Advice for Good Interviews

Julie Vick, Senior Associate Director

As a Career Services advisor, I work with PhD students, postdoctoral fellows and Master’s students in several of Penn’s schools.   I work with students and postdocs who are preparing for interviews, many of whom do not have much experience with interviewing.   We have lots of information on interviewing on the Career Services website and we offer mock interviews but sometimes the thing to do is to talk to a successful job hunter.

Recently, I asked three people who had just accepted job offers this question: What is one thing a candidate should do to have a good interview?  I found their answers to be informative and contain a common thread.

From a postdoc who has a new position in consulting:

There is no question that practicing case interviews helped me tremendously in my job interviews.  Even for a non-consulting job, I would recommend that candidates read case studies (available online or in the Career Services library), practice them individually, and practice with a partner.  The skills learned during that process, including (1) being able to answer a seemingly impossible question by stating what one heard, explaining how one would go about it, and then interacting with the interviewer, and (2) being able to keep one’s cool and calmly answer a question during a stressful situation, are invaluable during the interview process and beyond.

Another postdoc who will be working in chemical research responded with this:

For me the one most important thing is to be well prepared with a list of behavioral and technical questions (for scientific background) and answers. The list helped me to understand myself better and formulate answers for unprepared questions.

And Tryan McMickens, a doctoral graduate who accepted a Visiting Assistant Professor position at Suffolk University advised:

Beyond knowing scholarship and having a solid teaching philosophy, a doctoral candidate applying to faculty positions must be aware of the needs, challenges, and future directions of the department in which she or he interviews. Being informed can lead to more thoughtful and useful discussions at various phases of the academic job interview (e.g., search committee meeting(s); job talk Q &A; student breakout sessions; and individual interviews with the dean, department chair, and other campus decision-makers).  A favorable (or unfavorable) outcome is determined by the knowledge learned about the organizational dynamics of the department.

In addition to having the appropriate qualifications (and being able to talk about them), preparation is key to having a successful interview.  It is absolutely necessary to know something about the institution or company and be able to talk specifically about what you have to offer them.  It’s crucial to think about the questions you may be asked and practice answering them.  And it’s important to be comfortable talking with one or several interviewers.  I have never had a student or postdoc say that they wished they *hadn’t* done a mock interview with me or one of my colleagues, or *hadn’t* practiced case questions with someone in the Graduate Student Consulting Group.  As you can see, the answer to the question is the answer to “How do you get to Carnegie Hall?”

Good luck with your interviews.

Keywords are Key

by Shannon C. Kelly                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                Raise your hand if you’re looking for a job, to build your network, to make the right connections, to get noticed in your field, to enhance your reputation, etc.  If you did raise your hand and you are on LinkedIn, remember this: keywords are key.  This is not shocking, but if you are not incorporating the right terms in your profile, you may not be getting pulled up in a search.  

FastCompany published an article, titled “LinkedIn’s Algorithm Taps Talent Graph, But Still Needs Human Touch” last week.  One of the important trends discussed was LinkedIn’s algorithm to help recruiters find the talent they want in the most efficient way: typing in a few key words or phrase and, bam, candidates.   Just hitting enter can be pretty time efficient, and recruiters agree.  The moral? Be sure you are including key words in your skills section.  Look at the jobs you are interested in, the descriptions, your connections on LinkedIn – what keywords are listed?  Incorporate those terms in your own profile.

Now, as the article mentions, and DePaul Career Center’s Douglas L. Miller explains further, the human touch is still important.  Remember that.  Social media is not a replacement for in-person interaction. It is here to help get you to that point – the conference, the networking event, the interview.  When you are having the fact-to-face interaction, use those keywords to impress people and demonstrate your knowledge of the field or position. 

Your Summer Experience

The season of going to the beach, taking long, relaxing vacations, and enjoying the weather outside always seems to fly by in a hurry.
Now that the summer will only last for a few more weeks, the time for reviewing your experiences is getting close.
What did you do this summer?

Did you work in a paid position? Did you volunteer? Take classes? Travel?
What did your experience mean to you? How might you translate it on your resume and in potential interviews?
For those of you who may have had the opportunity to pursue your summer experience full-time, you now have time to reflect whether it is something you wish to continue as a career after graduation. Was the organization a good fit for you? Did you enjoy the day-to-day experiences of it? Or would you prefer to explore other options and see what else is out there?
You can take these last weeks to gather your thoughts and decide upon which direction might be better suited for you as you gear up for another school year. Certainly, feel free to call us or come in to speak with one of our counselors to determine your next move.
An important element for us at Career Services regarding your summer is our survey reports, which we gather from your responses on the summer survey. We ask all undergraduate and engineering masters students to complete the survey. Your responses help us to determine current and future trends regarding summer employment issues, housing selections, and salary.
Please complete the survey here:

To see what students in the past did during their summers, be sure to check out our career surveys here.
Be sure to check on our website when you arrive back on-campus for a list of all our fall programs and career events. And of course, enjoy these last few weeks of stress-free summer bliss!

