Joe Gets Interviewed by a High School Student

by Joe Plemon on October 17, 2011

Is appearance important for a job interview? This guy might be sabatoging his chances for that banking position.

The English teacher of our Community High School recently asked me if I would consider being interviewed by some of her High School students. Evidently, they read my weekly “Dollars and Sense” column in the local newspaper and wanted some relevant content for the school newspaper. I was honored to be asked, so I have included both the interview questions and my responses in this post.

I am sure that you, like me, will be impressed by these insightful questions. The answers? Well, that remains to be seen. But I do have a favor to ask: I would be very appreciative if you could share some insights I might have overlooked in my responses. Think of your input as a way to help these these high school students. Thanks!

Ready? Here we go!

What are the things you think are most important on a resume?

The purpose of a resume is NOT to get you a job, but to get an interview which will lead to a job. This being said, a resume is very important. To create an outstanding resume (one that isn’t boring), I think one should do more than simply write a chronology of his work/scholastic record. This practice could pigeon hole the candidate into a niche of what he has already been doing. One thought is to not only show work and scholastic history, but explain exactly how that history is essential in the candidate’s future. Doing so will better define exactly where the candidate wants to go instead of where he has been. One more thought: a resume should be unembellished. For example, a Wal-Mart greeter is NOT “a customer service coordinator for a Fortune 500 company”.

What key factors do you think should be considered when applying for a job?

The key factor, not only in applying for a job, but for seeking a career path, is choosing a course you are passionate about. I can’t emphasize this enough. Never choose a career because of what it pays, or even because you are good at it. A huge salary at a job which one isn’t in love with is a recipe for a frustrating life. Statistics show that 80% of college graduates, 10 years after graduation, do not work in the field they studied. Why is this true? Primarily because they did not love what they were doing. The thing about following one’s passion is that he/she will be so much in love with what he does that the money will eventually flow to him anyway. Life goes by quickly. Don’t waste precious years doing something you don’t love to do.

In your opinion, how does one make the best first impression?

One only gets one chance to make a first impression, so don’t waste that chance. One study showed that interviewers decide in the first 10 seconds whether they want the candidate or not. The interviewer is asking himself these questions: “Do I like this person? Do I trust this person? Is this a person who will be fun to be around?” The way to make a good first impression is to do the things you already know to do: Good eye contact, smile, and solid handshake. Body language is also critical: stand straight without being tense, sit up straight, lean forward slightly, be interested in what the interviewer says and does. All of this takes practice, so PRACTICE. Going to an interview without practicing will create nervousness. Practice will help the candidate relax.

In face to face meetings, do you think one’s appearance and not just how he or she presents his or herself plays a role in whether or not he or she will be hired?

Appearance is critical. Again, it is part of a first impression. Many potentially great employees have sabotaged their job chances by not dressing conservatively, not having a hair cut or not removing that metal that is stuck in his face. Dress appropriate for the company you are applying for. Neatness, cleanliness and deodorant (without strong smelling perfume or cologne) are just common sense respect. Anything else shows lack of respect.

What are the things you believe employers look for in a possible employee? And how can an aspiring worker embody these things?

First and foremost, employers are looking for people of character. The most valuable employees in any organization are those who are diligent, honest and have uncompromising integrity. Stated differently, who a person is will speak louder than what a person does. This being said, employers are looking for employees who will help their company succeed. I think many potential employees are so focused on presenting themselves that they overlook presenting exactly how they can be an asset to the company. Therefore, it is critical that the aspiring worker do his homework. He should learn everything possible about the company before he goes into the interview and he should be confident that he has something vital to offer that employer. This knowledge and confidence will set this potential employee apart from the crowd.

Finally, what advice can you give to upperclassmen as we enter the ‘real world’?

Don’t be shocked here, but my advice is “Don’t put all your eggs in the ‘college diploma’ basket.” Allow me to quickly add that I strongly believe in the value of a college education. I myself am a Civil Engineer. My point is this: the diploma itself is not a magic wand that will guarantee a lifetime of success. At best, it will help get a foot into a door, but success in the “real world” is then based on how well you can help your company succeed. The key at this point and for the rest of your life is NOT the diploma, but the knowledge and the character of the individual. Whether one has a college degree or not, the traits as perseverance, hard work, innovative thinking and integrity are critical for doing well in the “real world”.

