Come Practice Interviewing With Us!

Marianne Lipa, Career Counselor

As you think ahead to the fall semester, one of the ways we can assist you with your job search is conducting a mock interview with us.  It takes practice to interview well and Career Services offers mock interviews.  We will provide feedback (both positive and negative) to help you with your interviewing skills. Interviewing skills are a continuous work in progress for people at all stages of their career from undergraduates to seasoned professionals.  Depending on your preference, you can have the mock interview video recorded in which we play it back for feedback or you can have a mock interview without the video recording. 

To prepare for a mock interview we recommend viewing potential questions on our website.  Additionally, be sure to send your application materials (cover letter and resume) to your advisor in Career Services prior to your scheduled mock interview.  You will also want to conduct your research on the company/organization/institution.  This means not only searching their website but also if anything has been mentioned in the news about the particular employer.  Have a wonderful summer and we look forward to practicing your interview skills with you!   

Acing the Reverse Interview

Dr. Joseph Barber, Senior Associate Director

After the hard work of putting together application materials for a job, or many jobs, it is always a welcome reward to be contacted with an invitation to interview. For most people, this euphoric state is quickly replaced by the realization that they now have lots more work to do in order to ace the interview.

A good starting point for this preparation is to generate a list of questions that you might be asked. A website like Glassdoor.com provides some of the actual questions that other people say companies where you might be interviewing have asked them — although, of course, that doesn’t mean you’ll necessarily get the same ones. On the Career Services website, we have sample questions that are commonly asked in interviews, including a list of questions that Ph.D. students and postdocs who’ve had screening or on-campus interviews for faculty positions have shared with us. You can also reach out to alumni or other contacts in your network who work or may have interviewed at your target companies and organizations. You can certainly ask them about their experiences being interviewed and the types of questions they were asked.

Additionally, by looking at the job description, and from discussions with your networking connections who may have similar roles in similar organizations, you can also create a list of skills, experiences and knowledge areas that are likely to be essential for the role you are applying for. The more important they are to the role, the more likely you will be asked about them. Usually, these types of questions come in the form of behavioral-based ones. Here are 12 pages of them — some very similar to each other, some positive leaning and some negative leaning. With a list of “behaviors” from the job description, you can narrow down this list to the most relevant questions. And the best way to prepare answers for these questions is by coming up with examples and stories to share about how you have engaged in such behaviors. We’ll come back to those examples and stories a little later.

I’ve previously written about the five key questions you can always expect in any type of job interview. They are:

  • Who are you? Tell me about yourself.
  • Why do you want this position?
  • What do you know about our organization?
  • What do you bring? What is your greatest strength? What are your relevant strengths?
  • Do you have any questions for us?

And I have also encouraged everyone to answer this last question with a excited and definite “yes!” But what happens when, rather than being the last question that is asked, this question is the only question that is asked?

I have heard about this happening in all types of career fields and industries from the many students and postdocs I have worked with and advised. But it does seem more frequent in several specific settings. In small start-ups, without much of a structured HR department or process, interviews often feel more like informal conversations, and that seems to result in this question popping up more often. The other situation occurs during campus interviews for faculty jobs. During such interviews, candidates may be scheduled to meet with many individual faculty members from the search committee and beyond. I have seen interview agendas with 15 to 20 of these one-on-one interviews scheduled!

The reasons that interviewers may not ask a formal set of questions, and instead just let you ask them, are likely to be diverse. But they probably fall under one of these explanations:

  • The interviewer wants to be helpful.
  • The interviewer wants to ascertain how interested you actually are in the role and the organization by seeing what questions you ask.
  • The interviewer didn’t have time to prepare a list of questions.
  • The interviewer neither had time to prepare questions nor had the opportunity to look over your application materials — and will be trying to do the latter as you are asking your questions.

This last one is probably the most likely in working environments where everyone is busy and people are involved in multiple searches each with multiple candidates.

