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  • Writer's pictureCJ DiMaggio

How I learned everything I needed to know at my first job interview

My first job interview was the best interview I ever had. Not because I hit it out of the park. (I didn’t.) Or because I got a great job offer out of it. (I didn’t do that, either.)

I was 22, fresh out of school, and absolutely clueless about the working world. But what I lacked in experience, I made up for in authenticity.

I didn’t give canned answers because I didn’t know any better. I was unrehearsed. I was myself.

But looking back, now that I’m a more seasoned interviewee and interviewer, I see that I learned some of the best lessons of my career that day: how to look for new opportunities and how to be a better manager.

1. Know your target. You don’t find a job by going through job boards or employment agencies. You network. You network more. You research exactly the companies and places where you’d like to work, then you find a creative way to connect with someone who actually works there. That’s what I did, and that’s how I got the interview.

2. Bring beauty into your work. It was the most beautiful office I had ever seen. There were fountains and green lawns and trees, and every office opened up to the outdoors. And strolling and strutting around were peacocks. Peacocks! I don’t think I had ever seen one, except maybe when I was a kid at the zoo. But these peacocks were magnificent. Their haunting calls echoed across the campus. They had the run of the place. Cars even stopped for them. They added nothing to the bottom line. They were just comically beautiful. With its peacocks, this company was saying that beautiful things matter, and that we take time to bring beauty and meaning into our lives here.

3. Take people seriously. I had no real-world experience. Besides my degree, I had no accomplishments to my name. So why did they bring in the CEO for an interview for an entry-level position? Didn’t their CEO -- the son of the founder of a legendary, billion-dollar company, who even shares his last name with the company -- have better things to do? No. Because despite all their success, they hadn’t lost sight of their values. They still believed that their company was like a family and that a family deserves your attention and care.

4. Leave HR out. A good HR business partner is worth their weight in gold, and working with a skilled recruiter can be a dream. But when you’re hiring someone, do your own homework. Do your own screening. Ask your own questions of an interviewee, instead of useless clichés like...what’s your greatest strength or what’s your biggest weakness. They only asked me questions they really wanted to know the answers to.

5. Don't waste time on what you don't love. Halfway on the long drive home, I passed a winery tasting room. I stopped in, figuring...what better way to toast my achievement? As the host poured a chardonnay with a smile, he explained that he was a retired nuclear engineer who had always hated his job. “Sometimes you have to do something that sucks the brain out of your skull for thirty years before you finally find what you’re meant to do,” he told me.

I felt sorry for him at first. A year doing something you don’t like is bad enough, let alone thirty. But he was still far luckier than those who never hear their calling. He still had time and energy to find his passion and to pass it along.

So even though I didn’t get that job -- and even though I never got to work in an office with pet peacocks -- I still learned a lot that day.

And I had my first taste of success.

Are you asking the right questions?

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