5 minutes is all you need

I love networking events. It’s exciting to see students and employers in the same room. Connections are made, information is exchanged, and career paths many times begin to take shape. An employer meet & greet was held at the School of Social Policy & Practice this week. Several employers came with jobs to fill. On my way to the event, I passed students in the hall and encouraged them to attend, “Five minutes is all you need!” One student admitted that she wanted to attend but just had too much to do. With some encouraging she ended up stopping by. She later left the event saying, “I’m so glad I came.” She attended for a matter of minutes but made a positive first impression on an employer of interest. If that five minutes got her an interview, there is no doubt that was time well spent!

In my experience, I’ve never met with a student who regretted attending a networking event or reaching out to someone in a related field. I hear the opposite. Even a brief, positive encounter with an employer can make a big difference. It can seem daunting to find time in your day to attend events or seek out networking opportunities, particularly when it means putting on a professional hat in the midst of project deadlines, personal obligations, and other commitments. If you take advantage of the networking resources at your fingertips as a student, whether through a formal event like a meet & greet or an informal connection made through the alumni network, face-to-face interactions are powerful in the job search. The time dedicated to that process may very well save you hours of applications.

The point of my blog today is simple – take advantage of any opportunity for face time with an employer. In a sea of applicants, connecting in person can make a big impact. A strong handshake and a well-prepared intro are two key pieces to making a solid first impression. It just might get your resume to the top of the stack!

The 5 interview questions you need to answer well

Dr. Joseph Barber

Interviews are full of uncertainty, but you can feel pretty certain that at some point someone is going to ask you one of these 5 questions. In fact, I would be fairly confident that you will be asked all five of these:

  • Who are you? Tell me about yourself
  • Why do you want this position?
  • What do you know about our organization?
  • What do you bring? What is your greatest strength? What are your relevant strengths?
  • Do you have any questions for us?

It is a good idea to have really solid answers to these questions that sound natural, spontaneous, and authentic, but that you have actually rehearsed out loud on more than one occasion. You may be asked far more challenging questions during the interview process, but if you cannot get these basic, foundational questions answered successfully, then you are always going to be on shaky ground for the rest of the interview. Here are some very quick tips to help you answer these questions effectively:

Tell me about yourself

There are a couple of strategies you can take with this question, and it is fine for you to take charge of how you answer since the interviewers have basically handed you the proverbial microphone, and given you 1-3 minutes to impress them. One approach is to use this as an opportunity to answer a more specific question of your choosing. For example, you might say:

Great, thank you. Let me tell you about why I find this position so interesting, and why experiences are a great fit.

This is a valid response, and feels much more focused than the vague “who are you” question. With a well prepared answer, you can make a good impression. The other approach is to provide a relevant overview of your experiences that may be connected more thematically. If you are applying for a science communication position, you might start by saying: “I have always been interested in the way people understand complex medical research…”, and then continue by talking about the different experiences you have had where you have played an active role in this (e.g., a course you took, an experience you had trying to adapt your own complex science for a broader audience, and so on). And you definitely want to end your answer by explaining how all of the experiences you have mentioned make your application for the position make sense:

And that is why I find this position so interesting, because it would give me the opportunity to use my experience working not only with scientific researchers, but also the medical community as a whole.

Why do you want this position?

Obviously it depends on the position, and you, but here is some general advice. Focus on what you bring to the job before you talk about what you gain from it. Saying that you are interested in consulting is a benefit for you if you are applying for a consulting position, but it doesn’t necessarily provide any benefit to the company. Your interests are not as relevant as your skills, abilities, knowledge, and experience to the people you are talking to. You can think of an answer along these lines:

Based on what I know about your company from my research, and chatting with a couple of your staff, what I think you are looking for is someone who can do X, Y, and Z. I have had great experience doing X (for example…), and have recently done a lot of Y (for example…), and will be really interested in doing more of Z in working with the clients your firm works with.

What do you know about our organization?

Don’t just repeat what you have read online. You are not trying to demonstrate that you remember how many employers they have, or where their HQ is based. Try to show them that you have taken some extra steps.

I recently spoke with your director of research, and she was able to share some great insights. It was great to hear that your organization is…

I was actually reading about one of your projects the other day, and so I know that you are expanding into the medical device field – I think that is a very interesting new direction.

What is your greatest strength?

There is actually no such thing as a list of strengths, on top of which is your greatest strength. Each of your strengths can have different value in different contexts. You want to pick the one that you have that will be of greatest relevance to the interviewers. And you can even say, “in terms of this position, my greatest strength is…”. If you talk about a great strength, remember to provide an example of this in action. After all, if it is your greatest strength, then there should be many examples of you using it.

Do you have any questions for us?

Yes…, always yes. Ask questions that help the interviewers picture you doing the job. For example:

What projects would I be working on for the first 3 months?

How big are the project teams, and who would I be working with in this role?

Within this department, where do people who have had this role in the past move onto next?

How would you describe the culture of this organization?

If no-one mentions anything about next steps, then you may want to say something like this at the very end:

It has been great talking to you today. I am really very interested in this position. Please can you give me an idea about what the next steps are in this interviewing process.

Take a look at our interviewing resources here, and call Career Services to set up a mock interview with an advisors to practice what you have learned

Interviewing Season

Marianne Lipa, Associate Director

Hope you all had an enjoyable Spring Break! With the spring weather upon us, this also means we’re in the season of internship interviewing.   Some of you may already have landed internships in certain industries which tend to hire early (such as finance and consulting) while many of you may still be in the search phase for the vast array of industries which tend to have later hiring cycles including marketing, non-profit, government, entertainment, just to name a few. For those who are preparing for interviews, here is some general advice to assuage your concerns and anxiety. The first round is often done via phone or Skype. Now some of you might feel intimidated by a phone conversation, but it isn’t as scary as it sounds without the face-to-face interaction. One plus side is that you can have some notes in front of you with points you want to be sure to mention. Skype interviews are “quasi in-person” and you’re able to see the non-verbal body language.   For second-rounds/final rounds, these are typically conducted in person. You are likely to meet with more than one company representative and the duration for all the interviews may last a few hours to almost the full day. Make sure for any interview you show your enthusiasm for the position and are actively engaged during the dialogue. For all interviews, be sure to research the company/organization and prepare yourself to answer the frequently asked/standard questions. We have a list on our website here.

Additionally, please check out our interviewing advice section on our website for more insight into the interviewing process. It discusses in depth interview preparation, etiquette, attire, questions, and overall advice.

And remember you can also meet with an advisor in Career Services to help guide you through navigating the interviewing process. We also offer mock interviews where we provide feedback (both positive and negative) to assist you with your interviewing skills. Interviewing skills are a continuous work in progress for people at all stages of their career from undergraduates to seasoned professionals.

Best of luck on this journey and we look forward to seeing you in Career Services!

CS Radio Episode 18 – “Summer Funding, Part 1”

episode 18

While Penn students were away on spring break, A. Mylène Kerschner and J. Michael DeAngelis stayed in the studio to talk about the Career Services Summer Funding Opportunity in this first of a two part episode.


Organizing Your Job Search: Search Agents

Carmen Delehanty, Graduate Assistant

Combing through the overwhelming amount of opportunities posted on PennLink can be exhausting and incredibly time consuming. That’s when Search Agents become your best friend! Gone are the days of endlessly clicking through filters every day. After setting up search agents, any new posting that fits your preferences will go directly to your email inbox. Magic!

  1. First, complete a targeted search by clicking Advanced Search and setting your filters.
  2. To save your preferences, click on Saved Searches and name your search. I recommend splitting up your searches either by industry or geographic location. For example, you can save the search “California Internships,” which will include all the different industries you’re interested in, or maybe save “Journalism Internships,” which will include any geographic location you are open to.
  3. Switch “new results only” to YES so that you get the most updated results sent to you. You can chose to have emails sent to you daily, weekly, biweekly, or monthly.
  4. And repeat! You can save all the way up to 10 different search agents.

This technique, and more information on navigating PennLink, can be found in our tutorial here: http://www.vpul.upenn.edu/careerservices/files/Navigating_PennLink/player.html

Now that you don’t need to constantly log into PennLink, you’ll have so more time to polish those cover letters – Enjoy!