Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Phone Interviews

Recently one the students with whom I've been meeting was invited to interview for a position over the phone. While general interviewing strategies apply, there are some unique attributes of a phone interview that may make it more tricky.

Based on my own experience with phone interviews, both as an interviewer and an interviewee, I have compiled some obstacles and ways to overcome them.

No non-verbal communication
Most people use nods and uh-huhs as indicators that things are on track. Over the phone these cues are non-existent. If you end up on speaker phone for a roomful of people it's even harder. When they are speaking, they can't hear you at all; and vice-versa.

Keep your cool, pretend they are smiling and nodding their heads off at you. Stay the course!

Keeping track of who is speaking
Again, if you are speaking to a roomful, at the beginning be sure to write everyone's name down. I like to do this in a circle on a blank sheet of paper. I can them imagine them sitting around a table with me. Use names and feel free to ask who asked a question. Usually people will say who is speaking; but not always.

This is a screening interview
The purpose of the interview is to make sure you meet the minimum criteria. Basically, they want to be sure it's worth their time (and yours) to bring you on site.

General interviewing tips
As I tell everyone who is prepping for an interview, there are the must-do activities:
- Make a list of 10 skills, for each skill write out an example that would demonstrate that skill
- Back up everything you say with an example
- Be yourself, relax, breathe
- Learn about Behavioral Based Interviewing (learn more here)

Interviewers believe that past behavior is an accurate predictor of future behavior. They concentrate many of their questions on situations that candidates have encountered in the past. What they want to hear is an illustration of your behavior. To maximize the effectiveness of your answers, try using the STAR system.
S = Describe a situation.
T = Talk about the task.
A = Explain the action you took.
R = Talk about the positive results, quantifying if possible.

Here are some other tips:
  • Keep your resume in clear view, on the top of your desk, or tape it to the wall near the phone, so it's at your fingertips when you need to answer questions.
  • Have a short list of your accomplishments available to review.
  • Have a pen and paper handy for note taking.
  • Turn call-waiting off so your call isn't interrupted.
  • If the time isn't convenient, ask if you could talk at another time and suggest some alternatives.
  • Clear the room - evict the roommates and the pets. Turn off the stereo and the TV. Close the door. CAREER SERVICES OFFERS QUIET PRIVATE SPACE FOR YOU TO INTERVIEW
  • Unless you're sure your cell phone service is going to be perfect, consider using a land line rather than your cell phone to avoid a dropped call or static on the line.
  • Don't smoke, chew gum, eat, or drink.
  • Do keep a glass of water handy, in case you need to wet your mouth.
  • Smile. Smiling will project a positive image to the listener and will change the tone of your voice.
  • Speak slowly and enunciate clearly.
  • Use the person's title (Mr. or Ms. and their last name.) Only use a first name if they ask you to.
  • Don't interrupt the interviewer.
  • Take your time - it's perfectly acceptable to take a moment or two to collect your thoughts.
  • Give short answers. Usually no more than two minutes.
  • Remember your goal is to set-up a face-to-face interview. After you thank the interviewer ask if it would be possible to meet in person.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

How to Stand Out After the Career Fair

As most of you know, the Workforce Career Fair was last week. If you’ve ever been to a career fair, you’ve experienced the crazy environment first-hand with over 140 employers meeting over a thousand students. If you were among one in the crowd on Thursday, you may have left wondering “how can I stand out from all of my peers?”

One approach to standing out is quite simple: follow up with employers and send a thank you note.

A prompt, sincere thank you note can make all the difference in your job search. A thank you note is common after interviews, but how many employers actually receive a thank you note after working career fairs? The number is quite small. It does not cross many people’s minds to send a thank you after meeting someone at a career fair. If you show your appreciation for them taking a few minutes to learn more about you, and tell you about their company, in addition to being one more way to sell yourself and show initiative and interest, a thank you note is a perfect way to connect with the employer and stand out among your colleagues.

It's not just the display of courtesy and old-fashioned manners that employers like and look for from a thank you note. Employers are more and more interested in a candidate’s writing skills. The thank you note could be one of the ways a job seeker is judged, so you shouldn't take it lightly, and you should make sure it's properly written.

