Job Advice for New College Grads

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Posts Tagged ‘graduate’

How to make myself a better candidate (less than 1 year remaining)

Posted by James M on May 17, 2010

This post is dedicated to all the college students out there who are near graduation (less than 1 year remaining before the big day).  The strategies for college seniors to improve their employability and career stock is a lot different than a college freshman for example.  (If you have more than a year before graduation, try reading this post).

For better or worse, for this moment in time you are who you are.  You can’t significantly change your GPA or get any more work experience–you simply don’t have enough time.  But that’s OK.  The one thing you can do to give yourself an advantage is to out prepare the competition.  Here’s a few tips about how to differentiate yourself in your final months in college.

GPA

If you read the previous post written for those who have at least a year before they’ll graduate, you already know what I’m going to say here, namely, that your grades are the number one thing that employers look at.  That isn’t to say if you don’t have a 4.0, you can’t get a job.  You most assuredly can.  However, your situation is a little different than those that have more time until they graduate.  You do NOT have enough time to significantly alter your cumulative GPA.

However, you may have enough time to show positive trends in your academic performance and alter the GPA of a subset of your classes such as senior-level classes or classes within your specialization.  You should concentrate on ending your academic career on a positive note and focus on emphasizing this upward grade swing when applying to jobs.  So, in an interview you might want to highlight this by saying something like, “Although I struggled early on in college and only achieved a 2.8 GPA going into my senior year, I was able to focus and achieve a 3.4 GPA in my 400-level classes.”  You can go on to highlight what brought about this improvement—finding classes you were passionate about, gaining maturity, reading this amazing blog post 😉 , etc., and then, if possible, linking that attribute back to the position in a way that demonstrates why you’re the right person for the job (it shows maturity, ability to spot your weaknesses, initiative, whatever).

On your resume you can highlight your improvment by borrowing a trick from one of my other posts and use a dual-GPA strategy on your resume that may look something like this:

GPA: 2.96; senior-level GPA 3.41

Volunteer Experience

I said in an earlier post that if you have more than one year until you graduate you should focus on work experience.  This is generally not true with less than one year, and there are a couple of reasons for this.  First, with less than a year left it is difficult and impractical to try to acquire meaningful work experience.  Most internships and co-ops take place during the summer and it is extremely difficult to get such a position during the school year.  That being said, if you do have the opportunity to partake in an internship opportunity I would fully endorse doing so.

The second reason is that volunteering offers quick ways to demonstrate key skills that employers look for in job applicants, most notably leadership and teamwork.  So while it is quite unlikely you will, say have an internship managing a team of 10 coworkers, it is quite easy to find volunteer experience which allows you to immediately jump into such a role.

There is one thing to note which is that when listing volunteer experience on your resume employers will obviously be able to determine the approximate date when you started and if you suddenly became “Mr. or Mrs. Volunteer Activity” in your final quarter or two it may ring insincere with them.  One way to counteract this is to face it head on.  A simple statement like the following will work wonders during your interview, “While researching your company 2 months ago when starting my job search I noticed that leadership skills are a key component of a successful applicant.  After evaluating my own background, I noticed I had a hole in this skill set which led me to seek a leadership position with a volunteer organization to address this weakness area before graduation.”

But remember, not all companies are created equal, some may be more interested in leadership, others in team work, or facilitation skills, or even a particular knowledge set.  The point is to combine a volunteer experience that you’re passionate about with one that will fortify the core competencies desired by your potential employers given your time constraints before graduation.

There is no secret about how to go about finding a volunteer opportunity (craigslist, school job boards, churches, etc.) and it might take a few hours of research, but is well worth the effort.

Student Government

Student government offers another opportunity to gain internship-type experience closer to home.  Student organizations differ from school to school, but here again leadership opportunities are often in no short supply.  For those who are interested in a career in the corporate world, many schools often have some sort of student run businesses such as a school paper, radio station, any one of a number of different types of stores, community development programs, etc.

Research

Undergraduate student research is yet another great way to quickly differentiate yourself from your peers.  At many universites research opportunities are available all year round and in nearly every academic discipline.  In most cases you will be assisting a graduate student or professor in whatever research project they are currently undertaking.  Undergraduate research not only gives you practical and unique experience, but also shows your passion for your academic major.

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Online Application Resume Tips

Posted by James M on November 6, 2009

This will just be a quick post to give a few small tips regarding resume submission when completing an online application.  There are basically two types of submission methods used depending on the company.  Some companies offer a direct way to browse, select, and upload your resume in Microsoft Word (or a similar) format.  This is easy enough, my advice would be the same as if you were submitting a hardcopy resume (See my list of Resume Tips articles for more information).  

So let’s focus on the other form of resume submission.  This common method requires you to submit your resume in text format via a text entry box.  Companies like this submission process because it allows the information to be dumped into the company’s own database which optimizes keyword search and resume review.  

