Friday, January 29, 2010

Mastering the Follow Up (or, How to Move Your Name to the Top of the List)

by Laurel Mylonas-Orwig

Imagine this situation: you’ve just walked out of a final round interview for a job you really want. The interview was tough, but you feel like you did well. The first thing you should do is:
  • A. Call your mother/best friend/significant other to debrief.

  • B. Head to the nearest bar to de-stress.

  • C. Get a head start on spending that first paycheck (stress relief massages are a business expense, right?)

  • D. Pull out your laptop to send a follow up email.

The correct answer, as you may have guessed from the title of this post, is D. This is somewhat of an overstatement—you don’t need to send a follow up email the minute you walk out of the interview—and in fact, some employers have mentioned that it’s a turn off to get an email that was clearly sent from a Blackberry or iPhone. However, you do need to send it the same day. For most people, once the interview is over, the first instinct is to breathe a sigh of relief. Unfortunately, now comes the really tough part: waiting for the employer to make the next move. By following up after your interview, however, you can increase your profile with the employer and heighten your chances of getting that call.

When following up, there are three key factors to consider:

  1. Timing: It’s best to send a short note the same day as your interview that thanks the interviewer for his/her time and touches on one specific point discussed in the interview. For example, you could say, “I really enjoyed learning about your methods for measuring success, and am very interested in assisting your team in meeting your goals for the year.” You can follow with a longer, more substantial follow up a couple of days later, after you’ve had time to reflect on what you learned in the interview. Try to avoid following up at the end of the week, when most people are slipping out of “work mode.” By reaching out earlier in the week, you’re more likely to be remembered. Finally, if the date that the employer said he/she would get back to you has passed, you can send a polite inquiry about your status while also restating your interest. Remember that hiring timelines can easily get pushed back due to several factors, so be patient.

  2. Method: There is no consensus yet about the proper format for following up with an employer initially. If you are pressed for time the day of your interview, a short thank-you email is fine; the next day, you can send out a handwritten note with a little more substance. When deciding how to follow up, consider the company culture—the more formal the organization, the more formal your follow up should be. And regardless of how you choose to communicate, remember that proper grammar and correct spelling are essential!

  3. Content: In a follow-up letter, three things should be absolutely clear to the recruiter: that you’re confident about your ability to do the job, that you paid attention to what was said, and that you’re excited about the opportunity. Your follow up doesn’t have to be long—in fact, try to keep it to two or three paragraphs. Make sure to thank the interviewer for his/her time, and if possible, refer back to or elaborate on something that was talked about the interview. Finally, reinforce your interest in the position, and be specific about why you want this job, as opposed to another one.
  4. Additional follow up tips: For the adept job seeker (or for that position that you really want), three additional tips:

    • If there was a question asked in your interview that you don’t think you answered fully, don’t hesitate to send a follow up fleshing out your response. True story: an employer provided us with feedback regarding the follow-up a particular candidate sent after the interview. The applicant sent a thoughtful email, reminding the employer of a tough question asked during the interview, and providing a possible solution to the dilemma that the employer was facing. That wasn’t the only thing that sealed the deal, but the employer did ultimately hire that candidate—and definitely remembered the impact of that follow-up message.

    • Whatever you do, take care not to appear desperate. The employer is not more likely to give you the job because you’re about to be homeless; in fact, talking about this might have the opposite effect. No matter what your situation, be professional, polite and patient to avoid turning the recruiter off.

    • Finally, “Was gr8 2 meet u! Thx so much 4 your time!” is not an acceptable follow up. No texts. Period.

    Do you have any great follow up success stories or tips? Leave a comment below!

Friday, January 22, 2010

Avoiding a Fashion Faux Pas: What to Wear to a Job Interview

by Laurel Mylonas-Orwig

Now that Winter Quarter is in full swing, the CAPS office is humming with interviewees and prospective employers. The competition for a lot of on-campus recruiting positions is stiff, and applicant pools are often quite large. So if you do score an interview, it’s important to put your best professional foot forward—and that means dressing the part. After all, if the interviewer is concentrating more on what you’re wearing than what you’re saying, you aren’t very likely to get the position.

The most basic rule of interview fashion: dress for the position above the position you’re applying for. If you don’t think someone about ten years older than you would wear it, you shouldn’t either. This doesn’t mean that you need to dress like your grandmother—it’s possible to be fashionable and still be appropriate. But keep in mind that unless you’re applying for a job at a fashion magazine, potential employers are not too concerned about whether you’re up on the latest trends. When in doubt, it’s better to err on the conservative side and save your bangles for a night out.

The second rule: if you don’t know what to wear, wear a suit. True story: during Fall quarter, one prominent finance company was on campus conducting interviews for a full time position. At the end of the day, the recruiter remarked that he was having trouble deciding between two applicants for a second round interview. Later, we learned that the deciding factor had come down to a suit: one candidate had worn one, while the other hadn’t. You can probably guess which one got the second round interview.

