Experience the hiring process from the employer’s (emotional) perspective

Dr. Joseph Barber

In addition to working with graduate students and postdocs here at Penn on their career exploration and development, I also teach an Applied Animal Behavior and Welfare course at Hunter College of the City University of New York as an adjunct professor. Since job searching is a discrete set of human behaviors that can be defined and even measured, I find several topics discussed in my animal behavior course to be relevant when talking about career-related topics with students and postdocs.

One of my lectures in the course focuses on the question of whether other species experience emotional states and whether those states are similar to the ones that we experience. That is a very important question from an animal welfare perspective, because negative subjective emotional states (like fear, pain, frustration, boredom, loneliness) can be a potential source of suffering if they result directly from the way we house or manage these animals in captivity.

There are no easy answers to these questions, because emotions by their very nature are subjective and may well be distinct to the individuals experiencing them. I assume that other human beings feel emotional states in a similar way that I do, but it is almost impossible to show that in any objective fashion. We cannot measure the experiences that we feel, even if we can measure changes in blood flow or nerves firing in parts of the brain. What we are left with, then, are some general questions we must ponder. Here are two examples.

  • Do other species have the same range of emotional states that we do, and do they have some that we don’t experience?
  • How can we try to perceive the environment from the perspectives of those other species when they see, smell, hear and experience the world in such different ways from us?

I bring up the issue of differing perspectives because, in many cases, those types of questions are also important when thinking about employers — and especially hiring managers and recruiters. Yes, I know that they are humans, too (although with the more common use of applicant tracking software, the first entity that looks at your materials could well be a robot of sorts). Hiring managers should experience the world in the same way that you do. But their environment and experiences are very different from yours, and those factors can play a significant role in their emotional and behavioral responses. In any job application and interview process, it’s important to figure out how employers perceive their environment and how they respond to the application materials you send them in these environments. So, let’s look at the questions I listed above from a job perspective.

Do employers have the same range of emotional states that you do, and do they have some that you don’t experience?

In general terms, the same things that would annoy you will annoy employers. If they ask for a résumé and you send them a 10-page CV instead, they will find that annoying. If they ask for a cover letter and writing sample and you don’t send one, then that, too, will cause irritation. I don’t think there are studies that look at this, but I feel sure that chronic irritation will inhibit open-mindedness about your potential as a candidate. Even if employers have become desensitized to people not sending them what they ask for and in the right format, it may not change their behavioral response, which is probably going to be to shift your application to the “no” pile.

But while hiring managers don’t have unique emotional states, they will generally not feel the same levels of insecurity or worry in the job-search process that some job candidates may. After all, they are not the ones being judged. For that reason, you should not let negative emotions sneak into your application materials or your interview answers, as they will be easy for hiring managers to spot. That can happen quite subtly, with an innocent-enough sounding “Although I don’t have all the experience you are asking for, I do have …” statement in a cover letter.

Don’t dwell on the negatives. Find a more optimistic tone. One easy way to do that is simply to remove the first part of the sentence I used as an example above and start with what you can do and will offer that will make you a valuable candidate. You may only ever have 70 percent of what a job ad is asking for in terms of skills and experiences, but that can be enough — especially if you can demonstrate the potential you can bring.

How can you try to perceive the environment from the perspectives of employers when they see, smell, hear and experience the world in such different ways from you?

The first thing to realize is that employers do see the world differently than you do. Your priorities might be to find a job for some of the following reasons: to have enough money to eat and stay warm, to get good health insurance, to be able to work with an interesting group of colleagues, to continue being paid to do the research you love doing, to start on your professional career path, and so on. We all have our own reasons. Employers have their own reasons, too, and they aren’t likely to overlap with many of yours. The main reason they hire someone usually boils down to the fact that they need someone to get a job done effectively, whether that is teaching courses, working with clients, developing new protein-sequencing pathways or managing programs. They don’t care what you will spend your salary on, but they do care about whether you are going to be a worthwhile investment and good to work with.

In other words, they will be more interested in what you can do for them and less interested in what having the job does for you. When asked the question “Why do you want this position?” in an interview, your answer should put less priority on what you might get out of it and more on what you can offer them.

Focus on their needs first, and it will become obvious to them that you want the job because: a) you have the abilities to do it, and b) something from your past experiences has shown you doing something similar, doing it effectively and enjoying doing it.

A common mistake is to spend too much time telling an employer how excited you are by the possibility of working for such an impressive organization as they obviously are. That is information they already have. They want to hear about what you can bring to the role.

