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!   

5 Interview Tips You Can Learn From My Adjunct Teaching

Dr. Joseph Barber

I’ll be teaching my Applied Animal Behaviour and Welfare course again this semester at Hunter College, and here are some things I have been thinking about that might help you with your next interview:

1) It’s good to be in control – but you have to know when to adapt. I feel much more comfortable teaching when I know certain information: 1) where the classroom is; 2) how the IT works; 3) where all the exits are; 4) how many students will turn up on the first day; and 5) how many names I am going to have a hard time pronouncing. As I have been prepping my updated course, I have a plan in my head for what it is I want to get across and what I want students to walk away with. If all my students sat quietly in the room, then my plan would be flawless. But I don’t want them to do that, and so I have to be able to think quickly on my feet when they ask questions I have never thought about, or talk about their unique perspectives and how this changes their understanding of a subject. You can’t plan answers to questions you don’t know are coming…, is what you can take away from this. Most interviews are going to involve questions that you can plan for, such as: tell me about yourself, why do you want this position, and in what ways are you qualified? You also know that you should have 4 or 5 questions for them – that is the easy part. What happens if they answer all of your pre-prepared questions before you have even asked them? What happens if you get asked questions you have never anticipated being asked? If your pre-prepared questions get answered before you ask them, this is when you have to draw upon what you have heard people talking about during the interview itself to help you craft some new ones on the spot. If you are meeting with multiple people in separate meetings, draw upon the comments made by one interviewer, and ask another interviewer what their perspective is. Have questions about what people’s best experience has been working for the organization – chances are they won’t answer that one before you can ask it, and they might get a slight warm and fuzzy feeling when they do answer the question as they relive the moment. Unconsciously, you might be associated with that warm and fuzzy feeling, which is never a bad thing. When I get asked a question I have no answer to in my class there are a couple of strategies that I take. One is to simply state that I don’t know the answer, but that I will look into it before the next class – something hard to do in an interview setting. The other is to answer a slightly different question that I do have a better answer for, and then to try to explore how the two questions might be related, and where there might be similarities in the answers. These strategies usually work well together in my class, and it may be possible to adapt the second strategy for interviews. Come set up a mock interview at Career Services and we can talk about approaches for answering challenging interview questions.

2) Be relevant. My course has a very applied component to it, and I get a better sense of what to talk about the more I understand the students in the class – they will hopefully be the ones applying this information in the future, after all. Interviews are all about finding out how you might be able to apply your skills in the role you are interested in. To make your skills and knowledge as relevant as possible, you have to know who you are talking with – from both an organizational and individual person perspective (apparently corporations are people too, you know). Don’t stalk the people you’ll be meeting with, but find ways to show your interest in them and their organization through your answers.

3) Learn from your mistakes. Some lectures go well, some examples of complex topics make sense, but there are always going to be times when you fail to connect effectively with students in the classroom. Similarly, even with lots of preparation, not every interview goes as planned, and some don’t’ go well at all. Take a moment soon after the interview has ended to collect your thoughts, and write down the questions you were asked that you didn’t answer well, as well as the illustrations of your skills in action that did seem to resonant well. You’ll be able to use this information going into the next interview. You can always ask students for feedback on a course, but you can’t do the same thing with interviewers, and so you have to rely on your own recollection after the interview. Because stress and fear can impede the transition of short-term memory into long-term memory, the sooner you do this, the more helpful this exercise will be.

4) Drink plenty of water. What? What kind of tip is that? Well, there is never a situation that can’t be improved by being properly hydrated. If you have to give a job talk, a teaching sample, and talk with 15 different people in a row – all in the same day and without a break, then water will be your best ally to stay refreshed and energetic. You might not see this as a priority with all the hustle and bustle of the interview day, but make sure you stay hydrated.

5) Be passionate. I teach as an adjunct at a New York college not because I enjoy small salaries and a 12 hour round-trip on a cramped bus with no indoor waiting areas at the bus-stop. I teach because I enjoy the subject, and the students at Hunter College always come from diverse and interesting backgrounds that help to enliven the subjects we explore together. I always learn from my students, because they have had experiences that I haven’t. Many are as passionate about the subject (albeit from different perspectives) as I am. Even if you are interviewing for a job that you are not passionate about in a “this is the best job in the world ever” standpoint, you can still be honestly passionate about the opportunities there will be to use you unique set of skills and experiences to help achieve some common goal. Help the interviewers see that you do have some passion, beyond just the day-to-day tasks that you are qualified to complete, so that they can better imagine what you can contribute to their departments and teams. The interview is not the time for soap opera-esque displays of emotion, but you can still find ways to be passionate when you talk about what you have done in the past, and why that brings you to the interview in the present – as well as what your thoughts are about your own professional future.

Wish me luck for the new class starting this Friday. And when you have your next interview coming up, set up an appointment at Career Services and we’ll help you make the most of your preparations.

Advice for Good Interviews

Julie Vick, Senior Associate Director

As a Career Services advisor, I work with PhD students, postdoctoral fellows and Master’s students in several of Penn’s schools.   I work with students and postdocs who are preparing for interviews, many of whom do not have much experience with interviewing.   We have lots of information on interviewing on the Career Services website and we offer mock interviews but sometimes the thing to do is to talk to a successful job hunter.

Recently, I asked three people who had just accepted job offers this question: What is one thing a candidate should do to have a good interview?  I found their answers to be informative and contain a common thread.

From a postdoc who has a new position in consulting:

There is no question that practicing case interviews helped me tremendously in my job interviews.  Even for a non-consulting job, I would recommend that candidates read case studies (available online or in the Career Services library), practice them individually, and practice with a partner.  The skills learned during that process, including (1) being able to answer a seemingly impossible question by stating what one heard, explaining how one would go about it, and then interacting with the interviewer, and (2) being able to keep one’s cool and calmly answer a question during a stressful situation, are invaluable during the interview process and beyond.

Another postdoc who will be working in chemical research responded with this:

For me the one most important thing is to be well prepared with a list of behavioral and technical questions (for scientific background) and answers. The list helped me to understand myself better and formulate answers for unprepared questions.

And Tryan McMickens, a doctoral graduate who accepted a Visiting Assistant Professor position at Suffolk University advised:

Beyond knowing scholarship and having a solid teaching philosophy, a doctoral candidate applying to faculty positions must be aware of the needs, challenges, and future directions of the department in which she or he interviews. Being informed can lead to more thoughtful and useful discussions at various phases of the academic job interview (e.g., search committee meeting(s); job talk Q &A; student breakout sessions; and individual interviews with the dean, department chair, and other campus decision-makers).  A favorable (or unfavorable) outcome is determined by the knowledge learned about the organizational dynamics of the department.

In addition to having the appropriate qualifications (and being able to talk about them), preparation is key to having a successful interview.  It is absolutely necessary to know something about the institution or company and be able to talk specifically about what you have to offer them.  It’s crucial to think about the questions you may be asked and practice answering them.  And it’s important to be comfortable talking with one or several interviewers.  I have never had a student or postdoc say that they wished they *hadn’t* done a mock interview with me or one of my colleagues, or *hadn’t* practiced case questions with someone in the Graduate Student Consulting Group.  As you can see, the answer to the question is the answer to “How do you get to Carnegie Hall?”

Good luck with your interviews.

Preparing for Mock Interviews

by Julie Vick

At this time of year many of my colleagues and I are helping students prepare for interviews.   Such preparation might include doing a mock interview.  Mock interviews are great because you can become familiar with talking about yourself and your qualifications in relation to a specific job opportunity.  You get a tiny feel for what it might be like to interview for the job before you do it.

So if a mock is preparation for a real interview what should one do to prepare for a mock interview?  Having conducted hundreds of mock interviews over the years and seen many students and postdocs increase their confidence level because of them, I have a few suggestions:

  • Do your homework.  Know as much as you can about the employer.  Yes, go over the website but also read what others have written about the organization or company.

o   If you are interviewing for a position at a college or university, see if it is mentioned in any articles in The Chronicle of Higher Education.

o   If you’re interviewing with a large company, search The Wall Street Journal and, if it’s a pharmaceutical, Science Careers.

o   Don’t forget to look at city papers for local news.

o   If you need help identifying resources on different kinds of employers, check with you career counselor or with a reference librarian.

  • Put on your suit and good shoes and walk around in them.  If there’s no blizzard and your schedule permits, wear your interview clothes to the mock interview.

o   Bring the job description and the materials you used to apply with. An employer can ask about anything on your resume or CV so be sure you have the one that got you the interview, not a different version.

o   If there are questions you are worried about answering be prepared to ask the counselor with whom you’ll do the mock to incorporate those questions in with others. Sometimes people worry about how to talk about a gap in their experience, an abandoned degree program or an unusual job.  Become comfortable talking about what makes you uncomfortable.

  • Have a productive conversation about your mock interview with your career counselor.  Listen to his or her observations; they’re not criticism of you but recommendations to help you have  a good interview.

To set up a mock interview, call the phone number for the Career Services team that works with students in your school.  If you’re not sure what number to use, check the Staff Directory.

Happy interviewing.