From the other side of the table: Why those in positions to hire people should NOT agree to informational interviews (and why you should ask for them anyway).

Today in Slate, associate editor L. V. Anderson, describes her own experiences with giving informational interviews and makes the case for why people in positions to make hiring decisions should NOT agree to take part in them.  Her bottom line?

It’s anti-meritocratic. It’s impossible for everyone who’s searching for a job to land an informational interview with a helpful candidate…The people who get informational interviews—and the benefits they confer—tend to be people who have something in common with their target: a mutual friend, a family connection, an alma mater in common. Informational interviews are like unpaid internships and hiring for “cultural fit”—they encourage bosses to hire and promote people from the same background as their own, which effectively cuts off job opportunities for minorities. Put another way, informational interviews give a leg up to people who don’t need a leg up.

Anderson’s advice is disconcerting for anyone entering a daunting job market and, quite reasonably, seeking any “leg up” they can find (however much one wants to see the 21st Continue reading

Uncovering the Cover Letter

A cover letter is the letter that you send an employer along with your resume.

When you’re explicitly asked to write “a cover letter” to apply for a job, the letter should be a business-style letter, complete with formal salutation and signature. It should convey your enthusiasm for the position, along with your understanding of what they job entails.  It should also draw connections between the experience you’ve outlined on your resume and the requirements of the position you’re applying for.  Sometimes such a letter is called a “job application letter” or a “statement of interest.”  If you’re explicitly asked for a cover letter, it’s probably best to make it an email attachment, like your resume, rather than writing an email that serves as a cover letter.

Sometimes job or internship ads do NOT explicitly ask for a cover letter–they ask you to fill out an online application, download a resume, email a resume, send in writing samples, or Continue reading

Planning Backwards from the Interview; Or, Why Group Projects Matter

monsters incBelow is a list of interview questions that a human resources specialist at a major west coast media company keeps in rotation for evaluating potential hires.

Note that none of these ask about your major, your GPA, the specific jobs or positions you’ve held, your awards, or your coursework (though some of these elements of your resume might help you get the interview).  They all ask, one way or another, “how do you interact with people? how do you cope with conflict and stress? can you pull your weight without being annoying?”

The only way to prepare for questions like these is to have good stories to tell about your experience. The more experience you have, the more stories you can tell.

  • Tell me about a time when you were “thrown in the deep end.” What did you learn about yourself as a result?
  • What’s given you your greatest sense of accomplishment or been your greatest achievement so far? Why?
  • Tell me about a time when you saw a potential problem on the horizon. How did you recognize that the problem was going to occur in the first place? What did you do to try to prevent this problem from occurring?
  • Give me an example of a time when you had to absorb complex information or learn a complex task. How did you go about learning it? What did you do to ensure you learned it?
  • Tell me about a work-related mistake you’ve made and how you learned from this.
  • Tell me about a time when everything around you was going wrong. How did you deal with the situation?
  • Tell me about a time when you worked in an environment that was inhabited by people with a negative attitude. How did you react and cope with this?
  • How would people who have worked with you describe the way you handle stress and pressure? Give me an example of a time when you were under stress and pressure to deliver results. What could we expect if you were under stress and pressure here at work?
  • Tell me about a time when your manager asked you to do something with which you did not agree. What did you do?
  • Tell me about a situation where you went out of your way to spend extra effort or energy on something. What was it and what made you do this?
  • Give me an example of time when you worked within a team that was dysfunctional and wasn’t operating effectively. What was your role? What did you do to make things better?
  • Think about the most challenging colleague you have had and tell me how you handled working with that person. What would you have done differently in retrospect?
  • Give me a specific example of a time when you were involved in a workplace conflict. What did you do to resolve the conflict?
  • What types of people do you prefer to work with? Which kinds of people do you like working with the least? Why? How do you make yourself cope with people you don’t like? How do you handle people that don’t like you?
  • Tell me about a time where you had a manager who wasn’t particularly good at motivating you. How did you motivate yourself? What did you wish your manager did to help you feel motivated?
  • Tell me about a time when you had to persuade or influence a peer. How did you go about doing this? What was the result?

Even if an actual job interview is a long way in your future, it’s worth thinking about how you would answer these questions now, based on your life experience so far.  Then ask yourself, how can you acquire better stories to tell?  What opportunities do you have to learn more about how you work with other people?  What are your strengths and weaknesses as a team member and how can you build on them?