Wrap Up Your Interview with Smart, Well-Prepared Questions

This entry was written by Blair Canner, a Graduate Assistant working in Career Services this year.

Picture this: you have just spent the last half an hour answering every question thrown at you. Walk me through your resume? What are your strengths? Tell me about a time you failed. Finally the interviewer looks at you and asks “Do you have any questions for me?”

While you may be inclined to shake your head and end the interview as soon as possible, having questions prepared will prove your interest not just in the role but in the opinions of the interviewer.

While any question is technically fair game, you should use this time as an opportunity to:

  • Reemphasize your fit in the job

Asking what qualities are most common in successful employees gives you one final opportunity to demonstrate that you possess those critical skills. Alternatively, ask what skills the team is seeking in a new hire. Specifically connecting your experiences and skills to their needs will reemphasize that you’re the right candidate for the job.

  • Understand the culture from a personal point of view

If an interviewer has been at the company for a while, ask them what they like the most about the organization. Find out why they joined the company and what has convinced them to stay. If you’re interviewing with a specific team, ask about the team’s culture and find out if they hold any team-building events. Culture can differ across teams – make sure your team’s culture suits your work style.

  • Identify professional development opportunities

If this is one of your first jobs out of school, demonstrate your commitment to continuous development by asking about available training & mentoring opportunities. Does the organization offer formal support networks and do those networks hold events? What about continuing education – if you want to learn a new skill, are you expected to learn it on the job or are there courses available?

The final part of the interview is just as evaluative as the first 25 minutes. But in this case, it’s also an opportunity for you to determine if this company is the right fit for you. Preparing 5-10 questions in advance will help you come across as genuinely curious and invested in the job at hand.

Tips for the Second Part of Your Summer Internship

Most of you are probably well into your summer internship or research experiences. Hopefully you’ve settled in, established a good relationship with your peers and manager, and are continuing to learn new things every day. Following are a few items that you might consider for the second half of your internship to gain even more from your experience.

Network: There are almost certainly a core group of individuals with whom you work every day. Of course, it’s critically important to develop positive relationships with them. Many interns, however, find it beneficial to expand their networks by developing relationships with employees in other functional areas or departments that also interest them. If you would like to gain a broader understanding of your organization, try reaching out to others within it to see if they might have time for a cup of coffee or a lunch meeting so that you can learn more about their daily work. Even better, if you have a good relationship with your manager, perhaps ask him or her for an introduction to pave the way.

Volunteer for Additional Assignments of Interest: If you’ve already learned the core parts of your job, are performing well, and have some extra time, perhaps you might volunteer to help out with an additional assignment that could help you learn new skills and be beneficial to the work flow in your group. That said, if you are too busy with your current work or are struggling with it, it makes the most sense to focus on these core responsibilities instead of taking on new ones.

Request a Mid-Summer Review /Discussion: Some interns will have a formal, scheduled mid-summer review, although many organizations save formal feedback until the end of the summer or don’t provide it at all. If such a review is not already scheduled, it can be helpful to request one with your manager to solicit feedback that you can utilize for the remaining weeks of the internship. Ask what you are doing well and how you might improve. Try not to be defensive when you are given constructive criticism. While it might be difficult to hear, this feedback is ultimately to help you grow professionally and can be very valuable. The review does not have to be overly formal – it would be fine to simply ask your supervisor for a few minutes to discuss how the summer has been going in terms of your performance and how you might be even more productive during the remaining weeks.

Document your accomplishments and request a letter for reference. You are most likely super-aware of what you have been working on and your accomplishments this summer, but a year from now your memory might not be so sharp. Document your accomplishments (including outcomes and quantifications where you can) so that you will be able to include them on your resume and discuss them in an interview. If you feel comfortable, ask your manager for a letter of reference at the end of the summer. If he or she prefers not to write a formal letter, you could ask if they would be willing to serve as a positive reference for you in the future and if it would be ok for you to provide their contact information to prospective employers. Keep in mind that it is a good practice to notify a reference if you provide their contact information to someone in the future so that they will be prepared for a prospective employer to reach out to them.

