First, Make a First Impression
An interview on interviews with General Agent Bob Marlowe
This article was written exclusively for Knights.net, the members-only digital portal from the Knights of Columbus. Looking for more? Join the Knights of Columbus today.
(Knights of Columbus insurance agents are trained financial professionals who are also Catholic men and brother Knights. General agents lead agencies that serve Knights, their families and councils in a certain geographical area. There are more than 130 Knights of Columbus agencies in North America. The major part of a general agent’s job is to contract with field agents to meet with Knights and their families on a regular basis. In this interview, Bob Marlowe, a general agent in Maryland, shares some tips on the interview process that may help if you are seeking a new position, whatever the field.)
How many interviews do you conduct a year?
Marlowe: I'm always interviewing – managers and leaders are always looking for good talent. I conduct on average at least one sit down, face-to-face formal interview per week. However, I probably interview another 50 or more candidates per year in informal settings, from personal observation. I might meet someone when I'm out and about, and engage them in conversation about what they do and their background. So the moral of the story is that if you are looking to change careers or are just interested in a better opportunity that might be out there, you never know where you might make connections. Always represent yourself well.
What qualities do you look for in a candidate?
Marlowe: First things first, I'm impressed by someone who not only shows up on time, but shows up early. If they don't respect my time they certainly won't respect the time of others. I like outgoing people too, but also someone who isn't going to dominate a conversation - it has to be a two way street.
I'm looking for someone with personal integrity, someone who has the ability to "take the ball and run,” and someone who has demonstrated a solid work ethic in the past. If they are just out of school, I'm looking for what jobs they had as a teenager and what extracurricular activities they did in college.
Show me a person's past and I'll show you a glimpse into their future.
What's a great way to stand out in an interview?
Marlowe: Show up early, be well dressed and groomed, and do your homework about the company you are interviewing for and the industry the company is in. Candidates should know the company inside and out before coming and should think like the CEO. Show me you are smart enough to look at the world from my perspective, as well as your own. Show your value by helping me understand how you can help me improve my business.
What's the best interview you ever conducted?
Marlowe: Recently I met a person who was highly recommended, and once I met him I understood why right away. He was self-confident, but not arrogant. He was articulate, but wasn’t showing off. He did his research about the position he was interviewing for, and had a written list of questions to ask. He tried to interview me as I was trying to interview him. He was at ease with himself and at the end of the interview asked me what the next step was, and clearly stated his interest. He didn't play hard to get, yet let me know he was also pursuing other opportunities. He did the proper amount of "selling" and "buying.”
In your role as interviewer, what do you think are some of the best ways for candidates to prepare for job interviews?
Marlowe: Research the company, the industry and the position. Make sure you know exactly what the position is, so you can clearly articulate the qualities you bring to the table. Come prepared with your own questions – have them written down – so I know you've given some thought to this interview.
How do you recommend a candidate to follow-up after an interview?
Marlowe: Don’t be afraid to ask what the next step is. Send a handwritten thank you note (so rare these days), or at the very least a thank you email. I like it when a person continues to contact me to let me know they are interested. Don't be a pest, but be persistent.
How can you tell when a candidate is genuinely interested and right for the job?
Marlowe: I can tell if a candidate is interested by the questions he is asking. Is he mentally putting himself in the job already? Also - he might think that just because he's interviewing I should know he's interested, but that isn't always the case. If a person is interested they need to express that. It's up to me to determine if he's the right fit - but the right fit starts with a person wanting the job. You as the interviewee don’t get to make the decision, but you need to put yourself in the best position possible.
What's the best piece of advice you could give to someone who is in the job market right now?
Marlowe: Let the law of large numbers work for you. Companies hire seasonally or as needed. Don't limit yourself just to a few select companies you want to work for - you might find a better fit in a company you never imagined, doing something a little different than you imagined.
Every interview is a stepping stone to your future. You never know what the next opportunity might lead to. How many success stories have you read about where people took only a traditional straight-line path to where they are now? Very few, if any. Open your mind to the larger world of opportunities out there, and realize that you need to market yourself both in the traditional sense (resumes, cover letters, inquires) as well as with all the people you know and meet in the course of your life.