Working It
The first time I interviewed for an internship, I ended up telling the deputy editor of a travel magazine that I don’t like travelling, even though I do. I also went on to proudly speak of my proofreading capabilities by telling of being the unofficial copy editor among my study group, only to go home and realise I’d misspelt the word ‘writing’ in my resume.

Not my proudest moments to be honest, but these are just two of the many mistakes I’ve made over the years by letting my nerves get the best of me and by not doing my due diligence when it comes to preparing for a professional gig.

So, to make sure Oasis Living readers are more prepared than I was, we reached out to two experts to find out how you can do your best to make a great first impression.

The job hunt

Depending on your field of expertise, or the field you wish to work in, start by narrowing your search to positions which match your interest and/or skill set. After identifying companies or positions you’d like to apply to (tip: keep a continuously updated list of places you’ve applied to), customise your resume accordingly.

“The worst application someone can send is one that fits neither the job description nor is customised with an understanding of the company. Mass-mailed applications, applications that have the wrong company name, the wrong job title and just plain not meant for the company that receives them is a disappointment,” said Anishkaa Gehani, Founder of Yardstick Marketing Management.

“The best ones are where someone takes the time to understand the company, its services and the skill set for the job and writes a covering note as to how they could add value to the role they are applying for,” she added. Here is where things get a little tricky. Sometimes you find a job listing that excites you and is exactly what you want to be doing. However, there are also the times when you just don’t meet the requirements because you might be lacking a certain skill, a certain amount of experience or otherwise. Go ahead and apply for the job anyway if you’re mostly a match but don’t spruce up your resume to make yourself a match.

Despite the popular sentiment of ‘fake it till you make it’, ask any recruiter or hiring manager for their thoughts and the first thing they will say is don’t lie on your resume. Many employers conduct background searches and call for references – even backdoor ones at times – when considering promising applicants, and this one misstep won’t only cost you this job but possibly future ones too if you end up blacklisted. Just watch an episode of Suits to find out why lying about your credentials is a bad idea.

The interview

Remember that list you made of places you’ve applied to? The interview portion is where it might come in handy. Often, recruiters call up applicants they’re interested in for a phone interview before calling them in for a face-to-face one. By keeping a slightly detailed list, you can quickly identify which company you’re dealing with and have key information available to you in a timely manner.

The more knowledgeable you are, the more confident you’ll be which is always a plus-point, said Gehani. That coupled with your knowledge of the company’s line of work will make a good impression.

Also, be sure to be prepared with answers to common interview questions such as your key strengths and weaknesses, your reason for leaving your last place of employment (if applicable), and where you see yourself in the next few years.

If you make it to the next round, be aware of the impression you’ll be making.

“A first impression is of paramount importance,” said Gehani, adding: “The minute a candidate walks in for an interview, from the way they are dressed to the time they arrive and until the end handshake my team and I note everything. I especially like to observe how candidates interact with the surroundings and their potential colleagues before the interview begins, as it gives me great insight into their nature.”

Come armed with your own set of questions as well to show your interest. A few good areas to focus on can be on the office’s work environment, on what your first few months will look like (if not already specified) and what steps can you take in the first three months to be successful at the role.

Most importantly though, your attitude is key.

“In an agency, the most important thing is teamwork, and so what I look for in a potential employee is the candidate’s general attitude and willingness to learn and adapt to our work environment. We can always help employees harness their skills and be at the top of their game at work through training, but for that fluidity and growth, a positive and learning orientated attitude is essential,” said Gehani.

Your first day

You’ve got the job – congratulations! Your review is far from over though. The first three to six months at any job is probationary. This means that your performance, attitude and overall work will be under scrutiny by the management to ensure that they’ve hired the best person for the job.

Your instincts might tell you to tough it out and do it all by showing your managers and co-workers that you’re a go-getter who can deal with anything thrown at you. While this is commendable, this type of approach often leaves new employees isolated as they bury themselves in their work.

Instead, your first few days should be spent networking, says women’s leadership coach, Sally Helgesen.

“Focusing exclusively on learning the tasks and waiting to start building allies until you’re comfortable is a common mistake. Instead, you should be actively meeting people and seeking their advice on who else you should meet,” she said.

“Remember, the most powerful question you can ask is not, ‘How do I do my job?’ But, ‘Who do I need to know to make sure I am successful?’”

Show initiative but know when to ask for help to create synergy with your manager and coworkers, and to not fall short of expectations in the long run.

Stepping up

If you’re someone who’s already settled in their role and have your eye on a position higher up the hierarchy, you should voice your case.

“Articulate the strongest and most specific possible case for your promotion. Write it out, tweak it over the course of a week and then begin rehearsing it so you can get comfortable saying it clearly and confidently. Practice saying it to others who you trust, asking them if they believe you could be clearer, more specific, more concise or stronger. If you follow these steps, you will be good to go,” said Helgesen.

Your work, of course, speaks volumes as well. Be aligned, be focused, make sure you’ve proven your ability to handle more than what is asked of you as you’ll be dealing with a bigger workload after a promotion. Demonstrate a positive attitude among colleagues and clients/customers as well as a spirit of teamwork.

Over the course of your work, make sure your managers are aware of your accomplishments as well. Follow this by expressing your interest in the new position and make your case by referencing your accomplishments. Often, if a manager believes an employee happy and productive in their current position, they leave them be.

Individually, the lack of these traits may not be a deal breaker but if applied and combined, they have the power to make a great impression, one which will be commended within your current and future workspaces.
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