Given that you will have prepared some questions to ask during your interview, the fact that a 30-minute interview with a member of the hiring committee starts with “do you have any questions for me?” shouldn’t be too much of an issue. However, you probably don’t have 30 minutes of questions prepared, so you will need to think up more on the fly. More important, if you just spend 30 minutes asking an interviewer questions and listening to their responses, you will run the risk of not leaving enough about you — and your skills, experiences and knowledge — in their consciousness.

In an interview, your goal is to make a good impression and to leave a clear enough image of yourself in the brain of the interviewers that they can imagine you in the role they’re trying to fill. You want them to be able to superimpose the impression you left onto the day-to-day tasks of the job. If you ask a lot of questions but don’t talk about yourself, the image you leave behind will not be clear. It will be hard for one hiring committee member to advocate for you and the value you’d bring to the role with the rest of the committee if they only have an intangible sense of who you are and what you can do.

So, whether the interview involves a formal set of questions that you are asked, is an informal discussion or follows the “what can I tell you?” approach, your goals are actually the same: you need to know before the interview what you want to say and how you are going to illustrate that with examples from your experience.

In fact, the best way to prepare for any interview is to come up with examples in advance that illustrate your relevant skills in action. With a few such examples prepared, you will have a much easier time answering any behavioral-based question that comes your way. Examples make your skills and experiences come to life — especially if you add a touch of drama to your story.

For example, rather than just telling people what you have done, you should show how what you did was challenging (and exciting and enjoyable), and the steps you took to overcome the challenge. Everyone loves a bit of drama. Without drama, the many pages of the Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings trilogy become nothing more than “a hobbit finds a magical ring, which is eventually thrown into a volcano.” Make sure the descriptions of your experiences don’t come across like this.

But how do you share your examples if people don’t ask you about your experience? After all, it would be awkward if the conversation went like this:

Interviewer: So, what can I share with you?

Candidate: Er … well, actually, let me first tell you about a time where I worked collaboratively in a multidisciplinary setting.

Interviewer: Um …OK.

You have to be a little more strategic than this. The goal is to ask questions to get the interviewer to respond with answers that you can then respond to with your own examples. The questions need to be answerable by the interviewer, so picking the right ones for the right person is important. 

Interviewer: So, what can I share with you?

Candidate: Yes, I have a few questions today. I saw from your online profile that some of your project work seems to cross different departments here. Can you tell me about how your teams are set up to promote this type of cross-disciplinary work?

Interviewer: Well, I think you are talking about my work with … [answer continues]

Candidate: Thank you, this is helpful, and actually, it is very similar to the approach I have taken in my work as part of the student writing group on our campus. One of the challenges we always faced was the fact that we collaborated with over 27 different departments, which made coming up with marketing materials relevant to all those groups very hard. So, what I did was …

You want to leave each interviewer with a solid image of you, whether they ask you questions and have looked at your materials beforehand or not. That way, you are maximizing the potential that all the hiring committee members can share in the same experiences when they discuss the candidates after the interviews are done. If they can share the same experiences, then they can also get excited about those experiences. And the more people making hiring decisions who are excited about you, the greater the chances are that you will get the offer.

Don’t Forget the Thank You Note!

Tiffany Franklin, Associate Director

Thank You note in blue envelope.

You often hear about the importance of follow through in the context of sports, whether it’s a golf swing or pitching a ball, but the principle is just as important in the context of a job or internship search. After working hard to impress recruiters and hiring mangers throughout the interview process, you want to keep that momentum going and demonstrate to your potential employer that their initial positive impressions were correct. Sending a thank you note is a key step in the process.

