Thoughts on job interviews and college students

It’s interview season at my work. Last week we interviewed almost 300 college students who applied to work as campus tour guides. We conducted group interviews with six applicants at a time being interviewed by a four-person committee. I was in every interview and wouldn’t have it any other way.

This week I’m interviewing the 39 finalists we selected from last week’s group interviews. These are individual, half-hour interviews.

It’s the two most important weeks of the year for my work. It takes a lot of time to go through these interviews, but there’s nothing more crucial to our culture and our mission. The students we select to serve on our staff almost completely determine our organization’s culture as well as the quality of the work we do. Our logistics and process and web site cannot make up for a mediocre interaction with our people. The experience is our product.

Hire for attitude, and train for skill. I would rather have a team member with no experience and a thin resume than one short on kindness and sincerity and charisma. And charisma is a thing. There’s an intangible likeability quality that jumps out with some interviews. It’s confidence, but not too much. It’s charm, but not forced. It’s interestingness, but not so much or so different that it’s distracting or seeming to be contrived.

Years ago I interviewed Craig to be a student orientation leader. Before his interview I reviewed his application, and the only activity on it was intramural basketball. This guy didn’t have the usual list of college accomplishments and organizations, so I wasn’t expecting much. But he shined in his interview. He was confident and kind and funny and showed that he had the kind of charisma that would make him a great fit. We hired him, and he was terrific in his job.

I admire all the students who have the courage to apply and give it a go and show up for an interview. For many it’s the first interview experience of their lives. We are doing a service by giving them the opportunity to have this experience, and I’m happy to spend two weeks listening.

Occasionally, an applicant will ask, “What are you looking for in a candidate?” And it’s not a particular resume item or demographic check box. We are looking for people who have genuine enthusiasm and a commitment to our calling and kindness and the eagerness to connect with prospective students and to possibly infect them with the same feelings they now have for higher education and its potential to transform their lives.

Charisma is caring deeply and having the courage to wholeheartedly express what it is you care about.

Charisma is caring deeply and having the courage to wholeheartedly express what it is you care about. I don’t think it’s a matter of having it or not having it. Everyone has it, somewhere within. And we let it out with varying degrees of frequency and intensity.

The best interviewees are the ones who walk in with the intent to connect without too much regard for the outcome, without being attached to the stakes. If you can go into an interview with the sole goal of having a great conversation with your fellow humans, where you listen and understand and express what’s most meaningful to you, you will be a success whether you’re hired or not. If you walk in too caught up in getting the thing, you will be less than your best self. The attachment will restrict and confine you.

You can’t control what other people do, whether they like you or want to hire you. Get those thoughts out of your head. Focus only on what you can control: your attitude, your body language, your enthusiasm for you what you care about.

Don’t be afraid to shine. Why not unleash your charisma?

As I am sitting through this final week of interviews, I am delighting in great conversations with young people who are interesting and passionate and kind. I get to watch as some of them come alive as they may never have before. I get to learn from watching 19- and 20-year-olds in the spotlight. It’s a good gig.

One thought on “Thoughts on job interviews and college students

  1. […] My recent weeks of interviews at work reminded me how interesting it can be to just sit and inquire thoughtfully and listen carefully. In those 30-minute interviews I had more interesting discussions with complete strangers than I’ve had recently in many hours of gatherings with my closest family members. […]

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