Most of all, enjoy the rest of the summer! Internships provide an incredibly valuable chance to try out a career field and are not so easily attainable after graduation, so make the most of this great opportunity.

A Few Handshake Updates and Reminders

It’s hard to believe, but we’ve been successfully using Handshake for almost six months. We’ve had over 10,000 students and alumni activate their accounts, approved over 7,600 employers to use the system, and had over 12,000 jobs and internships posted for Penn students and alumni. (In case you are curious, the top job functions have been education/teaching, finance, data & analytics, business development, and research – but there are lots of others!)

We hope the Handshake system has been working well for you! As a reminder, we wanted to post a few ways that you can optimize the system over the winter break to make it even more effective!

  • Complete your profile! If you haven’t already done so, take a few minutes to add details to your profile about your work experience, activities, educational background, and skills. You can even upload your resume so you don’t have to start from scratch. Once your profile looks great, you can make your profile public to employers so that they can find you for positions for which you might be a strong candidate. (If you have already finalized your plans and are not currently seeking, you can make your profile private so that you are not contacted.) As a new feature, you can also make your profile public to other Penn students and check out profiles from classmates who have opted to share theirs. Handshake can be a powerful networking tool.
  • Fill out the Career Interests section completely! The more Handshake knows about your career interests, the more effective it will be at populating your homepage with opportunities that are a good fit for you. Be sure to indicate what type of opportunities interest you (job, internship, networking, volunteering, etc.), the industries and job functions of interest to you, and where you want to live. Also, take a few minutes to indicate which CareerMail Communications you would like to receive. These are industry based e-newsletters sent out by the Career Services staff on a regular basis. It is one of the primary communication channels we are using this year, so don’t miss out on it.
  • Take a look at the Resources tab to find other career related resources available to you as a Penn student.
  • RSVP for events! (We will have lots more events listed in the spring once we get our room assignments from facilities!)
  • Schedule an appointment with a Career Advisor through the on-line scheduling system.
  • Download the mobile app, so you can do all of these things on the go! (Note that currently a mobile app is only available for the iPhone – an Android app is in the works- but even without the app Handshake’s website is mobile ready.)

Option B: Making the Most of Your Job or Internship (Even If It Wasn’t Your First Choice)

I recently listened to an interview with Sheryl Sandberg (Facebook’s COO) and Adam Grant (one of our amazing professors here at Penn). Sheryl has long impressed me with the huge amount of work she has done in empowering and inspiring girls and women to take on leadership roles through her book, Lean In, published in 2013. The book became widely popular and topped the New York Times hardcover nonfiction list. It inspired an immense amount of dialogue about women in the workforce and also resulted in over 30,000 Lean in Circles (small groups of individuals who meet regular to learn and grow together) in over 150 countries around the world. Impressive!

Her newest book, Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience, and Finding Joy, comes from different circumstances entirely and is focused on the hard truth that sometimes we can’t control what happens to us and life doesn’t always work out the way we had planned or hoped. Sheryl lost her husband suddenly and unexpectedly while on vacation, and Option B focuses on how to move forward after such a devastating loss and finding and building resiliency within. Adam Grant, as a co-author and friend of Sheryl’s, contributes with research on finding inner strength in difficult circumstances.

