Finding the job you want — on your terms — comes down to having confidence (or acting like you do), knowing what to ask and owning up to what you don’t know.

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If you had an elephant, what would you do with it?

Once you land an interview, expect questions meant to throw you off. Finding the job you want — on your terms — comes down to having confidence (or acting like you do), knowing what to ask and owning up to what you don’t know.

Call people (even if you don’t want to)

Responding to job postings online can feel like casting your fate into a black hole.

Monica Waldau, 22, who graduated magna cum laude with a dual business degree from California State University, Long Beach, in December 2017, has taken a different approach.

She studies the industries she wants to work in — marketing, consulting, retail management — to see who is hiring, and then starts cold calling and emailing. “I am a firm believer that the good jobs never get posted,” she said.

Waldau’s strategy means you need to put yourself out there — a lot. You won’t always hear the answer you want, if you hear anything at all. But persistence can pay off.

“If you think about how we operate as humans, you get one email and if it’s not interesting, you never really get back to it,” she said. “But if you get two or three and a phone call, then you remember them, as long as it’s not annoying. I tried to walk that fine line.”

As of September, Waldau had been looking for about eight months, been on about 25 interviews, made it to the final round six times and received two offers. In the end, she said she took a “menial” summer temp job doing data entry under the guise of marketing.

“My search lasted longer than I anticipated and is especially frustrating because I did everything right,” she said.

But her efforts may soon pay off: A marketing firm she was interested in asked her to submit a résumé like any other applicant. Because she followed up with a phone call and a couple of emails, she eventually connected with the head of the firm, who became a mentor. Within a few months, they were discussing the possibility of a paid postgraduate internship that would give her the branding experience she needs to pursue the marketing jobs she is interested in.

Find out how to get experience (hint: ask potential employers)

Samantha Bridges, 22, of Lyman, South Carolina, started looking for a job in human resources during her last semester. But many of the jobs that appealed to her required several years of relevant experience, so she started to ask potential employers where to begin.

“If I had to start low, that was fine by me,” said Bridges, who graduated from Coastal Carolina University in May. “Most of the companies I would talk to, I would first ask, ‘Hey, to get into HR, what would I need to do?’”

Sherwin-Williams, the paint company, told her she needed to complete a management program in a store and “a whole ladder of positions” before advancing to human resources.

Roughly three months after graduating, she got a customer service job at a big bank. The company does not immediately put new hires into human resources positions, but the job — assuming she advances to a couple of others — puts her on track for an HR slot down the road.

“It is a step in the right direction,” she said.

Sell yourself with the three A’s

Beth Hendler-Grunt, president of the career counseling firm Next Great Step, teaches young applicants what she calls the three A’s to prepare for a casual meeting or a formal interview.

The first A is for the actions you want the person you’re meeting with to take — referring you to a hiring manager, say, or introducing you to someone in a junior role.

The second is for attitude. “Make sure they believe something about you” and “back it up with details,” Hendler-Grunt said. If you’re applying for a finance job, for example, you want to convince the employer that you have strong research skills. She suggested saying something like, “During my internship, I helped produce four analytical reports that identified a potential 10 percent revenue increase.”

The third A is for the answers that only the person you’re talking to has — information that can’t be found through Google — and can provide insight into the employer and its priorities: How did the person you’re talking to get where she is, and what did it take? What are the company’s goals?

More broadly, she also suggests thinking about a few core skills that you can bring to an employer. What are you really good at? And how can you get that point across with specific examples?

Keep your cool, even if the questions get bizarre

Interviewing for a job at a small software company, Amy Rowland, 24, a 2016 Occidental College graduate, was asked, “If you had an elephant, what would you do with it and why?”

Rattled at first, she took a moment to formulate a reply: “I’d start a petting zoo, charge children to come in and then donate half of the money to an elephant charity and keep the other half.”

Good answer? Who knows? “All of their questions were so bizarre,” she said.

Interviewers often use offbeat questions to see “how you break things down and make decisions,” Hendler-Grunt said. “It’s about not getting flustered in the moment.”

Rowland, who was hired for a sales job by a different company, said the best thing she did was to overprepare, compiling potential questions she might be asked for a sales position. She knew she might be asked to put her skills on display by trying to sell something to her interviewer on the spot. When her current employer asked her to sell the pen in front of her, she was ready.

Negotiate for a better salary (and don’t take the first offer)

For Priscilla Hoang, 22, a 2017 graduate of UCLA, the high-stakes moment came over email: She was offered a job as a records assistant at a big law firm.

Hoang, a sociology major, had taken a salary negotiation workshop before starting her job search, so she was ready when it came time to discuss money.

Instead of accepting the offer — as many first-time applicants, especially women do — she researched what the job paid in Los Angeles, on average, and countered with a number just above the higher end of the firm’s posted range. (She used sites like and to help come up with a figure.)

The company’s response — basically, take it or leave it — would have scared many job applicants into submission.

“If I didn’t take the workshop,” she said, “I might have viewed it as an ultimatum and accepted a wage that I couldn’t have lived on or written it off as a lost cause and declined the job.”

She politely countered again with a number below her original proposal but 10 percent above the initial offer. This time, the firm accepted.

“It wasn’t a huge amount,” she said. “But every dollar in your hourly pay is $2,000 a year.”