When submitting your resume via this system, consider these helpful hints.

1)  Replace bullets with asterisks to ensure your resume’s formatting is properly rendered.  

2)  Consider replacing bolded headings (which won’t show up in a plain text format) with all capitalized headings to help segment your text resume.

3)  Simplify your resume’s formatting so that all lines are left aligned.

4)  Add extra info.  As you may know I am a big advocate of the one-page resume for most recent graduates.  The online resume submission, however, does allow you to “cheat” and add a little extra information to your resume since there is no idea of a “page” in text format.  Be cautious however, the fundamental philosophy of a susinct and powerful resume still holds.  Click here for a post on the reason for a one-page resume.

5)  Try it out first!  Have a copy of your resume available in text format so that you can simply cut and paste when filling out online applications.

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Guesstimation Interview Questions

Posted by James M on December 9, 2008

Guesstimation interview questions are in the same family as logic questions and require a similar type of response framework.  They are used primarily in the high tech and consulting industries.  In this post I’ll try and tackle one of the most famous of these questions: How much does Mount Kilimanjaro weigh?  Remember, these are not trivia questions, but rather questions used to test your ability to make assumptions, simplify complex problems, and maintain a logical framework to problem solving.

Before you waste your time reading my ramblings, you might consider viewing this video from Vault.com.  It approaches this type of question from a sample interview point of view, and gives some very helpful tips.

Thanks Vault!!  Now I’ll try to tackle the Mount Kilimanjaro question with an analysis provided below. I’ve written my equations in numerical values instead of writing them out in English for clarity and simplicity while reading.

How much does Mount Kilimanjaro weigh?

“Oh, wow, a lot?  Ok, well I think I have seen pictures of the mountain and I remember it is suppose to be pretty tall, maybe like 15,000 feet.  So I guess let’s assume it is 15,000 feet tall.  And in the pictures I seem to remember it was pretty wide, it looked wider than it was tall, so maybe it is 20,000 feet from end to end along the base. So to figure out how much it weighs I just need to figure out the volume and then figure out how much that volume weighs.  So I’ll do the calculation in cubic feet and then just multiply by the weight of one cubic foot of rock.

So to make the calculation manageable lets assume the mountain is a perfect cone, basically a cone with these dimensions I wrote down—a radius of 10,000 feet and height of 15,000 feet.  So, let me think.  The formula for a cone is…(1/3)pi*(r^2)*h.  So let’s see r^2 is 10,000^2 which is 100 million feet.  100 million times the height of 15,000 feet is 1.5 trillion feet.  So 1/3 of that is 500 billion.  So 500 billion*pi feet cubed is the mountain’s volume.  Ok, how much does rock weigh?  I remember I helped my dad build a small stone wall by our old house a few years ago, and the rocks were about a foot square and six inches deep.  So that is half the size of a cubic food.  I think they probably weighed about 70 Ibs.  So I can assume the weight of 1 cubic foot of rock is about twice as much, so that would be 140 pounds.  So 140 which is the weight of one cubic foot of rock times 500 billion*pi which is the volume of the mountain is 7X10^13 pi Ibs.  Wow, that is a lot.”

Analysis
So, there are really there components to answering this type of question involving math and estimation.  First, you need to be able to make reasonable assumptions.  Making assumptions is part of any job especially engineering—you have to simplify tasks into manageable parts which involves assumptions.  So if you say the density of rock is 12 Ibs per cubic meter or that Mount Kilimanjaro is 5 miles high, this might indicate to the recruiter that you will have trouble creating grounded assumptions.  Again, the best way to make assumptions is to use reference points.  For example, I mentioned the photo of the mountain I remembered seeing and the stone wall I helped my dad build.

Second, you should be able to do the basic math involved in these sorts of problems.  Yes, the numbers were big in this example, but they involved lots of zeros so it really wasn’t that hard.  In addition, you’ll have scratch paper during the interview.

Third, and most importantly you need to have a chain of logic.  Again, it is not the right answer that is important, but how you talk through distilling the problem to its essence and the steps you go through to get to the answer as you describe it in your opening problem statement.  In reality Mount Kilimanjaro is 19,340 ft and the density of rock is more like 167 Ibs per square foot, but since this isn’t trivia, but about problem solving, the assumptions we made will do just fine.

Well that’s all for today.  If you have any questions or would like free resume consulting, feel free to e-mail me at collegegraduatejobs@gmail.com.  Thanks for reading!

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Consulting Interview Case Studies and More

Posted by James M on December 9, 2008

If you are interested in the field of consulting, as many young entrants into the work force are, then indulge in this consulting smorgasbord I have put together for you.  I’ve included links to over 15 case study examples and explanations straight from the websites of some of the world’s top consultancies.   In addition, there are some great links to delve more into what a consultant actually does and what the companies themselves look for.  To view the referenced information, just click on the highlighted names or phrases which I’ve linked to the websites.