Your academic experiences are always going to be important in describing what you as a Ph.D. can bring, but you will need to talk about those experiences in active terms. Avoid comments like, “My academic experiences have given me …” which involves actions happening to you. Instead, consider something like, “I actively sought out opportunities to study X subject with X professor so that I could connect X concept with X reality, and I have used this knowledge in X situation to help me X …” — where the concepts and realities you mention are relevant to the job and the outcome highlights how effective your knowledge and skills truly are. Employers are looking for patterns: if you have used a skill successfully in the past, then you will be likely to do so again in the future. You need to find a way to show them how effective you have been — and that will always be more interesting than just telling them that you can be effective.

Hiring managers are keyed into the abilities, experiences and knowledge that will help them build capacity within their organizations. They are aware of the challenges that they face every day and are looking for the skills they know will be helpful in overcoming these challenges. If you do not know what those challenges are or what skills are helpful, then you may not be highlighting the most relevant experiences from your past.

So how do you see the world from the employer’s perspective? The easiest way is to read the job advertisement really, really carefully. That is where employers list what they need to get done and the types of skills they believe are necessary to do so. And to really see the world from an employer’s perspective, you also have to be able to use their language to describe your experiences. A great question to ask people whom you are meeting for informational interviews is “What are the skills you use on a daily basis that help you to succeed in your role?” That will give you insight into the way the world looks from the employer’s perspective.

And coming back to the idea of emotional states: when you make it easy for employers to see how your experiences qualify you as an excellent candidate do the job they need done (and most people applying for any job won’t do that), then you will make them happy. It is probable that happy employers will more likely see you as a preferred candidate.

So, yes, employers do have emotions, and you will need to make sure that you give some thought to how you can keep their subjective states as positive as possible.

A Day in the Life: Marketing Research or Consulting? Blurred Lines…

by Dina Liu, WH ’12

I read an interesting article this morning on my train ride to Kraft in Northfield, Illinois, about the rise of agency-bred & raised consulting shops.  These “sexy” agencies are starting to realize that their advertiser clients are demanding more insights, more analytic prowess, and most importantly, more actionable recommendations for what to do in-market.  From trying to stem the hemorrhaging of lost market share to re-positioning an old network as the new Hispanic Millennial destination, these agencies’ clients are demanding more.  Interestingly enough, while the world of agencies is still playing catch-up and starting to understand that it’s not sufficient to just be a “media shop” or a “creative shop,” Nielsen has carved a spot out for itself that is now ingrained in our clients’ business models.  And this is why I’m making the claim (you heard it here first!) that marketing research has replaced traditional consulting.  Gone are the days where your “research vendor” sat in the corner and only serviced you when you had a problem that required immense data crunching.  Now?  Now we sit with our clients, have dedicated consultative teams that align to our clients’ business groups, and provide the ammunition they need to make real-time decisions that make the most impact on top-line revenue and bottom-line margins.  Nielsen is the foremost leader in this area of consultative insights provider.  It’s not enough for me to tout my company’s credentials in this guest blog & claim that I’ve got one of the coolest jobs ever.  Here’s a short story on what happened not a few months ago:

nielsenI did a tour of duty through product marketing for a digital ad effectiveness product called Nielsen Online Campaign Ratings (OCR for short).   Nielsen’s focus on digital advertising has sharpened over the last five years, as the industry continues to see TV dollars migrating across screen to Digital and Mobile.  Not only did I get the opportunity to understand the depth and chaos that is digital advertising in this day & age, but I got to be part of an incredible product leadership team that created this product, from concept & ideation to full-scale production & commercial release.  OCR is now one of, if not THE, accepted currency on which digital advertising will be traded on, similar to how the Nielsen TV Ratings serve as the foundation for the television advertising world.  Nielsen’s focus didn’t stop there.  Domestic?  Sure, we’ve got the US market…but what about our clients who span multiple countries and continents?  One of my major projects was the preparation for the commercial launch of OCR in the French market- a European country whose privacy restrictions are notorious in technology/telecom.  Working hand-in-hand with our incredible team of engineers around the globe, our own data provider partners, and our client service and sales teams, I got incredibly close to this product and was sent to Paris by Nielsen to train the local Nielsen team and host a client roadshow across the biggest publishers, advertisers, and agencies in France.  Never thought two years ago, that here I’d be in Paris presenting to the directors of digital strategy for Starcom Media Group, Carat, Havas, Microsoft, L’Oreal, and Yahoo on why OCR will revolutionize digital advertising as we know it.