Below are some Do’s and Don’ts to writing a solid thank you note.

1. Do: Be prompt
Start drafting your thank you note immediately after you meet with an employer, while it's still fresh in your mind, and send it out ASAP—preferably within 24 hours of the interview/meeting.

There are pros and cons of a handwritten note or sending one online. Sending the thank you note via e-mail can give you an edge over job seekers who mail hand-written ones, by getting to the employer sooner. Just make sure that you treat the e-mail like a formal letter and not as though you're writing a quick message to a friend. And if your hand-writing is hard to read, definitely go with e-mail. The benefit of a handwritten note is that it shows the time you took to write it, coming off as a little more personal.

2. Do: Make it specific and keep it succinct
Thank you notes shouldn't be much more than three paragraphs (if that). If you ramble, that can count against you in the communication category and show that you're not able to succinctly frame your ideas. Strive to address specific points that you and recruiter discussed. There should be something in the thank you note that indicates you were listening to what the recruiter had to say.

3. Do: Follow this structure
Paragraph 1: Express your gratitude by saying something like, 'Thanks for taking the time to meet with me at the career fair on Thursday. I appreciated hearing more about the position at XYZ company.'

Paragraph 2: Reiterate why you're a perfect candidate for the job. What experience/skills or abilities can you bring to the company?

The goal in paragraph two is to communicate that you understand the hiring manager's needs for the position, and you want to underscore how your experience makes you a perfect match. The second paragraph is also an appropriate place to make a point that you forgot to mention or didn't have time to mention during your brief meeting.

Paragraph 3: Reinforce your interest in the position and the company, and let the recruiter know you'd welcome further discussions.

4. Do: Avoid spelling and grammatical errors
A thank you note with spelling and grammatical errors will completely undermine your job search efforts. Remember, the thank you note presents hiring managers with an opportunity to evaluate your written communication skills. Make sure to read through the thank you note after writing it.

5. Don't: Come across as desperate
Another thing that could undermine the goal of your thank you note is if you sound desperate for a job. If you sound desperate, hiring managers will tune you out.

6. Don't: Forget to get contact information
In the excitement of a career fair, it's easy to forget to ask the recruiter for his or her contact information so that you can follow up with an e-mail or handwritten thank you note.

For a sample thank you letter and more tips, view the follow-up handout on our website:

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Why I didn't...and you should!

When I was a student at MU, I never went to one career fair.  Why?  Lots of really good reasons:
  1. Didn't seem relevant for me - I was a Psychology major and it didn't seem like there were enough or any companies that would apply to my major.
  2. I didn't have a suit...or really anything besides what I would wear to class or my restaurant job.
  3. Talking to a recruiter seemed WAY too intimidating.  Really - what would I even say to them?
  4. None of my friends were going (or so I thought).
  5. Every time I saw any sort of advertisement I said to myself, "You are way too busy, you can find a job/internship another way, I will go next year, and what IS a career fair anyways?"
Do any of these reasons sound familiar?  Now if I could go back in time and had the opportunity to go to a career fair (as well as not have my roommate chop my hair off senior year), these are the reasons I would go:
  1. If you are like me and get nervous for interviews, this is suuuuuch good practice.  Some students say afterwards that they realized what they would do well in an interview and would they need to work on.
  2. The Career Services Center gives you a guidebook and map beforehand so you can map out exactly who you want to talk to - strategy is key!  One of my reasons for not going when I was a student definitely included the fear of the unknown, but with the friendly staff and the map, you are all set!
  3. We have such a variety of employers attending!  Even if they are not recruiting for your major but you know they hire people with your background - it's still a great opportunity to introduce yourself and submit a resume.  Take a look at the guidebook to view employers attending.
  4. Is one of your reasons not to go because of your resume?  I didn't even think about starting a resume until I absolutely had to but you all are so lucky because we have staff today and tomorrow (Feb 15 and 16) from 10am-2pm on the 2nd floor of AMU critiquing resumes.  Stop by to get some last minute advice!
  5. The last reason you should that this is the time to seize the moment!  Don't obsess about having the perfect suit, or being 100% ready, or knowing EXACTLY the job title you want - just do your homework beforehand, dress professionally, and take a chance! 
As always, our staff is here to help you prepare and follow-up afterwards - contact our office with any questions: 414.288.7423 | |

Bethany Olson, Event Planner | Career Counselor

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

101 days until graduation

Applying the 5 stages of COPING to an event many of you are experiencing:


Perhaps you have already been accepted to graduate or professional school or you have already found a professional position, or are on your way to a post gradaute service opportunity...but those who haven't here are some tips to get you through.

DENIAL --- What's the first thing you do? Pretend that May is much further away. Pretend you have your old summer job to fall back on. Pretend that you will live in a big house with all of your best friends forever! Pretend that you can count on mom and dad to still be writing the checks.

You avoid the Career Services Center.

ANGER --- "%$@^##& job market!" You start to think that you should have chosen a different major. You wish you had a better experience to put on your resume. You hate your roommate who already has three offers or the other friend who is traveling through Europe all summer (she is still in denial by the way). You consider giving up and bartending in the Bahamas.

You hate the e-mails the Career Services Center sends you.

BARGAINING --- "Oh please let me get a job, any job. I don't care what it is as long as I can pay my rent." You vow to never take anything for granted again. You vow to get to work on time everyday, to work long hours, to never stay out too late again. You consider calling your boss from your old summer job.

You decide that you will do whatever the Career Services Center tells you to do just so you get a job.

DEPRESSION --- "Oh no, what am I going to do? I'm going to be unemployed forever. I give up. I am a big loser and I don't really care any more. What's the use".
You believe you are beyond help from the Career Services Center.

ACCEPTANCE --- "Ok. I'm a grown-up now. I guess I had better take responsibility for my own job search."

You resolve to do one of the following: check out the services available in the Career Services Center, stop in the Career Services Center during daily walk-in hours from 12:00 p.m.-2:00 p.m., or call the Career Services Center for an appointment (414-288-7423).

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

How to Answer the Negative Interview Questions

After your hard work job searching, you finally got that interview! You feel prepared and confident, and it is going along smoothly when all of a sudden the interviewer starts throwing you some "curve balls" –those negative questions.

If you're interviewing for a job, you're bound to hear questions like these sooner or later:

What is your greatest weakness?
Tell me about a time you failed.
Describe a difficult person you have worked with.

Of course, you don't want to come out looking bad. Don't panic. There is a way to answer these questions honestly and still come out with your confidence and job prospects intact.

The key is to be prepared with how to answer these questions concisely and in a positive way. The following are some tips that will help guide and prepare you for these questions.

Addressing Negative Situations:

•Use the “STAR” method for answering any situational questions.

Situation = Describe the situation. State the negative simply and factually. Don't dwell on it, blame anybody, or overstate the problem.
Task= Talk about the task/challenge
Action= Explain the action you took. How did you deal with the problem or difficulty?
Result= Talk about the positive results. The best positive you could possibly state is what you learned from the experience, or how you worked to improve matters. State another positive, if you can. Describe how your efforts resulted in money saved, better communication, or some other solution to the problem, end on that note.

•The key is to not take the question literally or you might get negative too. Avoid going into detail about how dysfunctional your last work environment was, or vent about a difficult boss.

Addressing the weakness question:

•Choose a weakness that is not a primary function of the job
•Do not choose what I call “fake” weaknesses, like being a perfectionist. Employers want to see that you are self-aware and honest about your weaknesses
•Choosing a skill as a weakness can be better than a personality trait. Skills are you something you can improve, while your personality does not change much.
•Never give more weaknesses than asked. Avoid offering a laundry list of what you hope to improve about yourself. You want to spend as much time as you can highlighting positive experiences and assets you can bring to the company.

Remember: Negative questions answered literally are disempowering because they focus on what went wrong. Resist the temptation to expand on these negative questions and instead spend time highlighting the positive. Take some time to be prepared for these “curve balls”, and use your confidence and skills to turn that curve ball into a home run.