1) Let’s start with what you are probably most interested in—details about the dreaded case study interview.  I have complied a list of practice case studies (over 15 in total) and other interview preparation tips from some of the biggest names in consulting:

  • Oliver Wyman offers a fantastic, comprehensive interview preparation website with case method overviews, tips, strategies, a breakdown of different types of cases and 2 interactive full length practice cases.
  • Bain and Company offers 3 sample cases and a helpful set of “Crack the Case” interview tips.
  • One of the perennial rivals to industry leader McKinsey, Boston Consulting Group (BCG) offers 4 practices cases as well as 1 interactive case.
  • Shrouded in secrecy, but purportedly able to fetch over $10,000 a day for a small team of consultants, McKinsey is the employer of choice for major MBA programs like the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business and Wharton’s famed business program at the University of Pennsylvania.  Their website is filled with case study information including two online cases, a case preparation video, and a downloadable tip sheet.
  • Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu, better known simply as Deloitte Consulting, offers 3 practices cases for entry-level Analyst positions as well as 2 in-depth case examples for MBA hires.

2) Ace The Case offers three representative cases with sample responses including basic accounting calculations when requested by the interviewer.  A large volume of sample cases is available for a fee (Boo!! We like free stuff!).

3) Graduate Tutor has two resources for those interested in case interviews, an overview of the case interview process and a Top 10 Tips page.

4) Business week offers a great day-in-the-life series which includes several employees at consulting firms.  To view each person’s day-in-the-life, simply click on their name.

  • James FitzGerald is a government consultant with Booz Allen Hamilton.
  • Adam Watson founded his own consulting company Sequitur.
  • Courtney Anne Cochran is founder and principal at Your Personal Sommelier, a wine-consulting company.
  • Punam Ghosh is a strategy manager with Accenture, one of the largest consulting firms in the world.
  • Kelsey Leigh Kitsch is a Senior Consultant with Ivey Business Consulting Group, a small 12-person firm based out of Toronto.
  • David Grrison is a senior associate at Katzenbach Partners, a management-strategy consulting firm.

5) MBA Podcaster offers terrific programing for those thinking about going back to get an MBA.  In particular, they recently released a special consulting podcast featuring a panel of three top industry insiders:

  • Rich Schneider, Director of the MBA campus recruiting program at Deloitte Consulting.
  • Peter Sullivan, U.S. Director of people services at Booz Allen Hamilton.
  • Richard Wallen, Human Resources Manager at Watson Wyatt Worldwide.

Click here to listen to the special consulting podcast.

6) If you are willing to shell out some cash (why does everything cost money!??!), Vault offers some great information online as well as providing hard copies in stores.  They specialize in compiling industry data and conducting surveys.  I have a couple of their books at home and find them generally helpful, especially if you are interested in finding out what current and past employees have thought of a particular firm, or if you are interested in reading advice and interviews from industry professionals.  Click here to view their online consulting page and view the limited amount of info available for free.

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Additional Career Resources

Posted by James M on December 5, 2008

In case you can’t find what you are looking for on my blog, I’ve put together a list of terrific resources:

Career Point – 5 Tips for College Student Resumes offers 5 simple tips on how to improve your resume.

Lindsey Pollak has a wonderful blog with a great format that many new college grads would find very useful.

Collegegrad.com has a terrific set of resources including a job search database as well as interview and resume tips.

About.com has one of the most comprehensive set of resources for job seekers available anywhere.

Enjoy Your Job’s compact set of 7 great tips for your resume.

Geek Hunter’s 10 simple, but amazingly powerful advice about how to be competitive in your job search.

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Welcome to Job Advice for New College Grads!

Posted by James M on November 28, 2008

This blog is dedicated to students who are about to graduate from college or are seeking an internship, and recent alumni who are still in the process of seeking employment.  Although those applying to graduate school and those further along in their career may find this blog useful, it is primarily designed for college job seekers.

I write this blog because of a strong passion for helping college students based on my own experience when searching for a job.  I have over three years of experience working with college students and have spoken on numerous career panels and at career related events, and have assisted hundreds of students with resume consulting.  In addition, I have been a company representative at career fairs and spoken at corporate information sessions with The Boeing Company where I started my career.

I hope you find these posts useful.  They represent a collection of practical information I have shared with students over the past several years.  Most students find the information extremely valuable and useful during their career search.  If you have any requests for posts, questions, or comments please let me know.

In addition, I would love to give you tailored advice regarding your resume or any other aspect of your career search.  Please feel free to e-mail me at collegegraduatejobs@gmail.com.

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Interview Questions – What is your biggest weakness?

Posted by James M on November 28, 2008

This is one of the most difficult questions for entry-level job candidates during the interview.  There are some helpful tips about what makes a “good weakness” and an important structural framework that will help you ace this question on the interview.

