As a work-study recipient, I always knew I would search for a job during my time at Whitman, but I waited until I had settled into my new school routine before seriously searching for a job. I had started filling out my Handshake account— the website Whitman students can use to find and apply for on-campus jobs— a few weeks before coming to campus and had “favorited” a few jobs, which I immediately began applying for once I had the chance.
Every document I turned into Handshake, from job applications to cover letters, had to be approved by the Student Engagement Center (SEC) before it could be officially sent in. To be completely honest, the first couple of applications lead absolutely nowhere, but finally, finally, about one month into the semester I heard back from three different employers who wanted to meet me.
Now, you may be wondering what the interview process is like, and I can easily say that when in doubt, dress to impress. My first “interview” was informal— more of a chat than an interview, really, and I was dressed casually throughout the whole thing. However, for my next interview I pulled out all the stops; fancy blouse, elegant (borrowed from roommate) blazer, black slacks and new sandals.
My first professional interview was with the Alumni Relation’s Office and I was interviewed by two women. This was my first time being formally interviewed by multiple people, so, yeah, I was sweating bullets. The interview process itself was a blur— I was too busy trying to sound smart and articulate to remember what exactly they asked or what I said in response.
They were mostly basic questions: Why did you choose to apply to this job? Tell me about your qualifications. What are some of your strengths? Weaknesses? What has been a moment of failure for you, and how did you handle that situation?
The interview took approximately twenty minutes. Once it was over, I smiled, shook the two women’s hands, and left feeling less than self-assured about my chances— so imagine my surprise when, the next morning, in the middle of brushing my teeth, I received an email saying they wanted to hire me.
The joy was short-lived, because right that moment I was hurrying to get ready for my last interview, this time with the Registrar’s Office. My interview was at nine-thirty and it was already sometime past nine, so I quickly threw on the same clothes from the day before (because you really only need one professional outfit, right?) and only had time to splash some water on my face before I rushed out.
That’s right— I was bumming it to a very important job interview like it was some 8 am class I had almost slept through.
Thankfully, I made it on time. This time, there were four people interviewing me— FOUR! As if two interviewers weren’t scary enough, I now had two more bodies to impress. I can’t really tell you how I got through it; just a lot of shifting eye-contact with each individual interviewer, fidgeting in my seat, smiling, and answering questions as honestly as I could while trying not to sound too repetitive. Some questions were quite similar to the ones I had been asked during the previous interview so I just recycled some of my answers. Again, at the end, I shook each person’s hand and said goodbye before I left— and just like before, I was not confident about my chances.
Later that afternoon, I received the dreaded email from the Registrar’s Office that would ultimately determine my fate. I opened it with trepidation, and to my immense but pleasant surprise, they actually wanted to hire me. This was the job I had wanted most of all and I was left ecstatic at the news, sharing it with everyone who would listen. One line from the email struck me: “We were impressed with your qualifications and your professional presentation.”
Qualifications? I’d been so sure I’d just barely fit the bill.
Professional presentation? I hadn’t even put on make-up that morning, and I was absolutely positive that I’d come off as tired and sluggish.
So for any of you considering applying for a job while at Whitman, here are some lessons I have learned first-handedly through this process, among previous job-interview experiences: dress professionally even if the situation doesn’t appear formal enough, shake your employer’s hand both before and after the interview (and make it a firm one), smile genuinely, think before you speak, and if you think you don’t have the confidence to get through the job interview (I will admit, I definitely didn’t think I did), just fake it till you make it. Just go for it. I promise you, you are more capable than you may think.