For most business professionals, there has been a significant mentor relationship that helped shape their careers. Having a trusted advisor makes a difference when evaluating career options and next steps. At the D’Amore-McKim Graduate School of Business, we strongly believe in the power of a mentor relationship and proactively identify mentors for our MBA students.
Mentors are often alumni or trusted business partners. We match students to mentors based on industry, functional area and overall fit. Mentors meet with their students at least an hour per month to answer questions and share advice and experience. Some mentors have invited students to shadow them at work for a day. Other mentors have taken students to an appropriate professional association meeting. Mentors demonstrate their confidence in our students by introducing the students to their personal network.
While the official relationship continues until graduation, many mentors and students are still in touch years later due to the strength of the bond they built while in the program. Mentors enjoy giving the students the benefit of their experience and students value the insight and advice from a trusted, impartial resource.
We truly appreciate the support of our mentors. They truly make a difference for our students.
This is the time of year our first year MBA students interview for their six month corporate residency opportunities. Employers have become very competitive with each other and all want to be first to interview so we kicked off residency recruiting with Interview Day in February. We hosted more than four hundred interviews!
While it was an exhausting but very productive day for students, employers and staff, the feedback was the most critical aspect to me. Employers were impressed that our students were so well prepared. The practice sessions in class and their in person and telephone mock interviews helped them put their best foot forward. It also reminded me that regardless of what stage you are at in your career, when you decide to jump into a job search, everyone needs to update and fine-tune their interview skills. Whether a recent grad or seasoned professional, interviewing is not something we do every day (thank goodness!) so we need to consciously prepare for success and practice as much as possible.
Practice is critical prior the key interview for the new job you really want. Identify your behavioral stories and practice using them to address specific questions. Think about how you explain your decision to make a change. Anticipate the questions you will be asked and fine tune your responses.
Often the pushback is that candidates don’t want to sound robotic or memorized so they avoid practice. In reality, the more prepared you are, the easier it is to adapt on the fly, be in the moment and customize your responses.
Interview Day was a reminder of how critical this skill is in the job search process and how little experience most job seekers have with interviewing.
Your goal in an interview is to land the job or at least be moved forward in the process. For the employer the goal is finding the best candidate for the job. While several candidates may have the appropriate skills to succeed in the position, employers use the interview process to identify and assess the best fit. You want to make the best possible impression with everyone you meet in the process and you do not want to give them an easy reason to eliminate you from future consideration. If there is a strong pool of candidates, they are often looking for small reasons to cut the pool. Don’t make it easy to cut you.
Attire and Professional Presence
For interviews you want to always put your best foot forward. While it is not likely you will get the job simply because you have the best suit, you can be easily eliminated if you do not make a good professional impression. You want to project a confident, professional presence. Always wear a suit and be sure it is clean, pressed and that it fits well. Ladies, pants suits are fine but if you wear a skirt, be sure it is not too short. Have a blouse that tucks in and is not low cut. Men, the shirt should be pressed and the tie should coordinate. Socks should match the trousers. Be sure to polish your shoes. When in doubt, err on the side of being conservative. Be sure your hands are clean since you will be shaking hands. Hair should be clean and well groomed. Deodorant is critical but go easy or eliminate cologne since it can easily overpower an interview room. Go easy on jewelry to ensure that it is not a distraction during the interview.
Demonstrate Your Interest Through Your Preparation
Be well prepared, it shows interest and professionalism. Have questions prepared in advance that you want to ask. You should have your references available in case you are asked. Be sure you have verified and confirmed the contact information.
Be Someone They Want as a Colleague
Even if you are nervous, it is important to smile. It demonstrates your interest. While you are onsite for your interview, be pleasant to everyone you meet. It is not unusual for a hiring manager to ask the administrative assistant or receptionist for feedback on candidates. Arrive a few minutes early. Ask if you can take notes as appropriate. Give it your best shot – focusing on how you can meet their needs not on what you want.
Say Thank You
A handwritten thank you note should be sent to every person you interview with at a company. Each note should be customized to the individual, referencing something that you discussed. This is an opportunity to demonstrate your writing skills, your professionalism and your enthusiasm for the opportunity. Each note should be unique since they will likely compare notes. Thank them for their time. Let them know what you are excited about regarding this job. Let them know you want to be on the team. If you know the process is moving quickly you can send a very professional email thank you note but should still follow-up with a handwritten note. It is a differentiator. So few people write handwritten notes anymore they are memorable. Always get your notes in the mail within 24 hours of the interview. In a tough decision between two finalists the decision may come down to who sent a thank you note.
You want to be remembered for your positive answers not the ones you answer inappropriately. Take a look at true but unsuccessful answers to typical interview questions.
Sample Worst Answers to Interview Questions:
So, tell me a little about yourself.
- “there really isn’t much to tell.”
- “I’m really not all that interesting.”
- “I haven’t done much yet.”
- “Well, I was born in xx and went to elementary school….. 5 minutes later the candidate is still babbling and the interviewer has completely glazed over.”
- “My life really started going downhill when my parents got divorced when I was a teenager. They really ruined my life.”
- “once I joined AA my life started getting better”
- “After I beat cancer for the second time…”
- “I’m married, I have three kids ages 3, 5 and 7…”
Why do you want to leave your current job?
- “they don’t pay me enough”
- “they expect me to work too many hours”
- “my boss is a jerk (idiot, etc.)”
- “my colleagues are all idiots”
- “they don’t know what they are doing there”
- “the company is on the brink of bankruptcy”
- “I think they are probably doing some illegal things”
- “I’m bored out of my mind”
- “they don’t give me things that I like to do”
- “After six months of doing the same thing every day, I’m ready for a change”
- “I need more flexibility to handle my kids activities after school”
What interests you about this company?
- “I don’t know anything about the company but figured why not apply since I really need a job.”
- “My friend works here”
- “I heard you pay well”
- “I need the benefits”
- “It is close to home”
- “it is a recognizable name so it would look good on my resume”
- “I really like your product.”
What are your biggest strengths and weaknesses?
- “I don’t have any weaknesses”
- “I really don’t know.”
- “I get things done.”
- “I was a star student (athlete)”
- “I can make other people get things done.”
- “I’m the best candidate you are going to see so we could save time by moving the process forward.”
How would your current or former colleagues describe you?
- “the best employee they ever had”
- “the only employee who did things right”
- “someone who worked hard even though they were given the boring jobs”
- “their best friend”
- “A great guy to hang out with after work.”
What is your goal for the short term?
- “I need to get a job as soon as possible. I have bills to pay.”
- “ I need the health/dental insurance right away so I can have some problems taken care of”
- “Get a new job that isn’t so boring”
- “Get a new job that doesn’t require any nights or weekends”
- “Get a job working with people who have more realistic expectations”
- “Get a job so I can move forward with a divorce”
Do you prefer to work independently or in a team?
- “working with teams is such a waste of time since half the people don’t do anything anyway. Just give the work to the person who can get it done.”
- “Other people think they know it all and they don’t so teams are a waste of time”
- “I can get everything done on my own without needing help from anyone else”
- “I always get everything done that is assigned to me on my own”
- “I just put my head down and plow through the work. “
- “working with a team makes things take longer”
- “I only like working with a team if there is someone on the team who really knows how to do all the work”
Are there certain tasks or types of people you find difficult to work with?
- “People who think they know it all aren’t fun to work with”
- “I don’t like working with people who are obsessed with following the process. Rules are meant to be broken.”
- “Demanding people stress me out. They set deadlines and expect everything to get done by their deadline just because they said so. They probably don’t really need it then.”
- “I hate having to do the same thing every day.”
- “Repetitive tasks are too boring. Once I know how to do things they should make someone else do the boring stuff.
- “I don’t like people who keep checking to see if my work is done or if I’m making progress. I’ll get to it.”
Let’s talk about salary. What are you expectations?
- “I know I’m worth a lot more than what I’m making now.”
- “I just finished an MBA so I’m worth at least $25K more than I was making before.”
- “My rent just went up and I have car payments to cover so I need more than I was making before.”
- “I’m a hard worker so I deserve to be at the top of your range.”