We’ll work our way backwards on this one.  First, I’ll give an example and analysis of how to answer this question correctly, then I’ll delve more into what a bad answer looks like  and how to get yourself to a place where you can respond to this question in a way that will impress the recruiter.

Example Response
So let’s talk about an actual response to this question and what it might look like.  Let’s imagine that my lack of leadership skills is my weakness of choice and I read a leadership book and did some basic volunteer work to help shore up my weakness.

“What is your biggest weakness?”

“Well, after being assigned a group project in a film production and editing class, I was tasked with leading our group of 5 students to make a short 45-second commercial.  Although we completed the assignment on time, I noticed my leadership skills were lacking.  The group continually looked to me to lead them and I had trouble striking a balance between delegating the work evenly and wanting to do it all myself.  Some sections of the project I spent 12 hours a day doing while other times I delegated so much work I had nothing to do.  In addition, when disputes arose between team members about the direction of the film or a particular type of editing style, I didn’t know how to handle the disagreements and because of the constant fights one person dropped out of our group.

I knew if I wanted to be a successful television editor, a job that involves delegating a lot of tasks, I would need to learn how to lead a team more effectively.  I remembered hearing about a book called The One Minute Manager on a business talk show I was watching a while back so purchased that book and was able to read it in about two weeks.  It gave a lot of great advice, particularly about delegation and giving constructive criticism.

In addition, last month I sought out an opportunity to lead a group of 25 volunteers during a day long park clean up project.  I inspected the park before the event to see what areas might need the most cleanup and talked to the local chapter of the parent organization about useful tips based on past clean up projects.  This helped me get a good sense of the delegation needed before the event even started.  This was an item the book recommended—having a plan for the distribution of work before it comes time to actually parse the project into small tasks.

The day of the event several volunteers didn’t show up so I had to re-delegate a few tasks.  I used the strategies I read about in the book to help motivate the team as well as worked very hard myself to show the team I was committed.  When there were disputes about who wanted to do what job I was able to talk to several volunteers to find a balance of work.  In particular no one wanted to do the “boring job” of pulling weeds so I decided to assign every volunteer a few minutes doing it.  Because the volunteers spent most of the time doing other tasks that they had chosen and each volunteer felt the system was fair, they didn’t mind pulling weeds for a short time.

I have already started reading another book entitled Leadership 101 to continue to learn about the art and science of leadership.  In addition, I signed up to lead another park rejuvenation project early next month.  This project involves 40 people and I’m excited to challenge myself and continue to improve my leadership skills.”

Example Response Analysis
Notice that this answer uses a modified form of the STAR framework I talked about in my Behavioral Interview Questions post.

  • First, I talked about the initial situation that led me to realize that leadership, the weakness I choose for my response, was a problem.  I mentioned the task or project I was assigned and what went wrong.  Notice that I was very specific about the particular elements of leadership I was weak on—delegation and resolving disputes.  The more specifically you answer this part of the question the easier the entire question will be to answer.  For example, depending on who you talk to, leadership might involve dozens of different components. Improving one or two elements of my leadership skills at a time is much easier than improving every the entire continuum of leadership itself.
  • Second, I formulated a realization of career success that involved improving upon the weakness.  Using one of my long term goals of being successful in the film industry I framed an “improvement space” that existed to achieve that success.  It is good to have some motivation for the improvement you have chosen.  There are hundreds of different attributes in a professional career and no one person is strong at all of them.  You should pick and choose the attributes you want to be strong at based on your career goals and interpersonal strengths.
  • Third, I talked about my plan—how was I going to improve on this weakness?  In my case I read a leadership book and then decided to sign up for short leadership position with a local non-profit organization.   Actually doing something about my weakness shows tremendous initiative and gets past the “fluff” that the typical candidate uses in their response.
  • Forth, I talked about the situation where I led more successfully.  What happened this time when those same issues of delegation and resolving disputes came up?  How did I handle them differently and achieve success this time around?  In particular I cited a strategy shift that was informed largely by the information I acquired in the leadership book I referenced earlier.
  • Fifth, I talked about future plans for improvement.  This is really a great way to wrap up the question.  Show the interviewer that although you’ve made some improvements to date, you are taking the initiative to get to a state of excellence with regard to your current weakness.  It also shows a very positive attitude.  Showing a track record of initiative and a positive attitude will get you much further than you can imagine in an interview.

A poor response to this question
Now let’s look at a response to this question from a slightly humors angle.

“What would you say is your biggest weakness?”

“My biggest weakness is that sometimes girls are jealous of me because I’m just too pretty.”

