Career Resources

Monday, July 11, 2016

"He said WHAT on his interview?" How to avoid being that guy.

Recruiters I know who interview lots of people as part of their job will sometimes share stories of the ridiculous things that people said or did on their interviews (anonymously, of course!). We often shake our heads in disbelief and question, “How could they have possibly done something like that!”
You definitely don’t want to be that guy (or girl)! 
The way you avoid being that guy or girl is to conduct a mock, or practice interview, with a career coach or counselor. This way you can get your dumb mistakes out of the way before the real interview and get feedback about them before they become grist for recruiters’ water cooler banter. Believe me, everyone makes mistakes on interviews at some point in their lives, often unknowingly. You don’t know what you don’t know, but your career counselor does, so make sure to tap into his or her interviewing wisdom.

Because we’re nearing the end of the academic year, I’ve been conducting a lot of mock interviews with students who are looking to land their first job out of college. I applaud these students for realizing the importance of preparing for their interviews and soliciting feedback so that they can ace the real interview. For the benefit of helping my readers, I’m sharing three of their stories below.

I was conducting a mock interview recently with a student who had a real interview coming up for a tax position with PricewaterhouseCoopers. “So tell me, what’s your greatest weakness,” I asked her. “Well,” she said, “I have a real weakness for chocolate and can never resist having some no matter how hard I try.” The minute she said “chocolate,” I cringed. Up until this point she had been doing a fantastic job and was answering all of the questions extremely well. For this question, however, her answer was inappropriate, and I explained to her that she should give an example of a professional weakness and then explain what she was doing in order to improve upon it. We then brainstormed examples to use. Here’s some advice from my From College to Career blog regarding how to effectively answer the dreaded weakness question. I am happy to report that I got an email yesterday from this student stating that she got the job!

Another time recently, I was conducting a mock interview with an international student who was preparing for a real interview for a supply chain position with an American firm. I asked him why he wanted to pursue a career in supply chain and he said, “I want to learn everything about supply chain that I can in America and take my knowledge back home to help my country.” While the student’s response was true and admirable, it would not be the response that an employer would want to hear and probably would have jeopardized his getting an offer. Why? When companies hire an employee, they invest a lot of time, energy and resources in the hiring and training process, and they want a return on their investment. So they’re obviously going to frown upon a candidate who says he plans to go back home because this wouldn’t be a good investment on their part. Instead, I advised this student to talk about how he wanted to build a career with the company and the ways that he could contribute to the company’s growth and success. While he may in fact go home in a few years, he doesn’t need to share that on the interview.

My last mock interview example is of a student who, whenever I would ask him a question, would detail his failures before getting to his successes. He had an upcoming interview with a company he had interviewed with before. When I asked him, “So tell me about yourself,” he began by saying how he had gotten rejected by the company last year because he did a poor job on his interview. While that may have been the case, I suggested instead that he focus on the positive by saying how excited he was to be interviewing with them again, that he felt confident he was now a good candidate and to tell them about his recent accomplishments. Later, when I asked him about a current position on his resume, he again began to outline how he didn’t get the job the first time around. Some people may think that these are great examples of persistence and perseverance, but after a while, the pattern of hearing about his failures was establishing a negative impression. Instead, I recommended he focus on sharing only his successes. I saw this student a few days after his interview, and he thinks it went very well.

In general, I advise students to always stay positive during an interview and to avoid saying anything negative. I also tell them that an interview is not a confessional, which I wrote about in my personal blog, From College to Career. Sometimes students starting out in their careers feel that they need to reveal all during an interview. Again, conducting a mock interview is a way to avoid spilling your guts on the real interview.If you were scheduled to perform in a concert, a play, or a key athletic game, what would you do? Practice, of course. You certainly wouldn’t want to wing it. The same should be true of your interviews since there's a job at stake. Most college career centers offer mock interviews as part of their services. Make sure to take advantage of them!

Monday, February 8, 2016

Which Comes First: The Internship or the Experience?

Most students these days understand the importance of doing internships in order to complement their academic studies, to discover what the real world is like in their given career field and to make themselves more competitive candidates upon graduation. In fact, the title of the career center where I work at UMass Boston includes the word “Internships” (Office of Career Services & Internships) because we want to remind and impress upon students that internships are vital in terms of rounding out their college experience.

Very often when students come in to meet with me to discuss how to get an internship, they express some real concern about their ability to get one due to their lack of experience in their career field. At this point I reassure them that employers aren’t looking for experience when hiring an intern because the nature of an internship is to learn about a career field. In fact, the Merriam-Webster dictionary’s definition of an intern is “a student or recent graduate who works for a period of time at a job in order to get experience.” So you see, experience isn’t a requirement to get an internship.

