Summer Reading List

Jiny Yen, Associate Director

Hurray for summer! It’s finally time for a break from classes, meetings, exams and projects. I usually have a running list of books I keep meaning to read, and my favorite part of summer is that I’m able to finally check off a few. I wanted to share with you some of my favorite career related picks that will help you discover your passions and ways to achieve success.

Design thinking is a hot topic these days, and this book gives practical advice on how to find a fulfilling, meaningful life using design thinking principles. It’s not about achieving success in the traditional sense, and instead focuses on what you can do to find joy in your career.

This book is a great guide for how to handle networking in the social media age. The best part is it includes templates on how to email a recruiter, follow up with a contact and even tips on how to use Twitter and Facebook for your job search.

As a freshman in college, Alex Banayan started on a seven year quest to interview leaders in all different industries and find out what made them successful. His book details those conversations and both the similarities and differences in their experiences. This is a great read not only because of the key insights from these huge names, but also because of the adventure Alex went through to get access.

Telling The Story: A Narrative Approach to Interviewing

by Sharon Fleshman

Once upon a time — those words signaled the start of many stories that captivated us, particularly in our younger days. Whether it is meant to scare, delight, convince or teach, there’s something about a good story that can pull listeners in. As it relates to a job search, a narrative approach can be used to present your career interests and qualifications in compelling and creative ways. Consider the following tips for incorporating “story” into your interviews:

1) Prepare for the “Tell me about yourself” question. Indeed, your answer to this can set the tone for the entire conversation and should make clear why you are sitting in front of the interviewer. Don’t default to just stating “I’m a senior at Penn majoring in…” Trace relevant themes in your background. For instance, suppose you are applying to a position in international development. You may not have a track record in that field per se, but perhaps you can help your interviewer connect the dots regarding your international experiences. You should also identify the defining moments that helped you discern your interest in a given career. For the international development example, you could talk about what occurred during your travels that caused you to become interested in development work.

2) Make sure your stories illustrate relevant skills and accomplishments. Go through your resume and develop the stories that emerge from your experiences. Your stories should have a “plot” with a beginning, middle and end that speaks to the job description. A good way to structure such a story may be to start with the situation at hand, proceed with discussing the actions you took to address the situation, and then end with the result that came from your actions. This approach is especially useful for behavioral questions (“Give me an example of how you served a difficult customer”) or other questions (“What are your strengths?”) where the interviewer wants evidence to back up what you claim to be true. You may not know exactly what you’ll be asked, but anticipate the types of skills that employers seek. Prepare to address areas such as problem solving, teamwork, leadership ability, strengths, weaknesses, and working with difficult customers/clients. Whether you played a key role in increasing membership, improving operations, boosting morale, or strengthening your own performance, you can build a story around the impact you made.

3) Keep it professional and positive. Stories for job interviews should not sound like autobiographies as much as snapshots of experiences that demonstrate that you are a great fit for the position. For instance, discussing resolution of conflict on a team for a group project is likely better than reminiscing about how you broke up a fight between two housemates. Look for the most pertinent highlights from your previous jobs/internships, volunteer experience, study abroad, extracurricular activities and class projects. Also, make sure you maintain a positive attitude. Even if you have to discuss a negative situation, resist the temptation to cast yourself as a hero and others as villains. Stick with sharing what you learned and how you developed in the process.

4) Practice. Storytelling flows from the human condition. It is very natural for us to reflect on what has happened on a given day and “tell the story” to those closest to us. However, applying this tendency to the job search may not feel as natural, so it is good to practice with those who are willing and able to offer helpful feedback. Career Services counselors are available to help you with mock interviews.

Use of stories in the job search can also be applied (in a more concise way) to resume and cover letter writing, as noted in the book Tell Me About Yourself: Storytelling to Get Jobs and Propel Your Career, written by Katharine Hansen and available in the Career Services library. Using storytelling will not only help you to prepare well, but will build your self-awareness and confidence along the way to a positive “The End.”

Don’t Let Your Case Interview “SPIN” Out of Control!

If you’re thinking about a career in consulting, you already know that a “Case Study Interview” will be a major component of the interview process. I’ve found that a useful way to approach this challenge is to use the system of “SPIN Selling”, which was developed some years ago by Neil Rackham, based on his extensive research on “consultative” selling.