Yes, that is a bad answer, but maybe not for the reasons you think.  Yes, it is bad because it is conceded and uninspiring (albeit a joke in this context), but, even worse, being exceptionally pretty is not a weakness.  Neither is being a perfectionist.  Let me repeat that.  Being a perfectionist is NOT a weakness.  If the average HR representative had a dollar for every time someone said their biggest weakness was being a perfectionist or their biggest strength is working with people, they’d have enough money to retire and take up sailing.

Answering “weakness” questions this way is insulting—to yourself.  It shows that you have very little, if any, self-awareness.  That’s right I said it!  We all have enough actual weaknesses without needing to take a positive characteristic and put a negative spin on it.  Moreover, these answers are cliche, overused, and boring.


What makes a “good weakness”?

Ok, so now let’s look at the constituents that make up what you might call a “good weakness”.  In other words a weakness that actually challenges you in your life and passes muster with a recruiter during an interview.

  • First, it should be a weakness that has actually given you problems in the past.  You need to be able to tell a story (as we saw in our example response) about how this weakness has inhibited you, so having a vague sense about what you would like to improve isn’t enough.  You need concrete examples, so spend some time thinking about group projects, internships, volunteer experience, etc. and try to think of some situations where you didn’t perform up to par and what characteristics of yourself contributed to that.
  • Second, it should be a weakness that you have actively worked to improve.  This is really the key part of your response.  If you can really delve into this “improvement space” if you will, you’ll hit the ball out of the park on this question and leave a fantastic impression with the recruiter.
  • Third, you’ll need an example of how things worked the next time you were put in the same situation. There is sort of a before-and-after type dichotomy at play here.
  • Lastly, if you are a non-traditional applicant to a position you may want to consider mentioning your lack of experience in a particular area as your weakness and describe how you’ve mitigated that gap.  For example, say you are an art major applying for an investment banking job.  The obvious weakness would be your lack of a rigorous financial background.  So you can talk about how you took some finance and accounting classes, how you joined the finance club, how you read the Wall Street Journal regularly, etc.  Doing so will help to kill the “elephant in the room”, namely why in the world an art major is cut out for investment banking.  It is better to tackle these non-traditional applicant situations head on rather than assuming you are on equal footing as more traditional candidates.

How to mitigate and improve a weakness
To really set your response apart, you’ll need to show that you’ve actively tried to mitigate the weakness you described.  First, you should think hard about the conscious and subconscious steps you’ve already taken in the mitigation process.  Perhaps you did some soul searching and concentrated extra hard on a particular characteristic the next time you did a group project or sought a different position with your volunteer club to help fill a knowledge gap.

If you haven’t begun to work on your weakness yet, no need to worry.  It is never too late to start working on self-discovery and self-improvement.  After spending some time thinking hard about what some of your key weaknesses may be it is time to start improving upon them.  Depending on how much time before your job search commences you may be able to do any one of the following:

  • Take additional university classes to cover any knowledge gaps you may have.
  • Join a club at school or in the community that focuses on a particular area of study or soft skill.
  • Consider volunteer opportunities.  They are likely the fastest and most efficient ways to shore up key weaknesses such as leadership and teamwork.
  • Do some independent research.  Depending on your school, major, and available professors, undergraduate research can often be set up on short notice and tailored to cover specific gaps in your knowledge or skill sets.
  • Consider simple things such as subscribing to publications, newspapers, reading online journals etc.  Sometimes it is the simple initiatives we take that set us apart.
  • Take community classes.  Public speaking, organization, leadership and many other courses are often available at community colleges in the evening or from various community organizations.
  • Consider student government.  Many school’s student government and other school sponsored organizations offer really great chances to quickly gain valuable soft skill experience.

Note that you don’t need to be 100% complete with this process by the time of your interview.  If your weakness is public speaking a simple story about how you have enrolled in a public speaking class offered by Toast Masters, given your first intermediate length speech and received positive reviews will do wonders.  Because we are allowed to be somewhere in the process of improvement, I wouldn’t worry too much about having a short time line.  All you need is to show the initiative to improve yourself and one simple example of your improvement thus far and you have competed the ingredients needed to do fantastically well in your response.

Also note that you need to walk a thin line—after a certain amount of improvement a weakness ceases to be considered such and can actually be thought of as a strength.  That is not the type of situation we are looking for here.  We are looking for you to be somewhere in the process of shoring up the weakness.

Wrap-up
Well there you have it, everything you need to do to hit the ball out of the park on this question in the interview.  You really only need a couple of weeks to get from square one to a completed series of story points for this question.  Just spend a little bit of time thinking about your weaknesses and take a few steps to mitigate it either on your own, by getting involved with your university, or seeking out a community organization.  Along the way you’ll gain a lot of insight and experience that you can use elsewhere in your interview.

If you have any questions about any aspect of your job hunt or would like a free in-depth resume consultation, I invite you to e-mail me at collegegraduatejobs@gmail.com.

