Do SMU Students Fare Better At Job Interviews?

SMU Job Interviews

Do SMU students have an edge over those who study at other universities when it comes to job interviews? As an NUS alumnus, I’m very keen on finding out so I ‘sat in’ for an interview conducted by the founder of a local startup. Our interviewee? An undergraduate at SMU who will be completing her studies by the end of this year, and who’s actively looking for internship job offers right now. It’s apparently internship season now for some students.

Even though the founder of the startup and I are millennials ourselves, we did not quite know what to expect going into an interview with a younger millennial.

Besides being confident and articulate, and reading up on the company somewhat, here’s what today’s job candidate did well… (I must say I was VERY impressed by some of the things she did)

*Note: I’m fully aware that this is the first SMU job seeker ‘interview’ I’ve attended, and it may not be reflective of the majority of the students (both past and present) of SMU. Just take this post as a learning opportunity if you’re a job seeker yourself, or if you know someone who’s looking for a job so we can all learn (together) what works well, and what needs to be avoided. OK? Then read on…*

5 Things The SMU Job Seeker ACED:

#1: Arriving Before The Appointed Time AND messaging her interviewer to ask if the latter wanted anything from Costa Coffee

That was a huge PLUS. Firstly, I wouldn’t have been surprised if the millennial showed up late. I recently met a trainer (also a millennial) who helps employers manage employee relations with millennials and he showed up 30 minutes late. I was about 20 minutes early, so I ended up ‘waiting’ for him for close to an hour. Our interviewee today was early so extra points go to her.

[ Read this article by Brent Beshore – it’s one of my favorites: 5 Minutes Early Is On Time; On Time Is Late; Late Is Unacceptable ]

On top of being early, our interviewee also took the initiative of sending an SMS to ask what she could help get for her interviewer. Unfortunately, the latter only saw the message after the interview was concluded. Still, the interviewer felt it demonstrated that she had pretty good EQ.

#2: Keeping A Smile And Appearing Interested In What The Interviewer Was Saying

Most people are quite terrible at this – you can be talking to them and you can see their eyes glaze over and they’re obviously not paying much attention to what you are saying. Of course, we try to stay focused during job interviews but what happens when you meet an overly enthusiastic interviewer? You simply have to match his/her level of enthusiasm. 🙂

#3: Sharing About Takeaways From Previous Jobs And Her Contributions To These Companies

For instance, she shared about how she took the initiative of telling her ex-boss that he can include a card with the (expensive) product he’s selling so that customers don’t simply receive their pricey order in bubble wrap but with no other note. Though her ex-boss didn’t like the idea as it’s an additional cost to him, it still showed that she cared about the business and its customers.

#4: No Handphone To Be Seen

The interviewer had her handphone on the table, and I had mine in my hands. But we saw no trace of our lovely interviewee’s handphone. It showed that she wanted to be fully present and had the good sense to eliminate one major source of distractions – the mobile phone.

#5: Asked Questions To Keep The Interviewer Talking

I truly wanted to pat her on the back when she asked her interviewer what the latter wanted to do to in terms of marketing, growing the company, etc. All the questions that required the interviewer to keep talking… and talking… and all she had to do was simply, listen. Who said job interviews are stressful?

Of course, after the interview was over, the feedback I gave to the interviewer was that she should have been the one asking most, if not all, the questions. 😀

Nice work there, though, making the potential employer work to impress you. *wink*


7 Things The SMU Job Seeker Didn’t Do So Well

#1: Not Maintaining Eye Contact When Greeting Everyone Present

Sure, I was introduced as a “friend” who supposedly had lunch with the founder of the startup, and was just sitting in (presumably because I have nothing else to do). 😀 Still, it was a little disconcerting when I shook her hand and introduced myself, and she wasn’t even looking at me. 

It’s probably wise to treat everyone you meet in an interview scenario as equally important. Even if only one person is asking you the questions, it is highly likely that the interviewer will ask for the opinions of the other people who are there once you leave.

I addressed her by her name when we were saying goodbye, and she didn’t reciprocate so I have to assume she had forgotten my name already.

#2: Body Language 

I noticed that she was “digging” around in her left ear for a good three seconds or so while her interviewer was saying something – was her ear really itching or maybe she needed to clean out some earwax in order to hear better?

There was some nose-rubbing as well, which body language experts might tell you are actions which indicate dishonesty / lying.

#3: No Notebook (And I’m referring to a physical notebook made from paper :P)

It’s good she didn’t fiddle around with her handphone, but it would have certainly helped her if she had a notebook with her. Firstly, she could have referred to her notes about the company. At some point, she mentioned that she saw on the startup’s website that the startup is working with a “sponsor” starting with “A” (“You work with a company starting with ‘A’? I can’t remember what it’s called… something A…C…?”) We had no idea what she was talking about, and neither did she, it seemed. Would have really helped if she had written down the supposed sponsor’s company name on paper.

Secondly, it would have demonstrated that she was VERY interested in joining the company if she was taking down notes while the interviewer was talking / sharing.

#4: Lots and lots of BUTS… and LIKES

It was certainly brow-raising to hear her tell the interviewer…

“What you are doing is interesting, but…”

Really? Is it truly interesting or are you just saying that for the sake of sounding polite? That “but” negates all the niceties in front though.

Also, it’s pretty common to hear millennials peppering their speech with “like” e.g. “I feel like…”, “And I’m like…”, “And you know, like…” but it’s probably not that appropriate in a job interview.

What she actually said: “Have you like, I dunno, like…”

#5: Use Of Contractions

Besides BUTS, there was “wanna” – “I wanna hear from you how you wanna grow your company…” It would have been better if she rephrased it to “I am interested in finding out how…” or “I would love to know why you…” It sounds more professional, and not as if you’re speaking with someone of a similar age group.

#6: Letting Slip Certain Things Which Put Her At A Disadvantage

She mentioned that her ex-boss would often point out spelling errors in her work. This might imply that she’s not meticulous. So why did she reveal this to a potential employer?

But what was worse was how she let slip that she’s a drinking buddy of the person who referred her for this job interview. She said that “K______ and I drink a lot” and burst into laughter. Unless you’re selling alcohol, it would be a little disconcerting to know that your potential hire LOVES to drink.

#7: The Millennial With No Instagram Account

She gave very good reasons (which we fully accept) why she doesn’t have an Instagram account. That said, this startup needs someone who can assist with their marketing efforts not just on Facebook, but on Instagram too.

Perhaps, she could have emphasized that she had managed the Instagram accounts of the previous companies she had worked for, so while she does not have a personal account, she is willing and able to manage corporate accounts. Also, she could have mentioned that this is a plus because employees who have both company and personal accounts might sometimes accidentally post unintended updates using the wrong account, and that could be pretty troublesome for the company involved, especially if the post somehow goes viral for the wrong reasons.


If you’re a millennial job seeker, I’d love to hear from you. How can employers impress you? What do you look for in a job? Is it tough landing a job before (or right after) graduation? Drop me a note here (I’ll definitely send you a reply)…

*Interestingly, SMU has an ‘Interview tips 101‘ article for their students. 🙂