Tough Interview Questions: Tell Me About A Time When You Failed At Something.

By: S. David Ross, Associate Director

It’s time for another feature on tough interview questions. This time, let’s consider the popular question – tell me about a time when you failed at something. Now, technically this is not a “question” but if you encounter this statement in an interview it can be difficult to share an experience that did not end well. However, with a well-thought out response, you can make a favorable impression on your interviewer.

There are several elements to articulating a strong response to this interview “question.”  First, keep your story fairly succinct – mention relevant details, but try not to get too focused on extraneous information.  Next, choose your example wisely.  Your story should be authentic but try not to give an example that may suggest or imply you will have difficultly performing the tasks required in the job.  The “trap” to this question is just that – describing a failure that is closely related to the duties or responsibilities of the position.  Providing an example of failure that is similar to a task you may be asked to perform on the job may cause great concern for the interviewer.  I would also suggest explicitly stating that you take some level of responsibility for the failure – the more you try to blame the outcome on extraneous factors out of your control, the less likely you will make a favorable impression with your answer.  Finally, be sure to indicate what you have learned from the experience and how that has improved your skill set, approach or thought process moving forward.  This is a sign of maturity which is always a great thing.

At some point in our lives, we all fail at something.  For some people, the instinct may be to simply forget about it and it can certainly be difficult to talk about the situation at a later time.  If you are ever asked to discuss a time you have failed at something during an interview, keep the aforementioned tips in mind so you can be confident in the delivery of your answer.

Send to Kindle

Tough Inteview Questions: Why Should We Hire You?

By: S. David Ross, Associate Director

Ah, the dreaded interview question – “Why should we hire you over everyone else we are interviewing today?” I have asked this question during many mock interviews and students have been very curious to hear more about how to approach this question. While there is not a universal answer that will impress all interviewers, consider the following as you contemplate how to answer the question:

- How you express your answer can be as important as what you say. Think about what makes someone believable – how a person expresses a point can be very influential. If someone has strong eye contact, speaks eloquently and delivers a coherent response, that projects confidence – a trait that recruiters consider when making hiring decisions. Conversely, if someone has poor communication skills, seems hesitant or nervous, any valid points may be taken with a grain of salt. If you are not confident in yourself and your abilities, why would a recruiter want to take a risk on hiring you?

- Avoid using general, trite adjectives. These will vary depending on the position you are interviewing for, but saying that you have strong communication skills, pay attention to detail are a team player and a hard worker will not differentiate you from other applicants. I would suggest thinking carefully and critically about the position you are interviewing for and what makes that position different from other opportunities. For example, if your position involves working with clients, think about your skills and attributes that may be an asset for that particular aspect of the job – perhaps you have an engaging personality that helps you build rapport and earn trust. In essence, the more detailed you can be about your reasons as they relate to the position you are interviewing for, the better.

- Avoid lengthy answers and tangents. The potential danger with this interview question is not knowing when to end your answer and elaborating too much. When I have asked this question during a mock interview, I have seen interviewees start off focused then go off on a tangent and ultimately deliver a very long-winded response. Attention spans are short so remain focused in your reply.

- Summarize with examples. Depending on the points you want to make, think about creating a succinct reply supported with specific experiences or examples to make your claims more credible. It’s one thing to say you have the requisite skills to be successful but another to provide evidence to substantiate your statement.

If you approach the “why should we hire you over everyone else we are interviewing today” question with these ideas in mind, you can create a strong answer to a challenging question.

Send to Kindle

Coffee Chats

By: S. David Ross

Anyone who knows me well realizes that I’m not a coffee drinker. I would much rather have a nice cup of tea. But in recent years, employers have offered coffee chats for prospective hires – in essence providing students with opportunities to meet firm representatives in a one-on-one setting. These coffee chats have increased in popularity as students clamor for the chance to have face time with professionals working at places of interest to them. I encourage job and internship seekers to incorporate a similar strategy into their search – consider arranging your own “coffee chat” for networking purposes.

Over time, changes in technology have made connecting with others from a distance much easier. This has led to several online resources that are commonly used during job and internship searches. You can find information through Google, browse LinkedIn profiles or search an alumni database to identify individuals to contact by phone or email. But why not arrange a time to meet briefly in person opposed to communicating electronically? While you may identify many people you would like to speak with that are far away or easier to connect with virtually, do not overlook any opportunity you may have to meet a local contact in person.

