360 – Job Interviews 1: Previous Experience

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Hello and welcome to Business English 360. I’m Tim Simmons and today we’re kicking off a new podcast called Business English 360. This is where we will explore skills that are crucial to your success. Let’s call them soft skills. We’re not talking about how to use a spreadsheet here… this is about how to approach situations, problems, and people.

Appropriately enough, we’re doing this first round of shows on another kind of first: your first job interview. We’re going to have a look at four key skills, including conveying enthusiasm, doing your research before the interview, and answering those particularly difficult questions. But we’re going to start this series with one of the biggest questions: How do I show that I’m right for the job when I have little or no work experience? What am I supposed to talk about?

This is actually applicable beyond first job interviews. Perhaps you’re changing careers or transitioning into a new aspect of business. But the question remains: How do I relate what I have done to what they want?

So, where do we begin? It begins with preparation. It doesn’t matter how much, or how little, experience you have. It all starts with preparation. Don’t wait until you walk into that room to consider good answers to questions that you know are coming. Your brain is already quite busy just coping with the tension of the situation. So sit down with pen and paper well before the interview and decide what you’re going to talk about. You need to make a list of your experiences, accomplishments, and achievements. Remind yourself of those specific successes so you don’t have to wrack your brain in the middle of the interview.

Now, a big part of your preparation involves matching those experiences and accomplishments with the job’s required skills and responsibilities. To do that, you first need to read the job description very carefully. What exactly are they looking for? List the qualities. We’re talking about things like organization, leadership, delegating, time management, taking initiative. These are the traits or abilities that you’re going to prove you have. Also look beyond the job description. What other qualities do you think they need? Make a note of them and then hone them down to three or five you can easily reference in an interview.

Once you understand the kind of person they’re looking for, find things in your experience that demonstrates those qualities. If you were the captain of your tennis team for example, you’ve got a perfect match with leadership abilities. Almost everything is fair game here. Think about sports, academics, student politics, hobbies, or any other activity you’ve taken part in. When you’re thinking about academic experience, think about group work, presentations, major projects, and so on. Not just good grades. You want to show them how you got those good grades. Remember, abilities are lasting. If you show examples of taking initiative in your computer club, employers will assume that you can carry that characteristic into your work life. Don’t worry that your experience is not in exactly the same context as the prospective job. You’re showing that you have transferable skills.

Now that you’ve matched specific experiences with the skills and requirements of the job, you’ve got lots to talk about in the interview. Notice there that I said specific experiences. That’s very important. Not general, but specific. You need to talk about the situation, what you did in that situation, and the final result. Don’t say, “I was very busy and had to manage my time well.” Instead, say, “In my last semester I was enrolled in 5 courses and one independent study project, and I played basketball. It was quite a juggling act, but I still managed an A average.” You see? Specific.

Great stuff. Turns out you have more to talk about than you thought you did. Remember: prepare beforehand, match your experiences with the required skills and responsibilities, and be very specific.

Want to test yourself? Have a look at our website. You’ll find a quiz to check your understanding, as well as a complete transcript of today’s show. And don’t forget to tune in next week, when we look at how to show enthusiasm and professionalism. You don’t want to miss that one… Until then, this is Tim Simmons from BusinessEnglish360.

Discussion Questions

  1. Think about your own experiences. What achievements or activities from your school life do you think demonstrate positive qualities that might impress an interviewer?
  2. What do you think is more important to employers: related job experience or relevant skills and ability?
  3. Are there certain types of activities or interests that you should not talk about in an interview?

6 Comments

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