Tips for Phone Interviews

by Peggy Curchack and Kelly Cleary

(courtsey of samantha celera via Flickr)
(courtesy of samantha celera via Flickr)

Tis the season for many employers to conduct phone interviews for internships and full-time jobs. Phone interviews, and even video interviews (through Skype and more formal videoconferencing equipment), are becoming increasingly popular with employers since they are a great way to conduct first rounds while saving time and money.

So, how do you prepare? In many ways, particularly related to the content of the conversation, you should prepare exactly the same way you would for an in person interview. That said, a phone interview does call for some special considerations.

First, make sure you have a reliable phone line secured. A land line is ideal but those aren’t always easy to come by since most students have gone completely mobile. If you can’t find a landline, make sure your cell is fully charged and you will be taking the call in a physical space that is quiet and well supported by your mobile network (areas where the be-speckled Verizon guy and his entourage or Luke Wilson and his AT&T postcards hang out.)

Before you receive the call, prepare your space.  Turn off the radio, TV, email notification beep, or tea pot.  If you have roommates and you’ll be taking the call at home, let them know that you have a scheduled phone interview so that they don’t interrupt you while you’re talking to the employer.  Phone interviews are interesting because on the one hand, since employers can’t see you, you can do things like have your resume in front of you, or have a list of things you want to be sure to say about yourself, and the organization.  On the other hand, since you can’t see them it makes it harder to gauge their reactions.  In general, be sure to keep your answers to the point, and don’t go on and on (that’s good advice for fact-to-face interviews too, but especially important on the phone).

Also, smile.  Yes, literally, smile.  One can “hear” it over the phone. Since for many people it’s harder to project enthusiasm, poise — your personality — when you have no visual clues to support you, it becomes important to compensate for the lack of visuals.  One way to do that is with one’s voice.  We’ve all had the experience of talking to customer service people – I’m sure you can tell when you talk to someone if they are just going through the motions, or are really engaged.

If you are contacted by an employer who is interested in conducting an interview by video conference you may be able to use Career Services’ new video conferencing equipment (ISDN and IP options). For more information go to:

This recent article from Time offers some thoughts on video interviews from the recruiter perspective:

“How Skype Is Changing the Job Interview”,8599,1930838,00.html

The article also includes a video on How to Ace a Job Interview on Skype

Thoughts on Black Friday

by Barbara Hewitt

Unfortunately, my five-year old daughter made it to the mailbox before I did and quickly claimed the American Girl catalog which had arrived that day.  (Don’t ask me how we got on their mailing list…I have no idea why the publication mysteriously appeared in our box.)  Jordan and her seven-year old sister Sierra were absolutely thrilled with the many options presented to them in the catalog and spent over an hour deciding which would be the best choice for them. They then interrupted my bath to formally present their choices to me. (As any mother knows, this is the ONLY time a mom gets a few minutes to herself, so the interruption wasn’t entirely welcome to begin with!)

May have been fun in 1909, but in 2009 there are so many fancy alternatives!
This doll may have been fun in 1909, but in 2009 there are so many fancy alternatives!

American Girl dolls seem wonderful. Each comes with a historical back story explained in an accompanying book about the doll.  The downside is that they cost almost $100 each, and of course there are loads of additional items which you can purchase for each doll.  While I already had some other things in mind for Christmas for the girls, I hadn’t planned on spending $200 for the dolls, and I explained this to them, much to their disappointment.  (It prompted them to search the house for change to contribute, resulting in a grand total of $1.73…only $198.27 to go!)

On this “Black Friday”, a day when every retailer in America is pushing for us to go out and single-handedly save the US economy,  I’ve thought a lot about the various values each of us gives preference to as we consider career options. Face it – with most careers we rarely “get it all.”  While the massive amount of  Black Friday advertising may seem innocuous, it can send the underlying message that to be successful and happy we need to own it all.   Whether it be a big house in a swanky neighborhood, luxury clothes that will make a statement at work, or even an American Girl doll….as the amount of perceived “needs” goes up so does the requirement to find a job that will support the desired lifestyle.  As our financial demands increase, our career options decrease, as the number of positions that will pay a high enough salary to cover all of our “needs” is reduced.

Maybe we could reconsider what we really "need" and instead think more about the things we value.
Maybe we could reconsider what we really "need" and instead think more about the things we value.

I love working at Penn.  The atmosphere is vibrant, the students are smart and motivated, my colleagues are indeed “collegial” and the benefits are wonderful.  However, an impressive signing bonus, hefty annual bonus, and huge paycheck are simply not part of the equation when working for a nonprofit organization. (Yes, Penn is a nonprofit!) That being said, my job provides the work life balance I need right now in my life, so that I can eat dinner most nights with my kids and take them to their swim lessons on the weekends.  To me, that’s worth more any day of the week than being able to buy every new toy that comes on the market.

How (not) to talk about THE BAD TIMES

by Rosanne Lurie

If you are paying close attention to Career Services (and likely others) you have probably gotten the message that internships are the hottest ticket to a career.  Many, many Penn students pursue internships during the course of their time at school; and with great success, as internships often provide valuable experiences and connections.  But what happens when your internship was a dud?  What if your responsibilities bored you, were confusing or too hard, or your supervisor was a difficult or indifferent boss?

We know that supervisors who were not good managers, or work experiences that were less than positive, are a tricky subject when you are actively networking or interviewing.  How should you handle the topic of a difficult work experience while going forward in your job search?  Here are a few constructive approaches:

1)      What can you say about yourself handling a difficult situation, if the supervisor you had did not manage you the way you would have wished or the position was not a good fit?  How did you meet the challenge or do problem solving? What were you able to do to improve the situation?

