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Start Work Before the Interview

jon wiita

Jon Wiita (pictured, ‘10), an applied engineering major with cognates in supply chain management and connected learning, was interviewed by job search expert Kevin Donlin. This interview was used on Donlin’s website because he thought job hunters of all ages could learn from Wiita’s job search tactics. Spartan students are doing great things to take their job search to the next level, using the same resources that are available to you. Learn from Wiita’s creative approach, and check back for the interview of another smart Spartan student.


Kevin: Hi, this is Kevin Donlin from the Guerrilla Job Search. I’m talking to Jon Wiita on the phone today. Jon has a very interesting story about how he made some strong contacts with an employer who has set him up for success for next year when he graduates. So, Jon, thanks for joining me today.

Jon: Hi, how are you?

K: Good. Thank you very much. In a nutshell you had been to one of my seminars in January and you took the idea and ran with it. It was “start work before the interview.”In a nutshell, can you tell listeners what you did with this certain company and then what is now on your plate as a result of it?

J: This company had been a top choice of mine for when I graduate in May 2010. I had been trying to get contacts within this company for a while, to take my networking to a different level. I took the advice from the seminar you gave even before I had received the offer for the interview. I had sought out something that this company had been doing but was not in relation to my interview. But I saw a connection in what the interview was for and what my job field was in. What I did was write an abstract for a white paper that I would like to write for a conference in the fall. And this was completely surrounded by a project that this company was actually working on and getting very good press about. I took that right to the job interview and looked them right in the face and I said, “I’m studying one of your projects right now and I cannot wait to share [it] with thousands of students in an international conference.”

K: Let’s back up a bit. How did you line up this interview that you brought your abstract to? How did you get that interview actually?

J: The Career Services at MSU are actually very good for the students. I had two senior announcements that they were hiring back to interview for internships. I had already had summer plans, but I wanted to take advantage of the ability to meet this company. I signed up through our Career Services website, MySpartanCareer, and thought I would get a chance to talk to a recruiter.

K: Ok, got it. So they were coming on campus and they were going to interview anyway, so you signed up to interview. It was very smart; you started researching this company before you went to the interview?

J: Yes, what I actually did was I put the company into my Google Reader.

K: Explain that for someone who is technically illiterate what’s a Google Reader exactly. Is that an RSS feed type thing?

J: Basically it’s scrounging all over the internet, finding whatever this name or this company is coming up in publications and blogs and all different areas. It’s putting it into my Reader/Inbox and finding articles that I can see all highlights of the day or the week or whatever is going on with them.

K: Got it. I think there may be something similar called Google Alerts. We may be talking about the same thing. You used Google to go out every day to scour the internet for mentions of this company. You put the company name in when researching that?

J: It was with environmental sustainability because that was the topic for the abstract I was looking for.

K: Excellent. How many days and weeks did you research before you came up with your abstract?

J: I had actually only researched about two weeks. And then about a week before the interview this company had come up in being a part of that research and so I correlated the two together and found a perfect match and was able to kind of guide my research and idea for the project into my interview.

K: Excellent. Did you also interview employees of the company before your interview? Did you contact them and say, “I’m writing an abstract?”

J: Right. What is kind of cool about it is while I was looking through the articles on the internet I saw the authors at the bottom of some of the white papers that had been written by this company. I contacted them directly and just sent them a quick email that basically said, “I’m writing a white paper on this exact project.” They sent me back an email, and I’ve been communicating with them outside of the job scope. It allows me to network within the company. I was able to utilize them and they were able to help me and they got me through to the hire person for the interview. A partner, not just a normal recruiter.

K: You’re asking employees of your target employer to help you research them so you can be better qualified to work for them?

J: Basically, yes. They saw exactly how interested I was in something that wasn’t just on what the interviewer was expecting me to see, was something completely outside of that.

K: Fantastic. You obviously…in your email you sent to me [you said] that you were 1 of 30 students who interviewed and you ranked at number 2?

J: That is a piece of information that I think is true. Something that is a total reflection of my interview.

K: I think it’s  pretty obvious that you did some smart research ahead of time. Now this is fun. Most people of all ages, 22 to 62, their research of a target employer consists of going to the website and if it’s not on page one or two, they don’t find it, they don’t use it. But what you did was you did some background research on the company [and] found out that employees were popping up in research being written. And then you were able to approach them with some very intelligent questions: “Hey, I just read your paper. I’m doing an abstract on the subject. Can I talk to you?” Is that basically what you did?

J: That’s exactly what I did.

K: So how smart is that? I mean the information is out there. You just took a different route to get to it. It completely separated you from ordinary job seekers or intern seekers, as it were.

J: Right. It gave me an ability to show that I was actually interested in other things than just what the resume was and what you’re typically supposed to know for the interview.

K: Fantastic. This is so smart. Again you’re just a junior. In this job market it’s never too early to start making inroads at your target employer. This is very smart stuff. Let’s sum up at the end here: Jon, what’s going to be happening in the fall or later this summer?

J: This summer I will be in communication with the company; talking about future job opportunities. At the same time, I’m still looking to do this research for this paper, so I’m in contact with my resources. It will be perfect subject matter [for discussion]. I also am the president of an organization. I’m working with them to come in and speak and recruit both people to meet for my major within the company. It’s a win-win for both [the] companies and for our members. I’m really looking forward to what comes through for the future.

K: Jon, this has been very enlightening. I hope people take a lot of ideas from it. I certainly would. I wish I were 21 again. Know and do what you’ve done. Jon thanks very much for joining me today. This has been helpful to a lot of people.

J: Thank you very much for having me.

Take action: Make a list of the top 10 organizations you would like to work for. Do some research to narrow down your options a bit, then set up Google Alerts for each of the organizations you have left. This will help you stay up to date with what’s going on at each of them. It couldn’t be more convenient: you get a daily email for each alert you set up with links to articles that mention your organization of interest, and you can skim them for useful news.