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Types of Interview Questions – Logic Questions

Posted by James M on November 23, 2008

Microsoft made logic questions famous in the 1990’s and early 2000’s and many other companies have since adopted them, although their use has declined slightly in recent years.  This brand of question is generally reserved for engineers, although it is not unheard of for it to be included in interviews of applicants for other types of positions.

Two of the most famous logic questions are:

  • Why is a manhole cover round?
  • How would you build an alarm clock for deaf people?

There are many variations of logic questions and entire books and websites have been dedicated to tackling them.  In this post I’ll give you two examples of how you might answer this sort of question.

One of the best sites I’ve found for lots of examples of this question type, as well forums discussing the answer, can be found here.

After reading this post you may want to consider reading the “sister” post about guesstimation interview questions.  This branch includes such famous stumpers as “How much does Mount Kilimanjaro weight?”  To read this post now click here.

Please note that these are not trivia questions—that is you are not expected to actually know how much Mount Kilimanjaro weighs for example.  The important skill to demonstrate while answering is your train of thought and the logical steps you mentally go through.  Unlike behavioral questions where you can take a minute to compose yourself before you answer, it is essential that you begin sharing your thoughts out loud immediately after you hear the question even if you are just in the process of wrapping your head around the problem.

I think this is best shown by example, so allow me to do my best.  I’ll write this in a free flowing casual style with minimal attempt to use exact grammar.  The goal is to replicate a process similar to what you would probably end up saying if you were in an interview:

How would you build an alarm clock for deaf people?

“Hmmm, let’s see.  If you have to wake a deaf person up obviously a sound would do no good.  So what are some ways I normally get woken up that aren’t sound?  Um…I guess you could have an alarm clock that pokes a person, but that is difficult to implement.  One time I got woken up by having water dumped on me so you could spray some sort of liquid on them, but that gets messy.  But on the other hand it might work, let me write it down and maybe come back to it later.

I remember when I was a kid I had a bed pad that gave me a small shock if I wet the bed so maybe something like that would work.  Like a pad of some kind, but shocking someone might suck.  But I’ll write it down anyway as an option.  What else could a bed pad do?  Let’s see…oh it could like vibrate maybe.  Actually, I have seen beds that vibrate in movies.  Yea, it might be good to have some sort of bed that shakes, but now that I think about it that is expensive and limits the type of bed one could have.  Ok, so back to the bed pad idea, only instead of shocking, it would vibrate.  It would lay on top of the bed but underneath the sheets.  It could vibrate when the alarm goes off and this would wake up the deaf person.  But I guess it would still be useful to have a bedside type clock that they can look at during normal circumstances to view the time, or if they have guests over.  So the vibrating bed pad and bedside clock could be one unit and be attached by a chord.  But that might be annoying and dangerous if there is a chord that you could trip over.  Um…maybe the bed pad and clock unit could actually be separate but communicate wirelessly.  So the bed pad would have a small receiver in it, and when the clock unit alarm goes off, it can send a signal to the bed pad and tell it to vibrate.

So I think that would be the final design.  A bedside clock that functions very similar to a traditional bedside clock, with the added feature that it can send a wireless signal to a bed pad that would then vibrate to wake the subject up.”

Analysis:
So as you can see the answer is a very free flowing thought process type response.  First, I went through an initial description of the problem in my head—alarm clocks use noise as a wake-up mechanism, but if you are deaf this wouldn’t help you wake up.  Second, I started brain storming ways you might wake someone up based on my own experience of getting woken up.  It is key to use some reference points for the assumptions, estimations, and solutions you create.  If you have a eureka moment in an interview and come up with an answer it will do you no good since the interviewer won’t be able to evaluate the thought process you used to create the solution.  That’s why it is so important to talk out loud and use your own experience to formulate a solution as you work through the problem.  Third, I talked my final bed pad solution out, thinking about what would and wouldn’t work and why that was the case.

Again, there really is no “right” answer to this type of question.  Maybe you want to have the deaf person wear an electronic bracelet that emits a small electrical shock to wake them up, maybe you want them to wear a watch that vibrates, maybe you want to spray them with a small mist of water, maybe shine a very bright light on their face—there are a million different answers.  The important thing is to find something that makes sense to you, after all it is you and your ideas that are being interviewed.

If you have any questions about this post or need any other guidance in your job search, feel free to e-mail me at: collegegraduatejobs@gmail.com.

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Interview Questions – “Do you have any questions for me?”

Posted by James M on November 18, 2008

At the end of every interview the tables are turned and the interviewer will ask, “Do you have any questions for me?”  Let me give you a hint—you do.

I do?  Yes you do.  And let me tell you why.  First, asking questions is a terrific way to find out information about the company.  An interview is your chance, a one-on-one opportunity, to find out for yourself everything you wanted to know about the company of your dreams or at least the company of your daydreams.  The other research you do—the career fairs, the company website browsing, the inside info you get from friends—should synthesize the questions you ask at the interview not take their place.  Companies are like people in that respect—there is always more information to discover and more questions to ask.