Getting Creative about Getting Connected

Dr. Joseph Barber

I have found myself thinking about people’s career paths outside of my work here at Penn more and more just recently. I like to hear about what career challenges people face in different types of careers, and I am always willing to provide a suggestion or two as well (my babysitter and some random person on a bus to New York can provide evidence of that). As an Adjunct Assistant Professor at Hunter College (CUNY), I have the great opportunity to work with students getting their master’s degree in psychology. Some are thinking about going on to get a PhD, others already have full-time jobs and want to learn more so that they apply this knowledge in what they do. They usually all share in common the idea that they want to take information from the courses they sign-up for and use it to their advantage.

I have been working with one student – we’ll call her Jen to protect her true identity – as an advisor to her thesis project. Our conversations often turn from scientific experimental design and the right choice of statistics to broader topics like the usefulness of getting a PhD, or how to make the type of research she is doing relevant to the types of companies she might like to work with in the future. We have discussed resumes and CVs, and I have mentioned the importance of networking as a key approach to take. This student actually networks very well, and has a lot of confidence reaching out to people who can help her with her research – she doesn’t necessarily call what she does networking, though, even though that is exactly what she is doing. I have explained to her that networking can be described as an “organic process”. In other words, there is no right or wrong way to do it – she has to find the way that works best for her that still achieves the same goals (establishing and maintaining relationships with a diverse group of professional contacts). I think this helped eliminate the initial skepticism she had about the term “networking”, which she seemed to see as a very foreign and strange process.

I really like working with Jen because she impresses me every time we meet in terms of her ability to identify issues with her research, come up with a couple of solutions, and leverage some of the resources available to her (in terms of subject experts or campus resources) to help address any issues. I offer feedback and suggestions, and I am always confident that she’ll act on these promptly and effectively. It shouldn’t have surprised me, then, when she updated me on a step she had taken after one of our networking discussions.

She has been interested in a non-profit organization that is associated with a field of research closely linked to her master’s thesis. She has reached out to the founder of this organization in the past, as she was seeking information for her thesis (a good excuse to connect), but wanted to find a way to maintain this connection over time. Having spent a good deal of time on their website, she had noticed one important point – their Facebook account was not being updated on a regular basis. People interested in the organization were not having their questions answered, people talking about wanting to donate money were not being responded to with clear instructions how they could do so, and new information was not being provided to give people a reason to “like” what they saw. Jen’s response to this was to ask the founder if she could become the page administrator for the Facebook account. After making her case how she could help, and why her help would be important, the founder agreed. Now, you could argue that all she gained from this was the permission to work for this organization for free, or you could see it from another perspective:

  • She now has every opportunity to maintain an on-going dialogue with the founder (without having to come up with awkward reasons to do so)
  • She can continue to expand her own network of contacts by connecting with other staff members at the organization, and also with people outside of the organization interested in the topic (members of the public, but possibly professionals too)
  • She can impress the founder with actual examples of some of her key skills in action – she can show how the outcomes associated with what she is doing are ultimately beneficial
  • She can share some of the research she is finding through her work, and become seen as a reliable source of knowledge

Jen doesn’t want to be a social media coordinator for this organization, but if she wanted any other role (with or without a future PhD), then being connected with the founder and showcasing her motivation, enthusiasm, knowledge, and general enterprising nature can only benefit her future prospects.

This is just an example of a creative way to connect with people within your network, and I am not suggesting that you all go out and do something similar. I wanted to share this simply to give you something to think about as you are wondering how you can find the best networking approach that suits you and your career goals. There are certainly networking hints that you can pick up along the way to help you (look here and here for a couple resources), but give some thought to how you might get creative when it comes to reaching out, establishing, and maintaining connections with people over time.

By the Book: GOLD Performing Arts Database

by J. Michael DeAngelis, Information Specialist

Toy Theater

In this month’s “By the Book” installment, I’d actually like to draw your attention not to the impressive collection of printed materials we have on hand at the Career Services library, but to our newly expanded online database offerings.

The online databases are members-only websites that usually require paid memberships.  Students and alumni of the University of Pennsylvania have free access to these sites thanks to special arrangements made by Career Services.  A complete list of our database subscriptions, along with entry links can be found on our Electronic Subscriptions pagePlease note: A PennKey is required to access this page.  Alumni of the University who are in need of, or have forgotten, their PennKey should visit this site first.

One of the newest additions to our database collection is the Greyhouse Performing Arts Directory.  Something like this has been in much demand from our student body and we are pleased to be able to offer it at last.  The database collects contact information and vital statistics for performing arts venues across the country – from theater companies to opera houses and from dance venues to concert halls.  There are also listings for related fields such as Artist Management and Festival Organizers.

The database is searchable by location and organization type.  Search results (where applicable) will yield contact information, as well as the names of important people in the organization, a mission statement, a description of the venue and the audiences it reaches.  Unlike print directories that offer similar information, the online database is updated on a regular basis, so the information you retrieve is current.

This is a great resource for students and alumni interested in working in the arts in any capacity.  It’s a wonderful way to find contacts at arts organizations in your area – large or small!

Navigating the database can be tricky for a first time user.  Be sure to consult this User’s Guide for assistance.