Graduates, Do You Have the Most Important Quality Interviewers Look For? Here Are Seven Ways to Show Off Your Entrepreneurial DNA


Now that the high of your college graduation is wearing off, the urgency to find a job is setting in. (Student loan payments wait for no grad!) But as you fine-tune your résumé and prep for common interview questions, keep in mind that it may take more than “just” the right skills and knowledge to get a job offer. According to Michael Houlihan and Bonnie Harvey, the most important qualification a job seeker can possess in today’s market is entrepreneurial DNA.

“In today’s ever-changing business world, adaptable and motivated self-starters are what give companies their most valuable competitive advantage,” says Houlihan, coauthor along with Harvey of The Entrepreneurial Culture: 23 Ways to Engage and Empower Your People (Footnotes Press, 2014, ISBN: 978-0-990-79370-0, $9.95, and the New York Times bestseller The Barefoot Spirit: How Hardship, Hustle, and Heart Built America’s #1 Wine Brand (Evolve Publishing, 2013, ISBN: 978-0-988-22454-4, $15.95). “So in addition to looking at the classes you took and the grades you made, your interviewers will be trying to determine how self-reliant, engaged, empowered, and innovative you are. Employers know that they can teach you any technical skills you may currently lack if you have the foundational qualities they’re looking for.”

So, how can you demonstrate to potential employers that you have an entrepreneurial mindset? Here, Houlihan and Harvey spotlight seven tactics:

Show that you’re willing to bet on yourself. Some employees simply want to show up at work for the allotted time, do what they’re told, and collect a paycheck. Sure, they get the job done—but they don’t look for ways to better satisfy customers, improve processes, or make more money. On the other hand, entrepreneurs (and employees who think like them) are constantly looking for ways to increase their income, profits, and growth. In other words, they bet tomorrow’s paycheck on today’s ideas and effort.

“Tell your interviewer that you don’t just want to get paid on attendance,” recommends Harvey. “Express your willingness for your performance and your paycheck to be directly linked. If you have them, share anecdotes that demonstrate your self-confidence, self-reliance, and ability to positively affect outcomes.”

Pay attention to your body language. You know that it’s important to present a professional appearance at job interviews, and to that end you have a brand new suit hanging in your closet. Don’t forget that interviewers will be paying attention to your posture and to how you move, too! Do you shuffle and drag your feet? Do you flop down into chairs and slouch? Do you fidget and pick at your clothing? Or do you move with hustle, determination, and purpose? Keep in mind that when people sit erect and lean slightly forward, they’re indicating engagement and interest.

“Entrepreneurs’ confidence shows in their posture and their body language,” comments Houlihan. “They display self-assurance when they are interviewed and scrutinized by strangers. These ‘tells’ are physical evidence of your attitude and self-esteem.”

Talk about your mistakes. When asked to describe a past mistake, many job seekers try to deflect the question or turn the conversation to their more positive accomplishments. But Houlihan and Harvey advise you not to shy away from talking about your biggest mistake and what you did about it. In particular, describe how you took responsibility, fixed the mistake quickly, and went on with your project instead of succumbing to a victim mentality.

“Entrepreneurial thinkers know that blame is disempowering, while working to prevent reoccurrence is staying in control,” observes Harvey. “Use anecdotes to demonstrate to employers that you can analyze your mistakes and take steps to prevent the same thing from happening again. Show that you can build successes on the backs of your mistakes.”

Present evidence of resourcefulness. You may be asked to talk about how you solved a problem when you lacked the time, support, or funds you needed. For most busy, strapped-for-cash students, this shouldn’t be too hard!

“In your answer, offer evidence of how you reframed the problem, used your imagination, asked for help, and thought outside the box instead of giving up,” instructs Houlihan. “Entrepreneurs know that the ball is always in their court.”

Be prepared to sell your services. According to Houlihan and Harvey, candidates with entrepreneurial DNA will treat employers like a prospect for their services. They know that the best sales pitch is, “I can help you sell your product.”

“You can’t make a convincing case if you haven’t thoroughly researched the company in preparation for the interview,” Harvey points out. “It’s so important to be familiar with its products, challenges, and history. Over the course of your research you’ll probably think of some good questions to ask, too—so bring a list of them to the interview, along with a pen and notepad.”

Show that you can work on a team. Contrary to popular opinion, entrepreneurs are not loners. Realistically, they know that they must build, depend on, and be an essential part of a team. This requires respect for how each player contributes to the overall success of the company.

“One way to show that you have a team-oriented mindset is to show an interest in understanding all the jobs, procedures, outsourced services, and suppliers that keep the customer loyal,” says Houlihan. “Ask your interviewer how the job for which you’re interviewing fits into the company’s big picture. And, of course, be ready to share anecdotes that feature you working with teammates and improving communication within that group—perhaps while doing a group project for a class, or during a summer job.”

Demonstrate your attentiveness and organization. During the final portion of the interview process, your interviewer will probably tell you more about what the job entails, who you will be working with and why, how the job supports the customer experience, how the company is organized, and/or what performance expectations are. Be sure to pay close attention.

“Use this information to create a thoughtful thank-you note,” Harvey suggests. “By moving away from generic language and writing intelligently about specific aspects of the job—and why you’re a great fit—you’ll show that you have well-developed comprehension, organization, and communication skills. These are all attributes of an entrepreneur. And be sure to mail your note within 24 hours to demonstrate your ability to complete tasks in a timely manner!”

“There are other key ‘tells’ that can help employers spot entrepreneurial DNA, such as assertiveness, sociability, humility, practicality, tenacity, empathy, and humor,” notes Houlihan. “Keep these qualities in mind when interacting with recruiters and interviewers.”

“Finally, understand that the benefits of demonstrating your entrepreneurial attitude extend far beyond getting hired,” concludes Harvey. “You want to work for an organization that has built a culture of permission, enthusiasm, inclusiveness, recognition, and acknowledgment. You want to work in an environment that will enable and encourage you to bloom. Chances are, you will come to value the ability to constantly learn, improve, and contribute just as much as you value being employed.”


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