Most people wait until they have a job interview lined up before they begin to seriously prepare for the job, but the really successful make sure they are always prepared. These are the people who, rather than wait for some gatekeeper to open up a career opportunity for them, open up the career opportunity for themselves by ensuring they prepare themselves well ahead for the career they want. In fact, this is what makes the rest call them ‘lucky’. It’s not luck at all but the art of being prepared.
Four years before giving her inspiring talk at a local TEDx event in London British born Zain Asher, an anchor at CNN, was working as a receptionist for a production company in California.
Her dream was to get promoted and become a broadcast journalist; instead she found herself serving water, teas and coffees to external candidates interviewing for the job she wished was hers. No matter how hard Zain worked, how late she stayed, how many weekends she sacrificed, she could never move up: “No,” her bosses would say, “you don’t have the right experience.”
In fact, not only didn’t Zain have the experience to become a broadcast journalist, she also had the wrong accent: Oxford English inflections like hers did not work well on local US television news.
So, how did this young woman, who was told no multiple times and made to eat humble pie serving tea to those who turned up for the job she so desperately wanted, change things for herself?
She became a master preparer. And in preparing herself ahead Zain got the career she wanted.
How Zain become a master preparer
Zain took annual leave from her production job and hired her flat mate to film her reporting on stories in her local area. She made a showreel. She practised for the role. She then sent her reel to a television channel and waited. And waited. No answer – after all, broadcast journalism is one of those roles where competition is high. It attracts thousands of people with bags more experience than someone like Zain.
Yet she was not deterred. Zain moved to New York to be closer the TV station and continued to email and to call them. Eventually she was called in for an interview and, well, they loved what she did so much they hired her on the spot.
Learning the art of preparation
Zain says that she learnt the art of preparation from her brother, the multi-award-winning actor Chiwetel Ejiofor CBE (Othello, 2008, 12 Years a Slave, 2013, Sherlock Gnomes, 2018).
As a child Chiwetel would often lock himself in his room for hours on end, studying Shakespeare and preparing for roles that – most importantly – he had not even been casted for. Indeed, often he didn’t even have an audition. Yet, no matter how many times he had to go over his lines, he committed himself to the task of being prepared – just in case something came up. Then, when it did, he was ready.
As a graduate trying to win yourself a graduate level job in what is arguably the most competitive graduate recruitment environment ever, you must do the same. It may sound like lots of work but hey, that’s the price you have to pay if you want to become the best you can and win the role you dream of.
The employer’s perspective
You need to look at things from the employer’s perspective. A graduate recruiter wants to employ the best person for the job in the shortest time possible. Every step of the recruitment process, from the moment you send in your application for the job to the moment you enter the job interview room, that employer is looking for ways to eliminate you from their shortlist. It makes their job easier. So, one slip up and it’s easily over.
But imagine you’re auditioning for a role. You learn all your lines, practising everything down to the body language and even tone of voice. By the time you walk into room you are the character in that movie. It’s the same with job interviews. You become the person doing the job. When the employer ‘auditions’ you he/she doesn’t have to work hard to imagine you doing the job. You’ve made the task easier for them. It will be as though you are that person doing that job already.
This is the advantage of being prepared. You’re less likely to stumble over interview answers. You will know the job inside out. You will have insights that help you come up with great questions to ask. You will know the industry, company and its competitors inside out. Most importantly, you will be a natural, confident and ready for the opportunity.
How to become a master preparer and increase your job ‘luck’
Here are a few tips to take away:
- Find out what you need to do to get the job you want – what skills, experience and aptitudes does a person need?
- Study the experts in the field – what makes them great, successful and different?
- Practise relentlessly – taking on part time and voluntary positions, doing work experience and internships, freelancing and even practising mock interviews with a supportive friend, are all ways to get ready for the real thing.
- Don’t give up even when you’ve heard nothing back – realise that getting recruited, especially in competitive fields, can take time.
- Do not take no for an answer – how much do you want that career or job? Badly? Well, don’t let others decide for you!
- Find a specialism – Zain got her business news anchor job at CNN by spending weekends in the library studying business. One weekend she’d focus on stocks, the next bonds, the next derivatives and so forth. Eventually she met an executive who ran the business unit at CNN – and guess what? Yes, he was looking for a news reporter! He gave Zain just two weeks to prepare for a screen-test, but she knew she’d been preparing for months.
There you go, Would-be Successful Graduate. Become a master preparer and increase the chances of what most graduates call ‘good luck’ happening in your life. Don’t wait for the career opportunity or job to come your way before you start to prepare.