According to my MIIS students, the most anxiety-inducing thought throughout their internship and job search process is: “I really want this position, but I don’t have relevant experience.” The inference here is: “if I can not point to a track record of past success in a similar position to the one that I am applying for, I can’t actually prove that I can do the job. So why would anyone hire me?”
If that logic held true, no one would ever get a job, nor would anyone ever get a promotion into a job they had never done before. The good news is if you are willing to put in the work, you can overcome this barrier. After all, people without prior experience get hired all the time, and people get promoted every day.
I have come to this conclusion in the process of giving more than 100 mock interviews over the past two months, leading up to the annual TILM Career Fair at MIIS in early March. My “interviewees” have included 1st-year students seeking internships and 2nd-year students seeking employment or contractor roles after graduation. This caught my attention: some 1st-year students, who typically do not have as much academic training and work experience as 2nd-year students, actually interviewed better than their senior classmates. They demonstrated to me, the hiring manager, that they did not only have the tactical skills necessary to apply what they had been learning in the classroom, but also that they possessed valuable critical thinking skills and an acute ability to grasp the big picture. “Why is that?” I wondered.
After analyzing the performance of each stellar interviewee, I have concluded that they all exhibit the same powers of:
- Observation: They observe themselves and their environment (people, process, and technology). What’s more, rather than passively taking in what they are being taught as the totality of “reality”, they observe the context in which these theoretical processes actually occur.
- Reflection: They ask questions. Rather than being satisfied in knowing “how” to produce good translation/interpretation work, use a tool, or to leverage a workflow, they ask “why” and “why not” about the current way things are. They ask how we can build on our current processes, and make them better.
- Application: A solution is only useful when it is applied to the right problem. Telling me that CAT tools and TMS can help an operation is nice (I call this “stating the obvious”), but giving me concrete examples from your experience of how these tools have removed specific operational pain points makes you stand out. “But I have never worked in a real job, how would I have concrete examples?” you say. Think again. Do you really need to have secured a job that pays you in order to experience real examples of how to apply solutions to a given problem? Of course not. Your class projects can provide examples. Examples can also come from dialogues with classmates or industry colleagues, or from reading blog posts/books pertaining to these subjects.
- Getting results through people: “Stellar communication skills” and “team player” are some of the verbiages used by employers when they intend to say: “No matter how brilliant you are, you can’t achieve greatness all by yourself. Your ability to work with people to achieve the organization’s goals is just as important as your technical skills.” Your potential employers want you to demonstrate that you have the ability to communicate clearly and respectfully. Do you need a paying job to have this kind of experience? No. You have been communicating with people all your life. Examples abound.
If I could boil down everything I have said above into two words, it would be “active learning.” As an experienced interviewer, I can feel it at the gut level whether you are just repeating some fancy words that you think will impress me, or if you are sharing with me your own deeply reflected thoughts. Don’t worry about what you think I “want” to hear. Think about what story you want to tell me so that I get to know you – your insights and your motivations. I am trying to hire a human being that I get to work with, not a list of superficial words.
As I wrap up this post, it occurs to me that this post is a result of an observation which caused me to reflect on a phenomenon that seemingly did not make sense. I am trying to make my reflection as relatable and applicable to you as possible. You see: I am practicing what I preach. Give the process I have shared a try and let me know how it goes.