Acing an Internship Interview                                               

At this time of year, I receive questions about students preparing for internship interviews.  That is certainly something we have some experience with at the D’Amore-McKim Graduate Career Center.  Our MBA students do a six month corporate residency after their first year of classes and we held more than 450 interviews to kick off the process on February 5.

While all general interview advice on this blog applies to internship interviews as well, here are some specific considerations.

Prepare

Do not fall into the trap of thinking you can wing it because it is “just an internship.”  This is a significant career opportunity and you must take your preparation seriously.  Research the company.  Practice your answers to typical interview questions.  If possible, talk to students who did internships with this company in the past to gain their perspective.  The more prepared you are, the more confident you will be for the interview.

Identify Questions to Ask the Interviewer

One of the best ways to demonstrate your interest in the opportunity and the company is to identify thoughtful and insightful questions to ask the interviewer.  This clearly demonstrates your level of preparation as well.  Try to ask questions that are timely and relevant to the position the student is applying to for the internship.  Just days before our interviews one employer announced the acquisition of a major competitor.  Students needed to be aware of that but those who were most successful asked specific questions about how the acquisition would impact the supply chain strategy since they were interviewing for a supply chain position.

My favorite questions to ask an interviewer are the ones that make them envision the candidate in the job.  Examples could include:  “What would your primary goals for me be in this six month assignment?”  “How would you measure my success in this position.”  “What would you expect me to accomplish in the first 90 days in this role?”  The answers will be enlightening but the subliminal process of visualizing you in the role doesn’t hurt either.

What Not to Ask

Do not pressure the interviewer about the likelihood of converting the internship to a full-time job.  They know that is likely your goal but there are two major considerations:  first you have to perform well on the job and fit with the team so they would consider hiring you.  Second, they need to have a business need and budget approval for a hire.  They may not yet know what their headcount is for next year.  Don’t expect them to give you an answer they  don’t have.  Being too focused on conversion can leave them with the wrong impression.  View the internship as a valuable learning experience.  Absolute worst case, you have relevant work experience to add to your resume and references to back it up.

Follow-Up

Demonstrate your follow-up skills and your professionalism by sending a prompt email thank you to each interviewer, personalized of course.  Within 24 hours, send each interviewer a personalized, handwritten thank you note.  Thank them for their time and demonstrate your interest in the opportunity. Refer to something you learned from each interviewer.  This is a significant opportunity to differentiate yourself from other candidates.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Decoding the Job Description                                                   

You see a job description posted and think “that is the perfect job for me.”  Before you attach your resume and hit send, stop to prepare a compelling, customized cover letter.  A cover letter will help you highlight how your skills and experience will add value in this position.  Do not assume that the hiring manager can make the connections by just reading your resume.  To effectively customize your cover letter you need to decode the job description.

Company Research

Read the company overview in the job description and focus on what key messages the company is sending to interested candidates.  Is this a company you want to be part of and why?  Check their website.  Talk to people in your network who have worked for this company or are there currently.  Review recent press coverage.  Develop a clear vision of why you want to work for this organization.

Job Overview

Read the job overview carefully and highlight critical skills and experience they are seeking.  Are there key characteristics of their ideal candidate that apply to you?  Focus on what key factors you bring to the table for this specific position.

Critical Responsibilities

Review the list of specific, critical responsibilities.  What have you already done before?  What have you had exposure to in the past?  Do you have the skills to meet these responsibilities?  What would be the learning opportunities and challenges in this role.  See where their priorities and your skills and interest align.

Requirements

Be realistic.  It is a wish list.  You are not likely to have every requirement on the list.  Focus on what you do bring to the table.  If you have a track record of learning new systems, that could overcome knowledge of their specific system.  If you have learned a new industry in the past, it demonstrates a strong likelihood that you could do it again.  Emphasize what you bring to the table in your cover letter.  Do now mention skills you don’t have but be prepared to address those if asked in an interview.

Carefully reviewing the job description and highlighting critical skills and experience will help you write a compelling, focused, customized cover letter and that significantly increases your chances of being invited to interview.

