Monday, November 24, 2008

Tales from the Front: True Stories of Interviews Past

Interviews at Ida Noyes continue this week, and will be picking up again in early winter for internship interviews, so there's lots of students looking very sharp (and a little bit nervous) as they get ready to meet with potential employers. To help you prepare for your interviews, don't forget that CAPS has practice interviewers on staff who will conduct an interview with you and then provide feedback. In addition, CAPS staff members can go over possible interview questions with you, and the CAPS interviewing handout and interviewing webcast offer tips on how to prepare and what to expect. To schedule an appointment with a practice interviewer or a CAPS staff member, call (773) 702 - 7040.

Taking care of pre-interview jitters can be a little trickier, but in an attempt to add some levity to the situation, read on for true interview stories from the past. No matter what happens, your interview will surely go better than this:

"I was interviewing for a position with a really unique organization that was just getting off the ground. They were very grassroots and had a small staff, but they were growing quickly and had the potential to make a large impact on some current events and in the media. I had already gotten through a first round interview, and was all set to meet with the manager of the team I was hoping to join. First of all, even though I got to the interview 15 minutes early, I gave the receptionist at the office the wrong name for the person I was meeting, so I ended up waiting for nearly 30 minutes, before the person who was expecting me came out looking for his 3pm appointment. I don't know why, but by the time I got into the interview, I was so stressed and flustered, I could tell that it wasn't going well. I was rushing through my answers, and kept getting stuck on questions that I should have been able to answer (example: who do you want to work for this organization?). To make it worse, my interviewer was interrupted half way through our conversation to take an important call from the media. By the time we were finished, I was exhausted and unsure of how well I had done. As my interviewer said, 'It was very nice to meet you,' and extended his hand, I stood up too - and immediately toppled over to the side, grabbing the edge of his desk to keep myself from hitting the floor. I had been sitting with my legs crossed during the interview, and when I stood up, my right foot had fallen asleep and was completely numb. I had no choice but to stand up, shake the interviewers hand and walk to the door - limping, because I had no feeling in my foot. The interviewer didn't say anything, but I could swear he was looking at me strangely and didn't know what to think of me. I'm pretty sure my poor performance during the interview was what did me in, but after almost falling down too, I definitely didn't receive a final round interview."

There are a few lessons to be learned from this story:
1. Make sure you know who you are interviewing with and ask for the correct person when you arrive. If you are interviewing for an on-campus position, you check in on the second floor of Ida Noyes Hall, and from there your interviewer will come out and introduce him or herself.
2. Be sure you are prepared. As the individual in this story related, he or she couldn't answer questions that should have been fairly easy to respond to. Be sure you know enough about an organization to be able to articulate why you want to work there.
3. Stay calm. If you feel yourself getting flustered, or if you're speaking too quickly during an interview, take a deep breath and relax. It's better to wait for a few second in silence, while you collect your thoughts, than it is to blurt out the first answer that comes to mind.

As for falling or tripping during an interview - these things happen, and they are awkward. Our best advice if this happens to you - laugh it off and smile.

Do you have an interview horror story or interview victory story of your own? Post them here, along with tips you've used to prepare and do well in interviews in the past.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Dress the Part: Fashion Tips for Your Interview

It's recruiting season, which means the second floor of Ida Noyes Hall has been filled with students interviewing for full-time positions with a variety of organizations. In just a few months, it will be internship recruiting season, and that includes interviews for the Jeff Metcalf Fellows Program. Whether you're interviewing for a full-time job with a consulting firm or an internship position with a non-profit organization, you still have to prepare for your interviews as best you can - and that includes planning what to wear for each interview.

A recent article in the New York Times suggested that the "interview suit" is experiencing a resurgence. I say, the interview suit has always been among us - now it's just receiving the attention it deserves. While the NYT interview is geared specifically towards women (pants suit vs. skirt suit), the challenge of what to wear to an interview is something that almost everyone faces at some point in their professional career. While the article is correct in saying, "'There is no one right way to dress..." we still want to offer some advice to help you prepare for your upcoming interview - regardless of who it's with. These tips also apply for career fairs, Career Networking Nights and other events where you will likely be speaking with a potential employer - and want to look your best.

