The most important interview question you’ll ever be asked

By Claire Klieger

Most interviewers make up their minds about a candidate within the first few minutes of an interview. There are a few key questions and responses that form an interviewer’s opinion of a candidate. In addition to the candidate’s introduction, the question that defines any interview is “why are you interested in this position?” While any candidate should be expecting this question, it is amazing how often people seem unprepared to adequately answer this seemingly straight forward question.

 

Why is this question so important? Any person who is invited to interview the employer believes is qualified to do the job. What sets someone apart, then, what makes a truly compelling candidate, is the ability to demonstrate genuine enthusiasm for both the role and the organization. This is because interviewers seek caring and dedicated colleagues, not individuals who are merely looking for a job, a resume builder, or paycheck, even if all of those things are of course also true. Thus, interviewers listen carefully to the answer candidates provide to the question “why are you interested in this role?” This question, often more than any other, may determine the fate of an interview performance.

 

What’s the best answer? While there is no single correct response to this question, the more specific the better. Answers that wax on about a role that ideally fits as the next logical step in a career trajectory fall short because there are always multiple other positions that could also fit that bill. Rather, focus on what it is about the organization’s work, mission, culture, or people that specifically resonates. If a candidate cannot answer that question, they are unlikely to be selected for the position.

Finding Your Inner Incredible: 5 career lessons from Incredibles2

By Dr. Claire Klieger

 

1. Get in touch with your own special powers.

Baby “Jack Jack” spends much of the second Incredibles movie exploring and testing out all of his newfound powers, much to the excitement (and, at times, horror) of his family members. While you might not feel that your own strengths technical qualify as super-powers, your own innate talents can serve as valuable assets in the professional world. Even if you can’t shoot laser beams out of your eyes, travel between dimensions, or replicate yourself many times over, perhaps you are an excellent multi-tasker with great attention to detail. Or maybe your gift is to identify patterns or big picture trends quickly. If you find the right line of work (or work environment) that values your particular gifts, you are already well on your way to achieving success.

 

2. Be willing to go outside of your comfort zone, especially for the good of the organization.

Trying new things is how we learn and being willing to volunteer for jobs that need to be done, even you don’t think they are glamorous, is an important way to contribute and build up your reputation at an organization. Mr. Incredible may never have dreamed of swapping in his role of bread winner for that of stay at home parent, but he quickly discovers that the task is a lot more challenging that he anticipated. Despite his trepidation, he understands that his new role is vital for the overall success of the family and does his best to do it well. In the process, he learns to adapt and gains new skills.

 

3. Know when to ask for help.

Just like Mr. Incredible juggling the responsibilities of a stay at home parent, everyone can get in over their heads sometimes. One key to career success is to know when to ask for help and seek out sources of support (particularly from mentors) when possible. You may not have the luxury of calling up Frozone or Edna Mode in your hour of need, but do not be afraid to lean on others when you are overwhelmed.

 

4. Avoid unnecessary tussles with raccoons.

This was probably everyone’s favorite scene of the movie. What’s not to love about a super-powered baby taking on a raccoon in a territorial dispute?  Hilarity aside, when the dust settled after that epic battle, what do you really have? A big mess, an unclear winner, and a newfound rival.  Similarly, in real life there is rarely anything to be gained by rising to the bait of unnecessary territorial battles with colleagues. Oh, these squabbles, particularly if they are public, might prove entertaining to your professional peers, but you want to pick your battles very carefully. It will likely not help your professional reputation to be seen as overly territorial. A far better “super power” is to be a team player, but a team player who also knows how (and when) to protect your own interests.

5. Everyone needs a way to calm their fire.

While it is not practical to calm life’s frustrations with an endless supply of cookies…or a foam spewing, fire retardant suit for that matter, it is important to find a way to relieve stress and vent frustration.  You certainly want to avoid nuclear blow-ups at work. Whether it’s meditation, a kick boxing class, or a glass of wine with friends (preferably after work), incorporate ways to blow off steam and distance yourself from office stresses. And, again, avoid battles with office “raccoons”.