The second reason you want to ask questions is a more strategic one.  Imagine you are on a date at your favorite Italian restaurant with the cute guy or girl you just met at the hip-hop club downtown while you were dancing over Whiskey Sours and the thumping base of Ne-Yo’s “Closer”, my current favorite song.  You just spent 45 minutes asking about your date’s background, their goals, their dreams, found it all very interesting and were yearning to share your life.  And then all of the sudden they raised their hand for the check, threw down a 20 spot, said “Nice talking to you” and walked out.  How would you feel?  Probably horrible—off balance, like you wasted your time and there would definitely be a sense that they weren’t that into you.   The same holds true during interviews.  Not asking a question will signal to the interviewer that you aren’t really that interested in the company they represent.  So you’ll want to ask thoughtful questions to convince them otherwise.

So without further adieu let’s talk about some common categories of questions you might want to ask and give a few examples of each.

Get them to talk about themselves
One of the best kinds of questions to ask are those about the experiences of the recruiter in the context of the company you are interviewing with.  Research has shown that when the interviewer talks about themselves they will perceive a better overall experience about the interview and are more likely to remember you.  I highly recommend asking at least one question about the interviewer not least because it is a very effective way to gain some real insight into what an insider sees as the opportunities and challenges of working at a particular firm.

Here is a short list of questions to get you started:

  • What do you love about this company?
  • What career path did you take at this company to get to your current position?
  • Why did you choose to work for this firm over other options you had?
  • What are the biggest challenges a new employee would face when working for your organization?

Ask about the position
Depending on the amount of information available on a company’s website and what you are able to acquire at a career fair, there is a wide range of information you may (or may not) know about the position you are applying for.  For that reason it may be worth your while to ask some questions about your target position.

Some possible examples might be:

  • What is the typical career path of this position?
  • What do employees in your company like about this position?
  • What challenges do employees in this position face?
  • What skills make a successful candidate?
  • What sorts of projects might I expect to work on in this position?
  • What sort of travel opportunities does this position entail?

Ask about something you learned about at the career fair or from another employee

Another great set of questions to ask are those that delve into information you discovered at a career fair or from another employee at the company.  You can get can get massive bonus points if you take the initiative to use your school’s alumni network, career services office, Linked In (a website dedicated to networking), or some other means to contact a current employee.  When framing this question at an interview you may want to mention that you talked to a past employee who said XYZ and you wanted to compare and contrast that view with that of the interviewer.

Ask about something you researched
One way to demonstrate the research you have done while at the same time gaining insight into a company is by asking a question that builds on information you have already acquired.  Perhaps you read a news article about a new product a company is coming out with, a new office that opened abroad, or a new environmental initiative the company started.  But be careful, don’t ask a question that might be taken as being obscure or irrelevant, as this might be seen as you simply showing off how much you read the Wall Street Journal.

Looking at recent news articles about some large companies I might ask these questions:

  • I was reading about Jacob Jinglehimmer Smith, the new CEO your company recently brought on, and I was wondering how his hiring might affect the key values and direction of your company?
  • Because of the economic crisis, I have been reading that many companies are shifting some key elements of their corporate strategies.  Is your company doing the same, and how might that affect the day-to-day work of employees.
  • I was reading an article recently that was detailing the aging work force in the aeronautical industry.  What kind of knowledge transfer best practices do you have in place to make sure that young employees have an opportunity to learn from the experience of the older work force before they retire?

Alternatively, you might have looked on a company website during your research effort.  Looking at the home page for a company, I might ask these questions:

  • While looking on your website I noticed there is a full time leadership development program available for new hires.  I was wondering what that program looked like on a day-to-day or week-to-week basis and how it interfaces with other entry-level positions?
  • I noticed on your website that there are mentors available to help advise some employees as their career progresses.  Do all new employees get a mentor and what sorts of issue does the mentor help address?
  • I read recently that your company was listed in Forbes Top 100 Diverse Companies in the US.  What opportunities are available for me to help get involved in promoting the diversity initiatives of your company?
  • I saw work-life balance mentioned briefly on your website, but I was unable to find details.  What sorts of mechanisms and best practices are in place to promote work-life balance?

Ask about something that came up during the interview
During the interview the employer often times mentions something that interests you.  It might be a company sponsored rotation program in the finance department or the fact that the analyst position you’re applying for usually leads to a consulting position within two years.  This is a great time to ask any follow-up questions you might have.

Other common questions
There are many other common questions that people are often curious about asking and here are just a couple:

  • Do you have any hesitations about my application?
  • What’s the next step?

In fact you should always ask what the next step is if it is not explained by the recruiter.  Otherwise you risk days or week of nervousness wondering who is suppose to contact you in what amount of time for what kind of next application step.

