Suit Sightings on Campus

As I crossed campus this morning I was struck by how many students I passed were in business suits.  I must admit they look so professional and smart in their suits.  Our students are in suits when they have interviews, employer panels in class, employer information sessions on campus and other activities with our employer partners.

Dressing professionally demonstrates to the employers that the students know how to present themselves in a professional manner and that they are taking their interaction with the employers very seriously.  Whether the employer works at a company where suits are required every day is not relevant.  Demonstrating their ability to dress appropriately when needed is an important trait to employers.

Dressing for success is an opportunity to promote your personal brand with the employers and demonstrate your interest in the employer.  Making a positive first impression often goes a long way towards being remembered by the employer.

While I still see students in their jeans and tee shirts, it is exciting to be part of an MBA program where suits are such a regular sight on campus.  We are preparing students to be successful in their careers not just in the classes they take but in the employer interactions they experience as well.  While they are taking classes, they are also building a strong foundation for their professional network.

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Making the Most of the “Coffee” Interview

If you are a job seeker the single most important activity in your search is networking.  You should have a target list of companies and work to build networking connections in those organizations to support your search.  A critical aspect of your networking activity is the “coffee” or informational interview.

Once you identify a contact within a target company ask for twenty minutes of their time for an informational interview.  Try to find an alumni connection, a referral, or some connection to give you a starting point.  Prior to your meeting it is critical that you prepare.

  • Research the company online to learn about their products and services, review recent press coverage, get a general sense of their financial position, identify key competitors, etc.
  • Research the individual on Linked In or google them.
  • Prepare questions in advance so you can maximize your time together. Think about what else you want to know about the company, the functional area that interests you, the core competencies for the role you aspire to, the typical career path to your dream job, advice the contact can share.
  • Be prepared to take notes during the meeting.
  • Be prepared. Have your resume updated and ready in case you are asked for it.  Do not lead with it.
  • Ask the contact who else they think you should speak with for additional networking.

An informational interview is about gaining valuable insider insights on the company and your career choices.  It is not asking for a job.

After an informational interview, you should send a handwritten thank you note within 24 hours and you should reference something specific you discussed.  This helps the contact remember you.  If the contact provided referrals, reach out to update the contact when you have met with the referrals and thank them again.

If you are on the other side of the “coffee” interview and people want to come “pick your brain” here’s some advice.  You want to provide valuable insight to those who are truly looking to learn but don’t let others waste your time.

  • Set a specific time limit on the meeting.
  • If the individual is not well prepared, let them know that your time is too valuable and suggest that they prepare before their next meeting. Time for them to learn a valuable lesson.
  • Do not waste time telling them what they could have found by looking at your website.
  • If the individual starts the meeting by asking for a job, tell you have no openings and end the meeting.
  • It is ok to say no. If you are too busy, you can tell the person that.  Is there someone else you can refer them to instead?

When done correctly, coffee interviews are a valuable networking tool to support your job search and career advancement.

Fight Your Fears and Forge Ahead

For some job seekers, networking can be a very scary prospect.  The thought of speaking to strangers to learn about their companies and their careers can cause some to grow faint.  Networking is so critical to job search and career success that it is important to face those fears.

Start with the Low Hanging Fruit.  Reaching out to a stranger can be very intimidating.  Review your target list companies and identify friends, family members, neighbors, and former colleagues who work there.  Start your networking with people you know and build your confidence with the process.  As you gain confidence with the process, it becomes easier to reach out beyond your comfort zone.  Most job seekers are surprised how many contacts they can identify to provide a safe starting point.

Leverage Your Alumni Network.  Before reaching out randomly to a variety of ghosts and goblins, review your alumni network for contacts in your target companies.  Most alumni are willing to share a few minutes with a fellow alum.  Most alumni networks are a challenge to maintain so look for alumni on LinkedIn.  Use your shared connection to your alma mater to establish a connection.  When you start with something in common, it is easier to have a conversation.

More Listening Than Talking.  Be well prepared with thoughtful, insightful questions to keep your contact talking so you can spend most of the meeting listening and taking notes.  Being well prepared based on your research, makes the meeting much easier and demonstrates your interest.

Reframe Your Thinking.  This is not “trick or treat” networking where you knock on a random door to see what surprise you receive.  Do not think of networking as asking for a job or selling yourself – it is not.  Focus on gathering information about industries, companies and roles that interest you.

Be Prepared to Share Information About Yourself.    Anticipate that you will be asked a bit about yourself and be prepared.  Decide in advance what you are comfortable sharing.  Practice your value proposition.

Take Deep Breaths.  Don’t hyperventilate but do take a few deep breaths will help you relax.  It is ok to breathe as you prepare to ask the next question.  A few deep breaths will help you relax and focus on the conversation.

Be Yourself.  Forget the masks and costumes.  You do not have to pretend to be extroverted in your networking meetings to succeed.  Be yourself but strive to be a well-prepared self.  Preparation helps to increase your confidence.

Celebrate Your Success.  After your meeting, review your notes and consider what you have learned.  Congratulate yourself on the information you gathered and the connection you established. Approach your networking one meeting at a time.  Don’t paralyze yourself with a long list of contacts.  Plan one meeting a time to keep the process manageable and to build your confidence.

Always Say Thank You.  Remember to follow up with a handwritten thank you note to your contact to show your appreciate for their time and their insights.  Make it easy for them to remember you but providing timely and professional feedback.

Leave the haunting to Halloween night.  Put your fears aside and enjoy your fall networking.  It will enhance your success.  Don’t be surprised if you come to enjoy the process.  It can be so interesting to learn about industries, companies and roles that you start to worry less about the process.  You may find yourself energized by the interesting people you meet.

Don’t be Left Out, Link In

LinkedIn is a valuable business networking tool and is critical to a successful job search.  At Northeastern’s D’Amore-McKim School of Business MBA Career Center, we work with our students to help them maximize the value of Linked In.

Be Found – Build a powerful profile so employers searching for people like you can easily find you online.  Make it easy for alumni, current students, and former business colleagues to find you.  The true power of your connections comes from the second and third level so work to build a strong first level of connections.

Quality Not Quantify – There is no prize for having the most contacts but the right contacts are invaluable.  Build a network of people you know to help you achieve your career goals.

Seek Feedback – We review the students’ LinkedIn profiles with them and offer suggestions for improvements.  Have someone else review your profile and share feedback.  Another set of eyes can add valuable insight.

Alumni Connections – In additional to joining LinkedIn groups for alumni, utilize the alumni search to identify alumni connections in your target companies.

Making the Most of Your MBA Investment

Whether you are returning to school for an MBA in the full-time, evening or online program you are making a significant invest of your time and money.  As a good business student you want to maximize your return on the investment in your career.  Even as you start the program, there are things you can do to maximize your future return.

Don’t Disconnect:  You are busy attending classes, reading assignments, preparing cases and working on group projects.  It can be very tempting to cut yourself off from former employers and colleagues.  Resist that temptation.  These are valuable networking connections and potentially your references for future jobs.  Stay connected with former managers and colleagues via LinkedIn.  If they don’t already know, tell them about the investment you are making in your in your future.

Expand Your Network:  Use your time in school to significantly expand your professional network.  Start with your classmates.  Get to know them and learn about the companies they represent.  Follow-up with guest speakers in class and take full advantage of all the networking opportunities offered by the Career Center.  Conduct informational interviews to learn more about the roles and companies that interest you.  Start making connections that will support your full-time job search later.  Networking is the most critical success factor in a full-time job search.  Build a strong foundation now.  Don’t forget to leverage the alumni network as well.

Do Your Research:  Between informational interviews and online research, learn as much as you can about the industries that interest you.  Identify key companies in those industries and research them as well.  Investing the time early to learn about industries and companies will help you focus your networking activities and will prepare for informational interviews.  You demonstrate your interest and passion by being well prepared.

Leverage Career Services:  Take the time to learn what Career Center services are available to you at different stages in your program.  Attend networking events and workshops offered by the Career Center.  When possible, build a relationship with a career advisor and keep the advisor posted on your progress.

Do not wait until you are ready to look for a job, start now.  Invest in your career by building a strong networking foundation to support your efforts.

 

Why Networking Matters

US Department of Labor reports that 63% of new jobs are secured through networking.  They report that as of July 1, 2014 there were 4.6 million job openings and approximately 80% of them are never advertised.  The average number of applicants for a given job is 118.

The numbers are staggering.  If you are currently conducting your job search behind your computer searching job sites, you are missing a significant number of opportunities.  Your efforts are further hampered by companies using talent management software that screen out approximately 50% of all resumes submitted before a human ever sees them.

What is a job seeker to do?  Network!  It is more critical than ever that if you hope to land that next position, you need to be networking.  While initially networking is a valuable source of information, you can build a network of supporters who can transform your job search.  Supporters can forward your resume to the hiring manager to increase the likelihood it will at least be reviewed.  Supporters can offer a recommendation which is valuable to the hiring manager.  Supporters can provide insights on the hiring process at the company, the particular position and the team.

General rule of thumb for a successful job search, spend ten times more time networking than sitting behind your computer.  In the face of the data from the Department of Labor you can’t afford to avoid networking.  It is the single most important thing you can to ensure a successful job search.

Selling Yourself in Interviews

Congratulations, you got the interview!  Clearly the hiring manager saw something in your resume and cover letter than earned you a coveted interview slot.  Now the challenge is to sell yourself.

It is important to do your research on the company so you have insightful questions prepared.  You can also practice answering commonly asked interview questions to help you be prepared.  But, it is often the questions they don’t ask directly that make or break the decision.  Being aware of those questions and how they impact your responses can be critical to your success.

Interviewers will ask a lot of questions about your past work.  They may also ask behavioral questions to see how you handle certain situations.  Bottom line, what they really want to know is:

  • Why they should hire you?
  • What you can do for them that others can’t?
  • How well do you fit their organization and team?

Ensure that in your responses to questions about your work, education, skills etc. that you are really answering these underlying questions.  Articulate clearly the skills, expertise and experience you bring that would enable you to succeed in this position.  Demonstrate your interest and enthusiasm for the job and the company.  While they are assessing your fit with their team you need to form your own opinion of how well you fit the culture of the company and the specific work team.

Focus on your transferable skills.  Highlight the results you delivered in your previous work.  Results are much more important and impactful than responsibilities.  Clearly articulate your skills that differentiate you from other candidates.  Use your passion and enthusiasm as a differentiator.  Demonstrate your knowledge of the company and your strong interest by having questions prepared, having held networking meetings with employees of the company, identifying alumni within the organization, and your knowledge of what’s going on in the company and the industry.

To assess fit think about what environment enables you to do your best work.  Are you a team collaborator or an individual contributor?  What do you need from manager?  How would your current manager and colleagues describe you?  Do you research in advance about the culture using online resources and your networking contacts and seek to confirm that information in your interview by observing how people work together.  It can be very revealing to arrive a few minutes early and watch the interaction or lack there off among the employees.

When considering your answers to interview questions, be sure to frame your responses in light of what employers really want to know.  A great way to end your interview is to ask, “what concerns do you have about me as a candidate for this position.”  While it can be scary to hear what they consider obstacles, asking the question demonstrates your strong interest and gives you an opportunity to address those issues or concerns.  You can leave the interviewers with a very positive impression on your way out the door.