2)      How have people in your network handled their challenging or negative experiences? Learning from others can help you manage your own take on your situation.  Here’s one person’s response to a bad internship

3)      When in a job interview, NEVER say outright negatives about your internship or blame your former supervisor for your troubles.  A prospective employer will assume you might be a difficult employee, or possibly speak about them negatively, and will not be inclined to risk hiring you.   Also, blaming others can indicate that you aren’t taking responsibility for your own actions.

4)      Consider carefully the qualities you would want in a manager. When you are interviewing, communicate this in a positive way.  “Once a project is explained to me, I can work very independently;” rather than “ I don’t like it when I feel like my boss is breathing down my neck.”  Be aware of which environments will help you excel.

5)      If you need a reference, but are not sure that a former supervisor will give you a good one, then ask another coworker to be your reference – someone who will speak about your accomplishments.  Coach them about which of your skills to emphasize – documents such as your resume and descriptions of jobs can help.

In sum, there are ways that you can respond to bad experiences that offer better outcomes than dwelling on them.  By managing your perceptions, evaluating your responses, demonstrating your skills when faced with challenges, and identifying supportive individuals to serve as references, you will sail forward in your career.

More advice can be found in these useful links:

Help Your Network Grow

by Shannon C. Kelly

Here is a great example of how volunteering abroad can expand your network, with some design food for thought thrown in for good measure.  Anthropologie, the more sophisticated sister of Philly-based Urban Outfitters, just opened its first overseas location on Regent Street in London.  What is unique about this store is its living wall.   A living wall, or green wall according to Wikipedia, is a wall covered with vegetation. It can help reduce energy consumption and can be quite aesthetically pleasing (in line with Anthropologie’s eclectic sense of fashion).

Where does volunteering abroad tie in to this?  My supervisor from volunteering in the UK installed the wall.  One day on a break from our duties at the festival, we got into a discussion of green walls and he told me about his upcoming job for Anthropologie.  The conversation allowed me to learn about his career installing these walls and his experiences in the industry.  We have kept in touch and I even saw pictures of the wall before the New York Times posted their article (their picture is below).  As our director, Pat Rose, recently posted, you should never pass an opportunity to learn from someone and build your network.  After all, they could end up in the New York Times…

Anthropologies Living Wall in London
Anthropologie's Living Wall in London

No “Gobble”digook – Hidden Career Lessons in Thanksgiving Dinner

By Claire Klieger

Many people have a strategy for approaching and (in some cases) surviving the Thanksgiving Holiday. For some this involves calculating how to best consume as much food as possible without doubling over with stomach pains later; for others, it might be trying to avoid sitting next to that uncle who belches or the pesky relative who asks inappropriate questions about bodily functions or worse.  Here are some tips for successfully making it through Turkey Day that also apply to your job/internship search:

1) Be willing to try different dishes – Taste a little of everything on your plate.

Whenever we went to someone else’s house for a meal when I was little, my mom always told me and my brother to try a little of everything because it was polite. That’s still true and a good way to avoid potential family drama (I recommend tiny portions that are more easily concealed in a napkin if necessary). However, it’s also a good way to broaden your palate (Who knows? You might even like that Lime Jello cranberry soufflé ) and your job prospects.

More traditional than Lime Jello cranberry soufflé (courtesy of LarimdaME via Flickr)
More traditional than Lime Jello cranberry soufflé, but less exciting, too. (courtesy of LarimdaME via Flickr)

Cast a wide net and apply for opportunities that reflect a variety of your interests. If you’re willing to think outside of the box and be flexible in your search, you’re more likely to have more interesting options from which to choose. And just like questionable looking holiday dishes, sometimes really fantastic opportunities come about in the most unexpected ways.

2) Accept that there is more than one way to make Turkey (or stuffing or cranberry dishes, or mashed potatoes…) and everyone thinks their way is best.

You’ve probably noticed that you encounter something very similar when you ask for advice on your resume and it can be frustrating to hear often conflicting advice. Here’s how you sort it out—when someone gives you advice on your resume or cover letter, ask for the reasoning behind that suggestion. That way you can sort out the suggestions that seem logical (“deep frying a turkey sears in the juices”) from that which is merely personal preference (“I like living and cooking dangerously—what could be better than oil that’s hot enough to burn down your house?!”).

3) Pace yourself and have a game plan.

Most of us have learned the hard way that if you don’t have a strategy for eating at thanksgiving you’ll either be full before dessert or end up suffering later. You’ll be much less overwhelmed by your job or internship search if you give yourself a set of manageable goals/tasks to accomplish each week. Whether it’s updating a resume, identifying five organizations of interest, or contacting three Penn alums whom you can ask for advice (hello, PACNET!), setting and meeting these more “bite-size” (as we know, it’s all about portion size!) goals will keep you motivated.

4) Be polite to all of your relatives (even the ones you wish you saw less of).

Funny as it may seem at the time, you may live to regret that crack you made about Cousin Larry’s hair piece at the next family gathering. In your interactions with organizations about your search, it’s crucial to be polite and professional with everyone you encounter. Just because the receptionist or administrative assistant may not be sitting with you in the interview or making the final hiring decision doesn’t mean they aren’t part of the process.  If you are rude or complain (or gossip on your cell in the waiting room), you’re pretty much putting the nail in your own coffin.

Even coaches can be good references. Keep in touch!
Even coaches can be good references. Keep in touch! (courtesy of ektogamat via Flickr)

5) Give Thanks.

In addition to all of the eating and football on Thanksgiving, it’s also a great time to reflect on what you appreciate in your life.  Hopefully, for you there are people (professors, former supervisors, etc.) who taught you a lot and gave you great advice.  Maintain and build a career network by staying in touch with people and following up on advice that you’re given.  An email update on what’s new with you that also includes a heart-felt “thank you” can do wonders for your job search.