Career Success: Maybe They Were Born With It…


Maybe some people were born with career management – I saw a dramatic example of this recently that served to illustrate this point.

Last week, I volunteered to conduct mock interviews at the NW Youth Career Expo, which is the largest job fair of its kind in the metro Portland area and attracts 5,200 students from across the regional area.

This was my fourth time volunteering at the event, and I absolutely, positively love it.


Because this is the best place to get the first glimpse of the future workforce and how they are approaching career management.

Many of these kids had never faced off with an “employer” before, and were totally scared stiff as they headed over to the interviewing volunteers.  They were pretty boisterous while in the queue waiting for an available interview (there were 150 of us talking to these students), but once the volunteer pointed them towards their interviewer target, the talk disappeared, and they grew quiet as they marched across the convention center floor.

My first interview visitor was Penelope.  She was polite as I met and guided her to the interview chair.  After asking some warm-up questions to help break the ice, we got into the thick of interviewing, and I have to say, this kid is going places and already “gets” career management. She was confident in her answers, and gave specifics. Penelope had already road-mapped out her career future in health care, and already had some significant work experience under her belt… despite not even graduating yet!

She had good questions for me too, and at the end, wanted to know my honest feedback about her interview performance. I told her that it was clear that she was going to go far.  “Really??,” she asked, unbelieving. I nodded, and told her that she had absolutely been an ideal candidate by being to the point, giving specific examples, having great eye contact, smiling, and being confident. Now that we were in the feedback phase, I asked her if she was  nervous… and she said yes.

At that moment, she leaned in, and said, “I had no idea this is the real deal… it is, isn’t it?”  I said yes, all the interviewers were human resource managers, recruiters, staffing agencies, or hiring managers.

She gulped.

Then she asked me a very direct question… after looking around at the other students. “Does what I wear matter? I see a lot of other students really dressed up.”

WOW!  Another point scored in her column. Not every kid did dress up, and Penelope was wearing black jeans and a pink pullover. Maybe she hadn’t gotten the memo. Maybe she couldn’t afford to dress up. Maybe no one had told her that’s what you do. Maybe her parents didn’t know.

But what Penelope did right in that moment put her head and shoulders above the rest… she used critical thinking to assess the situation, and applied the situation to herself.  She was already thinking about managing her brand and driving her own career management.

Believe it or not, most people don’t exhibit these skills, especially at such an early age.

But the cool part was that Penelope wasn’t the only young adult that I talked to that day who had great potential.   Many students filed in throughout the morning and afternoon.  I remarked to a recruiter from Intel next to me that it was interesting to observe the body language differences between the sexes.  Boys leaned over the table, elbows comfortably resting on the table top, with open body language. Girls had their hands folded in their laps and shoulders drawn in.  An interesting observation, and the recruiter forwarded me a link to a TED talk that zeroes into body language in the workplace (a great video if you have time!)

Later, when I was speaking to Janelle (another student), I noticed a card in her hand while we were talking. At the end when I was wrapping up my feedback on the comments form, I saw her write something, and as we stood up for her departure, she handed me a thank you note.

DOUBLE WOW!!  I read somewhere that the majority of adults don’t send thank you notes in interviews… and here is a young adult handing me one on the very first interview she ever went on.. incredible! She has already developed some awesome career management tactics… something that will make a huge impact on her career.

This was a great day and as I drove away after my shift ended, I felt energized that there are some great up-and-coming new graduates who may or may not be born with “it” but are already well-prepared to go into the workforce.

Image courtesy: By Lazarus211073873 (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons