Sunday, August 17, 2008

Internship or Job Interviews: Do Not Assume That You Know Best

Interviewing for an internship or job in a different region of the U.S. than where you live or go to college? Be prepared to “go with the flow” when you bump up against unexpected regional differences.

Recently I had over for dinner new neighbors who have just moved from New Jersey to Los Angeles. Now I’ve lived in different parts of the country: I grew up and went to undergraduate college in the Midwest, lived in Munich when my husband was stationed there with the U.S. Army, and lived for eight years in Philadelphia before moving to Los Angeles.

Yet, I admit, I was surprised at the pronouncements made by the New Jersey couple --sweeping statement about things that just weren’t true out here. And this reminded me of the first time I interviewed for an M.B.A. position in LA:

I was just finishing my M.B.A. at Wharton and ARCO flew me out here for an interview. Although it was only March, I knew it was warm in LA. So for the interview I bought a purple linen spring suit at a department store in Philadelphia.

And I wore that purple linen suit to my job interview at ARCO in LA. Only the other professionals at ARCO were wearing dark-colored clothes because LA does have seasons. No one was yet wearing spring/summer clothes.

Did I feel foolish that I had made an assumption rather than checking with someone who would have known what the correct professional attire would be for LA in March!

If you are flying across country or even going to an interview at a company in your hometown whose on-the-job culture you don’t know – find out ahead of time what the expectations and situation are.

And if, in the interview, the interviewer says something that isn’t true in your region or in your knowledge base, don’t immediately jump to “correct” the interviewer. Listen to what he or she says. You may just learn something that helps you get the internship or the job.

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