Remember, anyone can make two plus two four. But if you can make two plus two five, you will be adding value, management guru Virender Kapoor advises job-seekers.
When good military commanders like German Field Marshal Erwin Rommel (known as the 'Desert Fox' as he was very clever) or General George S Patton of the US army reconnoitered the forward positions they always looked at their own defences from the enemy's point of view.
It is based on this understanding and analysis that they planned their strategy and tactics for the day.
Similarly, when you appear for your first interview, you must have a thorough understanding of the people/panelists/organisation you will be facing. Unlike in a war situation, the interviewer/recruiter is neither your enemy nor your adversary.
But when you are sitting on the opposite sides of a table, the panel members are consciously gauging your every move, trying to understand if you are the best fit for the job.
If you can broadly understand what these senior professionals are looking for in a potential candidate, you will be able to tune your entire persona and turn an interaction in your favour.
This is a strategy which no amount of mock interviews and cramming sessions can teach you. You will have to train yourself to ascertain what these people want from a 20-something graduate with no experience.
Since I have interviewed thousands of fresh graduates for jobs as well as seeking admission for higher studies I would like to share my thought process as well as that of my fellow panelists.
As a trainer and management consultant, let me first assure you that no one is expecting you to be a top gun or a seasoned professional in your first job.
A matured panel is like a team of pottery artistes. They are looking for the right clay to make a good pot!
I am sure you understand that if the best of the potters (hiring managers or say organisations, in this case) do not get good quality clay or raw material (working professionals), s/he will not be able to make a good pot.
Not to forget that, a bad choice of clay will not withstand the heat of the oven and may crack.
When you are applying for a job, remember that you are the potential raw material and everyone out there is looking for the best quality of clay.
How they test and pick out the best candidates involve strategies that vary from organisation to organisation.
Always remember that recruiters are smarter than you and often come with loads of experience; so let's grant them that grace.
While we try and peep into the minds of the guys sitting across the table, let me also warn you that even the most seasoned professionals do not have a specific tool to gauge a person in a perfect way. It is a battle of wits and a bit of luck.
Now let's say, you are a fresh graduate applying a tech job.
You would know what technical skills you should possess and sure you have that on your CV; that is why you have been called for the interview.
Other hygiene factors like being computer savvy and knowing how to handle Power Point, Excel, Word etc are an advantage.
That brings us to the main Q: What exactly are recruiters looking for?
1. Enthusiasm to learn
Is this young person prepared to learn?
Has s/he made any extra efforts to do something more than what s/he was told to do in the school or college?
Has s/he organised a college festival, participated in debates, or been on the hostel committee and contributed to his fellow student's wellbeing?
Has s/he ever negotiated for a fair price for canteen food with a contactor or did s/he just sit on the table and complained?
2. The competitive edge
When recruiters look at your CV or interview you for a new job, what they really want to know is: Does this candidate have a little more knowledge than his text books?
Has s/he made efforts to learn something by himself/herself?
It could also mean picking up a musical instrument or a course in calligraphy, or graphology. Basically, they want to know if you have a competitive attitude to challenge yourself.
Even small efforts matter. It provides insight into your attitude and that is what I am looking for.
Remember there are ten more guys like you waiting in the line for the same job.
It is a competitive interview.
You must evaluate your chances of success very carefully.
You must assume that others are also well prepared and as good as anyone else. So you need to be first amongst equals. That is a fair assumption.
3. Value addition
As a recruiter, I want to know if the candidate I hire will volunteer to walk that extra mile?
Remember, anyone can make two plus two four. But if you can make two plus two five, you will be adding value.
Are you smart enough to apply common sense to handle a problem?
It is important to convince the panel that you are capable and ready to fire.
I see your past as your future. So you should be able to narrate even the smallest thing you have done till now in a way that you buy me in.
4. The right attitude
And finally, but equally important tip to remember -- your attitude is priceless.
Recruiters always want to know if have an attitude to learn and a positive outlook towards life.
Employers look for happy, upbeat candidates whose enthusiastic outlook suggests that they will be an asset to the organisation.
When you meet your employer, you should be able to present at least one incident where you mediated and skillfully, diplomatically, tactfully resolved a conflict or a difficult situation.
Even when there are 100 candidates like you applying for the same job, you should be able to present yourself as a potential one and make him interested to invest in YOU.
Virender Kapoor is the former director of Pune's Symbiosis Institute of Management and the founder of Management Institute for Leadership and Excellence in Pune. He has authored more than 36 books on self-improvement designed for school students, senior managers and CEOs.