That post-interview feeling

Dr. Joseph Barber

One of the reasons that interviewing can be so challenging is that there is a lot of background research you need to do before you even get to the stressful interviewing part itself. This background research involves learning about the organization, the job description, the other people working there, the industry as a whole, and the trends relevant to the role you are interested in. This is all of the objective research – it’s all about facts, figures, findings. Your research background is great for this type of work. However, there is another type of preparation that looks and feels a little different. This preparation involves you actually imagining yourself in the new role – something you may never have had experience doing before. If you are going to be able to answer questions about how you might be the best candidate for the position, then you have to try to role play what you might do if you had it.

Talking about what you have done, and the skills and experiences you have used in the past will always be important, as will the specific examples you hand-pick to illustrate how your skills lead to outcomes. But, you are being hired for what you will be doing in your new role as well. So, try it. Try seeing yourself in the role that you want, working with the type of people at your organization of choice, and facing the work challenges and issues you know you will soon encounter. Think about the new projects you might start, the current projects you’ll need to finish, and the personnel who can support you in your new role and who will be involved in the transition as you start.

How will you deal these issues? How have others in this type of role dealt with them before? This is where some informational interviews with people in similar roles can be so helpful. Their personal perspectives and insights will help you imagine yourself overcoming all the possible challenges.

When it comes to the interview, your answers to questions about your future role at the organization will be much more informative if you have does some of this imaginative role-playing – perhaps as a sort of method acting, if you like.

There is one point worth mentioning about this approach, though. When you have gone through this preparation process, when you have successfully made it through the interview itself without passing out, and when you hear back that another candidate has been chosen, you certainly feel a momentary sense of loss. That person you imagined yourself being almost felt real – they were almost solid, someone you could almost talk to about your future career. Of course, they were just in your head, and they were there just to help you answer interview questions. The good news is that the more you can imagine yourself doing new jobs, the more you become to understand what is actually needed to be that person. You can really begin to identify the most important skills you can still be working on to talk about in future interviews. Your imagined self might be gone for the moment, but they will be back…, and they will be even better when they do return.



I recently spent a reunion weekend with four former colleagues.  We have kept in touch over the last 10 years even as new jobs and life events have brought us to different companies and parts of the country. Our yearly weekend got me thinking about the important role our colleagues play in our own careers. We spend a majority of our waking hours at work, so who we clock those hours with on the job does matter. I would guess that most of us want to work with bright, driven, supportive people who strive to do their best. Strong leaders are probably at the top of this list, too. So, how do we determine the type of work environment a new company will offer? The interview.

Many times we are so focused on nailing the interview that we overlook our own first impressions of those we meet, most importantly, supervisors and team members. Take advantage of the time spent with these people during the interview. They are a reflection of the organization. If a supervisor or manager appears negative and aloof during the interview, then chances are that you will face these same qualities when you begin the job. Alternatively, do team members seem happy with their jobs? Do they refer to a strong team environment?

We won’t leave an interview knowing everything about everyone we meet. However, we will gain some degree of insight so that we can make an informed decision. Bring your own questions to the interview. If you interview with a supervisor or manager, be sure to ask about his or her supervision style. Inquire about a typical day on the job or specific challenges that a new hire may face in joining the group. If the answer is that the new hire will need to learn quickly without much guidance, then you have an idea of the type of supervision (or lack thereof) that you may receive. How will that suit you? Ask team members how long they have been with the organization and what they like best about the job. Do they speak highly of leadership? That’s a good sign. Does it seem like people join the company and stay? Another good sign.

I bet many of us already make these observations and ask similar questions during an interview. If you haven’t been asking questions and observing, be sure to take note. Surround yourself with good people (strong leaders and team members) who care about your career. You won’t regret it.




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Context Is Everything

I am retiring this summer after nearly 27 years as a career advisor to graduate students and 36 years at the University of Pennsylvania.  I’ve had a wonderful career and have been quite fortunate to work with great colleagues in Career Services, faculty, administrators, graduate students and postdocs, as well as fellow graduate student career advisors around the country.