OK Readers.  Now…jump in with a comment to further answer these great questions.


Evan October 17, 2011 at 3:32 pm

LESSON 1 – PEOPLE WILL JUDGE YOU. Come to an interview looking like that guy or even showing reasonable tats and people are likely to judge. Whining how life isn’t fair doesn’t matter.

Tim @ Faith and Finance October 17, 2011 at 4:14 pm

You remember the phrase “it’s who you know” right? Well, there’s a lot of truth to it in the ‘real world.’ Positions are filled every day with people who had an ‘in’ with someone they knew in the office. It doesn’t do anything to complain about it – so my best advice: get to know people (be genuine about it) and look for opportunities yourself with the connections you have.

Suba October 17, 2011 at 4:55 pm

Treat everyone you meet with respect. I have seen a lot of kids make fun of others or treat others with disrespect when they are in a mall or at a public place. At that time, with all the friends at your side it might look “cool” but the guy you just made fun of might be the one to interview you next time. Never ever underestimate someone.

joeplemon October 17, 2011 at 7:17 pm

How true. It might not be fair, but, as you said, life isn’t fair.

I can’t believe I didn’t include the “networking” aspect of finding a job, but I am glad you did. Great advice. My guess is that many people overlook some great contacts simply because they aren’t thinking in terms of who they know.

I totally agree. Treating others with respect is ALWAYS a good standard to live by. As you mentioned, someone could be shooting himself in the foot for a future interview, but showing respect is the right thing to do even if one never encounters the other person again.

krantcents October 17, 2011 at 7:52 pm

Great answers! I would add that an accomplishment oriented resume usually gets their attention. Years ago, my resume was one of 4,000 resumes a company received. I was one of 15 that they interviewed. My children started using it at 15 years old and employers were blown away.

joeplemon October 18, 2011 at 7:57 am

Wow. Obviously this works! I haven’t prepared a resume in many years, but I am intrigued by the aspect of an accomplishment oriented resume. I am assuming that the candidate goes beyond the mundane (list of work and scholastic history) and writes some narrative about how he has solved various problems, etc. Right?

Thanks for the great tip!

John October 19, 2011 at 12:37 am

It has been my personal experience there are 3 key aspects needed for a successful interview.
One – Be clean and presentable to the world.
Two – Self confidence is absolutely a must.
Three – Always be honest!!
If you have these 3 things going for you, you are on your way!!
Oh, and always, always……just be yourself!

joeplemon October 19, 2011 at 1:03 pm

@ John,
Thanks for the great tips. Clean, confident and honest … and always being yourself. Good stuff!

Squirrelers October 20, 2011 at 9:39 pm

Good answers, Joe!

I think that a big part of interviewing is probably the mindset that one has to have. It’s almost a ritual, where communication and discussions are done in a way that’s somewhat unique to the process. One must keep in mind that you’re being judged every second, and there are some good things to say and some not so good things to say. It’s a sales pitch in a controlled environment, and you’re the product.

Keep in mind that the best person doesn’t always get the job. It’s often a case of knowing someone, but also a personal connection with the interviewer, how you present yourself, etc. This might not be fair, but it is what it is. Being a realist rather than an idealist can go a long way to helping prepare for an interview and actually do one confidently.

True story: I was once involved in an interview process where a group of people came in to interview for a couple of open positions. When discussing the candidates, there were a few that were clearly a toss up. In trying to differentiate them, one person noted that one interviewee had one sideburn that was a bit longer than the other. That might have helped turn the tide against that guy, as he ultimately didn’t get an offer.

joeplemon October 24, 2011 at 2:22 pm

As I mentioned earlier, I haven’t personally been interviewed in years, so the phrase “It’s a sales pitch in a controlled environment, and you’re the product.” sort of jumped out at me. Thanks for giving me (and our high school readers) a taste of reality!

I really appreciate the true story. Sometimes it is the unexpected comments which reveal the most about a person’s character. I, like you, would count the sideburn remark as a strike against that particular candidate.

Alex Humphrey November 5, 2011 at 8:47 pm

A great interview, Joe!

joeplemon November 9, 2011 at 8:55 am

Thanks Alex!

Previous post:

Next post: