Hair effortlessly straightened as it lay below her shoulders. Blouse flawlessly paired with a navy Ann Taylor pantsuit. Resume meticulously prepared, proofread and perfected for this moment. Time and again, we are told “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know,” “It’s not the GPA, it’s the interview,” or “It’s not how you look on paper, it’s how you look in person.” With advice coming every which way as to the importance of a job interview, it might be difficult to determine a single formula for how to be the ideal candidate. How exactly do you exhibit your worth to a potential employer?
Recent Cal Poly alumna Jaclynn Burggraf is no stranger to the struggle of communicating her worth. Interviewing has undoubtedly been a part of her journey from a student at Cal Poly to her current role as an FSO Tax Winter Intern at Ernst & Young, a multinational professional services firm, in San Francisco. Having struggled with conveying her strengths for most of her life, Burggraf knows that when you are not confident, when you are nervous, thinking of all of the accomplishments you’ve achieved and all the important qualities you possess can inexplicably escape your mind. She has moved from simply thinking of her abilities to centering her interviews around experiences that demonstrate her strengths.
“Before an interview, I always jot down a couple instances from the past where I demonstrated qualities that companies are expecting. For example, I may write about a time I exemplified leadership as a manager dealing with a difficult coworker or a time it was necessary to communicate with a team in order to achieve a goal. Once I write those out, I am also able to remind myself of the strengths I possess, which allows me to be more confident going into the interview,” Burggraf said.
Confidence is clearly key. Or is it? People, women especially, are often worried about exuding confidence in interviews and in the workplace as it is often misconstrued as arrogance. In an article for Womanitely.com, writer Jennifer Houston notes seven differences between confidence and arrogance, one of which is self perception. Knowing your strengths is just as important as being aware of your weaknesses, which is why many interviewers ask questions about both. Business administration senior Melissa Zarate is well aware of this dichotomy of confidence and arrogance and has learned how to work her success and her skillset to her advantage, not to her peril.
“Coming off too strong can be a misinterpretation. It’s being able to be yourself,” Zarate said. She also noted that the important thing is not to think about how you may be coming across to a future employer, but simply about being confident and secure in your own mindset.
Upon graduation, Zarate is headed for the Big Apple to work for the well-renowned investment banking company, Goldman Sachs, a job thousands of students could only dream of. When asked what her best advice was for students entering the world of interviewing and interning, Zarate reflects that it is communication that is one of the most important aspects of an interview; it is your repertoire, not your report card.
“It’s crazy how much communication matters and how whether or not you can communicate properly will dictate how the interviewers perceive you. If [an interviewer] asks you a behavioral or technical question, communicate in a way that they understand, in a way that shows you understand the question as well,” said Zarate. For instance, a unique skill set in statistics can be exemplified through statistics courses, projects and research studies. It all centers around understanding one’s individual worth, knowing that it is imperative to convey it to those who have the power to enhance it.
Confidence, communication—two key aspects in an interview, two key aspects in the workplace, two key aspects of life. What else is needed? The right pair of shoes? The correctly colored pantsuit? Business Administration junior and program director for the Women’s Business Leadership Academy, Allison Meyers, notes the power of people and the influence that individuals have on one another.
“I think it’s really important to surround yourself with people you want to be like. You can’t be what you can’t see. [In addition,] do what makes you happy, not what you feel obligated to do. Create your own path, even if it’s difficult,” said Meyers.
And so, it is confidence, communication, people and happiness. In an interview and in the workplace, the key to success is recognizing your worth, your strengths, your skills, and showcasing them to others in a way that is not indicative of arrogance, but of respect and regard for yourself and your passion.