Retirement is a time when people are permitted — almost expected — to share words of wisdom.  I’m going to leave you with a few of the axioms and quotes that I both use in my own life and try to pass on to the students with whom I work.

“Context is everything.” 

Don’t just say, “I would like a higher salary.”  Instead, do some research and say, “I see that the salary range for new science writers (or whatever) in the Northeast is $__ to __.  Because my four years of graduate training required me to be able to explain complex systems to both experts and non-experts, and because I have experience with editing software (or whatever) very similar to the one your company uses, I believe my salary should be closer to $__.  I hope you will consider this.”

“Go out while the lights are on.” 

This is a twist on “quit while you’re ahead’ which often refers to getting out of something that is rewarding might go bad.   What I mean here is that when you’re doing something well and it’s being acknowledged by others that it might be a good time to move on to something else such as taking on a new project.  And for older workers, when possible it’s nice to leave while you’re very much appreciated.

“Never end a sentence with a preposition.”

While I personally follow the rule to not end sentences with prepositions I’m fully aware that the trend is to not care much about this anymore.  So read that phrase to mean that it’s important to pay attention to your writing.  So much of what we do involves writing and how you write emails and even Facebook postings says something about you and can be how people first get to know you.  Good writing makes a good impression.

“You are not what you know but what you’re willing to learn.”

That quote by Mary Catherine Bateson, a writer, anthropologist and daughter of world-renowned anthropologists, Margaret Mead and Gregory Bateson, has been on my door for at least the last ten years.  I read it to mean that you should never be satisfied with what you know but always engaged in learning.

“The world does not care about what you know but more about what you can do with what you know.”

 This quote is from Thomas L Friedman, author and New York Times columnist paraphrasing Harvard education expert Tony Wagner and underscores something we discuss regularly with graduate student job seekers:  show employers what you can do with your skills and your knowledge.

And, finally:

“Each time I go outside the world is different.  This has happened all my life.” 

I have had this quote, by two American poets, Jim Harrison and Ted Kooser up on my bulletin board for the last eleven years.  It stresses the importance of being open to new possibilities.  Try not to make assumptions.  Appreciate that change happens constantly and embrace it.   Understand how your world of work is changing and be able to incorporate that understanding into your planning and your narrative.

By what quotes and maxims do you live and work?

The Value of Interests

map-SEAIn Career Services, as you can imagine, we see MANY resumes.  Most if not all have the basic, core sections – Education, Experience, Projects, Coursework, Activities, Leadership.  But one category that often does not get included, or gets cut in favor of growing other, “more relevant” sections, is Interests.   I encourage you to consider this section for the value and potential engagement with an employer that it can provide in just a scant line or so.

Capturing your interests on your resume gives you a chance to set yourself apart as an individual in a potentially crowded marketplace of talent.  Think about how your interests may have contributed to your ability to be successful in the workplace.  Do your pursuits demonstrate your dedication to self-improvement and pushing boundaries, providing opportunity to test and prove your mettle and work ethic?  What about your curiosity?  A quick search of on the keyword “curious” came up with 5,500+ openings; a search on “creative” has thousands more, confirming that these attributes are in high demand across a variety of industries and positions.  How might your interests capture and express your creativity in a way your other endeavors may not?

This resume one-liner can also be especially valuable if your pursuit has lead you to an accomplishment or personal achievement of which you are particularly proud, whether or not there is an obvious connection to your major or career choice.  Perhaps you are an engineering student –and a foodie with a blog about local restaurants – or in a business concentration having read Shakespeare’s entire catalog.  You might be an economics student with a penchant for international travel that has been to eleven different countries before age twenty; a biology major that has completed three marathons; a nursing student who loves to cycle and spent the summer on a cross-country bike ride.  Whatever your interests – and they need not be extreme – consider their contribution to your resume for the unique insights they can provide, and for the conversation-starter they may be in your next interview!

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