Well then, what are employers looking for when they hire an intern? As I always point out to my students, employers are looking for a set of transferrable skills that are relevant to the internship. The skills that they are seeking are often posted in the job description under a section entitled “Qualifications” or “Requirements,” and they typically are listed in order of significance. According to the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE), the top skills sought by employers in 2016 are as follows:

Most students have developed these skills through part-time jobs, volunteer and community service experience, leadership roles and their academic studies. When writing their resume and cover letters, they should make sure to highlight the skills that the employer is seeking, not necessarily the skills they think are best or strongest. For example, a student may speak another language but if it’s not required for the internship, there’s no need to mention it in the cover letter, but it can go on the resume.

Another common question that students often ask me is, “How many internships should I apply to?” I used to give them a ballpark number like 25, but then I realized there is no magic number. So now I say, “Just keep applying to as many as possible until you get one.” Quite often students will apply to a few companies, perhaps their dream companies, and then wait for the calls to come in. With this approach, they’re wasting valuable time that could have been spent searching for and applying to more internships. The saying, “It ain’t over until it’s over,” definitely applies to the internship search. I advise students to set up email alerts on the popular internship sites which will generate daily emails with internship matches so they don’t even have to think about it.

So the answer to the question posed in the title of this blog is “the internship.” By doing one or more internships during the course of your college career, you’ll be gaining valuable experience in your career field to build your resume and become a more marketable candidate when you’re looking for your first entry-level position. That is when employers are looking for experience, which you will have gained through your internships.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Looking for a Job? Read my Eight Tips to Stay Motivated

A major part of my job as a college career coach is to keep my students motivated in the job search. During a recent appointment with an MBA student, I asked her if she had any last questions. “Yes,” she said, “how do I maintain my confidence level in the job search?” Good question!

The job search can be tough – no doubt about it – especially in competitive career fields and job markets. The ultimate key to success in landing a job is not your experience, not your expertise and not your networking prowess. Pure and simple, it is your perseverance. As an unknown author once said, “Don’t be discouraged. It’s often the last key in the bunch that opens the lock.”
With graduation fast approaching, I’m finding that many of my meetings with students involve some kind of pep talk to keep them motivated in their job search. But college students aren’t the only ones who need motivational coaching to persevere. The tips below apply to anyone and everyone in job search mode.

Expect to Fail
At first glance, this tip seems negative, but it isn’t. If you go into the job search with realistic expectations, you’ll be less likely to feel defeated so easily. No team wins every game and no one gets every job they apply to. The sooner you accept this reality, the better. Approach your job search with the understanding that chances are you won’t get the first job you apply to, or the second, or the third and remember that the average job search can take three to six months, or longer.

Get Back in the Saddle
Repeat after me, “Not getting a job, does not necessarily mean I’m not a strong candidate or that I’m not qualified,” and make this your daily mantra. Not getting a job often means that you weren’t quite the right fit for that particular position at that particular point in time. Just because a company doesn’t think you were a good match for Position A, doesn’t mean you won’t be the perfect fit for Position B. Job success will eventually be yours if you continue to dust yourself off and get back in the saddle.

Don’t Dwell on the Past
Recently, I was meeting with a student who shared with me how poorly she thought she performed at the last networking event she had attended. Without hesitation, I responded, “That was then, this is now,” regarding the upcoming career fair should she would be attending. If you performed less than optimally at some points during your job search, learn from your mistakes and move on.

Have a Support System
Who do you know that wholeheartedly believes in you and your abilities? Perhaps it’s a trusted mentor, or close friend or relative. If you can’t think of anyone in your own circle, find a career or life coach who can encourage and motivate you. Make a point of speaking to this person often during your job search to express your frustrations and get the confidence and ego boost you need.

Consider joining networking and job search support groups. The Riley Guideprovides links to many resources on this topic, and you can also find support groups on Meetup.

Quit Taking it Personally (Q-TIP)
Many people beat up on themselves if they don’t get the job. They believe that they didn’t get it because of something they did wrong. This isn’t necessarily the case. You can do everything right and still not get the job. Why? Because someone else was just slightly more qualified, or had a networking connection, or was an internal candidate, etc., etc. Remember: It wasn’t necessarily about you.

Have a Sense of Purpose
Yes, you need to spend a part of your day searching and applying for jobs and, yes, you need to spend a percentage of your week in networking activities. Beyond that, however, you should find things to do that keep you active and engaged and boost your confidence. Consider getting involved with a community organization, taking a class or learning a new hobby.

Celebrate Success
Every time you get an interview, consider it a success and celebrate it! The fact that you got an interview tells you that your resume is strong and presents you as a well-qualified candidate. Plus, you made the cut out of many other applicants. Even if you don’t get the job, at least you got the interview and a chance to network with professionals in your field.

