Archives for the month of: October, 2013

Mary Kate:

Recently, I’ve been thinking about the interview process for jobs, school, and internships because of my recent experience job searching. Though I’ve talked to friends and family members about interviews I’ve had, I still always wonder a few things: What are employers looking for when they conduct an interview? Is each company different or is everyone looking for the same basic skills and personality traits? Does it matter whether I wear a suit or not? I don’t consider myself an expert on professional interviews, but I would like to share some advice about what worked for me.

Dress Well
I know this seems obvious but I can’t tell you how much I believe in this one simple rule. I’ve been to interviews at companies where two or three other potential hires were also waiting to be interviewed and I’ve observed the differences between someone who is neatly dressed and someone who is sloppy. I do believe that employers take into account how you present yourself for an interview: your clothes, expression, and confidence. You don’t have to buy a new wardrobe for a professional or even school-related or internship interview, but if you look nice and neat I think it can go a long way. If you look put together, you look confident, and if you look confident, you look able and willing to take on the challenges of a new career.

Be Friendly
Now, I know all of you are friendly! But in an interview setting there is a way to be both friendly and professional. While interviewing for my current position, after the formal questions were over and I had asked the questions I wanted to ask, I noticed one of my interviewers had a picture of a Boston Terrier on her desk. I said, “Excuse me, I couldn’t help noticing, but do you have a Boston Terrier?” She immediately relaxed and we talked for a few minutes about our love of Bostons. I felt like I connected with the hiring manager, even if only for a split second and even if it was only about something silly. In that situation, we were both able to shake off the formality while still remaining professional, and we both felt more comfortable for it.

Ask Questions
I think this may be more important than many people realize: familiarize yourself with the position for which you are interviewing. Read enough about it to generate some questions, even if you just want to know what a typical day is like doing that particular job. I’ve read in countless articles online that you should research the company before and look up at least five things on their website that you can formulate a question about; I don’t know about you, but I don’t believe that memorizing a piece of information from a company’s website just for the sake of it helps you in the long run. What will help you is asking about specific details concerning the position: ask about the dynamic in the office, what the work is like, who you will be talking to/working with on a daily basis. These are the things that you really want to know, anyway, right?

Be Yourself
For me, I didn’t find it helpful to give those “correct” answers you see all over the internet and in books for common interview questions. They sounded robotic and I knew I wouldn’t stand out answering questions that way. I believe a lot of them are good, solid answers, but when I was asked questions I sat back, took a few seconds to calm down and think it through, then answered confidently and, more importantly, honestly. I was honest about how I felt my past work and school experiences, what I want to do with my life, how I would respond to potential problems I encounter in a day. And I found that my interviews went much more smoothly as a result because most interviewers want to follow up with questions about the answers you’ve given already. Because I was honest and open, I could answer those questions easily as well.

Eat Something
This probably sounds silly, but it’s one of the most important things you can do! Eat about an hour before your interview–don’t stuff yourself and don’t just have a granola bar. I went on an interview that lasted close to three hours because I met with different people, completed a proofreading test, etc. and it began around 11 am. I, of course, didn’t eat lunch before and the whole office must have heard my stomach growling that day. Plus, I was uncomfortable and, eventually, downright impatient. I would definitely say do not forget this because you want to be your most confident, comfortable self in an interview setting.

I hope this short list helps someone out there. I liked to keep my interviews as low-stress as possible so that I would be comfortable; this way, I’d remember the interview instead of my own nervousness. Each person is different, though, and it’s important to remember to do what makes you most relaxed.

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Photo credit
This picture is intimidating–do you think this is the way to do well in an interview? If you’ve had experience as an interviewer or an interviewee, do you have any advice for others looking to transition into a new career?

Can students look like this to potential employers on a résumé?

Can students who have been involved in the same activities still look like this to potential employers on a résumé?

Heidi: 

I walked into the room and introduced myself: “My name’s Heidi Jensen, it’s nice to meet you.”

