Category Archives: The Interview

The Interview

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…or, “how to succeed at BSing but still staying honest”. Interviews are hard work. Not only do you have to look the part– professional, responsible, adult— but you also have to do it in a way to convince the person staring at you from the other side of the intimidatingly large and usually cluttered desk that you are the one person that they desperately need to hire. And to do this successfully you have to be able to talk up your skills, which requires a good bit of BSing skills and thinking on the spot, but also keep from embellishing past the point of honesty. Here is what I’ve found both through my experience and the experience of others that will help you to get that professional look and keep your head during the daunting, nerve-wracking interview process.

Thanks to Rainmaker Resume for the image. This is another good job search blog!

(Rule #1) LOOK THE PART. You need to look professional and like you’re a part of the company already. That means wearing a position-appropriate outfit, having a professional looking folder or resume book to keep your extra resumes and notes in, and the adaptability to be able to fit in with the interviewers or the other interviewees.

Part I: Dress well. The first part, wearing an appropriate outfit, can seem daunting especially if you’re younger. Maybe you’ve never done and interview and don’t know quite what ‘business formal’ or ‘business casual’ mean. Maybe, like me, you have no idea where to get appropriate clothing. Or maybe you’ve seen suits and blouses and whatever else you need, but are blown away by the high prices that the more popular stores advertise. Don’t let yourself be discouraged: you can easily look good without paying a fortune if you’re creative and willing to do some research for your shopping.

I absolutely hate shopping. At 4′ 7″, it’s hard for me to find anything sophisticated enough to wear to an interview that actually fits my body (no, unfortunately nowhere sells girls size skirt suits). It seemed like I shopped forever, and was always disappointed with the selection of petite suits. I was even willing to pay department store prices to get something nice I could wear. Finally, I checked out H&M, which runs very small compared to normal department stores. They actually make business-appropriate attire, and I was able to find something that fit better than anything else I’d found for significantly cheaper than anywhere else (read: suit jacket and skirt combo for less than $100). You can also get some pieces at decent prices at discount department stores like Khols (and they even have kids dress pants!), but good luck finding girls sized dress shirts (if anyone knows where to find those, let me know).

A step up in quality are places like K&G and J&R Clothing, but they are also a bit pricier. If you want something nice that’ll last, those places are where to go. However, their women’s selection is a bit sad, and their sizes run too big for anyone as small as me.

Finally, regular department stores and mall stores like Express have good quality clothes as well. But again, they are pricey and they seem to have a very limited selection of sizes, which favor those who are bigger. I can’t find anything to fit me, so I don’t bother going there.

As far as what to wear, make sure you do your research. If the company interviewing you doesn’t say what type of dress, look it up on Glassdoor or Linkedin, Google search the industry, company, or job title. Worst case, assume you need dress pants/skirt, a nice button up shirt or blouse, and a suit jacket or nice blazer.

In addition to your clothes, you need your hair, make-up, and accessories to scream professional and put-together. It’s pretty easy for men– keep your hair as neat as you can and don’t stink is pretty much it. For women it’s a bit more complicated. Rules about hair styles and jewelry change depending on the job industry and company; for instance a more artsy industry might approve of creative jewelry or a loose hair-do, while a managerial position might want you to keep the jewelry at a minimum and the hair tied back. The safe choice if you’re unsure is usually to have a conservative hair style (in a bun, a low ponytail, or a half-pony) out of your face, and limited jewelry (no large necklaces, no loopy or large hanging earrings). I have a nose-ring, so I have always wondered about whether that is acceptable or not. I’ve never had any mention of it, because it’s small and fairly unnoticeable, so I don’t worry too much about it. However, if you have anything big and shiny, consider removing it temporarily and asking about its appropriateness after you get your offer.

Part II: Accessorize to impress. Accessories are also important. For the longest time, I carried my extra resumes and note paper in a bright red folder because I had nothing else. Finally, however, I broke down and bought a resume book. These come in leather or faux leather in black, grey, and brown, and have a pocket for resumes and notes, a pocket for business cards, and a notepad. I bought this Black Padfolio from Amazon and it worked nicely. I now have a different one with the Georgia Tech logo on it, but this one held up for as long as I had it and has now been passed on to my sister. It looks good, and making a good impression is the first step to a good interview.