Do you have any questions?
- “not really”
- “you already answered them all”
- “Do I get the job?”
- “how much does the job pay?
- “How much vacation and sick time would I get?
- “Can I still take my planned trip next month?
- When can I start?
- Is the drug testing really required?
Prepare for your interviews so you can put your best foot forward with each response.
A critical aspect of interview preparation is anticipating the questions and preparing what you want to say during the interview. If the interview can only remember three things about you from the interview, your preparation can help ensure that they remember the most important three things. Think about your message and how you will deliver in it response to typical interview questions.
Types of Interview Questions and Samples:
Tried and True
- Most employers still ask the “tell me about yourself” question to break the ice. It is a great opportunity for applicants to differentiate themselves and highlight their strengths for the particular position. Consider how you tell your story in the context of the position you are applying to.
- Be prepared to answer questions about why you are seeking to make a change. Anticipate questions about why this job appeals to you.
- Don’t be surprised by an interviewer asking you to walk through your resume. Hit the relevant highlights for each position and the reasons for the transitions.
- “What are your strengths and weaknesses? “ is still asked frequently. They expect proof statements to support the strengths and the actions taken to improve the weaknesses. They are looking for self-awareness and assessment and expect responses that will help differentiate the student from other candidates. A twist on this is to ask what your manager or colleagues would say your strengths and weaknesses are.
- “Do you have any questions? They expect that you have questions and they should clearly demonstrate your preparation and research in advance, your strong listening during the interview and your interest and enthusiasm for the position.
Behavioral Interviews or “tell me about a time…”
- “Tell me about a time you had a conflict with a member of your team at work. How did you address it and what was the result?”
- “Tell me about a time you had multiple top priorities due at the same time. How did you address the problem and what was the result?
- “Tell me about a mistake you made and how you addressed it.”
- They are trying to anticipate future behavior by understanding how you behaved in the past and what you learned. It is important to clarify the situation succinctly, explain what specific action you took and what the result of that action was. You are painting a word picture for them to help them understand how you work.
Mini-Case Situations or Unusual Questions
- These questions give employers an opportunity to see how you think.
- “What you would do if you were in this job and the CEO called and asked you why sales were down in the X division last month and then told you she needed an answer in an hour before her executive team meeting?” This isn’t the time to talk about surveying customers or implementing tracking programs for new promotions. What information do you need to put your hands on? How would you use that information? What kinds of questions do you need to ask? You need to talk them through your thought process to show that you are thinking logically about the issue and finding actionable data.
- “We’ve experienced disruption in the manufacturing department for each of the last three months due to timing delays of getting the six specific component parts to the assembly station for a critical part of the manufacturing process. The VP of Manufacturing is very upset and has assured the CEO it won’t happen again next month. He needs your recommendations first thing in the morning. What information do you need and what possible solutions can you offer? Think through the process out loud so they can see your thought process.
- What would you do if you lived on an island that ran out of diapers and any materials commonly used to produce diapers? I actually had an employer ask this of our applicants and applicants enjoyed thinking of creative solutions. It is less about the specific answer and more about how you think creatively about a problem. Applicants who could not provide any response did not advance in the process. This is actually a question an employer asked in an interview process. They love to see how you think on your feet.
At this point, we are seeing most employers asking a mix of all three types of questions to get as good a sense as possible of how well the student will fit in their organization and how well they will be able to perform the specific job.
To ace your next interview you want to avoid these top ten mistakes.
- Arrive Late – It is critical that you arrive for an interview a few minutes early. If you don’t know where you are going, do a dry run in advance. Allow time for traffic jams and parking issues. Demonstrate your interest in the opportunity and your professionalism by arriving a few minutes early. Being timely also demonstrates your preparation. Use the few minutes you have in the lobby to gain your composure and focus. In a true emergency, if you are running late, call ahead to let them know and give them an expected arrival time.
- Dress Inappropriately – First impressions matter. Demonstrate your interest by showing up in a professional business suit and polished shoes. Avoid anything flashy or distracting. Leave noisy jewelry and strong fragrances at home. Err on the side of being conservative.
- Ask No Questions – Your inability to ask the interviewer questions leads them to believe you are unprepared and uninterested. Have insightful questions prepared in advance to ask your interviewers. Clearly demonstrate your interest and preparation.
- Demonstrate Lack of Preparation – Never ask, “So, what does your company do?” Do your homework and research the company, the industry and the competition. Prepare questions in advance. This demonstrates your interest and your professionalism. It helps interviewers take you seriously as a candidate.
- Share No Examples of Your Experience—Don’t just talk about your project management skills, share an example of how your applied those skills and the resulting benefit to the company. Briefly describe the situation, how you approached the problem and the results of your actions. Always be prepared to support your claims with examples. Have specific examples prepared in advance that you can share when needed during an interview.
- Have No Response to Questions – Employers are looking to see how you think on your feet. You need to be prepared to answer any question. Review lists of commonly asked interview questions and be prepared to answer them. If it is an unusual question, you can always clarify the question to give you a moment to think. Have an answer and be prepared to justify or explain it. With a case question, they are more interested in seeing how you think than in a specific answer.
- Say “um” or “like” Incessantly—Communication skills are an important part of any job so demonstrate your ability to communicate throughout your interview. Avoid the repetitive fillers such as “um” or “like” which can be very distracting in an interview. You want the interviewer to remember you for your answers and your experience not how many times you said “um.” Take a breath and compose your answer without fillers.
- Fail to Make and Maintain Eye Contact – The lack of eye contact leaves the interviewer feeling the candidate is not trustworthy or confident. Establish and maintain eye contact to convey your interest and confidence.
- Focus on What You Want – This is not all about you. Focus on how you meet the needs of the business and how you can make a difference for the company. They really don’t care about your specific wants. Think about what matters to them and your interview will be more successful.
- Fail to Say Thank You and Ask for the Job—Don’t lose the job because you fail to end the interview by thanking the interviewers for their time and expressing your strong interest in the opportunity. Let them know you are interested, don’t assume they figured it out. Send a handwritten thank you note within 24 hours to differentiate yourself from the competition.
If you avoid these common interview pitfalls, you should be able to ace the interview and land the job.
So much of the job search advice and preparation is to help the candidate get to the point of being invited to interview. Networking to make connections and learn the company, developing a flawless professional resume, preparing compelling customized cover letters and utilizing your networking connections to get your resume in the hands of the hiring manager. If all those things work and you are invited to interview, that’s great news but now the hard work begins.
Preparing for Interviews
- Research the company, review their website, look at recent press coverage, review your networking notes to see what you have learned about the company.
- Prepare questions in advance that you can ask your interviewers.
- Review the job description carefully and think about how you will discuss your qualifications. What have you done that demonstrates your ability to perform this job and do it well?
- Anticipate the questions they are likely to ask and think about your responses. Don’t memorize your answers but know what key points you want to cover.
- Prepare your examples to behavioral questions. Identify the likely skills they will ask about and identify your examples. Think about how you can explain the situation what action you took and don’t forget to emphasize the results you achieved. Know what examples you will want to share. The job description will provide insight into which skills they consider most critical.
- Be sure you know how to get there in advance. Take a test run if necessary. Allow time for traffic and parking.
Cardinal Sins when Interviewing
- Arriving late. Always know where you are going, allow plenty of time to get there and to park. Always arrive a few minutes early. Do not arrive too early – ideally not more than 10 – 15 minutes early is appropriate.
- Wimpy or tentative handshake. Demonstrate your confidence with a professional handshake. Don’t be a bone crusher either.
- Lack of eye contact. If you can’t look at the interviewer while you are answering they suspect you have something to hide and they perceive that you lack confidence.
- Acting like you are not interested or even wishing you were somewhere else. Demonstrate your interest and enthusiasm for the position. Employers often report back that the candidate seemed well qualified but lacked a passion for the opportunity. They hope to hire someone who wants to be part of the team.
Send a Thank You Note
If you want to be remembered after an interview, be sure to send a handwritten thank you note. Remind them why you are so excited about the opportunity, thank them for their time, and reference something you discussed. Employers remember who sent handwritten thank you notes. It makes a very positive impression.