Because potential employers and clients are everywhere, virtually any contact can lead to employment or to business. Thus, superb interview skills and a pitch-perfect elevator speech are two key elements of job-seekers’ and rainmakers’ tool kits. Be prepared or be lost.
All career services professionals have stories of candidates who have squandered half a dozen interviews before getting it right. No great loss for a candidate in an active market with lots of interviews, but in today’s market, interviews are scarce and jobs are scarcer. With the possibility of any human contact leading to employment or new business, no one can afford to wait for “real” interviews to practice interview skills.
The argument: Why practice? I feel sincere when I wing it.
Really? Was your first “at bat” at home run? Can you sight-read Tchaikovsky piano concertos and sound like a pro? Do you always submit your first unedited draft to your professors or to your clients?
Reality check: You get one chance to make a first impression.
Practice, practice, practice
Interviewing is a learned skill, and you should have between 10 and 20 practice interviews before sitting down with a prospective employer “for real.” While a law school career services office staff would be delighted to set up 10 interviews for every student, schools have two constraints: time and money.
Career services offices are lightly staffed (300 students-to-one-counselor is considered “good”), so career counselors alone are not enough. What about consultants?
1 student x 10 half-hour practice interviews = 5 hours @ $100 consultants fee = $500/student
Career services staff cannot provide this specialized training for every student, and they often enlist alumni volunteers for a Mock Interview Day. Alumni can be modestly or spectacularly helpful, but remember that this is just one practice interview with a stranger whose interview skills, experience, and perceptions can vary wildly. Sometimes the volunteers are extremely perceptive and give superb feedback.
Other times, particularly with candidates who are awkward or who have interview issues that will take a long to time correctly identify and resolve, even the most well-meaning volunteer may bunt. Recognizing that a student presents a counseling challenge for a professional, the interviewer may leave the student with a firm handshake and “nice job.” In a perfect world the volunteer would report concerns to the career services office; not often and not always. Participate when the option is offered, but do not rely on one practice interview.
Build Your Own Team
Just as you will build a professional network and a base of business referrals, you will need a Personal Professional Development Team. This is the group of classmates, friends, colleagues, and family members who will move in and out of your life over time, helping you and helping one another on a variety of issues, projects, and problems.
Create an Interview Practice Protocol and work with trusted team members who know something about interviewing and professional behavior. Be sure to act as interviewer and candidate. Asking and answering hard questions will toughen you up for real interviews. Honest appraisal of eye contact, posture, strong handshakes, fidgeting, complete sentences with fully-developed thoughts, and use of Standard English (not teen-age mall rat) can go a long way to making your “real” interviews work for you.
Working with your career office or from web resources including NALP’s invaluable Insider’s Guide to Interviewing, arm your team with questions that you expect to be asked from your resume, and others that may be hard for you to answer (grades, interests, geography, resume gaps, etc.) Practice a few behavioral questions, too. If your Professional Development Team is honest, forthright, and appropriately critical, you will all be set onto a sound path.
Elevator Speeches & Cocktail Party Chat
Elisha Otis invented the brake cable that made elevators safe, and in 1857 he began manufacturing passenger elevators which made the world safe for elevator speeches. First mentioned in 1981, “elevator speech” generates 1.2M Google hits with long and short definitions, explanations, and instructions.
Briefly, an elevator speech is an introduction (“Hello my name is…”), and a brief and enticing description of what you do (“I work with consumers to resolve their financial concerns”) without leading with a label (lawyer) which might allow a listener to plug you into a category in which he has no interest.
Although an Elevator Speech and its cousin the Cocktail Party Chat should be short, they must be carefully crafted and then practiced. And practiced some more.