When employers talk about desirable skills they look for in new hires, they usually mean things like marketing, IT, budgeting, and project management. But what about the ability to learn?
I’m not kidding. Let’s say a 20-something employee, we’ll call her Amy, starts a new job as a sales representative at a Fortune 500 software company. She graduated from college fairly recently and has never done sales before, so her boss expects her to have lots of questions as she proceeds to develop her first client relationships. He guides her through the process patiently, explaining in detail how to communicate the product’s value proposition, and how she should go about getting a meeting with a decision maker.
After all the time he spends, the boss hopes that Amy can take what he told her and apply it to her next sales situation. But the boss is taking for granted the fact that Amy has the ability to assimilate new information, and that she instinctively knows how to harness it in a variety of circumstances. However, this is actually a pretty rare skill. Most people will need to hear similar instructions repeated time and time again, just because the scenario is slightly different than last time.
Employers frequently test for this skill during the hiring process, often in the form of behavioral interview. This type of interview demonstrates how a candidate acted in past job situations. How should you prepare for it? First, think of a project with which you were tasked in a prior job.
Consider the details, including the type of assignment and the expected result. Next, create a list of the steps you took to complete the task and solve any problems that came up during the course of the task. Finally, practice explaining your results and what you learned from the initiative. This last part is the most important because employers want to know that you can put all your terrific experience to use for them and dive right in on your start date.
– Alexandra Levit is the author of “They Don’t Teach Corporate in College: A Twenty-Something’s Guide to the Business World,” and a nationally recognized authority on workplace issues facing young employees.
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