Part III: Adapt to your environment. Did you overdress? Maybe take off your jacket and hold it to look a bit more casual. Let your hair down. Keep yourself looking put-together, but try to give off a more casual vibe. Did you underdress? This problem is a bit more difficult, which is why it’s better to overdress (you can’t pull a suit out of your purse or anything). remove any inappropriate jewelry, tie your hair into a bun or low ponytail, maybe tuck your shirt in. Mostly, you just have to make sure you carry yourself with extra professionalism to compensate. However, don’t apologize– if they don’t bring attention to it, they may not notice. If they do mention it, explain that you were not clear about the dress code, and that it has been a learning experience for you.

(Rule#2) ACT HOW YOU WANT TO BE VIEWED. Or, maybe not exactly how you are. I’m naturally introverted, but at interviews I make every effort to keep conversation going, be friendly and show my personality. I don’t typically like to  embellish my successes, but in an interview I love talking about all the great things I’ve done and how I can apply them perfectly to the position.

One thing I’ve learned is especially in technical jobs, a lot of the interviewers are pretty new at this too. Interviewers are people too, and if you are personable and make them comfortable with you, you might have a better chance of landing the job. If you’re nervous, it’s sometimes even helpful to tell them. Don’t let the nerves get to you, but letting them know will tell them that you’re serious about the interview and consider it important. However, make sure it also comes across that you did your research and, while you might be nervous, you can answer the questions they ask and keep up a conversation. Especially for jobs that you’ll be dealing with group projects or working with new people often, they want to be sure you can contribute under pressure.

Another great pointer I got from my boyfriend via his parents is to make sure to send thank you’s. The best way to do this is to ask for your interviewers names and mention them specifically in a thank you email you send the day of the interview. If possible, get the business cards of everyone and use them to send personalized thank you’s to everyone you talked to. It looks great to be proactive, and makes you look even more professional if you can at least mention, if not thank individually, each person you talked with. If you can, even make notes of specific things you talked about with each person so you can modify each email and show them that you were paying attention to each of them. For some help on writing a basic interview thank you, check out About.com’s guide.

(Rule #3) ALWAYS BE OVER-PREPARED. Like I mentioned earlier, have multiple copies of your resume. You may have several interviewers, and it’s not guaranteed that they’ve all seen your resume or that they remember what’s on it. In addition, depending on the job you are interviewing for, have a list of professional and personal references available and a writing sample. If you’re unsure of what you’ll need do a quick Google search. For me, I’ve never needed to give anyone a writing sample, but anyone interviewing for a writing-specific position might. I’ve only needed a list of references once, but it’s nice to have it on hand just in case. This is why it’s important to have the resume book– it’s difficult and looks disorganized to carry all the papers in your hand, and basic folders look sloppy. A briefcase is very nice, but is also expensive and I think it’s a bit of overkill for entry-level positions. Other things you might want to consider keeping in your resume book are any certifications you might have, notes you’ve made about the company or position, test scores (SAT, GRE, etc), and a copy of an unofficial transcript. They’re not necessary and I don’t use them, but use your best judgement based on the position and your research.

And like I keep emphasizing, DO YOUR RESEARCH. Maybe because I graduated with a research-heavy major and minor, but I love to research. And by love, I really mean I am addicted to it. I don’t feel comfortable driving to a new restaurant without Googling them and looking up the menu, the prices, and the location. So suffice it to say, I am a research junkie. I love Google searching the heck out of anything new, and am always over-prepared with knowledge about what I’m doing. For example, I recently went to a new doctor. I had to look up the office and see who the doctors were, where the office was, and look at reviews of the practice. Total overkill. For one of my more recent job interviews I spend hours pouring over the website looking at all the projects that they did, memorizing the mission statement of the company, and making notes about the job details and how my experiences would apply to the position. Being over-prepared helps limit the stress of the interview, makes you look like you know what you’re doing, gives you a confidence boost. It’s never a bad thing.

(Rule #4) BE HONEST. This is a big one. You never want to be caught lying about your skills or qualifications. EVER. Recently I heard from a friend that someone told them that they have listed fake job experiences on their resume. I was completely baffled that anyone would purposefully lie on their resume, and even more that they would admit to it! Especially when you’re just starting out and going into entry-level positions, your qualifications will be scrutinized. The interviewer will ask about seemingly random things on the resume, and if it’s something that is fake or embellished past strict honesty, you’re stuck. You either lie to a potential employer or admit that you lied on the resume, and neither look good. Yes you want to make yourself look as competent and qualified as possible, but whether you get caught or hired into a job you’re not qualified for, flat-out lying is inevitably going to bite you in the butt.

