned on the job.

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