Long story short: Nielsen as a company embodies this incredible transformation we are seeing in how clients use big data and their consultative partners.  We are no longer just a “data provider” or a “research vendor.”  To sit on our laurels & accept those descriptors doesn’t do Nielsen justice.  The culture, the mentality, and the senior leadership continuously push us to be THE solution to our clients’ problems.  Spread sheets and number crunching?  They’re most likely here to stay, but at least we can say that this is no longer the ONLY thing marketing research can provide.

Dina Liu graduated in May 2012, from Wharton with double concentrations in Marketing and Management.  Primary extracurricular activities: President of Penn Mock Trial and member of Sigma Kappa, worked at the Penn Housing Office 3 out of 4 years.  Junior summer, interned at Blackrock supporting their retail Defined Contribution business in their marketing and sales department.  Currently working at the Nielsen Company as an Associate Media Analytics Consultant servicing the Viacom and Discovery Communications accounts in our Watch business.  Live in Manhattan, have 2 goldfish, and enjoy foodie dates around the five boroughs. 

Alumni Perspective: There’s More Out There Than Just Finance

by Lee Yanco W’10

payperpost-realrank-decisionsAs OCR goes on and Juniors scramble to secure internships for the summer, it may be hard to imagine any job outside of finance and consulting. Most internships offered through OCR are focused on investment banking, sales-trading, and consulting gigs due to both the nature of these industries’ hiring cycles and the good reputation of Penn students.  As a result, it may seem like your future lies on Wall Street.



Stop, ask yourself, and answer the question, the most important question you can ask yourself when looking for a job: What do you want to do? The emphasis is on the word YOU, because this job search is about YOU and YOU alone, and only YOU can decide what you want to do and what YOU want to get good at.

While I’m sure there are some of you who truly are passionate about finance, my gut tells me more of you are interested in other areas. You should never do something just because it’s the default choice – you will end up hating your job and daydreaming about doing the things you really want to do. And after a year of working in tech, I promise you it is totally possible to spend your working years having fun in a job you love instead of making a salary doing something you hate. There is nothing worse than spending 5 days a week getting better at something you don’t want to get better at, it’s an existential time waste.

At AppNexus, we specifically look for interviewees who want to be here and want to be in tech, for the simple reason that those who like their job and want to do their job will do the best at it and be the best people to work with. Those who have a passion for technology will succeed, those who fake it are quickly weeded out.

However, finance and consulting have one advantage over these other opportunities with regards to OCR – they offer formal training programs for new employees that quickly acclimate fresh graduates to their industries, teaching them the industry-specific skills they need to succeed. Other industries either have not caught up to finance and consulting in campus appeal, or otherwise don’t have a structured educational program in place to train complete newbies to the industry. Because of this, it may seem daunting to stay from the “standard” path.

So, how do you go about showing non-finance companies you are passionate and worth considering despite your lack of skills?

Simply put, there isn’t any way to do it but to do it. You can sit around and tell interviewers you enjoy tech or fashion or healthcare, or you can do something and then SHOW interviewers your passion for tech or fashion or travel. Enjoy tech? Teach yourself a little code and launch a website or two. Enjoy fashion? Create a samplebook or perhaps get your own clothes custom-made. Enjoy healthcare? Join your professor in a research project and get your name attached to a paper. There are many ways to take initiative and get something done, a little work on your end can reap huge dividends later.

When I graduated I took a consulting job through OCR and proceeded to dislike everything about my choice  for the next year. I struggled through banal work,  thinking that this is just how the working world is: show up, do something you don’t enjoy, rinse and repeat for 45 years and then you can finally enjoy yourself. When they mercifully fired me after a year (the best thing they ever did for me), I threw myself into what I actually cared about: technology. Even though I did not really know how to code, I taught myself the basics and project-managed a few ideas I had to fruition, launching two web services. Those eventually failed, but simply because I went out and actually DID something, all of a sudden I was getting interest right and left from technology companies. That got parlayed into my current job at AppNexus, where I’ve spent the past year doing something I love and succeeding in a field I want to succeed in. You can do the same, there’s nothing stopping you except you.

Good jobs aren’t looking for grunts like they do in finance and consulting. They’re looking for people who are passionate, they’re looking for people who want to love what they do. Finance and consulting jobs may claim to give you a broad-based skill set, but employers in your chosen field aren’t looking for investment banking skills, they’re looking for people who have demonstrated passion above all.

Find something you love and pursue it. The most important person in your life is you, and your time is far too precious to be spent doing something you don’t enjoy.