Coffee chats are great because they can be fairly brief opposed to a more formal meeting or lunch. Individuals may be more willing to meet with you in person if there is not a long time commitment. Coffee shops or other similar establishments have many locations so they can be very convenient venues. The relaxed atmosphere of a coffee shop may also be more conducive to holding a conversation which may put both parties at ease. If you do plan a coffee chat, come prepared with a handful of questions that focus on your interest in a particular company, industry or position. If you arrange a coffee chat with an alum, consider asking that person about their transition from college and what they found helpful during their time as an undergrad. Regardless of what you discuss, meeting with a contact during a coffee chat may provide you with valuable information or leads that are helpful in your search.

Send to Kindle

Breathe: Self-Care in the Helping Professions

By Sharon Fleshman

Many students are juggling coursework, extracurricular activities, a social life, an on-campus job, and perhaps a job or internship search.  However, students preparing for careers in the helping professions really have their work cut out for them.  The typical nursing student also has day-long clinical rotations.  On any given day, an education student may be rushing from his student teaching site to class.  Social work students are heading to field placements three days a week.   If you see yourself in any of these scenarios, self-care is vital to your success during your time at Penn and beyond.

When the issue of self-care comes up, I’m reminded of the common illustration of oxygen masks in the safety presentation given on an airplane.  The flight attendant points out that if the air pressure in the cabin drops suddenly, the masks will drop down.  Passengers are further instructed that “if you are with a child or someone else who needs your assistance, secure your mask first.”   However, there is a potential flaw with applying this analogy to self-care.  You shouldn’t wait until you are in a semi-crisis mode, like experiencing a drop in cabin pressure, to think about self-care.  You need to be intentional and plan ahead so that caring for yourself is part of your day-to-day life.

Begin with the basics.  Eat healthy food.  Get sufficient exercise and sleep.  Make sure you get regular physical checkups.  These steps are obviously important, but often so easy to neglect.

Debrief with others and with yourself.  Process your experiences from a given day on your field placement site by speaking with a mentor or peer and journaling your reflections. Such debriefing can allow for shared insight and the closure to put the events of the day behind you, especially if they were stressful.

Turn down the volume.  Most helping professions require a lot of talking with and listening to other people.  For you, winding down might mean establishing a space where there is less chatter.  I’ve heard some students speak of prayer, meditation, yoga, or deep breathing as ways to do this.

Enjoy creativity in its many forms.  Whether you are on the giving end or the receiving end, creativity can have an energizing impact.  Listen to music that inspires you.  Learn how to knit, crochet or quilt.  Take up pottery, woodwork or photography.  Check out an art exhibit at a local museum.

Maintain a solid support system.  It is ironic that those in helping professions can be reluctant to get assistance for themselves.  Don’t hesitate to get additional help from other helping professionals, such as counselors, as necessary.  Keep in touch with family, friends, mentors, advisors and others who have your best interest at heart.



Send to Kindle

Consider the possibilities…pursue your interests…be yourself…

By: David Ross

If someone asked me about my philosophy on the job and internship search, my response would be the mantra displayed in my office: “consider the possibilities…pursue your interests…be yourself.”  It’s very easy to be consumed with the end goal of your search – securing the job or internship – without focusing on whether the job or internship is a good fit for you.  With that in mind, here are some things to think about:

-  Consider the possibilities.  It is not uncommon for those seeking employment to apply for multiple positions – and it is very easy to focus on the number of applications submitted opposed to the details of any particular position.  So instead of simply applying for positions based on company name, position title, location or other criteria, look closely at each job description and try to imagine yourself in the position.  Think carefully about what you are specifically hoping to gain from the job.  And do not be afraid to explore opportunities that differ slightly from your previous experience or can leverage your knowledge and existing skill set in new and exciting ways.

-  Pursue your interests.  As you navigate the job or internship search, it can be tempting to focus on the advice of others.  There can be comfort hearing validation from someone else about the type of work you hope to pursue.  I am not saying you should not leverage the help of others as you progress in your search – just be sure that the actual jobs or internships you are pursuing match your interests and you are making the important decisions.  After all, you will be the one working in the position and you will have to deal with the ramifications of your choices – not anyone else.

-  Be yourself.  Always be yourself.  Try not to be someone else or who you think the ideal candidate would be.  Demonstrate the competencies and abilities you do have as you proceed with your search.  Be proud of who you are and what you have already accomplished.  Be true to yourself, your values and beliefs.  Some employment opportunities will be a great fit for you and others may not – and that is ok.  Focus on finding work environments where you feel comfortable enough to be yourself.

Send to Kindle