Would You Be Willing to Leave Your Family at Disneyland?

Every Sunday, the New York Times business section publishes an interview with a CEO. The feature is called “Corner Office” and is well worth following to understand what people mean when they talk about “company culture” and “fit.” Towards the end of the column, the interviewer always asks about the specific interview questions that CEO uses for hiring. Here’s the answer in last Sunday’s column, with Don Mal, the CEO of a software company,

To understand their work ethic, I do ask this question: Would you be willing to leave your family at Disneyland to do something that was really important for the company?

Some people have said no, and I haven’t hired them.

It’s interesting because I did leave my wife and kids at Disneyland once. It was to close the biggest deal of our company’s history. I left for two days. It wasn’t like I was leaving them there for the whole vacation.

To me, it’s not so much a loyalty question. It’s more of just trying to understand their work ethic.

There are a number of takeaways here.

  • To work at this company, you have to be able to answer “yes” with sincerity.
  • If your answer would be “no,” you wouldn’t get the job. But that could be a good thing.
  • It might be worth asking yourself: what is the work for which you WOULD leave your family at Disneyland for two days? A career-making writing opportunity? The chance to do some game-changing fundraising for your nonprofit? An international conflict that needs your particular skills?
  • If you can’t imagine the career goal that would take you away from a family vacation, that may be a non-negotiable core value that will shape your career decisions. Or it could mean that you haven’t yet discovered the work that means that much to you.

There is no “right” answer to an interview question — there is only the answer that accurately conveys whether or not you would be a good fit for that organization (and by extension, whether the organization is a good fit for you).

How to Write a Resume

A resume is neither a really long business card, nor a really short autobiography. It’s an advertisement for yourself. A good resume is never a single static document. It should change all the time, depending on whom you are advertising TO and what parts of your background will be most relevant to that person.

The effective resume has one purpose: to get the reader to request a face-to-face meeting in which you can convey your full value.

Entire books, websites, library sections are devoted to the craft of resumes. For English/CW majors who are trying to put together their first resume — either to apply for a job or to have it handy in case a job comes up — we offer three “recipes” that range from easy-but-not-necessarily effective (“the resume kludge”) to hard-but-more-likely-to-advance-you-towards-your-goals (“the resume design”).

Have you been reluctant to develop your resume because you don’t yet have relevant work experience? You can find some advice to get you started here, here, and here.

Recipe 1: The resume kludge. Continue reading

Should You Work for Free?

NO.trouser-pockets-1439412_1920-1

Your time and your skills have value. Employers ask for free labor simply because they can get it, not because your labor is worthless. Agreeing to work for free devalues your skllls, creates a bad precedent for others with those same skills, encourages employers to exploit their workers, and makes professional advancement more difficult for people who don’t have the option of working for free. 

Maybe (if your answer to any of these questions is yes)

Is an organization whose goals are so important to you that you would be willing to volunteer there under other circumstances?

Is your learning curve going to be so steep that the employer is likely to lose more than they gain by employing you? (Keep in mind that ANY new employee needs some time to learn the ropes, and that most businesses factor in those costs when they decide to hire someone.)

Is the hope of working for this particular organization so important to you that you would rather have an opportunity to prove your worth than be paid?

Is there no other way to get this particular kind of experience–a different job, volunteer work for an organization you care about, your extracurricular activities?

Is it a writing gig that will give you some non-academic work samples for your portfolio?

Does the position have some added value (prestige, filling a gap in your resume, networking opportunities) that you can get no other way?

Yes?

If you DO have a good reason to work for free, then own it.

  • Articulate your reasons clearly to yourself, in terms that will make it possible for you to recognize when you have gotten what you want from the experience.
  • Be confident that this particular opportunity is the best use of your free labor at this moment.
  • Don’t limit yourself to the opportunity in front of you: if you’re going to work for free, it might as well be for an organization that matters to you or that will teach you particular skills you want. Consider reaching out to an organization you would like to work for and creating the internship or service project you would like to do.
  • Have an endpoint: set a goal or time limit after which you will stop or insist on payment.

 

Jobs for Those with People Skills

First Job: Human Resources

Consider the following list of qualifications:hr-jobThis is an entry-level position in human resources, a field for which English and creative writing are always “related majors.”

Human resources is the work of recruiting potential employees, hiring them, getting them started in their jobs, and then resolving problems that arise. If you’ve helped a friend get hired at your work, if you’ve trained a new employee, if you’ve helped someone in trouble keep their job–you’ve already done work in this area.

Alumnus Theo Long, the Associate Director of Talent Management (“a fancy way of saying human resources”) for the U of I Office of Advancemtheodore_longent was in the English department yesterday to talk about his own experience. It was a field he stumbled into, but the point where it became a career path, rather than simply a way to pay the bills, was the point where he realized he could make a difference in the lives of other people. Having seen on-the-job conflicts be mismanaged (“some managers just love to fire people”), he sought out a managerial role where he could help resolve conflicts supportively and constructively.

There are a lot of entry-level roles in HR that do NOT require a graduate degree, particularly recruiting new employees. For those who want to advance in the field without committing to a graduate program, the Society of Human Resource Managers (SHRM) offers a certification program, which involves self-study, an exam, and a fee.

Theo also noted that an entry-level HR job can be a point of entry into an organization or an industry in which you may ultimately pursue other career paths: project management, communications, public relations.

Second Job: Advancement/Development/Fundraising

Higher education, not-for-profit organizations, philanthropy, social justice and political activism…all these kinds of organizations require donations to stay afloat. The work of of obtaining and managing those donations goes by many names.  Theo Long’s HR job falls within the University of Illinois’s Office of Advancement which works with donors. Theo offered insight into the kinds of skills that are key for jobs in this area: not just the ability to ask people for money (though that is important) but also–a strong commitment to the mission of the organization that you’re raising money for, excellent listening skills, and curiosity. He also noted that advancement takes a lot of different forms: there is need for event planners, project managers, and researchers. A background in sales, customer service, organizing events for your RSO, and helping with fundraising in any capacity can make you eligible for an entry level job in this area. Theo also noted that the University of Illinois Foundation regularly seeks student employees to call alumni and seek donations. It’s not work that everyone takes to, but for anyone thinking about a career in the non-profit realm, it’s valuable experience.

Theo is a member of the Alumni Mentoring program, so feel free to contact him using your Alumni Mentoring Directory (and if you haven’t yet signed up for the Alumni Mentoring program, please set up an appointment with Kirstin Wilcox by emailing kwilcox@illinois.edu or calling 333-4346).

advancement