The third rule: less is more when it comes to accessories. While nice earrings or an attractive necklace can make an outfit, the wrong accessories—or too many of the right ones—can really break it. For women, the best bet is to wear a single pair of earrings that aren’t too big. Large, dangling earrings can be distracting during an interview; the same is true for multiple necklaces or bracelets. Remember, this interview is the only chance you have to make a good first impression. You can always flaunt your fashion sense after you’ve gotten the job.

For men, the accessories rule might seem silly, but it still holds. Men should avoid jewelry aside from a nice watch and/or a ring. Earrings of any sort are inadvisable, and facial piercings (for both sexes) are best left at home on interview day. The same goes for strong perfume or cologne—interviewers shouldn’t be able to smell you coming!

The fourth rule: plan ahead. The night before your interview, pick out what you’re going to wear. More importantly, try it on. This gives you a chance to find that coffee stain you forgot about or that hole you hadn’t noticed before. It’s also your opportunity to make sure everything still fits, because let’s face it, sometimes pants are a little tighter in January than they were in December. You should iron your clothes, because messy wrinkles are never attractive. Lastly, be sure to check things like hem length—skirts should cover your thighs when seated; pants shouldn’t show your socks when standing—and color coordination—no brown shoes with black pants (or vice versa)!

The fifth rule: dress comfortably. This may sound like a contradiction, since most people wouldn’t consider suits nearly as comfortable as jeans or loungewear, but by “comfortable” I mean an outfit that you feel relaxed and confident in. If you get vertigo even looking at heels, wear flats. If that new jacket your mom bought you makes you look like a linebacker, don’t wear it. No matter what you choose, you should feel like you are going to be able to put your best foot forward, and look good doing it.

And one more thing, as long as we’re talking about feet: no open-toe shoes, not even in the summer. Most importantly, no athletic shoes. EVER.

For more tips on interviewing, check out the CAPS webcast at Do you have a favorite interview outfit or a fashion horror story? Leave a comment!

Friday, January 8, 2010

I Want You to Want Me

by Laurel Mylonas-Orwig

Welcome back! You may have noticed (since I’m sure you check for updates every day) that the CAPS blog hasn’t been updated in a while. In the hustle and bustle of the holiday season—and for CAPS, the beginning of the summer Jeff Metcalf season—I admit that I let the blog fall by the wayside. But good news! We’re back, and hopefully, my dear reader, better than ever.

This week, we’re delving in to the top reasons that a prospective employer wants to hire you. Now that the internship recruitment season is in full gear, the hallways of Ida Noyes are full of students eager to learn about and apply to a variety of opportunities. But while most students can easily list the merits of the companies they are interested in, have you ever considered what merits an employer looks for in an employee? Now more than ever, it’s crucial that applicants are aware of the assets they bring to the table, and how to convey them. Let’s take a look at some of the top characteristics employers look for:

  1. Long-term potential
    Even if you’re only working there for ten weeks, employers want to feel that they’re not training you for nothing. This is especially true for financial services companies, which will frequently make full-time job offers to interns who do a good job. While you may or may not return to that employer in the future, it is in your best interest to make them want you back. Demonstrate your interest by asking about career movement in the company, or giving an example of an activity or organization that you have stuck with for a long time.

  2. Ability to collaborate and cooperate
    When you’re working a full-time job, even if it’s just for ten weeks, you will spend a lot of time with your coworkers. Therefore, it’s important to employers that you exhibit a personable demeanor, since no one wants to spend eight or more hours a day with someone they can’t stand. During your interview, try to give examples of groups or teams you participate in—make that IM Broomball squad a point in your favor!

  3. Relevant work experience
    Here’s a well-kept secret: if an employer wants to see “relevant work experience,” that doesn’t necessarily mean that you need to have worked in that industry before. What employers are looking for is someone who has some useful skills and won’t require a lot of training or hand-holding. Instead of thinking strictly about what “relevant” means, consider what you’ve learned from other work/volunteer experiences. Did a table waiting gig teach you to handle stress well? That’s an important attribute in financial services. Also remember that course work you’ve done can stand in the stead of work experience. The bottom line is to make the most of your knowledge and skills, even if they don’t seem to fit perfectly with the job description.

  4. Effective multitasking and time management skills
    Most businesses today move quickly and expect their employees to keep up. Therefore, multitasking is a must in the workplace, as is effective time management. As a University of Chicago student or alum, you are well-equipped to handle these kinds of situations. After all, once you’ve lived through a killer finals week, everything else seems easy in comparison! When you’re interviewing for a potentially stressful position, don’t be afraid to talk up your academic experience. If an employer perceives you as ambitious and inquisitive, you will likely move up the list.

  5. Good cultural fit
    Most companies and organizations have a unique “corporate culture”. Before you interview with a prospective employer, try to get a sense of this culture, and whether you’d fit in well. If you hate wearing a suit and like to have a flexible schedule, investment banking probably isn’t for you. But if you’re an extrovert with graphic design sensibilities, you might want to consider an internship in advertising. Overall, if you can find an industry and a company that you’re a good cultural fit for, you’re more likely to enjoy your experience.

Remember, you can always come in to CAPS to learn more about the internship and full-time job search resources available to you. Other questions, quandaries, complaints or tips of your own? Post a comment!