Here are some general tips for dressing the part and making a good first impression:
1. Yes, you really do need to wear a suit. Oftentimes, students will ask if they really need to wear a suit for an internship interview, since an internship isn't a "real" job. Trust us - an internship is a great resume builder, and can often lead to a full-time position in the future. You wouldn't be applying for the internship, if you didn't want to get it - so hedge your bets and wear that suit.
2. Ladies: pants vs. skirts. You're not going to get a definitive answer whether or not one is better than the other. Our advice - wear what you're most comfortable in - but if you favor skirts, be forewarned - no skirt that you wear into an interview should fall above your knee (no exceptions!), nor should it be too form fitting.
3. Gentleman: tie vs. no tie. If you're not sure if you should wear a tie into an interview, err on the side of caution and wear one. Unless you have definitive insider information (which you gained from using the Alumni Careers Network to learn more about the organization you're interviewing with - good thinking!) that a tie is not necessary, go with a more formal look. Please note: ties with cartoon characters are not considered formal, so please don't wear you're lucky Donald Duck neck tie into your first big interview.
4. Footwear: Ok, you've got your suit on and you look great. Now make sure your shoes finish the look. That means no gym shoes with your suit (yes, we've seen it), no flip flops, no strappy heels (the shoes you wore out dancing last weekend are not the same shoes that you should be wearing to an interview). Dark, polished, closed toe shoes are the way to go. Ladies, heels are great, but make sure you can walk in them first. And as one of the recruiters interviewed in the NYT article points out, "'There’s nothing wrong with wearing flat shoes and bringing heels...'"
5. Watch Your Scent: We know, you want to smell great when you go into your interview. But please do not over do it. Strong colonge or perfume, or hair gels or other products that have a strong scent, can irritate an interviewer's allergies or simply distract from your interview. Our advice - don't wear cologne or perfume into an interview at all.
6. Finishing touches: These may seem obvious, but are good tips to review - tuck in your shirt; comb your hair; and remember, no matter how nervous you are, SMILE.

For more information about preparing for an interview, including photos of what to wear and not wear, watch the CAPS "How to Interview Like a Pro" webcast.

Call CAPS at (773) 702 - 7040 to schedule an appointment with a CAPS Practice Interviewer and prepare for tough questions.

Comments, suggestions or questions about dressing for an interview? Post them here.

Monday, November 10, 2008

The Perks of an Administrative Position

One of the pieces of advice we've been giving students over the past several weeks has been to look "outside of the box" when it comes to the job search. This basically means considering jobs or organizations that you might not have previously thought were the right fit for you. This can be difficult to swallow for students who may have had their hearts set on working for one of the large, well-known organizations that used to come to campus year after year (or that small, but perfect company that you wanted to apply to - and which is now undergoing a hiring freeze). But as we all know, this year's job market is tougher than in years past, and hence, the "outside of the box" advice. One place that students may not have started to look is openings for administrative positions - but according to a recent article in The New York Times, administrative assistant positions are offering more professional growth than in years past.

Unlike the administrative assistants of days past (who were almost always women, were referred to as "secretaries" and received about as much respect as the fictional administrative assistants on Mad Men), today's administrative assistant positions cut across gender lines and often involve access to confidential information and plenty of responsibility to keep you busy. As the NYT article states:
"The core functions of administrative assistants are often secretarial, but the job can also involve client communications, negotiating with vendors, conducting research and preparing memos and reports...Fifty-seven percent of executives polled in an OfficeTeam survey last March said that administrative staff members have more of a career-growth track than they did five years ago."

Even if working as an administrative assistant isn't part of your long term plan, one important perk of starting out in the role: a foot in the door at an organization you'd like to move up in. The NYT says, "The most common opportunities for advancement are in marketing, human resources, operations and facilities management...But no area is off limits."