 

Making the Most of a Mentor Relationship

We believe mentors are a critical component to career success and just finished matching mentors with members of our first year full-time MBA class.  I am excited that we have such talented mentors volunteering their time to work with our students.  Over the years I have observed the significant impact these relationships can have on our students and their careers.

Mentors can provide valuable advice, counsel, advocacy and networking assistance.  They can be a valuable career resource.  Family and friends may want to help but they often lack experience in the field we are targeting and more importantly, they are not objective.  They can’t always provide the constructive and objective perspective that is needed.  Professional mentors can provide support, encouragement and career-related guidance while identifying and maximizing networking and career exploration opportunities.

Most business professionals seek a mentor with more experience so they can learn from their experience or a mentor in a field they aspire to work in.  Open, honest communication is critical to a successful networking partnership.  Being clear about goals of the relationship and agreeing up front on the frequency and mode of communication builds a strong foundation for the relationship.

It is not your mentor’s responsibility to find you a job.  You can explore career goals, seek networking contacts and request advice but do not ask your mentor for a job.  If they offer, it’s fine but the goal of the relationship is to gain advice and insight

Guidelines we share with students to maximize their mentor relationship include the following:

  • Be considerate of your mentor’s time.  Return phone calls promptly and arrive on time for meetings.
  • Seriously consider all advice you receive.
  • Show evidence that you have utilized the assistance they offer.
  • Show appreciation for any and all assistance provided.
  • Be open to constructive feedback and seek it whenever possible.  Do not be defensive.  Be open to all feedback and learn from it.  Seek feedback often.
  • Assume the relationship will be strictly professional.  Let the mentor take the lead in making it more personal if desired.
  • Say thank you often.  Let your mentor know how they are making a difference for you.
  • Look for opportunities to give back -share a relevant article, offer to assist with a new technology, refer a qualified candidate, etc.

Possible goals for a mentoring partnership may include:

  • Expanding my professional network
  • Clarifying my development focus
  • Enhancing knowledge of key functions and industries of interest
  • Understanding organizational politics
  • Receiving feedback on critical skills for development
  • Testing ideas in a safe environment

Master the Art of Email for Career Success 2015

Whether in your job search or on-the-job, your email communication is a reflection of your personal brand.  Employers are judging your communications skills by looking at your emails.  Feedback from employers is that new employees have a lot to learn about appropriate business emails.

General Advice

  • Correct grammar, spelling and punctuation are expected
  • Professionalism should always rule
  • If you wouldn’t say it to someone’s face, don’t say it in an email
  • Be concise and to the point, attach supporting documents if necessary but they should be able to quickly read the email to assess the situation and identify your recommended action steps
  • If you refer to an attachment, be sure it is attached
  • Email creates a permanent record, if it something you would not want to see on the CEO’s desk or on the front page of the newspaper, don’t send it!

In Your Job Search

  • Accuracy matters – spell the person’s name correctly, use appropriate grammar and punctuation, avoid slang, emoticons, etc.
  • Be professional – put your best foot forward, show them your communications skills
  • Make it personal – don’t send a group thank you if you interviewed with multiple people, send each one a customized thank you (and still send a handwritten note)
  • If you say the resume is attached, be sure it is there and in a format someone can open

On the Job

  • Know when to just pick up the phone or walk to someone’s office, don’t go back and forth over details in email when you could quickly resolve the issue with a phone call. Email chains can be frustrating and annoying and they waste time.
  • Don’t send an email in haste when you are angry or frustrated, cool off and reread it before sending it
  • Don’t send anything you wouldn’t say in person
  • Don’t play games with cc or bcc to higher ups, they are not impressed and more often will be annoyed.  If you need management intervention reach out to them and ask for their help explaining the situation and what needs to be done, don’t threaten the person you are dealing with by cc’ing the boss and don’t irritate the boss who isn’t clear on what you expect him to do
  • Maintain professionalism and accuracy

Specific Situation

What to say when you’re emailing in sick

  • Always call to let your manager know you are going to be out sick. Leave a voicemail message if needed.
  • You can follow-up with an email. Don’t provide a lot of details about your illness or symptoms.  Focus instead of what others need to know to keep things moving while you are out of the office.  Is there a critical document someone is waiting for?  A meeting that needs to be rescheduled?
  • Manage expectations – Will you be checking email or not? Are you available for a phone call or not?  If you are very sick, it is perfectly ok to unplug and get your rest but you need to manage expectations.

What to say when you’re sending an intro email (either introducing yourself or
intro-ing two colleagues)

  • When you are making an introduction, send the email to both parties involved and address both of them. Introduce them to each other with a brief background and identify why you are making the introduction.
  • If you need or expect follow-up from either or both, be very clear about next steps.

How to reply to an intro email (when you’re the one who requested the intro — do you CC the
person who set it up? BCC them?),

  • Respond to both, thank the person making the introduction and discuss next steps with the person you were introduced to.

How to handle setting up a meeting with higher-ups you don’t know — do you send them an
email before the calendar invite or after?

  • Send an email requesting a meeting and being very clear why you need to meet and what your are expecting as a result.
  • Ask if you should coordinate with his/her administrative assistant or just use the outlook calendar.
  • Do not just send a meeting request. It is presumptuous and in appropriate unless it has been made clear that the corporate culture works that way.

What to say when you need to send a running late email

  • State your sincere apologies for running late and provide a reasonable estimate of when you will be arriving.

Writing thank you emails (specifically, should you send a two word “thank you”
every time someone sends you something you asked for or just
that just create email clutter?)

  • Use judgment. If someone sends something significant that represents a lot of time and effort on their part, it is appropriate to acknowledge their effort.
  • If it is just a quick answer to a basic question, it is not necessary.
  • Avoid the endless thank you chain.
  • When it doubt think how you would feel if you were the sender, would you expect or appreciate a response?

In general, when to reply all and when there’s NNTR (no need to reply)

  • If there is no need to reply, don’t.
  • If you sent the email would you expect a response? If the answer is no, don’t send one.

How to deal with a situation in which you accidentally replied all and a group
saw something embarrassing or even mean that you said about them
that was originally meant for an individual–as well as what to
do if that happens to one of your employees or co-workers.

  • Never send anything via email that you would not say to someone’s face or that you wouldn’t want to see on the desk of the CEO or on the front page of the newspaper.
  • Email creates a permanent record. It should never be used to say unkind, embarrassing or disparaging remarks.
  • If you accidently reply all to a group and are concerned about the content, send a quick apology. Don’t elaborate or make it a bigger deal than it is.
  • Should a colleague be negatively highlighted in an inadvertent reply all, as their manager you should contact the individual who sent the email and ask them to apologize.
  • Common courtesy and common sense are both critical to effective communication.

Any other basic do’s/don’ts (i.e., when is it appropriate to BCC
someone vs. forwarding to them, etc.).

  • BCC should only be done for very specific reasons and it should be very clear to the person receiving the BCC why they are receiving it.
  • Do not use it maliciously, it will come back to bite you.
  • If management needs a heads up on something, forward the email with a note about your concerns and recommended actions. Stick to the facts and avoid emotions.

 

 

 

Making the Most of Career Fairs

Making the Most of a Career Fair

Happy St. Patrick’s Day!  We are celebrating on campus with our spring Graduate Career Expo.  Since we are in career fair mode today it seemed a perfect opportunity to focus on how to make the most of career fairs.

Career fairs  can be a valuable source of contacts but to be successful, the job seeker must prepare thoroughly in advance.

Research the Companies

Do your homework in advance.  Identify the companies participating and see if they align with your target companies, industries or positions.   If yes, research each company you plan to visit.  Learn what they do, who their competitors are, what recent press coverage they have had, etc.  Check their online postings to see if there are specific jobs which may interest you.  Know something about the companies you hope to meet and have specific, thoughtful questions prepared for each one.   Obviously if there are no companies of interest, don’t waste your time but do some research before jumping to that conclusion.