3 Things Matter to Get the Job You Want

by Desiree M. Tunstall, ‘CAS 2006, Account Director @ AppNexus

There are three things that matter to any employer when interviewing a candidate.

  1. Can you do the job?
  2. Will you do the job?
  3. Will I like working with you?

If you’re an avid reader of the Harvard Business Review, Fast Company or other similar business publications, you may have seen these three questions.  Let’s address each from the standpoint of a college student looking to secure his or her dream job.

Can you do the job?  Employers know that you are fresh out of college and you will need on the job training.  However, there are certain skills you can bring to the table that employers need you to have from the start – you either have them or you don’t.  They include:

  • Problem Solving:  If I give this person an issue to tackle, will he/she think about all sides of the problem?  Address all potential outcomes?  Weigh various sides of the issue intelligently?  Provide a sound resolution quickly?
  • Effective Communication:  Can this person effectively and efficiently articulate a point?  Can he/she explain complicated matters in a simple, easy-to-understand fashion?  If I put this person in front of our CEO, would he/she know what is important to share?
  • Comprehension Skills:  Can this person receive, interpret and act upon information he/she is given quickly?

Will you do the job?  An employer can tell if you are interested in the job.  It’s like going on a date.  If you are only there for the free meal, the person on the other side of the table can tell.  Apply for positions at companies that interest you.  That way you can easily demonstrate the most important characteristic that employers look for here – investment.  Investment means that you are not only interested in being at the company, but you are willing to put in 100% effort to exceed expectations and contribute to the company’s success.  During your interview, you demonstrate investment by researching the company well, clearly articulating how the position maps to your career goals and being enthusiastic.

Will I like working with you?  It’s no secret that you are likely going to spend a lot of hours at your first job.  Most Americans work anywhere from 40 to 60 hours per week – some even more than that.  Those hours are best spent around people you enjoy.  Employers want to like the person they are hiring.  Gone are the days of clocking in at 9:00AM and leaving at 4:50PM.  Companies are trying to make their workplaces more integrated in their employees personal lives, making work a more social experience.  Liking the people around you is more important than ever.  I certainly don’t suggest going to an interview and trying to be liked.  Just be yourself.  Be your naturally nice, smiling, charismatic, friendly, inquisitive, intuitive, emotionally intelligent self.  You got into PENN with it.  Now go get that job!

How Penn Prepared Me for Life at IBM

by Miriam, CAS ’11

Graduating from Penn, I was sure that postgraduate life at IBM would greatly differ than my college life. While I was not flying on planes twice a week and accumulating hotel points at Penn, many aspects of my daily life at Penn helped to prepare me for IBM.

Work Hard, Play Hard
First, the “work hard play hard” Penn motto is definitely applicable to IBM. Consultants’ lives are often dependent on client demands which can mean long hours of hard work.  As Penn students, we are required to develop time management and multitasking skills. These abilities will help you manage the sometimes hectic consulting environment. While the work is demanding, the IBM culture also encourages a positive lifestyle. My team achieves this through arranging team outings ranging from dinners, to baseball games, to excursions to Cirque Du Soleil. I found Penn prepared me to be concentrated and serious when the situation called for it, and to be appropriately relaxed during social events which allows for team bonding and relationship building. This is an important aspect in building your network, and finding mentors throughout your time at IBM.

Prepared for the Unpredictable
Additionally, Penn helps to prepare you for the Consulting by Degrees (CBD) program by placing you in an atmosphere that is not always predictable. Going into a new course, you have to be willing to adapt to the teacher’s methodology, and you will similarly work to complement your project manager and team’s working style. Each professor expects you to quickly adapt to the working environment, and pick up on new skills at a rapid pace. Additionally, within every course, you are required to utilize several skills such as researching and synthesizing information and producing a work product from your analysis. These capabilities are critical in consulting. Most importantly, Penn provides you with the confidence that you have the intelligence and ability to gain skills that will allow you to develop a structured solution for a complex business problem.

How to Stand Out
While Penn provides you with an excellent background for the CBD program, there are several things you can do to stand out as a candidate. First, speak to as many IBM consultants as possible. The more you learn, the better you will know if IBM is a good fit for you. Second, practice case studies with your friends and Career Services. Excelling in the case is a great way to show that you can approach complex problems in a structured, logical manner. Third, IBM is a company that thrives on strong leadership and collaboration, so it is very important that you can demonstrate your leadership abilities. Finally, in the interview relax and be yourself, you want the interviewer to want you on their next project!