Saturday, April 24, 2010

All the Right Questions

by Laurel Mylonas-Orwig

There’s an old adage that says “no question is a stupid question.” Now, usually I’m the person grumbling in the back of the room when this particular axiom is trotted out at meetings or workshops, because I believe that there are, in fact, stupid questions. Personal feelings aside, however, I realized recently that this saying is very applicable to interview situations—albeit, in a slightly different incarnation. When you get the opportunity for an interview, it’s important to make the most of your time with an employer. One way to make yourself stand out is by asking questions—and asking good questions. Because as they (should) say, in an interview, asking no questions is stupid!

But what is a good question? To answer this, first think about the objective of a job interview. You want to show the employer that you are intelligent, interested, and well-qualified. You also want to show that you have thought about why you would like to be doing this job, beyond the monetary gratification of a paycheck. Finally, you want to demonstrate what makes you special—i.e. why an employer should choose you over another applicant. This is a lot to accomplish in a 20 to 30 minute interview. But if you utilize your time and ask good questions, you can put yourself head and shoulders above other candidates.

The first step is to do your homework. Before you go to an interview, research the company. Read their website. Find out what news they’ve been making lately. If you know someone who works in the company, talk to them. By the time you walk into the interview, you should have a good grasp of the organization’s mission and focus. If you’ve taken the time to do your research well, you can really impress the interviewer. One hiring manager told me that a candidate she’d interviewed recently had been so well-prepared that the candidate knew more about the company’s website than the interviewer! “It really gave her an edge in the process,” the hiring manger said. “I knew she was interested in the position because she’d taken the time to read through the entire website, and asked really insightful questions about the information on it.”

The second step is to consider what you need to know before you accept a job offer from the company. I know that nowadays it seems like any job is better than no job, but as someone who has suffered through some pretty awful jobs in the past, I think it’s important to be honest with yourself about whether a position—and a company—would be a good fit for you. Thus, in an interview, a good question to ask is “What is the corporate culture like?” You can usually get a sense of this from the company literature and by paying attention in the waiting area, but it’s still good to hear what the interviewer thinks. Another great question to ask is “If you could change one thing about the culture, what would it be?” This is a nice way of asking if there’s something you should know ahead of time—like that everyone is always expected to stay late. If you turn into a pumpkin at 5:00 PM, that may not be the position for you.

The third, and perhaps most important step, is to find out what the interviewer is looking for in a successful applicant. Somewhere beyond the dry language of a job description is a live person who will want you to meet their expectations. Therefore, you need to know what those expectations are. Ask, “What qualities do you look for in a successful applicant?” This question is great because it accomplishes three tasks: it tells you what you need to know, it gives you the opportunity to further address experiences you’ve had that would fit well with the qualities the employer lists, and it shows the interviewer that your priorities are in line with their expectations. A good follow-up to this question is, "How are candidates evaluated and what's the measure of success?" This will help you make sure that you know how to excel in the position if you get it.

At the end of an interview, the last question you should always ask is “What are the next steps in the process?” This will give you an idea of when you can expect a response, what the hiring time frame is, and if you will be expected to meet with anyone else before a decision is made. It will also let you know when you should follow-up if you haven’t heard anything, so that you aren’t left waiting and wondering indefinitely.

To help you get started on your own list of interview questions, see my sample list below. And remember, if you ever have questions or want to set up a mock-interview appointment, CAPS is here to help!

Great Interview Questions:
  • What is the corporate culture like?
  • If you could change one thing about the culture, what would it be?
  • What qualities do you look for in a successful applicant?
  • How are candidates evaluated and what’s the measure of success?
  • Why is this position available?
  • Is this a new position? How long has this position existed?
  • How many people have held this position in the last two years?
  • Who would be my supervisor?
  • How would you describe the supervisor’s management style?
  • With whom will I be working most closely?
  • What kind of turnover rate does the company have?
  • What projects and assignments will I be working on?
  • What are the current problems facing the company (or my department)?
  • What attracted you (the interviewer) to this organization?
  • Why do you enjoy working for this company?
  • What are the most challenging aspects of this position?
  • **My personal favorite: Is there anything I didn’t ask you that I should have?

What’s your favorite question to ask in an interview? Leave a comment below!

Monday, April 12, 2010

Are You Sabotaging Your Search?

by Laurel Mylonas-Orwig

It seems like a college rite of passage nowadays—after a night of revelry, you wake up to find some less-than-flattering pictures of yourself tagged on Facebook. As a militant de-tagger, I have offended many a Facebook friend by refusing to allow their “cute” (read: hideous) picture of me to remain in my profile. But vanity aside, de-tagging certain types of pictures is pretty important when it comes to your job search. Now that anyone with an email account can create a Facebook profile—and thus search for your Facebook profile—surreptitious snooping on the part of potential employers, via Facebook and other social networking sites, is a growing trend. In fact, research commissioned by Microsoft in December 2009 found that 79 percent of United States hiring managers and job recruiters surveyed had reviewed online information about job applicants. Most said that what they find online is likely to impact their selection criteria—and an overwhelming 70 percent of hiring managers in the study said that they have rejected candidates in the past based on what they found out online. Suddenly, that funny picture of you in a toga with a pineapple on your head may not seem so amusing.

So what steps can you take to protect yourself from inadvertent online reputation suicide? First and foremost, know what’s out there about you. Act like you’re going on a blind date and Google yourself—then think seriously about what you would think about what pops up. If you didn’t know the story behind that facetious blog “rant” you posted, would you think it was funny? Or is it something that perhaps is best left unsaid? New CNN contributor Erick Erickson learned that lesson recently after he took flak for his past incendiary political statements. His response when asked about one of the particularly vitriolic quotations? “That was about the dumbest thing I’ve ever done.” Unfortunately, while he may know that now, the blog post that quote is from is still there for anyone to read. While this didn’t prevent CNN from hiring him, you may not be so lucky, so watch what you put out there. A good rule is if you don’t want your grandmother reading/viewing it, don’t put it on the Internet.

Second, embrace Facebook’s de-tagging feature. Yes, you may offend people, and yes, you may be sad to lose some of those pictures. However, in the contest between your favorite silly pictures and your professional reputation—well, there isn’t one. If you just can’t bear to part with them, download your favorites, or at least move them into an album that only you and a few select others can see. A word of warning, though: as long as you leave a picture posted and accessible to others, you will never be able to fully control who sees it. Thus, make sure you’re ready to deal with any consequences that may lead to.

As long as we’re talking about Facebook, remember to check your privacy settings. A great New York Times article published in January detailed how the changes Facebook made in December may have affected who can view your profile and personal information. If you haven’t manually selected your privacy settings since the updates were made, you should do so immediately. As the Times article notes, “…most Facebook users likely opted for the recommended settings without really understanding what they were agreeing to. If you did so, you may now be surprised to find that you inadvertently gave Facebook the right to publicize your private information including status updates, photos, and shared links.” Don’t wait until you get a nasty surprise—check these settings now and save yourself a future headache.

Finally, make social networking—and the Internet—work for you. If you’ve been to CAPS anytime in the last few years, you’ve probably heard about how important networking is. It’s not always the easiest thing to do, but if you ask any CAPS counselor, we can tell you tale after tale illustrating how beneficial it can be. Sites like LinkedIn make it easier than ever to establish professional connections, and I can tell you from personal experience that employers do use LinkedIn to check out their applicants. Thus, it’s to your benefit to make as many connections as possible, because you never know when your friend’s cousin’s sister might be able to help you get a foot (or at least a finger) in the door.

The bottom line is that nowadays it’s easier than ever to find out more about someone, and for job seekers that can be a huge benefit. However, the Internet, like any other tool, can be just as damaging as it is useful. As Microsoft Chief Privacy Strategist Peter Cullen said in a recent article, “Everyone should think critically about the image they’re digitally portraying.” If that portrait is not a favorable or accurate one, you may well be sabotaging your search, which is obviously not what you want to do. After all, getting a job these days is already hard enough! The good news is that by taking just a few minutes to assess your online reputation, you can make it work in your favor, and increase your chances of landing a great position.

Do you have questions about how to manage your online reputation? The CAPS staff is always here to help with any job search quandaries. Click here to make an appointment with a counselor!

Monday, April 5, 2010

Finding a Great Summer Opportunity

by Laurel Mylonas-Orwig

Now that it’s April and the first week of Spring Quarter is already gone, you may feel the pressure mounting to find the perfect summer opportunity, if you haven’t already. As a student at this university, I had planned on taking classes in the summer between my third and fourth years. When I suddenly realized this wasn’t possible (for a variety of reasons), it was already the third week of April, and all of my friends had already secured internships and other opportunities. I was left feeling panicked and uncertain about how I would fill my time—and more importantly, how I would pay rent!

Fortunately for me, there were still a few Jeff Metcalf Fellows internship opportunities floating around, and the good folks at CAPS helped me pin down my own (nearly) perfect internship. If the beginning of this story sounds familiar to you, the first step is not to panic—with planning, a little bit of research and the assistance of on-campus resources like CAPS, you too can find you own happy summer ending. And it may be that that opportunity won’t necessarily be an internship—besides internships, there are a variety of other great options you may not have heard about. Read on to learn more!

  1. Planning Resources and Involvement for Students in the Majors (PRISM)
    The PRISM program was created to support the educational goals of the College, and to address three major concerns of liberal arts education: building a departmental, intellectual home for undergraduate majors, increasing student awareness of CAPS resources and services and, helping students understand and articulate the skills and knowledge gained through their liberal arts education. Run by Deborah Neibel, Associate Director for Undergraduate Preparation at CAPS, PRISM serves students in eight majors: Anthropology, Art History, English, History, Human Development, Philosophy, Political Science and Psychology. In addition to several departmentally specific programs, PRISM features two research grants: PRISM Research Grants, funded by the College, and Seidel Scholars PRISM Grants, funded by a generous donation from the Larry R. and Kathleen Gilles Seidel Charitable Trust. Both of these grants offer PRISM students the opportunity to propose and fund their own research projects over the summer. In addition, students have the chance to present their work at a Research Symposium in October. For students interested in doing graduate work in the future, or for those who have a specific BA project in mind, PRISM grants are a wonderful opportunity to receive funding to study something you love.

    This year, PRISM Research Grant applications are due on April 23rd. Seidel Scholars PRISM Grant applications are due on May 3rd. To learn more about the PRISM program, find out how to apply for a grant, or read abstracts of the research done by past grant recipients, click here to visit the CAPS website.

  2. Chicago Careers in Journalism (CCIJ) Internship Grant Program
    The CCIJ program supports students who are interested in pursuing careers in publishing or journalism. Through College funding, CCIJ is proud to offer grants to students who have secured unpaid internships at established news organizations around the world. Each grant is $3000, and students are expected to complete 300 hours of work for the organization. This year, applications are due on April 22nd. To learn more about the program and find out how to apply, click here to visit the CAPS website.

  3. The Jeff Metcalf Fellows Program
    Likely the best known internship program on campus, the Jeff Metcalf Fellows program works with the College and external employers to offer paid, substantive internships to undergraduates during the summer and the academic year. This year, more than 350 internship opportunities have been posted. Although many deadlines have passed, internships are posted on a rolling basis, and many are still available. In addition, new ones are being posted almost every day. Check Chicago Career Connection (accessible through the CAPS homepage) often for a full list of internships still accepting applications. To find out more about the program, learn about eligibility requirements and how to apply, or read profiles from past Fellows, click here to visit the CAPS website.

  4. Internships for Credit
    As you may have read recently in the New York Times, unpaid internships, especially at for-profit institutions, can be illegal. To allow students to still be able to take advantage of unpaid internship opportunities, CAPS and the College have partnered to offer an internship for credit class. The class, which meets once in the spring and once in the fall, requires the student to submit a short paper after the internship is completed detailing the experience. To find out more, contact Rachael Ward in the CAPS office ( or click here to visit the CAPS website.

  5. Internship Databases and Career Fairs
    If you’re looking for an outside opportunity, or feel that you have exhausted the possibilities in Chicago Career Connection, consider using the NIC and UCAN internship databases. These internship consortia draw on opportunities posted by a variety of schools, so that you can, in effect, have access to the internships posted for Harvard or Brown students, just as they have access to our internships. To start your search, log into your Chicago Career Connection account from the CAPS homepage using your CNET credentials, and choose the appropriate link.

    For those students who have some free time this coming Friday, April 9th, the Big Ten Career Fair will be taking place at the DePaul Center (1 E. Jackson St.) downtown from 1:00pm to 4:00pm. More than 80 organizations will be in attendance, so this is a great opportunity to do some networking and find out more about potential internship opportunities. Log in to your Chicago Career Connection account to view a list of participating organizations.

No matter where your search takes you, remember that the staff of CAPS is here to help. Don’t hesitate to make an appointment by calling (773) 702-7040, or drop by for walk-ins. We are always happy to assist you in any way we can!