In my position as an Employment Counsellor, I daily come into contact with people who really want to be entirely honest in a job interview; answer all those questions without misrepresenting themselves, and have a hard time reconciling my advice about not revealing too much about themselves and choosing to withhold certain information. So why is this?
In truth, it serves the applicant best to remember that while you are there to compete for and ultimately win the job, interviews from the other side of the desk are designed to weed people out of the process. That’s a critical assessment that’s necessary to understand.
So when in a recent mock interview, a woman said in response to my opening statement, “Tell me about yourself” that she was a proud single mother of two young boys as her first words, I pointed out she should change this opening statement. If there was any justice in the interview, the interviewer would have picked up on her pride in raising those two boys as a single parent, and her strong family values, her desire to provide a good life for them etc. What the interviewer often translates this statement as however is, single parent = time off work when either is ill, family before work when conflicts arise, no support system in place if time off is needed. What is accomplishment and pride to the applicant becomes an employment barrier to the interviewer.
Likewise, when an older job applicant is before an interviewer, if the interview was an entirely objective and just process, age wouldn’t factor into the process. An applicant would be able to present themself as having extensive life experience, wisdom gained from years of employment, but to an interviewer, it’s easiest in the first few seconds to form an impression based on greying hair, the briefcase vs. the Blackberry with its calendar, notes, electronic document capabilities that just oozes forward thinking and technologically advanced.
And at the other end of the age spectrum, there would some justice for the poor kid whose sweating bullets sitting in the waiting room, who hasn’t had a proper job interview before, let alone a real job. That applicant would get a fair shake instead of a shakedown, seen as having to start somewhere instead of being intimidated and ultimately rejected because they have no experience and feel they should only re-apply when they’ve acquired experience elsewhere.
It’s a good exercise to turn the tables figuratively, and in advance of an interview, determine honestly two essential pieces of information. First and foremost, what are the employers needs and secondly, do a self-analysis of your own strengths and shortcomings AS THEY PERTAIN TO THE NEEDS OF THE EMPLOYER. With these two pieces of information, you have the background you need to then strategize how you will brand yourself, and how to best represent how you can fit with the company. This exercise is one that few job applicants at the entry levels usually undergo.
One of the key reasons that entry-level employees pass up on this exercise has to do with either their inexperience or their lack of true motivation; after all, to them it’s JUST an entry-level job and doesn’t warrant the effort. What a key mistake it is to make this assumption. After all, what is it that entry-level jobs lead to? Increased salaries in entry-level jobs, stronger resumes to compete for mid-level positions, and ultimately more recognition, stronger job applications, more money and prestige.
Of course from the employers point of view, if there were any justice in the interview, only qualified, motivated applicants would apply in the first place, and choosing from them would be a tougher process, but one that in the end would benefit the company more. Those offered jobs would always accept, and the applicants chosen after a lengthy employee search would always work out. No justice here either unfortunately.
You see employers put time, energy, money and human resources into locating the right candidates for open positions. They are looking for a return on their investment and expect the people they offer jobs to, to work out and contribute to their profitability, their corporate image, and to uphold the standards of professionalism they have worked tirelessly to build over years. In their opinion, bad apples once discovered should easily be tossed out to prevent the others from being infected, but it isn’t that easy, so they are slower to hire, do two or three interviews and background checks to safeguard themselves from making what later might be seen to be poor initial choices.
So yes, if there were any justice, both sides would get what they wanted. Criminal convictions would always be stated up front by applicants in the opinion of employers, and criminal convictions wouldn’t even be an issue in the mind of a 39-year-old applicant who did something at 19 that is still on their official record. That 20 year gap is of no consequence or critical depending on the perspective you bring to the table.