I’ve always enjoyed traveling to new places. Whether it be a summer vacation to Disney Land or a field trip to the museum downtown. As a business major, it only seemed natural to pick up a minor in international business. Maybe I’d get a job at a big multinational corporation and live out of my suitcase as I jet set around the world. That would be pretty sweet…right?
I started taking Japanese courses in order to fulfill my minor requirements. My Japanese professor also taught a summer study abroad program in Akita, Japan. I jumped at the opportunity faster than a 12 year old girl getting backstage to a Justin Bieber concert. I won’t bore you with the details, so I’ll sum it up in two words and three punctuation marks–TOTALLY AWESOME!!! I finished my last semester of undergrad after my summer sojourn to Japan. I went straight into graduate school the following semester and spent the next two years grinding out my degree. When I started interviewing for my first big boy job, I started to realize that hiring managers spent more time talking about my three months in Japan than my MBA. The companies I interviewed for had absolutely nothing to do with Japanese technology, manufacturing, or trade. But they spent the majority of the interview asking me questions about my exotic extended vacation. Why?
You have to think about it from their point of view. Hiring managers conduct the same monotonous interviews from pretty much every applicant that is straight out of college. My GPA was blah…I majored in blah…I was in blah fraternity/sorority….BLAH! BLAH! BLAH! At a certain point, they probably stop caring about how much fun you had in college. Because they sure as heck aren’t having the time of their life working 9-5 talking to inexperienced kids like you.
How do you make yourself stand out? Can you sell yourself in a five minute story? What would that story be? Back packing through Europe or building clean water wells in Africa are a lot more interesting than winning the championship game of your flag football intramural league.
Unfortunately, you need more than an entertaining tale to land your first job out of college.
Hiring managers are looking for someone that is a secure investment. College students with part time experience in a totally unrelated position are not a safe investment. But someone who voluntarily moved across the world in order to pursue their dream and further their education might seem a little more reliable. There are key personality attributes that hiring managers are looking for. Some of these can be exemplified by studying abroad and living to tell the tale. I’ve listed four key characteristics that you can emphasize in a job interview. I’ve also included some sample interview questions that I’ve heard in the past.
1. Ability to Adapt If you can flourish alongside strangers in a strange land, you can probably do so on your home turf. Employers are looking for someone who can start producing as soon as possible. New hires must be able to learn quickly, so having documented examples of your proactivity is a plus. More importantly, new workers must be able to integrate into existing departments and teams. In a lot of cases, personality type outweighs skill set. It doesn’t matter how smart you are if you can’t work well with others.
Interviewer: As a new hire in a managerial role, how would you deal with department members that are older and have been working here longer than you?
Reply: I’m sure everybody has reservations about the new guy. I don’t blame them; hopefully I can convince them through hard work and relentless dedication that I’m a good fit for the organization. I’m used to being the fish out of water, so I know how to approach strangers and win them over.
2. Willing to Travel No brainer right? Having study abroad experience on your resume is the best way to show potential employers that you’re willing to go that extra mile…literally! Being able to travel is a requirement for a lot of awesome jobs (from pharmaceutical salesman to Antarctic researcher). Saying that you’re willing to travel in an interview is one thing, but having real experience is another.
Interviewer: This position requires a lot of travel two months out of the year. Are you comfortable being on the road for that amount of time?
Reply: I have backpacked through Asia, kayaked across the Gulf of Thailand, slept in a bullet train and accidentally woke up in a different country; all while having zero contact with friends and family. I think I’ll be straight.
3. Non Verbal Communication Skills After my first week in Japan, I realized that I should have studied more Japanese before my trip. Due to my broken Japanese, I had to rely on basic phrases and body language. It took some time, but I became a master of non verbal communication. Fortunately, I could use this skill in a corporate environment to easily interpret the behaviors of my superiors and co-workers. Being able to tell what direction my boss is leaning is pretty sweet. Getting along with your teammates is vital as well; it helps to know when to back off or when to step in.
Interviewer: You will be working with department heads, regional account managers, and executives, but you won’t necessarily see them on a day to day basis. How do you make the most of your meetings and interactions with them?
Reply: I prefer to be overly prepared for meetings so I don’t spend the majority of my time taking notes instead of working with my peers. It’s hard to read your bosses reactions when you’re scribbling down buzz words on a Starbucks napkin. I like to do all my research ahead of time so I can provide sound recommendations and answer any questions someone might come up with.
4. Self Awareness You learn a lot about yourself when you are forced to survive on your wits alone. Sure you’ll make friends, but they are essentially familiar strangers. In order to be a successful, you need to know what you’re good at and what you could improve upon. If you have any major weaknesses, like not being able to read a frickin’ language, you need the humility to find help.
Interviewer: What is your biggest weakness?
Reply: I figured you would ask this question and I don’t want to give a B.S. response. I’m sure I have plenty of weaknesses, but none of them pertain to this position. I think I would be a total rock star at every thing thrown my way. And if I don’t think I could step up to the plate and hit a home run, I’d find somebody else that could pinch hit and help our team win the game. That answer totally sounds B.S., but it’s true. I’m not afraid of asking for help. With that said, I’d be damn sure I wouldn’t make the same mistake twice. I’d learn everything I could and become a better team player.
Keepin’ it real, while keepin’ it safe.
I’m reading The Art of Public Speaking