If you’re asked a tough question and the truth might hurt your chances of getting the job, chances are you weren’t cut out for the position anyway (I had one ask me about my software experience, and I had to tell them that I had one course my freshman year on code writing. I can learn fast, but I didn’t have the background that they apparently expected). Sometimes an honest answer can be tough and seem like the worst possible thing, but remember: the interviewers are people too. Did you make a mistake at a past employment and get fired for it? Admit it, but emphasize what you learned from it and how you’ve improved as a person. The best thing you can do is show that you’re able to learn and grow, and show that mistakes won’t get in your way of accomplishing your goals and being successful.

 

I hope that this advice helps you to make yourself professional, prepared, and confident for your next interview. The impression you make there can give you a leg up on your competition and maybe even get you a job offer!

 

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Caveat Job Seeker: Company Scams

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I’ve emphasized before that internet searches and online job hunting websites are a great source of open positions. But, as we all should know by now, not everything you see on the internet is as good as it may seem. The biggest problem at this point for me has been finding “Entry Level” jobs that turn out to not be as they were advertised.

Thanks to Reddit user rp416 for the image.

(Rule #1) BE CAREFUL. When searching online for jobs, be VERY wary of any position that advertises itself as “ENTRY LEVEL” or “MARKETING DEVELOPMENT”, etc. These companies typically advertise with flashy, eye-catching position titles, upper-case lettering, lots of exclamation points, or emphasis on marketing, management, and business development. Once you click on the link, the job description will give you some vague description of what the company does. They’ll try to draw you in with promises of fast movement to management, full training, and great company culture. But look carefully. Is it advertising for one position, or for a general idea of a job? Does it actually have a description of daily duties, or just give vague goals? These companies like to draw in a high volume of people with flashy, too-good-to-be-true opportunities. If you can’t believe your luck at finding such a perfect place, it’s probably not legit.

(Rule #2) DO YOUR RESEARCH. Not all of the companies offering a great job with upward mobility is sketchy. That’s why it’s really important to do your research. Glassdoor, LinkedIn, and other online job search websites have reviews that you can read for most companies. You should also check out the company’s website. If neither of these sources look good, think again about applying. In addition to those previously mentioned resources, do a basic Google search. If the company is sketchy, most likely someone will have mentioned it online somewhere. Another great resource is a blog I found, “Entry Level Job Scams”, which details companies that do this, complete with names and tactics. Check this out if you’re worried about job scams.

(Rule#3) BE SMART. If the job looks too good to be true, it probably is. If the emails you receive are from a Gmail or Yahoo, etc. account and not a company account, the place is a bit sketchy. Don’t throw out a good company because they fit one of these descriptions, but use caution and think through your decision to apply.

I called this “company scams” in the title of this blog for a reason. These companies don’t necessarily scam you– they just aren’t fully honest with their position advertisement and draw you in pretty deep before they reveal what the position actually is.

My experience with these companies is from last fall. I was in full job app. mode, and found what looked like something I was perfect for on LinkedIn. It was a marketing development position with a company that said they developed marketing strategies for a big-name cable provider. It was less than a day after I applied that I got a phone call asking to meet for an interview. I was so excited, and couldn’t wait to interview. The first interview was great. The office looked nicely put together, the interviewer was nice, but I felt like there was something a bit off– the interview only lasted about 15 minutes, and the questions were all personality-based, and when I asked about the day-to-day duties, the interviewer was a bit evasive and very vague. Still, I was naive and wanted to get an offer, so when I was invited to a second interview, I agreed.

It was the second interview that made me realize what I had gotten myself into. I arrived at the office, which was full of people walking around and talking, completely different from my previous time there when it was quiet and empty. I was taken back to an office, and paired up with a current employee who would be leading my interview for the day. I still wasn’t aware of what to expect, and was even more confused when the interviewer and another employee led me back outside to the parking lot, told me to follow them in my car, and then prepared to leave. I followed them for about half an hour, until we finally stopped at a Wal-Mart. We went in and sat at an attached cafe, where the interviewer asked me more in-depth questions. I finally learned what my job would be at that point– sitting at a table set-up in Wal-Mart, selling cable subscriptions. This was the “marketing development” job I had applied to? I stayed for the interview and to watch the two employees for a few minutes, then they sent me home and told me I’d hear back later.