The idea of an “Option B” resonates strongly with me, as I often talk with students and alumni who are disappointed in how their job or internship searches worked out. Perhaps they had hoped to work for a large, well-known firm with a structured training program, but instead landed a job at a smaller organization that offers more “on the job” training. Perhaps they were hoping to land an internship in New York City, but ultimately could not find one that paid enough to cover the exorbitant housing costs in the city, making it an unrealistic option. Perhaps they were hoping to travel the world and land a job in Europe, but couldn’t find an employer willing to sponsor them for a work visa. These are all discussions I’ve had with students in just the past few weeks, and yes, they were disappointing outcomes. Through the many such conversations I’ve had with individuals, I’ve found that the most successful at navigating these disappointments are those who can acknowledge their disappointment and then move on to make the most of and capitalize on the options that they do have available, rather than focusing on “what could have been”. I believe there is always something positive you can take away from an experience, even if it is learning how to work for a difficult boss or how to tactfully ask for or negotiate different or new assignments if the ones you are initially given are not exactly piquing your interest. (Of course, keep in mind that this tactic always needs to keep the needs of the business in mind!) Rather than coming to work with negativity, focus on how you can make a positive impact and contribute. Good things invariably happen when people enjoy having you as a colleague and can feel your positive energy.

Think creatively about how to move forward with your Option B. For the person who wants to work in Europe, perhaps looking at US based multi-national employers would be a good next step – focusing on working in the United States for now, learning the ins and outs of the organization, and then exploring the possibility for an international assignment at some point in the future. For the person working at a smaller firm with less training, try seeking out online programs, workshops or conferences to learn new skills (and maybe even have it paid for by the employer). We all will experience “Option B circumstances” in our work lives. I encourage you to handle them with a positive and forward looking attitude – do the job to the best of your ability, learn new skills, increase your network, and when the time is right move on to the next (hopefully exciting!) chapter in your work life.

Looking Forward: The Spring Semester Job or Internship Search

As the fall semester winds down, we’ve had questions from many students about how the spring job or internship search may differ from the fall search. These questions come from students who may have spent the last four months actively seeking full-time or internship positions, as well as those who are just starting their search now.

Image result for job search

The good news is…. there are still plenty of opportunities out there! In fact, employers in many industries don’t event start actively recruiting students until much closer to when they can start work – the “just in time” job search. We’ve just finished up the analysis of outcomes for the Class of 2016, and almost half (46%) indicated that they accepted their full-time postgraduate positions in or after January 2016.

We certainly welcome interested employers to conduct on-campus interviews in the spring and we will absolutely have some activity in our recruiting suite. However, the number of employers will be much smaller than in the fall. Students should be aware that employers who will be conducting interviews on campus early in the spring semester are already collecting resumes, so be sure to check PennLink now and periodically over break so that you don’t miss any opportunities that might interest you.

We will also hold three major career fairs on campus in February for all students served by Career Services. (You can find career fair details here, but in the meantime hold these dates!)

  • Creative and Common Good Fair: Wednesday, February 8
  • Start-up Fair: Thursday, February 9th
  • Spring Job and Internship Fair: Friday, February 10th

In addition to our on-campus fairs, Penn participates in a number of consortium career fairs off-campus including:

  • Philadelphia Not-For-Profit and Public Service Career Fair: Friday, February 24 @ Bryn Mawr College
  • All Ivy Environmental Career Fair: Friday, March 3 @ Columbia University
  • Philadelphia Non-Profit and Government Career Fair: Thursday, March 23 @ Villanova University

These will also be an two additional career fairs focused on graduate students: Ph.D. & Master’s Virtual Career Fair on March 2 and the PennDesign Career Connection Day on  February 17.

Between on-campus recruiting, employer information sessions, and the career fairs, we will host hundreds of employers physically on Penn’s campus this spring. However, many more employers are likely to simply post jobs or internships on PennLink (or their own website) and then follow-up directly with applicants of interest to them while never setting foot on Penn’s campus. Particularly for the “just in time” search, it is important that students be proactive by researching employers that might interest them, networking to learn more about opportunities (both advertised and unadvertised), and then monitoring the career sites of employers of interest to make sure not to miss posted opportunities, as they may be open for much shorter lengths (and on a completely unpredictable timetable) than what students experienced in the fall.

Best wishes for a wonderful 2017!