I was in the faculty dining room at Ursinus College.  Last night, a panel of four entrepreneurs spoke and if you emailed ahead of time, you were permitted to eat dinner with them in the faculty dining room.

When we sat down for dinner, I was accompanied by two other students, two entrepreneurs from the panel, and two professors.   One of the entrepreneurs asked the students sitting at our table what our majors were and why we were here.   The two girls sitting next to me were business economics/dance and psychology/dance majors.  I explained that I was a double English and Media and Communications major and I was here because I’ve become fascinated with entrepreneurship ever since this summer when I became involved in my internship at Epic Careering.

One of the students at the table asked how important being in activities at Ursinus is for potential employers to see on a résumé.  The professors and one of the entrepreneurs at the table responded by saying that you are boring if you have only activities inside the “Ursinus bubble” and you can’t possibly stand out if you have activities from Ursinus on your résumé.  Their point was to encourage this student to go get internships and do other activities outside Ursinus because it is the only way to bolster her résumé above the rest.  I disagree.  Any given student can stand out if they have similar Ursinus activities on their résumé.

I agree that getting internships is important and thank gosh I followed that advice when it was given to me.  But the perspective that Ursinus activities don’t set you apart in any way from others involved in similar activities at Ursinus assumes that everyone involved in activities go about them the exact same way and yield the exact same results.  This is just not true.   Everyone is unique and therefore goes about their activities differently.   A good résumé should convey this unique approach and results, and by extension, a student’s unique value to potential employers.  A student can absolutely stand out on their résumé with Ursinus experience in clubs, organizations, and on campus jobs, just as anyone can stand out on a résumé with any past experience they’ve had.

Although dinner turned out to be a little uncomfortable due to my outspokenness, this experience was valuable in order to get to know how some people perceive résumés.   I think that sometimes they are underestimated in their ability to convey a person’s distinctive value to a potential employer, even if they have been involved previously in similar activities or similar jobs as another candidate.  I hope that in the future, résumés will be acknowledged and utilized by more people for this purpose.

Mary Kate:

I’ll bet you’re sitting there reading this thinking, “Oh no, is this another post about networking?” Well, it is and it isn’t. During my transition, I had no idea what networking really was for and how to go about doing it. I was an academic and the only networking I had ever done was with fellow students and professors; I didn’t know the first thing about professional networking. But once I realized that networking is really just connecting with people, it didn’t seem so overwhelming. I learned that by talking to people and learning from their experiences, I would be able to form a better idea of what I wanted in my own career (because, let’s face it, I had no idea). There I was, fresh out of graduate school, trying to turn my life in a different direction after realizing that I didn’t want to go for my doctorate and I had no idea what to expect. I didn’t even really know what field I wanted to be in and I felt lost.

The following is a snapshot of three different people (technically four, but read on) I communicated with in order to get helpful advice about transitioning into a full-time job:

