Thursday, August 4, 2011

Winning an interview

by Andrew Nelson

I had two interviews this week for two very good internships. There was obviously some overlap in the questions including the usual "tell us about yourself," and "tell me about a time when you faced significant conflict" questions.

I had one ringer though that really threw me for a loop.

Near the end of the interview, the city manager said, "So tell us what you know about our city."

I had, of course, done considerable background research and was able to briefly list their demographics, some recent politics, a reference to their budget, and how they recently met one of their strategic objectives. At this point, I was feeling pretty good about myself.

The city manager responded, "And how do you fit into the picture - our city - that you just described?"

I had thought of a similar question - "What can you bring to our city?" - but by then I was already taken off guard. What do I know about the city? Sure, I did some reading, but I never stopped to think about how my presence could possibly solve the specific issues I had described just seconds before. I had prepared to solve the problems directly linked to the job description. That isn't a bad start, but in my preparation perhaps I failed to miss a greater goal, and it also shed light on a personality fault of mine: I came from the perspective that people created internships to help students get their feet wet in the real world. I underestimated the city's desire to solve real problems. I knew that is what they wanted, but it hadn't settled in my brain yet.

Of course, I knew exactly what I should say, but I hesitated during my epiphany. I rattled off what was probably a lame answer and we moved on to the question/answer portion of the interview.

Lesson learned:

1) You must do background research on the city to which you are applying.
2) Your research is useless unless you can answer how you fit in to their current situation and can help meet the city's objectives, especially as they relate to the job description.

I'll cross my fingers. I'll have their decisions in the next few days.

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