Is it really that important?
Over the years, I have served on several search committees and this is a detail that is expected from candidates. It doesn’t have to be too long, but it should be timely and free from errors. You will stand out for the wrong reasons if you don’t send one.
You may ask why is it such a big deal. First, employers do not have much to go on during the interview. Anyone can say they are good communicators or pay attention to details, but showing you are those things makes all the difference. A thank you note demonstrates your interest in the position and is a sign of respect, reflecting that you value the time of the interviewers. Writing a thank you note is also another opportunity to remind the recruiter or hiring committee why you would be a good fit for that role and company.

Timing is everything!
I’m often asked if it’s acceptable to email a thank you. Yes, emailing a thank you note is fine and allows you to send the note within 24 hours of the interview. If you are one of the last people to interview and the hiring committee will make a decision soon, time is of the essence so emailing a thank you note makes sense. For positions I have really wanted, I have also sent a handwritten note as well. Just be sure to change the message slightly so it’s not the exact same thing. Handwritten notes are not as common these days, so it can help you stand out for the right reasons.

Should I include all the interviewers?
Ideally, yes you would send a thank you to each person asking you questions. During the interview, see if you can get business cards of those who interview you or a list of names and titles of the people you meet if they do not have cards available. The person who scheduled the interview should have this. They may or may not be willing to share this info.
At the very least, email a thank you to the main contact who scheduled the interview with you. I once had a 6-hour interview with 14 people and I sent thank yous to each one. It took a few hours, but I believe it was one of the factors that helped me land the job.

What to write
A thank you note can be brief with only 5-6 sentences. Address the person by their last name (Dr. X or Ms. Y) and then write a line thanking them for taking time from their busy schedule to meet with you about the role. Mention how you enjoyed hearing about the department and learning more about the company. Be sure to include a specific detail you discussed in your interview. Finally, briefly talk about why you are interested in the role and how it aligns with your skills (mention the most relevant). For an example, see http://www.vpul.upenn.edu/careerservices/writtenmaterials/followup.php.

Tips and Tricks
Write your thank yous in Microsoft Word or Pages first so you can spell check and won’t be too close to the send email button while in the draft phase. Then, you can either cut and paste into emails or hand write the text after you have it perfected.

When writing notes to multiple interviewers, I start with about three versions of the thank you note and rotate these among the interviewers so they are not all starting with the same sentence. Then, add another level of personalization to each by mentioning something you spoke to that particular person about during the interview. After I’m finished with an interview, I will jot a few notes down about what I discussed and that helps with the thank you writing.

For hand written thank yous, I will buy one of those small boxes of thank you notes you can find at the grocery store, a drug store, or any hallmark or office supply place. I like the small notes because there’s less space to write, so 4-6 sentences will fill up the page. Short and sweet!

Good luck! You are one step closer to landing that dream role.

Photo Credit: kemalbas/iStockphoto

Do You Have this Essential Interview Skill?

Tiffany J. Franklin, Associate Director

interview

Congratulations! You landed an interview for your dream job or internship and you think you’ve done all the necessary prep work. Are you really ready to knock it out of the park and show this company why they should hire you? Before closing the book on your interview prep, you must be sure you possess this skill

The ability to articulate your experience in a way that is meaningful to this particular employer.

The employer already has a vague notion that you can do the job or else they would not bring you in for an interview. Now, they need you to inspire confidence in them that will confirm their initial instincts about you were on point. Specifically, the interview process needs to assure the employer that

  • You have the specific Knowledge, Skills (soft and hard), and Abilities to perform the job duties
  • You have the motivation/initiative to do the job
  • You will work well with the team/clients and demonstrate emotional intelligence
  • You have problem solving skills and can offer solutions to company pain points

Now that we know what you need to accomplish, there are 3 concrete steps you can take to prepare for your interview.

  1. Know the job description inside/out and do in depth research about the company.

    This is huge! To tailor your message to this employer you have to understand who they are (Corporate website, About Us page, Mission statement, Press Releases, Social Media Accounts) and have a firm grasp on the key qualities they are seeking in a candidate. Most job descriptions will ask for 50 different things, but you can usually group these into 3 to 5 major skill areas (hard and soft skills).

