Why I no longer fear THAT final interview question, and why you shouldn’t either


By Emma Olender, Assistant Account Executive

Throughout the 10 months of my senior year of college (a chaotic period which has now been compartmentalized in my mind as “job search–induced hysteria”), I was possessed by a particular question that had been regurgitated to me in various iterations over my short but significant period of networking and interviews. I dreamt about it, I made lists about it, I would even randomly slip the question into conversations with my friends to evaluate their reaction to such a shocking and uncalled-for interview question.

“So, why should we hire you?”

“Shit. I have no clue.”

Fine, I didn’t really say that. But this first interview experience kick-started a phase of constant ruminations about what distinct contributions I could possibly provide a company that was already chock-full of industry veterans. I was 21, and the only job title I ever held was “intern.”

I knew what job I wanted, and I knew why I wanted it—Assistant Account Executive at an advertising agency.

OK, step one of Figure My Life Out was check marked. My unease about landing my first job post-grad was surprisingly not due to a lack of a career passion or desired trajectory. While many of my close friends were still unsure of what job or industry intellectually stimulated them, I had been hell-bent on establishing myself in the world of advertising since the ripe age of 14. I interned at a handful of unique agencies during my summers wholly devoted to getting my foot in the door anywhere that was willing to crack it open for me. I was determined to figure out exactly how I could fit in and contribute to this industry that I admired so deeply. Through these diverse, challenging, but always fruitful experiences, I became a sponge for knowledge; I sat in on creative brainstorms, attended catalog photoshoots, shadowed executives in various departments, and of course, went on an absurd number of coffee runs.

With a handful of internships in my back pocket, I was confident that I had gained a sufficient amount of exposure to advertising that my job search would come with a certain degree of ease as the last few months of my senior year came screeching from around the corner. But, as I initiated my quest for the elusive full-time employment title, my “vast” years of career experience didn’t seem to provide me with the answer to that final and most consequential question of my very first interview.

Aside from my list of skills and areas of expertise that the interviewer already knew qualified me for the position, I was unsure of what unique values I could provide. The array of capabilities mentioned on their website was exhaustive and overwhelming. Bullet point after bullet point of proficiencies, some I had never even heard of before (programmatic marketing solutions and real-time bidding, huh?!?), made my list of skills seem unremarkable.

It sparked a fear within me that my ignorance of what I didn’t know about the advertising industry would prevent me from contributing anything substantial. It sparked a fear within me that once I started my first job, I would not know how to carve out a space for myself.

But, alas, I stepped foot into my first full-time position at CultHealth on July 12th of 2018, and all of the anxieties that had plagued me over the past 10 months soon felt ridiculously trivial.

Fast forward 2 months—one of my colleagues and I are leading a presentation to almost half of our office about how we created and implemented a successful 6-step social media marketing plan for our agency. As a new hire at CultHealth with fresh, sparkly eyes, I was quickly motivated to seek out my own space and prove to myself, as well as my colleagues, that I could offer more than what originally qualified me on paper for the job. When my co-worker and I discovered that the agency was not actively updating content on our social media pages, I saw it as an ideal opportunity to take action and provide insights for a new project that I believed I could successfully own and add great value to.

 We discussed our business objectives and future goals and preached the importance of establishing a concrete online presence that aligned with our company’s core brand values to help retain and attract new clients and talent. I recalled how often I referred to a company’s LinkedIn, Instagram, and Facebook pages to provide me with a behind-the-scenes glimpse of their office culture, to connect with highlighted employees and to help determine whether I would be the right fit. Unlike many of the people in the room that I was speaking to, I knew that many career-hungry graduates were also conducting this simultaneous job hunt/social media-sifting process, because I was just one of those new talents that advertising agencies were eager to bring in for interviews.

Fifteen slides later, I had concluded my first “lunch and learn.” I walked away confident that I had taught a thing or two about social media marketing to a room of seasoned industry professionals—even if one of those things was how to record a “boomerang.”

Having now taken the co-lead on two agency initiatives, if I could travel back to that not-so-distant time, I would tell myself to approach that feared question with the following mindset:

Part of starting not only your first job, but the first real step in what you hope to be a lifelong career, is accepting that you are new, you are young, and yes, you are relatively inexperienced. My advice to any recent graduate, or someone new to the career search, is that your inexperience and your youth actually comes with an invaluable wealth of fresh perspectives that is necessary for all companies to continue to grow, to expand, and to explore new territories. With this youth comes an eagerness to tackle difficult projects, and an inquisitiveness and a hunger for learning that will challenge your boss and your coworkers to find answers to questions that they might not have considered otherwise.

It is an understatement to say that I am grateful that I found a work-home at CultHealth.

This is an agency determined to encourage and empower even the youngest employees to go beyond the obvious opportunities that are provided to ensure that we are, from day one on the job, key contributors to the company’s overall growth and development. Knowing that I had landed at the right company, with the right environment, I was quickly able to discover my value and know that through this process I will foster my colleagues’ growth as well.

How do I know I am having an impact? My boss is now using #hashtags everywhere! Head to our Instagram to check it out. (Yes, that is correct, this entire post was actually just a plug for our new social media pages!)