How to be Indispensable in the Workplace: 6 Tips for Internship Success

By Dr. Claire Klieger

Many students are getting ready to start summer internships next month so I thought it would be a good time to revisit a topic I blogged about a few years ago. Regardless of whether you will be in your dream internship or just trying out something new, it is important to create a positive impression. Future employers will often ask for references (even if your previous experience is completely unrelated) so you will want to be able to provide a list of contacts that you know will speak highly of your job performance. Here are six tips sure make you stand out on the job:

1) Volunteer for any work that needs doing, no matter how menial or uninteresting. Let’s face it, every internship may include some less than glamorous tasks, but the attitude you take towards completing these matters. Whether it’s making copies, picking up mail or (as in the case of one intern at the Eagles), counting the number of toilets in your facility, your willingness to say, “Sure, I can do that!” will be noticed and appreciated.

2) Drink the cool aide. Fitting into any work environment depends upon understanding the culture. Pay attention to those around you. What is the dress code? Do people go out for lunch or eat at their desks? Do most people stay and work after hours or is everyone out the door at five? Also, take part in social activities provided by your organization to show that you are a team player and enthusiastic about your work. These kinds of events are also great networking opportunities.

3) Go the extra mile. It is important to make the very best of any internship situation.  If you do not have enough work of your own to do, look around to figure out who could use help; then offer it. You never know who is going to be grateful for your offer to crunch some numbers, design a flyer, summarize a set of articles, or run an experiment, etc. If you identify a need, you could gently offer an idea (and volunteer to see it through) that might be useful.

4) Put in the time (and be on time). Understand what your expected hours are. Whatever they may be, if you want to stand out, be prepared to arrive a little early and possibly stay late. Whatever you do, don’t create the impression that you’re checking your watch so that you can bolt out the door at 5 (or whenever the business day ends where you work).

5) Be professional. This is important for demeanor as well as dress. Also, be cognizant of your online communications. Keep your work emails professional—write in full sentences and avoid using acronyms or emoticons. Employers often complain that interns, used to texting, do not understand well how to draft professional emails.

6) Treat everyone pleasantly, regardless of status. Focus less on becoming chummy with your fellow interns and more on being pleasant with everyone. This could be as simple as greeting people at the beginning and end of each day and remembering to smile. Also, be careful not to look like as though you are only interested in making a good impression with senior level colleagues in positions of power.

If you follow these simply steps, you greatly increase the chances that those working around you will not only see you as a great intern, but may even start asking themselves, “what would we do without you?!”

Following up on the Career Fair “Love” Connection

By Claire Klieger

It’s February and love (Eagles, in particular) is in the air so I wanted to revisit and update this blog post from several years ago….

So you meet a great employer at a career fair (perhaps the spring career fair this past Friday) and it’s love at first handshake—sparks fly, resumes and business cards are exchanged and you feel like you’ve really made a connection. But just like coming down from the high of a great first date you ask yourself, now what? How do I follow up? Do I wait for him or her to call?  Do I email? Who initiates the next move? Similar to a budding romance, it’s about finding that balance between demonstrating interest and not coming off as desperate. Here are some tips and things to remember when following up with employers after a career fair:

Email a thank you note

Yes, even though the representative at the Career Fair may have spoken with dozens of students over the course of the day, this is one way to make yourself stand out. We hear all the time from employers that they really appreciate this kind of small gesture. Despite how it may seem, many applicants do not take the time to do this and so it does make a difference. Increasingly, employers rely on sophisticated tools to help them track contact with candidates and so not only will this gesture be welcomed by the contact, it may very well be officially noted as part of your online file with that employer.

 

Err on the side of being more formal

After a first date, you probably aren’t ready for someone to start addressing you as “Babe.” Similarly, some employers won’t feel that you know them well enough to refer to them by their first name. Unless during your initial conversation the recruiter specifically asked you to call him or her by their first name or introduced themselves using only their first name, you should still use a formal greeting (“Dear Mr., Ms., Dr., etc.”). Your email message should also avoid overly casual language, slang, acronyms (TTYL!), or emoticons.

 

What to say…

An email to an employer should be brief but detailed. Reiterate your interest in the organization and remind the recruiter of details you discussed at the fair. “Thank you for taking the time to speak with me at the Penn Career Fair on Friday. As I mentioned when we met, I’m really excited about this internship because as a health and societies major, it blends my interest in healthcare and communications. In particular, I enjoyed hearing about the kinds of projects that past interns have had a chance to work on and believe my leadership role as publicity chair for my sorority will enable me to…(reference what you will be doing in the position). I’m excited to submit my application online.” It could also just be thanking for them sharing some particular piece of advice or resource that resonated with you. Often, the best thank you emails are simply ones that show appreciation without an expectation of any follow-up or responses to questions.