  2. Understand Yourself and Be Able to Tell Your Story.

    This is an exercise I call Your Greatest Hits.” This will give you a quick visual depiction of approximately 30 success stories across skills areas and is a great prompt for those behavioral, “Tell me about a time when” questions.  They are based on the premise that the best predictor of future behavior is past behavior.

    On one sheet of paper write 10-15 skill areas (for example, Leadership, Teamwork, Cultivating Client Relationships, Demonstrating Initiative, Customer Service, Project Management, Problem Solving, Data Analysis, Persuasive Communication, Delivering Presentations, Mentoring, Product Management, Budgeting, Coding, and other technical/non-technical skills. Select those 5 skill areas represented in the job description (from step 1) plus soft skills and other skills applicable to your field/industry.

    For each of these skill areas, write 2 – 3 CAR stories meaning Challenge (what was the challenge you encountered), Action (what were the specific actions you took to address the challenge), and Results (what were the positive results). The answers to these should be 90 seconds to 2 minutes long and demonstrate you using that skill.

    When doing this exercise, don’t write out long answers. You know your experience and should not memorize the answers – rather use the keywords and phrases to trigger your memory. For example:

    Adaptability
    C: Wedding Planner for outdoor ceremony/reception in FL in July; forecast called for showers

    A: Encouraged couple to consider party tent; called frequently used vendor and secured tent days before ceremony; worked with other vendors to adjust to new configuration for reception. Ordered umbrellas.

    R: Sunny for ceremony, but rained most of reception. Tent in place, dry guests, good time had by all. The couple was happy and guests commented on beautiful event in spite of weather.

    handshake

  3. Practice saying these success stories aloud. It will help you smooth out the flow (get rid of ums, pauses, likes), identify areas where you need to come up with a better example, and in the process increase your confidence.

By engaging in these exercises, you have made a significant step in preparing for a successful interview. You are now able to articulate how everything you have done in your career to this point has been building transferrable skills and leading you to this interview!

Career Services is here to help you with this process. Review numerous resources online at www.vpul.upenn.edu/careerservices/interviewingadvice/practiceresources.php and you are welcome to schedule a mock interview with one of our career advisors.

“Do you have any questions for me?” – Why this is not a throwaway question during interviews

by Melissa Chu, Wharton Graduate Assistant

More often than not, we walk into interviews with our answers to behavioural questions prepared, our answers to technical questions perfected, and we have done so many cases that we can answer then in our sleep. We breeze through all of the questions, building rapport with the interviewer and showing off our knowledge of the company. Then we get to the final question, “Do you have any questions for me?”

Sometimes, it is very tempting to say, “No, I think I’ve got all of the information that I need,” but more often than not, we fumble through and ask a question that we don’t have an interest in. What most people forget, however, is that this is still part of the interview – and the interviewer will form his/her last impression of you based on this interaction.

  1. The interviewer is still assessing you until you walk out of the room. Asking thoughtful questions shows that you took a genuine interest in the role and the company – and that you prepared for the question, which is 99.9% likely to come up.
  2. This is an opportunity to figure out whether the team or role is right for you. Do you have a truly burning question on life at the company? For example, do want to know if there are formal support networks in place for career progression? This is the time to show an interviewer that you have thoroughly thought about the role and your fit at the company.
  3. There is almost no way that you could possibly know everything about the role and the company. No matter how many informational interviews you go through, or how much time you spend reading a company’s website, there will still be questions that haven’t been answered. For example, does the team have any team-building activities?

As you head off on Thanksgiving break and reflect on (or start thinking about) your recruiting process, this is also a good time to think about the non-advertised aspects of the job that are important to you. This will help you form a list of genuine questions that you can ask at each interview to assess whether the role is right for you—remember, this is a two-way street, so you should also seize on this opportunity to get your questions out as well.