The four letters of the acronym “SPIN” stand for the four steps in the system, and are a handy way to remember what kinds of questions you should use to handle the case study interview successfully. The first letter “S” stands for “Situation”, which means that you should ask questions about the features of the case that the interviewer presents.

Here’s a typical case: “I’m the president of a medical device testing company with $600mm in sales per year, and am concerned about the costs of doing business with our clients. We make a variety of products used to test for pregnancy, allergies etc. and distribute them across the U.S. A third of our customers are hospitals and the other two-thirds are small clinics and independent medical practices, but that group only represents 15% of our sales, so I think I need to stop selling to them in order to save money. What do you think I should do?”

If you just do the math, you’d see that eliminating two-thirds of this businesses’ clients would lead to a $90mm decrease in revenue, so you might be tempted to suggest ways that the business might make up for this shortfall–by finding more hospital clients, streamlining the manufacturing process etc. But according to Rackham, this could be exactly the wrong thing to do, for at least two reasons. First, you’ve simply accepted the President’s view of the situation, and second, you are introducing some ideas that, however creative they may be, haven’t even been put on the table. So instead of prematurely coming up with clever ideas, you should ask “Situation” questions like, “What are the actual distribution costs?” “How efficient is the manufacturing process?” “Which customer segment (hospitals or clinics and independent practitioners) has been more stable over time?” or “Which segment might increase in size?”

“S” questions like these might yield information like, “We ship over 3000 testing kits a year to most of our hospitals but only 40 or 50 a year to our clinic customers.” “Our clinics and MD’s have been loyal, steady long-term customers and we’ve built our business on them.” “Our manufacturing and packaging logistics are state-of-the-art.” or “Our hospital business has actually decreased in the last few years because of the shift in the healthcare field to smaller, more independent medical practices.” Given this information, it’s pretty easy to see that just trying to get more business from hospitals or finding greater operational efficiencies might be totally off-target.

The information you get from your “S” questions should be enough to move the discussion to the “P” step in the process, or questions that focus on the “Problems”. The goal here is to get a greater understanding of what the core issues might actually be, rather than just get more information about the “Situation”. [NOTE: At this point of the SPIN process, I find it helpful to remember what one of my counseling professors said to me years ago, “Never trust that clients are telling you the truth, always trust that they are trying to tell you the truth–and you have to help them do it.”]

Typical “P” questions you could ask are “So what’s the actual problem you’re having with distribution–is it the number of shipments or the postage or what?” or “What problems would you have if you stopped serving your most loyal group of customers?” or “What’s the problem with concentrating your entire business on the hospital segment?” “P” questions like these are critical because they cut through the generalities of the “Situation” and get down to the real issues.

Let’s say that the interviewer responds to your “P” questions with: “The problem with distribution? It’s the hundreds and hundreds of little packages that we need to get out the door every week.” Or, “If I abandoned my most loyal customers, we’d lose a lot of good will.” Or, “If I focused on the hospital business, my revenue stream would probably go down.” As you can see, “P” questions not only get down to the specifics, they also are a great way to look at all sides of a problem and bring out issues that haven’t been previously mentioned or considered.

Responses to “P” questions lead to the third stage; “I”, or “Implications” questions. A typical “I” question is, “Let’s suppose we could solve that problem–what would that do?” The “I” stage is the most crucial part of the “SPIN” process because it gets the client to think about problems in new ways, actively consider various outcomes and begin to focus on the right priorities. A response to an “I” question about the problems with distribution, for instance, might be “If I could do something about the number of packages we have to mail every week, I could still keep my most loyal customers and serve the hospital business at the same time.”

“I” responses like this one naturally lead to the last stage of the “SPIN” process–establishing the true “Needs” of the case. In the example I’ve used, this is the moment in the interview when you can suggest that the president’s true “Need” in the case I’ve used is to reduce the number of packages mailed every week–a far different outcome than finding new hospital clients or streamlining his manufacturing or packaging process.

Using “SPIN” can not only help you handle the Case Study Interview more effectively, it is a highly effective tool in the field of consulting. To find out more about it, the link to Neil Rackham’s web page is: