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3/30/2003

In interview, don’t forget to breathe

By Tony Kindelspire
The Daily Times-Call

BOULDER — Linsey Adam wasn’t nervous. After all, this was her 19th job interview, and this wasn’t even supposed to be a real one.

Still, in her critique of Adam’s performance after her “mock interview,” Cathryn Higley of Country Insurance and Financial Services did remind Linsey that “you need to breathe.”

If that can be considered criticism, that’s about the only negative thing Higley had to say about Adam’s performance in the 30-minute interview.

“I think overall you did really well,” Higley told the 22-year-old afterward. “I think your handshake is great. I even talk about handshakes — sometimes I get a limp fish.”

“I hate that,” Adam responded.

Higley was donating her time as part of the assistance she lends to the Career Services division of the University of Colorado’s Leeds School of Business.

“I was there once, too, and I would have liked to have had that help back when I was in college,” Higley said later. “They didn’t have any of those types of services when I was in school.”

The mock interview was conducted just like a real one, with Higley asking Adam if she had had a chance to visit the company’s Web site, asking her why she chose that company to apply with, and asked what she thought her biggest accomplishment to date was — all pretty standard stuff.

“I don’t care if you work 30 hours a week, I don’t care if you work 60 hours a week, as long as you keep your clients satisfied,” Higley told her.

After Higley finished her presentation, Adam had some thoughtful questions of her own for the interviewer, such as asking about the career path at Country and how its agents were expected to find their clients.

To an observer, Adam appeared professional in her dress and demeanor, and seemed enthusiastic, interested and confident in her abilities.

Higley must have thought the same thing. During her critique after the interview, Higley intimated that Adam should give her a follow-up call if she was interested in a job — for real.

“I think you’re not going to have any trouble finding a job,” Higley told her, adding that “I’d be very interested” in having Adam apply with Country.

With graduation looming in May, and a degree in business administration with an emphasis in finance soon to be under her belt, Adam has interviewed with a variety of companies, although she said many of the interviews — like the one at Country — were for sales positions.

Out of a dozen-and-a-half “real” interviews, her single follow-up had been with Shell Oil, who flew her down to Houston for a face-to-face, daylong series of interviews.

Her day in Texas started with breakfast with some Shell executives — and by the time the day was over she had been grilled by a total of seven people.

“I had lunch with three people, and it really wasn’t a relaxing lunch because it was an interview,” Adam said. “You’re trying to eat but they’re asking you questions the whole time.”

Luckily, she had attended several of the “etiquette dinners” offered by Career Services, which teach the proper way to conduct business over a plate of food. “It could definitely make or break a candidate if you’re a complete slob,” Adam noted.

She didn’t get the job at Shell — despite the certificate in international business she has earned — but she said it was a great learning experience anyway.

Adam admitted that it can get frustrating — knocking on door after door and knowing you’re competing not only with other graduates, but with unemployed professionals that may have years of experience.

Back at the Country Insurance office, after her interview Higley gave Adam a tour, where she was introduced to someone who was in Adam’s shoes not too long ago.

A CU grad named Ben has worked at Country less than two years but already had done well enough to “earn an office.” Higley described her initial interview with him, which took place in the company’s Westminster office.

“He was late to the interview, which I really don’t like, but he had a very good excuse: his car broke down on Highway 36,” Higley said. “He ran to the interview.”

His perseverance showed her something: He became the one in 20 people at Country who make it through the interview process and ultimately get hired.

As an aside, it turned out that when Adam returned home from her visit to Country, she had a message waiting on her answering machine — a job offer from the financing division of a home developer. The company said they would mail her an official offer within a week.

“It’s my only job offer, but I’m not sure I’m ready to give up looking,” Adam said. “I think it would be a great job, but I don’t know — I’m afraid that there’s something else out there, too.”

In the meantime, she’ll have a few days to mull over her options.

Tony Kindelspire can be reached at 303-776-2244, Ext. 291, or by e-mail at tkindelspire@times-call.com.