 

Show that you really listened

You know how impressed you are if someone you’re interested in remembers something you mentioned (like a book you read that you enjoyed), unless, of course you have a stalker and then it’s just creepy. The same holds true for recruiters. If there was advice or information that a recruiter gave you at the fair (a professional association or recruiting website to check out), thank them for making that suggestion and show that you followed up on their advice. “Thanks so much for recommending ______. I spent some time looking at it this weekend and it’s a wonderful resource which I think will really help me….”

 

How long is too long?

Remember that recruiters are really busy and don’t have much time so they want to be able to get through your message quickly. Ideally, it should be no more than a few sentences. I think a good rule of thumb is whether or not the entire text of your message can be seen when the message is opened on a regular computer screen. If the message requires scrolling to finish reading, it’s probably too long.

 

Not getting a response doesn’t necessarily mean they “just aren’t that into you”

While some recruiters will respond to individual emails not everyone is good about replying. Don’t assume that if you don’t get a response that the recruiter isn’t interested in you as a candidate. They may just be too busy. That said, if it’s been more than a week since you initially emailed AND your message was something that required a response (like an answer to a question), it’s fine to follow-up with a second (even shorter) email referencing your initial email and asking they have had a chance to consider your question. After that second follow-up if you still don’t receive a response, it’s time to back off (remember, being labeled a stalker on the job market is no better than in the dating world). The “ball” is in their court and they will get back to you if (and sometimes only if) they are interested. Remember that all employers are on different timelines so it may take some time to get a response.

New Year, New Career You! 4 tips for starting 2018 off on the right foot

By Dr. Claire Klieger

T ‘is the season for new year’s resolutions, which often focus on efforts to be healthier—eat better, exercise more, etc. As the spring semester kicks off, here are some ways to help keep your career aspirations (and yourself) healthy and on track:

 

  1. Update your resume. The start of a new semester is a great time to update your resume to reflect that new GPA, the addition of a new activity or research project, change the courses reflected in your “relevant coursework” line or anything else. Of course, we are always happy to provide you with feedback through our resume critique service or, better yet, come to walk-ins to ask your resume questions in person.

 

  1. Work smarter, not harder. Online, we have limitless information at our fingertips, but finding the right resources can be time consuming. Be sure to take advantage of existing tools and resources to make your internship or job searching more efficient: Check out Handshake’s new “Search Alert” feature to create customized searches that then automatically run and email you with new postings that fit your criteria. Use Penn Career Services digital career resources to find great information on employers through things like JobTreks (search and build lists of employers by industry and keep track of applications) and Vault (employer and interview guides by industry).

 

  1. Break your goals into bite size chunks. The job or internship search can be overwhelming. Rather than thinking about all of the things that you need to do to land that coveted job or internship by summer, give yourself manageable goals for each week. Maybe that’s finding 5 people you want to contact for informational interviews using our alumni database, Quakernet. Or, perhaps it’s identifying 5 internships or jobs that you want to apply for or maybe it’s researching employers attending the upcoming Creative + Common Good Career Fair. Advisors in Career Services can help you figure out how to set up the appropriate next steps that are right for you.

 

  1. Get outside of the Penn bubble once and a while. In many of my meetings with students I hear versions of “I know I’m so behind…all of my friends already have jobs.” When I dig deeper, I often find that these students are not behind at all. There are so many industry specific nuances (timing, method of recruitment/hiring, resume and interviewing expectations/formats) that there is no one size fits all strategy for career success.  Perhaps you are looking for something in an industry (like entertainment or non-profits) that hires much later than others (like finance or consulting).

 

The best thing you can do for yourself in 2018 is to tune out the chatter about what your classmates and friends’ plans are for the summer or after graduation.  At the end of the day, to truly stay career healthy, you need to focus on your own path and what makes sense for you. Let us work with you to strategize and identify resources related to your specific interests.

 

  1. Embrace what makes you, you. Every student I meet with has what it takes to succeed in the workplace. You’re bright, talented, and no matter what kind of previous experiences (clubs, volunteer work, internships, work study jobs, class projects) you’ve had thus far, you’ve gained transferable skills that are valuable to employers. I promise that you all have a compelling and engaging story to share. The trick is figuring out how to tell that story and package yourself (through resume, networking and interviewing) to employers. Personally, my favorite part of the job is helping students do just that. So, spend less time worrying about what you may think you are lacking and more time on presenting the best version of you.