  1. The first thing I did after graduation was set up an appointment at the Ursinus College Career Center in order to figure out which fields I could apply to with my skill set. I told the woman I met there about my interests, work I had done in the past, and about my experience with graduate school. From an hour long conversation, she was able to suggest that I apply to non-profits, publishing companies, higher education, and more. She made me slow down and really think about what interested me. She also shared a bit of her background so that I could see how she became a college career counselor. I appreciated how approachable she was and how interesting she made the appointment. I felt like I was learning about myself as I was learning about her and her experiences. From that appointment, I was able to realize that I should apply to jobs that interest me, not just jobs that might pay a lot or be close to home. Ultimately, I needed to be interested in the work if I was going to be happy doing it.
  2. Later that summer, I emailed a favorite professor of mine from Ursinus from whom I felt comfortable asking for advice. She had worked for a few years before pursuing her doctorate and eventually becoming a professor, so I felt that she would understand my position more than most. And she really did: her advice helped me more than I realized at the time. I described to her my uncertainty about what I wanted to do with my life. She replied in the best possible way: if you are unsure about pursuing your doctorate, you’ll never make it. Go out, work, see what’s out there; then, if you really miss academia, then you’ll be in the right frame of mind to go for your doctorate. She said that life wasn’t black and white and that nothing is forever–I didn’t have to choose my forever CAREER PATH right then and there. She made me feel confident in my indecision and comfortable with looking around for what was best for me.
  3. Finally, my mother was speaking to a neighbor of hers one day when he mentioned that he has two nieces working in New York as marketing professionals–one at a publishing company and one at a big financial firm. He offered to tell them about me and he gave my mother their email addresses. So, I got over the awkwardness of not knowing who these women were and wrote to them: I told them who I was and my predicament. And I asked the only thing I could ask them for: advice. How did you get started? How did you become successful? Do you love what you do? And I received very down-to-earth, honest answers from both of them. They both were very happy in their careers and they said they both worked very hard for them. One suggested that I beef up my presence on social media, especially with a degree in English–social media and blogging can go a long way. The other told me about her experiences from college and up until now. She told me the mistakes she made and the things she did right. I am still grateful to these two women for their honesty and their openness.

I believe most people are like that–open and honest. I think most people want to help others, especially if they themselves have a career in which they are happy and fulfilled. I think that people are your greatest asset in a career search, especially people you admire. I reached out to people and asked a lot of questions and received a lot of answers and advice that I was able to sift through. Ultimately, I made my own decisions about the type of job search I conducted but I was able to do so with a lot of information because of the people I talked to. Don’t be afraid to be friendly, ask questions, and get answers!

Does anyone else have helpful networking (or reaching out) stories?

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Image by buddawiggi on Flickr: http://tinyurl.com/mjd3u94

 

Karen and me at TEDx Phoenixville's Friday pre-party.

Karen and me at TEDx Phoenixville’s Friday pre-party.

Heidi:

On Friday and Saturday, Karen and I attended the TEDx Phoenixville events.  This included the pre-party on Friday night and the actual talks on Saturday.  I had a minor set-back on Thursday in which I hurt my back, so I was moving a little slow to say the least.  Against my parents’ will, I decided to attend the events anyway if I promised not to drive.  There were a couple of things that I did that enhanced my experience.

The first being research who the speakers are.   For me, this was akin to listening to the CD of a band before going to their concert.  It is so much more enjoyable for me when I know a little bit about what they do and have done in the past so that I have context for their performance.  I looked at their bios on the TEDx Phoenixville website and then did some further researching on their individual websites and youtube.

The second thing I did to enhance my experience was reach out to the speakers.  After researching them, I emailed all whom I could find contact information for.  This served two purposes, it let them know that I was interested in their work and it gave me motivation and reason to go up to them in person at the events on Friday and Saturday.  Unfortunately, because of my back, I was late to both events and could not meet every speaker that I planned to.  This makes me even more determined to not only go again next year and try to connect with more people, but also to network in other places in my life.  I’ve been bit by the networking bug.   Although I didn’t get to meet all the speakers I wanted to, I still met a wide variety of intelligent, exuberant, people who were inspiring in their own right.

The third thing I did to enhance my experience was take every opportunity that was presented to me on Friday and Saturday.   At the pre-party on Friday, there was a wall lined with balloons intended for picture taking.  Karen and I were offered the opportunity to get ours done and we both went without a question.  We picked up some props that were on the ground next to the balloons including hats, fake mustaches, and boxing gloves.   We weren’t afraid of looking silly and it sure paid off (see picture above).  On Saturday, I was offered the opportunity to go up to meet with all of the other students who were in attendance at the talks.  With a bit of hesitation at first, I went up and met a great group of students who were just as fascinated by the talks as I was.  This excites me for future TED talks and gatherings like this one.

I am so lucky to have gotten the opportunity to attend TEDx Phoenixville and am grateful for its intensely positive impact on me.  Sign me up for next year!

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