You can’t imagine how angry I was at this point. I was mad at the company for lying to me about the job, I was mad at myself for falling for it, and felt taken advantage of. But to be honest now, my biggest problem was that I was naive and hadn’t spent a sufficient amount of time researching the company. So if you’re just starting your search, don’t be like I was. Keep your head and do your research. Know that not everything you see on these job search sites is accurate, especially if it seems too good to be true.

Projects: New recipes

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Today’s blog isn’t well planned or thought out, but I wanted to share the new recipe I made for dinner. Since I’m in the middle of the “Snowjam ’14” in Atlanta, I wanted some comfort food. Luckily my mom and I didn’t get caught out yesterday afternoon when traffic got hellish and the roads turned to ice… but my dad wasn’t so lucky. He decided to stay at work, thankfully, so he didn’t get caught in the awful traffic/ absolutely blocked and impassable roads, but he did have to spend the night at his office. When he was finally able to come home this afternoon, I wanted to make sure we had some good, warm food ready for him.

The recipe for today was: Creamy Rotel Dip Mac & Cheese

I started with a recipe I found via Pinterest (because who can do better than Pinterest for recipes, right?) The recipe can be found here. However, I modified it quite a bit, so I’ll go through it.

Ingredients:

  • 2 Cups cooked pasta (I used a cup of tri-color rotini and a cup of penne)
  • 3 Cups milk (the recipe calls for whole milk, but I used 1%)
  • 5 tbsp butter
  • 5 tbsp flour
  • Sriracha salt to taste (just because I have it around. plain salt is just fine)
  • 1 2/3 Cup Velveeta cheese cut in chunks
  • Red pepper flakes (the recipe calls for black pepper, but I prefer the heat of red pepper)
  • 1/2 bag (about 1 1/2 Cups) of frozen seasoning blend vegetables (onion, bell peppers, celery)
  • 1 Can Rotel Diced Tomatoes & Green Chilies
  • 1/2 Cup shredded cheese to top

Steps:

  • Cook the pasta to al dente and drain
  • Pre-heat your oven. The recipe says 350, but since my mom already had veggies going at 425 I just used that and decreased the time I kept the pasta in for.
  • Make the roux: While pasta is cooking, melt butter in a large pot over medium-low heat. Stir in the flour one tbsp at a time and then stir until smooth. Let the flour/ butter mixture cook; stir it while it simmers, if you need to turn up the heat some.  Add the salt and pepper to taste. Turn the heat to medium and start adding the mile one cup at a time. After you add each cup, stir and allow the mixture to thicken. Don’t worry if it’s a bit lumpy, just stir to keep it from scorching. Once all the milk is in, allow to heat up while you stir until it becomes smooth and thick.
  • Stir in the chunks of Velveeta and the frozen vegetables. Stir as the cheese melts. Once everything is melted, stir in the can of Rotel. If you don’t like spicy, use the Original Rotel Tomatoes.
  • Once everything is incorporated and the vegetables are warmed through, put your pasta in a casserole dish (mine was about 9×9, the recipe calls for 9×13). Pour or ladle your cheese mixture over the pasta, using a spoon to move the pasta around so all the cheese can sink around the noodles. You may not need all the cheese mixture. I had about 1 Cup left over, so I’m saving it for regular cheese dip for another time!
  • Put the mac&cheese in the oven for 18-20 minutes. Then top with shredded cheese, and let cook another 5 minutes. Remove from the oven and let sit until cook enough to eat.

My mom made a side of baked Zucchini and Sweet Potatoes, and we had a great dinner! My dad even went back for thirds 🙂

Also Job Search Update: Due to the awful weather and sketchy road conditions, my interview for tomorrow morning got rescheduled to next Wednesday morning. I also have a phone ‘interview’, more of an informational update, tomorrow afternoon for my applications with the Peace Corps. I’m in the final stages of placement with the Peace Corps, something I’m considering as an alternative to employment.

Job Search Update: Aptitude Tests

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Never before my job search did I think I would get a test as part of the application and interview process for jobs. But as of today, I have had to take two aptitude tests in the interview process (for different companies). This is one thing that I had never expected, but I’ve been able to adapt to it through a combination of research and the luck of already having studied for the GRE, since the questions tend to be similar.