Avoid the Naysayers

Everyone you meet is going to have some horror story about their job search or their friend’s job search. Don’t pay attention to them. Their story is not your story. People will readily share grim statistics about the job market in general or your career field in particular. A very good friend of mine recently proved the naysayers wrong. As a woman of a “certain age,” she landed the job of her dreams – and it was the very first one she applied to! Had she listened to the naysayers about the inability to find jobs at her age, she never would be where she is today.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Your Resume Should be as Unique as a Snowflake

Right now we’re buried with snow here in Boston so I figured a snow analogy would be in order in this blog post. Just as no two snowflakes are alike out of the gazillions that have fallen in the Boston area over the last three weeks, no two resumes should ever be alike. That’s why any article entitled “The Top 10 Resume Tips” or the like should always be taken with the proverbial grain of salt. Unlike some products where “one size fits all,” there is no resume advice that fits everyone. Each person’s resume should be unique and targeted to their specific career field. That’s why the best resume advice is “it depends.”
Granted, there are definitely resume “do’s and don’ts” that should be adhered to in order to avoid having your resume placed in the “no” pile, but my concern is that some people, particularly college students just starting out in their career, may take resume advice too literally. For example, I read a resume advice article recently that said you should never put your GPA on your resume. While this may be true for someone in mid-career, it is certainly not true for college students since GPA is one of the top criteria employers use to assess students’ candidacy.
When I meet with students to discuss their resumes, they often ask me if a certain experience should go on their resume – things like a volunteer experience, a part-time job that seems irrelevant, or a student club activity. I always say “it depends.” I advise them to keep a master resume which includes everything on it (paid and non-paid work experiences, volunteer/community service, student club activities, leadership roles, etc.) and to extract from this master resume anything that is relevant to the job they’re applying to. Contrary to what they think, an experience doesn’t necessarily have to be paid in order to be relevant.
This point may be particularly important for those who are seeking to transition from one career to another. For example, I was recently working with an alumna who wanted to transition from a career in accounting to a career in real estate. After some discussion, I discovered that she was president of her condo association so we decided to put that at the top under her “Experience” section. We also decided to highlight the fact that she was currently taking a real estate course, something she hadn’t thought to include on her resume.
If you’re unsure about what to include on your resume, it would be a great idea to meet with a career coach who can help you create a resume that is as unique as you are and presents you as a highly qualified candidate.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

What Happens at the Career Fair Shouldn’t Stay at the Career Fair

‘Tis the season for college career fairs. As a matter of fact, we held our annual business career fair last week at UMass Boston and hundreds of students attended. Prior to the career fair, I presented a couple of workshops entitled “How to Prepare for the Career Fair,” and several students also came to see me in my office to get advice and pointers on how to make the most of this premier career event. While preparing for a career fair is definitely important, what happens after the career fair is even more important.

A few days after the career fair, one student came to my office and expressed her dismay that she did not have a lot of time to speak with recruiters and that one recruiter seemed eager to move on to the next person in line. I reassured her that this is a normal practice since recruiters want to make sure that they get to speak with every student in line. She was left wondering however, “What’s the point of going to a career fair if I only have a few minutes to make an impression?” and “How will recruiters even remember who I am given the fact that they meet hundreds of students within the span of a couple of hours?” Good questions.

I think the best way to answer these questions is to first clarify what students should realistically expect from attending a career fair and what they shouldn’t expect in order to avoid disappointment and frustration. At a career fair, you will not be interviewed, offered a job or have a chance to have an in-depth conversation with a recruiter. However, what you will get from attending a career fair is a chance to meet and speak with recruiters at your dream companies and to personally hand them your resume, as opposed to having to submit it through the online job application black hole. Just think: If you hadn’t gone to the career fair, none of this would have happened!

To make the most of your career fair experience, you need to maintain those relationships with recruiters in the following days, weeks and months ahead in order to reap the full benefits. By doing the following, you’re bound to be noticed and remembered!

Send Thank You Notes

Send each recruiter you spoke with a personalized thank you note. Mention why you are interested in their company and why you are a good fit. Also state that you look forward to applying to positions there.

Recruiters keep these emails and refer back to them when you apply for jobs at their companies. All things being equal, the person who sent a thank you note will get the interview over someone who didn’t. It also shows the recruiter that you were interested enough in their companies to make time to attend the career fair and make a point of meeting them.

Connect with Recruiters on LinkedIn

Connect with the recruiters you met at the career fair on LinkedIn and make sure to change the default email message to a more personal one, mentioning something you spoke about at the fair. Make sure your LinkedIn profile is professional and complete before you do so.

Reference the Career Fair in Your Cover Letters

When you write your cover letters to apply for internships or jobs at these companies, make sure to address your cover letter to the recruiter you met at the career fair. Then mention where and how you met them in the first paragraph of your letter.

Follow Companies on LinkedIn

Make sure to follow the companies you interacted with at the career fair on LinkedIn. That way you’ll get updates about what’s happening at these companies and can make comments about those updates. This is a terrific way to get noticed!

Attend Other Company Events on Campus

Often companies will have separate information sessions, workshops, and networking events on campus as a way to connect with students. Make sure to attend those events to meet recruiters for a second (or third) time.

Stay on Recruiters’ Radar Screens

Send them periodic email updates about your academic accomplishments or links to articles that might be of interest to them. Post frequent status updates on LinkedIn which will show up in their newsfeed if they’re in your network.