A while back, leadership expert George Bradt told Forbes Magazine that all the questions that prospective candidates are asked in interview boil down to:
1) Can you do the job?
2) Will you love the job?
3) Can we tolerate working with you?
It's a striking approach, and worth thinking about in more depth simply because it’s a succinct way to remind yourself of everything you need to put across at interview: competence, enthusiasm and likeability. It’s also worth honestly asking yourself once you get a interview whether or not you actually possess enough of the Big Three in to make the job worthwhile for you.
Can you do the job?
In an increasingly competitive job market, there are more intensely qualified people then ever before. Even when it comes to graduate jobs, new university leavers are competing directly with candidates that are older, have more experience and all the required qualifications in spades.
This can be an intimidating place to be - how do you show you can do the job when many people can do the same? The most obvious answer is that you need to make sure you fulfil the specified criteria above and beyond what potential employers ask of you.
"This needn’t mean you need a university qualification or even a 1st class degree. What matters instead is that you demonstrate ingenuity - you cannot manufacture 20 years of experience, but you can find ways to translate the knowledge you’ve accrued at university into demonstrable and practical vocational skills."
In this economy, it’s prudent to be wary of any private sector unpaid internship as they devalue your skills and put you in a vulnerable position, but that doesn’t mean you can’t work for yourself. If you’re a web developer, make yourself an amazing website. Then another. And then another after that. If you’re a writer, make sure you’re blogging on subjects that you care about. If you want to work in the caring professions, volunteer for charitable work in your field. If you want to work in marketing, organise an event that you care about. And so on. Volunteering doesn’t affect your right to jobseeker’s allowance as long as you only receive money to cover your volunteering expenses
If you can demonstrate your ability to make things happen for yourself, you will only look more impressive in the eyes of employers. Quite apart from all of this, it’s worth remembering that searching for a job can be a tough business and the more effort you make to keep yourself busy and productive on projects you care about, the better.
Will You Love The Job?
Companies are looking for candidates with enthusiasm, with energy to spare. This is another area where graduates have a chance to shine.
Your first job can be hugely exciting, but don't be afraid of letting that show. It's not a mark of inexperience to be positive and keen - instead, you're showing your employers that you care about what you do.
If you're not the most outgoing of personalities, then identify the reasons that you’re valuable (and there will be lots) and play them to the hilt. Don’t fake anything and your genuine enthusiasm will shine through. And it will be impressive.
Can We Tolerate Working With You?
This is a question you need to flip around. Can you tolerate working for this company? Gut instincts are often very powerful indicators of how happy you’re going to be in a vocational role. Make sure that you get as much of a feel for the company as possible, talk to potential colleagues if you can.
You shouldn’t have to make a constant effort to be delightful - if you find that you’re struggling to relate to your potential workplace, take that as a sign that this job might not be a good fit for you.
Of course it is very easy to make these statements when you’re not desperate for a job - in this difficult economy anything will seem like a good fit and it’s not always the case that graduates feel they have the luxury of choice. You’ve got to eat, sure. But bear this in mind: no job is a life sentence. You always have a choice and you can move on the moment a new opportunity becomes available. Remember: the big three questions are as much about the company’s attributes as they are about your own. You will find a job and you’re going to make it work for you. Good luck.