Of course, like in any job, you have to put in your time before you can move up - so don't start looking for advancement on day one. The article suggests that putting in six months of dedicated work in an administrative position is key, before you start asking for a promotion or new role.

One last piece of advice regarding administrative assistants - no matter what type of job you are applying to, always be polite and professional with everyone you meet - from the administrative assistant, to the recruiter, to the CEO. Being rude to someone who you may think is "just a secretary" is a sure fire way to guarantee you won't make it to the second round interview.

Comments, questions or suggestions for getting your foot in the door at an organization? Post them here.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Creative Rounding, Doctored Transcripts and Other Questionable Application Tricks

If you've been using Chicago Career Connection, or if you used its predecessor, InterviewTRAK in previous years, then chances are you were "activated" to use the CAPS' on-line job search system and signed an "OCR Activation Agreement." That agreement includes this information: "Students are required to present themselves honestly and ethically in all interactions with CAPS, the University and employers including but not limited to resumes, unofficial transcripts, and test score documentations as well as during phone and face to face interviews."

Even if you've never been to CAPS and you haven't signed one of these agreements, the notion of presenting yourself "honestly and ethically" during interactions with employers is an important one. Here are a few points to consider:

Cumulative GPA vs. Major GPA: This one is tricky and can depend on the type of position that you are applying to. In general, here are some guidelines:
*For most business and consulting positions, recruiters are most interested in your cumulative GPA, so be sure to include that on your resume. If you'd like to include your Major GPA, that fine, but it must be labeled as such. In other words, don't put try to pass your Major GPA off as your Cumulative.
*For most other positions, if your GPA is over a 3.5, put it on your resume, as it shows that you are excelling academically at the University of Chicago.
*If a job description specifically asks for your GPA, always include it. Again, if they are asking for a Cumulative GPA, use that, not your Major GPA. If you include your Major GPA as well, make sure it's clear which is which.
*For medical school applications or research positions, you might be asked for your BCPM. That's the GPA for your biology, chemistry, physics and math courses. If you're not sure when to use a BCPM, or you're not sure how to calculate your BCPM, contact CAPS at (773) 702 - 7040 and make an appoinment with one of the Chicago Careers in Health Professions (CCIHP) staff members.
*The inclusion of your GPA (cumulative or major) should always be dictated by the job description and what the organization is asking for in your application materials. In some industries, GPA is not as important as in others. For example, during a recent discussion with some University of Chicago student journalists, Ann Marie Lipinski, Vice-President for Civic Engagement, said that when she would consider candidates for positions at the Chicago Tribune, she "didn't much care" about GPA, but past experience working on student publications and in internships was very important. This doesn't mean that GPA isn't important - but it means that in some industries, your experience can outweigh a GPA that isn't as strong as you would like it to be.

Creative Rounding: This one isn't as tricky. If you're rounding your GPA, be sure you are doing it correctly. In general, two decimal places is appropriate when listing your GPA. So if you have a 3.142, then you should round to a 3.14 - NOT a 3.2. Believe it or not, creative rounding on resumes has led recruiters to reconsider candidates for positions - and it damages the reputation of University of Chicago students in the eyes of those recruiters. Bottom line - use your math skills and be honest about your GPA.

Altering Transcripts: No ifs, ands, or buts about it - when you submit an unofficial transcript to an employer, the expectation is that it will show your correct grades for each course that you've taken. Do not, under any circumstances, alter your grades, remove your grades, etc. Just because the transcript is unofficial does not give you license to change the information that you are pulling out of CMore.

These are extreme circumstances, and we know that most students would never think to misrepresent themselves on a resume or in an application for a position. But please remember, it is important to be completely honest about your GPA, as well as all of the other information that you put into a resume or cover letter.

If you have concerns about your GPA (i.e. you missed a quarter because of a family emergency and your grades suffered, or you ended up in one class that lowered your otherwise strong GPA) please call CAPS at (773) 702 - 7040 to make an appointment and discuss how to talk about these concerns in your interview. You want to put your best foot forward when applying for positions - and your best foot forward is always the honest one.

Questions, comments or concerns? Post them here.