You’ve got my attention, now what?

I gave a tour of my office space to a proactive candidate who wanted to know more about us and the design industry. While her background is in something else, she says she wants some advice on how to get a foot in the door. She has excellent questions that showed that she was really trying to get at the heart of what it’s like to be working in the industry. She’s willing to do whatever it takes, including starting classes and taking an administrative position to immerse herself in the field. That’s great! Good for you for taking the initiative!

But she won’t be getting a call back from me.

Why? No, it’s not because I’m mean and was saying those nice things sarcastically. Shock: I meant what I said. She won’t get a call back because she doesn’t have a clue what to do once she has someone’s attention. This girl I met claimed she was willing to do whatever it takes. Did she do any research on us? No. Did she do any research on the industry? Well, she knows what the amorphous concept of “design” is, but that’s about it (whee). Did she respond to any of my questions with more than a one word answer? No. Worse still, did she listen to the answers to her incredibly thoughtful questions? No, she dismissed my responses and moved on.

I’ve met with a lot of new and recent grads over the past year, all of whom are trying to do something to separate themselves from the masses. I feel their pain; I’m in the same age bracket and I’ve got plenty of friends who are in the same boat. But a lot of them think that by introducing themselves and making the contact, they’ve immediately got a foot in the door. It just doesn’t work that way. And believe me, I know from having done it in the past that you’ve got to go behind that.

The ones that have stood out in my mind are the ones that ask thoughtful questions and can actually have a dialogue that shows that they can think (now THERE’S a concept), that they can put their own egos aside for more than 5 seconds and that they have a sense of passion and drive. That’s not that complicated, right?

If you’ve got someone’s attention, make the most of it like this girl unfortunately did not. Ignore interviews for a second since they’re got some extra layers on top of them. I’m just talking about those casual connections that you make – be it when you actively seek a person out at a networking event or when you randomly meet someone who happens to be in your industry of choice. Take a leaf out of the Boy Scout manual – be prepared. If you know who you’re going to talk to, make the effort to find out what their organization is doing before you meet with them (and this is SO easy and yet so many people miss it and look like idiots). If you don’t know what you’re going to be up against (especially from those random meet-ups), at least have a vague idea of what members of your industry do and then ask questions so you can find out. That’s right, it’s not all about you! Ask thoughtful questions that show that you’re committed to your field and that you’ve done your homework. You can even go beyond that and strike personal connections with questions. Putting someone else first and showing that you care more about what they say than talking about yourself can mean a lot to people.

We don’t have openings right now. But when we do, we keep records of who was worth talking to a second time and who really wasn’t. In the short-term, this blunder won’t be a problem for this applicant, but down the road, she’s going to wonder why she’s not doing so well and to me, the answer will be pretty obvious.

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