So here’s what goes on during the aptitude test, for anyone who hasn’t had one. Basically it’s a multi-part test made up of timed knowledge (aptitude) questions, and untimed personality questions. According to Wikijob (don’t judge my sources, I’m not writing a paper!) employers use aptitude tests as “means of testing a job candidates’ aptitudes to perform specific tasks and react to a range of different situations given” (Wikijob, “Aptitude Tests“).

Another good source for job seekers to look at is MindTools site on Aptitude Tests. This site seems to cater to explaining aptitude tests to employers, which is good for those in our position to understand. If we know why we’re being tested and what the employer is looking for, we can perform better on the test. Find this article here.

In addition, a simple google search will help you find practice questions for aptitude tests. Honestly, though, if you were able to pass high school math and can think through word problems and identify patterns, you should be fine. The most recent test I took this afternoon also consisted of vocabulary questions, which were the exact same format as GRE vocabulary questions. If you happen to have already studied for the GRE, you’re fine. If not, here is a good website for practice questions.

Depending on the job you’re applying for, the questions may be more difficult or more specific to the position, so my best advice is to know your field and know what you’re applying for. The test isn’t like your freshman chemistry exams where they try to fail almost everyone, it’s just for the interviewer to get a better idea of your abilities. So don’t worry, stay calm, and stay Vulcan (…I mean logical. My geek is showing!).

**Citations:

  1. “Aptitude Testing.” – Team Management Training from MindTools.com. N.p., n.d. Web. 28 Jan. 2014.
  2. “Free Practice Aptitude Tests | Free Aptitude Test Examples.” Free Practice Aptitude Tests | Free Aptitude Test Examples. N.p., n.d. Web. 28 Jan. 2014.'”
  3. “Aptitude Tests.” WikiJob. N.p., n.d. Web. 28 Jan. 2014.

Job Search Update: Phone interview

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After a painful rejection in spite of a seemingly successful interview a few weeks ago, and non-stop job searching and applying for days straight (I’m being dramatic, I did about 3 applications a day for about a week), I finally got a request last Friday for a phone interview. It was from a rather small, relatively new company in an industry that I’d never considered before, but if they’re interested in hiring me, I’m interested in them.

The easiest part about phone interviews is that they don’t see you and only rely on what you’re saying for their reference. You don’t have to dress up, you don’t psych yourself out having to walk into an office and sit across from someone who is obviously judging everything you say and do, and you can relax in a friendly environment. The hardest thing about phone interviews is that they don’t see you and only rely on what you’re saying for their reference. If you flounder, they have to sit there staring at the wall and clicking their nails on the desk while you stammer some garbled response. You can’t impress them with your fancy suit, or your perfect oh-so-mature up-do. It’s all you and your brain. Good luck.

As long as you’re prepared for the phone interview, they tend to go quickly and be fairly easy. I’ve had several phone interviews over the past several months, and I’ve learned from my mistakes (Don’t answer their question on what your dream job would be with a flashy rewording of the job description. The interviewer isn’t an idiot, they know you’re sucking up.) and I’ve recognized my skills (In response to the self-description question, talking up my education and listing my major, minor, and certificate. It sounds impressive.).

This interview went as well as it could. I had researched the company and muddled out what the job description actually meant (read closely, don’t be fooled by fancy words– they use Word: Thesaurus like the worst college freshman). I had my usual questions ready. I impressed them with my answer to what I like to do in my spare time (also my answer for the hobby question and the question on what I’ve been doing since I graduated), and emphasized how my previous experiences have made me perfect for the job, detailing each specific skill they had emphasized in the job description.

The only problem with the interview, like seems to always happen when everything else is working well, was the technology. The phone line was screwy at the building they were calling from, and my heart almost stopped when, two words into telling them about myself, the line went dead. Luckily I got a call back within minutes, and was back on track to impressing them. The connection was still not the best; the volume fluctuated so that on a few occasions I had to ask the interviewer to repeat herself. Otherwise, we had a nice conversation.

By the end, I was pleased with the interview and so it seemed were the interviewers I talked to. I now have a secondary in-person interview scheduled for later this week!

So here’s what I’ve taken from this experience and I hope you’ll keep in mind. Interviews are always stressful, always hard. And even with the best preparation, something is bound to go screwy. But if you’re able to keep your head and roll with it, you can, as Barney Stinson says “always turn it around!”

Thanks to Amylu’s 12WBT for the image!