By: Christopher Stark
I recently had the pleasure of speaking in front of two business classes at Northern Virginia Community College (NOVA) with two other local CEOs – a CEO of a moving company, who started out as a driver and worked his way up, and a CEO of a printing house, who bought the established business. While meeting with students about to embark on their own careers, we were asked to speak about how we got started. Our unique backgrounds and stories provided different angles of success as everyone has a different path.
Before I founded Cetrom 16 years ago (2001), I worked in a number of positions, including serving as a Navy Veteran working on planes to an IT engineer at a small company. Over the years, I had to push myself and work from the ground up to get to where I am today. It’s been tough, but also rewarding and I continue to push myself and my team to strive for excellence.
When it came time to discuss how the students could ensure they set themselves up on the right path, we talked about how to prepare for an interview, what employers are looking for in a strong candidate today and what tips we could share to help them have a successful career. A lot of these tips can be applied at any stage of a person’s career, which is why I thought I would share them with you.
Make a good first impression: When interviewing a candidate, I’m not really focused on what the candidate is saying, as much as how they’re saying it. I want to uncover their true personality, their nature and the type of culture they need to thrive. I aim to understand the candidate as much as the candidate is trying to figure me out and get a feel for my company to make sure it’s a good fit.
Set yourself apart from the rest: CEOs and companies have a lot of candidates to choose from since the workforce has become so competitive. These are some things you can do to help set yourself apart from the rest of the candidates applying for the same position:
• Do your homework – take the time to look up the company and the person you’re interviewing with before the interview. Show up prepared.
• Be punctual – be on time. No, be early!
• Emphasis your work ethics – give them an idea of how much effort and pride you put into your work. Don’t stop there; detail specifically how you’ll apply it to the role and how it will benefit their company.
• Don’t be overconfident – show off your positive, confident personality, but be careful not to overdo it. Just because you show up doesn’t mean you’re hired.
• Ask questions – this is just as much of an interview for the company as it is of you. Asking questions will allow you to determine if the company is a right fit for you and if the position meets your needs.
• Say ‘thank you’ – follow up with an email or personal note. Sounds simple, but the gesture goes a long way with the interviewer.
So you landed a job, what now?
Don’t get lazy: Just because you got the job, doesn’t mean you can relax and start coasting. Be there, jump in and get aggressive. Speak up, get involved, be a team player, engage with your peers and support your supervisors as much as they support you. It will get you far in both the company and your career. This also goes for internships. Many people who started off as interns are now in executive positions. Remember, everyone has to start somewhere and your career is what YOU make of it.
Start and continue connecting: Create a LinkedIn profile and link with people who you know and respect. This will help you build a stronger network of people in your field. A good friend of mine, Greg Altieri, is known as the “God of networking”. He preaches that networking is 90 percent giving and 10 percent receiving, which is why he is always trying to open doors for his students, colleagues and peers. You should strive to do the same. Networking has the ability to help you find your next position or even a candidate to hire once you’ve made it to the executive level.
The job market has become more competitive- regardless of whether you’re just starting out or have been in the industry for a few years. Continuously learning and improving your skills will help you have the career you want.