Career Resources

Sunday, January 24, 2010

An interview is not a confessional

Many times when I am conducting mock interviews with students, I have to remind them that the interview is not a confessional. As a Catholic, going to confession is part of my religious tradition, but it always amazes me how many students treat the interview in just the same way. It's not that these students are confessing their deepest, darkest secrets to me. No, not at all. It's just that they either divulge way more information than is necessary to answer the question or will readily share information that will be viewed in a negative light. Skilled interviewers are adept at leading their interviewees down this path to total disclosure and many students, just starting out in the professional world, may not be prepared to handle this.

Let me give you some examples. I recently conducted a mock interview with a student who was going into the final round of interviews for a full-time position. When I asked him why his GPA wasn't so great, he started telling me how he had a hard time in freshman year because he couldn't balance his academics with his social life. I said to him, "Do you mean social life as in partying?" and he said, "Yes." Hello! However, after talking to him "off the record," I discovered that his GPA had been steadily increasing since his first semester as a freshman. So I advised him just to say that and not mention his problem with partying.

Another student was going on a first-round interview which required leadership skills. As president of a sorority, she clearly held a leadership role which would make her a competitive candidate for the position. However, when I asked her about her role as a leader, she started to tell me that she was "opinionated and overbearing" and had a difficult time taking suggestions. "Off the record" we discovered that the reason she said this was because she was nervous and hadn't planned to say that. After some discussion, she was able to identify the positive traits that made her a terrific leader.

I asked another student who was interviewing for a client services position, which job on her resume she liked best and which one she liked least. She proceeded to tell me that she liked the client-centered job the least because dealing with the public can be annoying! So "off the record," I told her either to not apply for jobs that involve client contact or make sure to change her answer.

Okay, so I know what you're thinking..."How could these students have said these things...didn't they know better?" Thinking that is like watching "Who Wants to be a Millionaire" while shouting out all the right answers to the contestant from the safety of your living room. An interview can be an extremely anxiety-provoking situation, somewhat similar to being a game show contestant on national TV, where people end up saying things they hadn't planned on just because of nervousness.

So what's the solution? The solution is to plan, plan, plan your answers to the commonly asked interview questions. I'm not saying to memorize your answers but to know beforehand the key points that you want to mention. By doing this, you will know when to stop and it will keep you from rambling, which is the slippery slope toward the confessional. Another critical piece of advice is to be comfortable with silent pauses during the interview. Interviewers use these pauses to see how you will see if you can remain calm under pressure (this means STAYING SILENT) or if you will start to fill the void with nonsense.

The best way to prepare for interviews is to keep conducting mock interviews with career counselors, other professionals, or your peers. By doing this, you will be perfecting your interview technique and greatly increasing your chances of hearing those magical words, "You're hired!"

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Internships are a critical component of your college experience

Last fall at our Career Fair I went around to employers and conducted an informal survey to determine the key factor they were looking for in student candidates. I was expecting them to say a specific skill, such as solid communications skills, but instead they almost unanimously said that they looked for internships on a student's resume.

Internships, as most students know, are a terrific way to test the waters about your particular careers of interest and to build your resume. If you start them early enough in college, you can work at several different kinds of internships to determine what you like and don't like in terms of career options, work environments, company culture, day-to-day routine, etc. And the good news is that internships are plentiful as more employers are hiring interns to do some of the work that was previously done by full or part time permanent employees. Although some internships don't pay, there are also many that do. Most students do internships during the summer but there are lots of internships available during the academic year as well.

So, how do you go about finding an internship? First, you should check your school's Career Services office to see if they have either an online or paper database of internships. After that, there are several job search sites that literally have thousands of internships on them. One of my favorites is (which pulls postings from other job search websites and company sites). One great thing about SimplyHired is that you can set up multiple searches and get daily email alerts with any internships that match your search criteria. You can specify the city you want to intern in and use key words to find the internship that is just right for you.

Another one of my favorite internship sites is (yes, I said Craig's List!). While there are some sketchy things on CraigsList, many of my students have gotten some very good internships there. Students just need to view any posting with some discernment. See if the company has a website or Google their name to see what comes up. Remember the old adage: if it sounds too good to be true, then it probably is.

Internships are plentiful so there is no reason not to get one (or several!) If you're looking for a summer 2010 internship, you can start looking now but bear in mind that some employers post summer internships all the way through the spring semester. If you land an unpaid internship but still need to make some money, then a great option is to work part-time at the internship and also get a part-time paying job. Most employers offering unpaid internships are very flexible in terms of hours because they realize you are working for free.

By doing multiple internships, you'll be building your resume, which will make you a more competitive candidate when you graduate, and you'll be discerning exactly what you want out of your future career.