By Mariam Mokhtar
In some professions, qualifications do not count for much; it is the personality behind the achievements that counts. A friend who has just spent a harrowing week interviewing new graduates confided in me the qualities of the graduates who had been selected for first interviews with his firm.
“The graduates think that showing me the piece of paper with their grades is good enough. It’s not.”
“Perhaps, in the past, grades or qualifications were sufficient. In those days, it also helped if you could speak well as it proved you had good communication skills.
“And it was a bonus if you had good looks.”
He explained that nowadays, with so many graduates in the job market, potential employers are on the look-out for that ‘something extra’ to differentiate one person from the scores of others they screen at interviews.
“We want rounded personalities and it does not just apply to graduates. Many people forget that with the sheer numbers of people seeking employment, it is important that the person being interviewed stands out.”
Describing some of the people whom he had interviewed, he singled out those who had confided something about themselves.
“Some people think that what they do in their spare time is not important. They are wrong. The person who tells me he does a bit of social work with elderly people shows that he cares for others. That he has a compassionate nature. The one who says that he recycles paper or glass or boxes, or helps clear up litter in some gotong-royong project shows that he cares for the environment. These snippets of information give the interviewer an insight into the character of the person asking for the job.”
“I’m not saying that studies are not important. They are. But these extras are a useful indication of the type of person sitting before us.” He went on to explain that volunteering or joining an NGO whilst at university were useful attributes to put on the curriculum vitae.
“Who knows? One day a week volunteering to help in a soup kitchen for the homeless, may mean all the difference between getting a job or not.”
Alarmed at the lack of questions which interviewees had asked him, he then explained that he was receptive and more open to those people who were inquisitive.
“Some people say they have no questions to ask. That is worrying. Some say they have forgotten the questions they wanted to ask me. I tell them that this is not an examination and that they are allowed to bring in their pieces of paper with questions on them. If they did, it tells me that person has done some preparatory work,” he said.
“Some people are shy. That is understandable. But they must feel free to talk about themselves. If they have had work experience when at university, they should try and relate it. What was it they learnt at their work experience, or internship? What did they like best? What did they dislike doing?
“If they did a short stint working in a supermarket, stacking shelves, it shows they can do routine, physical work. And if they handled customer queries, it showed they could deal with people.”
“The people who come prepared, with notes about their previous work experience, or their questions, are the ones I warm to.
“Many forget that during work experience or internship, important stuff is being learnt. The basics of the job they are doing, like learning how to take telephone calls in a telesales job, or handling money as in a cashier’s role is the first set of skills being acquired.
“The second skill gained is self-discipline. For example, it could just be the simple act of getting up to go to work.”
He described one session a few years ago when he interviewed a girl who was well groomed, whose grades were alright but not too fantastic, who had some work experience tucked under her belt and who helped her mother collect old clothes for recycling.
“She asked me one question. “What is the most worrying thing about your work?”
At first I was taken aback. She had guts to ask me that question. I don’t think I gave her a complete answer or one at all. But she is now my human resources manager.”