Prepare Your Materials

Have clean copies of your resume with you.   Also have business cards available.   Be prepared to share them when asked.  You also want to be sure to have a notepad so you can jot  down appropriate notes after each conversation.  Have a calendar available in case you are asked to schedule a follow-up interview.  Use one pocket for your own business cards and a separate pocket for those you collect.

Put your Best Foot Forward

Dress as if it were an interview because it could be.  You are certainly making a first impression on the company representative so you want to appear professional.  Some companies have the flexibility to do on the spot interviews if they are impressed so you want to be ready.   When it is your turn to meet the representative, make eye contact, shake hands confidently and introduce yourself briefly.

It’s about the Relationships

This is about making connections.  You can apply online all day and there is no guarantee that a human ever actually looks at your resume.  At the career expo, you are meeting a representative from the company.  They have committed their time and resources because they want to meet our students and alumni.  Let them know you are interested.   Demonstrate your interest by being well prepared and asking insightful questions.  Even if they don’t immediately have the right job for you, if you make a positive impression they could bring your resume back to the office and share it with an appropriate hiring manager.  Make a strong connection.

Follow-up Matters

For the people you had conversations with at the expo, send a handwritten thank you note within 24 hours thanking them for their time and reinforcing your interest.  Few people will do this so it helps you stand out in a very positive way.  If they don’t have a card, jot down their name and company before moving on to the next table.  Saying thank you makes a very positive impression.

If you are going to take the time to attend a career event, invest the time in your preparation so you can maximize the benefits.

2015 Networking Tips #5

Networking is the most critical thing you can to in your job search.  It is important to maximize the benefit of each networking meeting.  Here are some tips for success.

  • Be prepared. Prior to the meeting research the company and the contact.  Have insightful questions prepared prior to your meeting.  Preparation demonstrates interest as well as your work ethic.
  • The day before your meeting call to confirm the time and location of the meeting.  Ensure that you know exactly where you are going and allow adequate time to arrive about ten minutes prior to your appointment.
  • Networking Profile. Bring a couple copies of your networking profile.  This can make it easy for your contact to identify opportunities to assist you in your search.  Do not bring resumes.  You can always send one as follow-up if it is requested.
  • Business Attire. Dress as if the meeting was an interview.  Demonstrate that you are a business professional and that you are taking this opportunity seriously.
  • Anticipate Logistics. Be sure you have a photo ID available in case it is required by building security.  Have your business cards accessible.  Bring a small notebook or padfolio with pen so you can take notes.  You can also have your questions noted in advance.
  • Listen More Than You Talk. While it important for the contact to get to know you, be sure to ask open-ended questions and listen carefully to what the contact is willing to share.  You can gain significant insight on the company, the industry and the role based on your questions to the contact.
  • Open with Small Talk. Demonstrate your interest in your contact.  Break the ice and build a connection.  You may ask about something displayed in their office.  If referred by a common connection, you could start by talking about how you both know that person.  If the contact shares only professional information, do not start talking about outside activities.  Mirror the contact’s energy level.  Do not spend more than five minutes breaking the ice.
  • Be Prepared to Run the Meeting. Some contacts will take the lead but others will sit back and wait for you to drive the meeting since you were the one to request this time together.  Have your questions prepared and take notes on their responses.
  • Say Thank You. Be respectful of the contact’s time and bring the meeting to a close in the agreed-upon time.  Thank the contact for their time and insights.  Show genuine appreciation and interest.  If follow-up is appropriate, ask permission to follow-up.  Exchange business cards.  Within 24 hours of your meeting, send a handwritten thank you note.  It is a simple but highly effective way to differentiate yourself and be remembered.
  • Ask for Additional Contacts. Now that the contact knows a bit more about you, ask who they suggest you speak with and ask if they would be willing to introduce you.   A referral from a trusted colleague can open critical doors for you.

A special situation is the meeting with a contact who was referred to you by another contact.  In that instance, you should also send a thank you note to the contact who recommended the new contact or made the introduction for you.  Show them that you appreciate their support.  They may have other valuable connections for you as well.

Following these steps will help you maximize the value of your networking meetings and will help you identify further contacts.

2015 Tips for a Successful Interview #5

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.