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Getting your first foot on the career ladder.

By Simon on

Of all the steps you will take in your career, getting that first step on the ladder is probably the hardest. The interview process for recent marketing graduates is more rigorous because your potential hirer regards taking on entry level professionals as one of their toughest jobs.  When a company hires a more senior person, there is a track record to assess but with a recent graduate, there is little or not much to go on, unless you have a placement under your belt.   In most cases, all they will have to rely on is your academic performance.  

The style of interviews has not changed much over many decades and as humans, we like to do hire people we like, so interviewers will more than likely focus on your inner character. They will concentrate on questions that reveal how willing, personable and manageable you are, both on good days & when things aren’t going to plan, and those that may reveal your commercial nous and how you stand under pressure.  They will also focus on your ability to get on with others, take direction, do the job in hand, and most important, how you will fit the team ethos & culture.

Important note here is never take it personally if you don’t get offered a role based on fit. A firm’s culture is that specific combination of unspoken & informal social & behavioural factors that are unique to every company.  You won’t fit every culture, and there’s no point trying to be someone you aren’t, so don’t lose sleep on it & move on.
Your goal is to stand out from the masses as someone who is different & better than people at the same level. For example, you will be asked standard questions, such as your interest in the role, or your strengths/weaknesses etc.  You need to avoid obvious answers & provide detailed examples & recite a situation that highlights exactly how good you are with people or one that demonstrates your ability to do a job, well.  Also, think of examples where you have used your initiative, solved a problem, saved a company time & money or where you’ve gone the extra mile – all employers love those traits.  

You’ve also got to be natural in how you answer questions and don’t simply recite a textbook answer to every single classic interview question. At this stage of your career, its entirely plausible that you won’t know everything so it’s best to be authentic and honest as they will respect you more for being candid. It is very important, however, that you can speak clearly & knowing what is behind the questions you will potentially be asked – this enables you to produce informative & better answers.  Here are some typical questions you may be confronted with –

What do you know about us, the role & why do you want to work here?

Tell me about yourself or how would others, such as friends/colleagues, describe you?

How do you get on with different kinds of people and can you take direction?

How do we get the best out of you & why do you think you’d be good for this role?

Why should we employ you & what have you learn most from your jobs to date?

Have you worked during university, what have you learnt, and what skills have picked up?

What have you done that shows initiative & willingness to work & solve a problem?

Why have you chosen marketing as your career path?

Ask yourself honestly if you can answer all the above questions off the top of your head?  I doubt it – but if you can take some time out to produce solid answers, it will help you stay above the competition.   

Most employers will look for the following traits: Enthusiasm & energy, honesty & integrity, willingness, drive, listening skills & ability to take direction. You can demonstrate these traits by answering the classic questions in an informative & natural manner. Preparation can make all the difference & with an improved understanding of what employers seek in employees at ground level, you will have a greater understanding of what you can offer.  

One final note and it’s probably the most important – never, ever, pass up the opportunity to ask questions at the end of the interview. In the majority, you will be afforded the chance and ones that pass over it, can lose out. A good question is to ask is ‘ what are the first projects will I be involved in, challenges involved & how best could I add value.’  There are a few others you can think of but always base them on how you can help, solve problems & get up to speed quickly.    

Always remember that the interviewer is under just as much pressure to get it right & by giving them peace of mind that you can add value, fit in & will do your very best, will go a long way to a successful interview, and hopefully, a meeting of the minds.