What shouldn’t I ask?

Most of this falls into the common sense category, but the main concern I hear students inquiring about during career panels is whether it is OK to ask about salary or benefits during an interview.  Opinions between recruiters vary on this topic, but I recommend  that you don’t ask about salary or benefits during a first interview, although this may be appropriate during later interview rounds.

How many questions should I ask

I would recommend asking 3-5 questions.  It is good to keep track of how much time is left in the interview and read the interviewer’s body language to get a sense if they are getting antsy.  Also, keep in mind the time of day.  Before lunch the interviewer may be hungry and at the end of the day they will probably be tired, but again watch for specific body language.

Questions strategy

Now that we’ve talked about some typical types of questions and given some examples, it is worth taking a few moments to discuss some strategy behind asking these questions.

-Open Ended Phrasing

First, you’ll want to frame questions using open ended phrasing.  For example, say you are curious about how much travel is required for the position.  You wouldn’t want to say, “Will I get to travel?”.  The reason is two-fold.  First, the question is phrased such that the response is a “yes” or “no” when in reality you want to give the interviewer some room for explanation.  Second, you don’t want to bias your questions such that the interviewer gets the impression that you are just trying to get hired so that you can travel.  A more open ended way to ask the question would be, “What kind of travel opportunities are available?  Another quick example: you wouldn’t want to say, “How long will it take me to get promoted” as that will signal that you aren’t really interested in the job you are being hired for but only moving upward.  Instead, you might phrase this question as, “What does the typical career path for this position look like?”

-Positive Phrasing

Being positive in an interview is extremely important, so try to avoid negative phrasing in your questions.  Instead of saying, “Are there any sucky parts to working here?”  a very brash phrasing indeed, try asking, “What are the biggest challenges a new employee might face in your organization.”  Interviewers really look for, and appreciate, a positive attitude during an interview as this is a sign that the same demeanor will carry over into the workplace.

– Never ask without researching first

You should never ask a question without first researching the information to see if it is available from a company’s website.  There is no better way to give a bad impression to a recruiter than wasting their time by not doing basic research to prove you have more than a passing interest in their firm.

-Ask relevant questions

Don’t show off, phrase all questions in a way that makes them relevant to your potential position.  Note that this could include company wide changes in strategy or company values and initiatives.

-Memorization of Questions

This is a helpful tip for most students because many people, myself included, can get pretty nervous during interviews.  Having to suddenly think up a question on the spot can lead to a variety of poorly chosen and poorly phrased questions.  For that reason, I would come into the interview with about 3 or so questions memorized, that way if you panic, you’ll have some questions to fall back on.  In practice, you’ll probably have some questions in mind anyway before stepping foot into the interview.   If you find yourself completely unprepared in the interview and have no questions memorized, remember you can always ask about the interviewer’s experience in the company and what their career path within the company has been.

OK, well that’s it for today.  I’d love to know what questions you’ve found to be successful in an interview.  So leave your response by posting a comment below.

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Negotiating Salary

Posted by James M on November 14, 2008

Aaah, the ever popular question: to negotiate or not to negotiate.  Every time I speak to students at workshops and career panels the issue of salary negotiation inevitably arises.  It seems to be all the rage to “win” a negotiation by squeezing every penny out of a potential employer and get away with “one-upping” them, not to mention getting a healthy ego boost. I will never understand the mindset behind this desire and it is one I discourage.

I usually discourage negotiating salary for several reasons.  First, and most practical, employer salaries are not created out of thin air nor are they somehow made up on the spot.  They are based on a wide range of data including geography, median salaries in the industry, and the financial health of the company itself.  Companies very rarely, if ever, are trying to “put one over on you” by making an offer unreasonably low.

By not accepting the job in favor of negotiating, you risk having the company rescind their initial offer or, potentially worse, creating a sour and awkward beginning to your new career.  Moreover, as a matter of principle, there’s much more to a job than money—trust me.  As a high-level executive at Boeing once told me when I started my career there, “sometimes you’re overpaid, sometimes you’re underpaid, but by the end of your career everything usually balances out.”  Rather than focusing on negotiating, I would recommend working exceedingly hard after you begin your career and making your employer see what you are worth first hand.  Money always follows success regardless of industry or position.

There are a few limited circumstances where negotiating might be reasonable for an entry-level candidate. The most obvious is if you have multiple offers and the salary or some other tangible benefit really is the deciding factor.  For example, if you already have an offer from Company A for $55,000 a year and Company B offers you $50,000 a year, it is reasonable to discuss with Company B that, although you are excited about the possibility of working for them, another company has offered you a higher salary and unless they can match it you’re afraid you’ll have to respectfully decline their offer.  However, think long and hard about situations such as this.  Giving up $5,000 in salary starts to seem like a bargain if you get stuck working long hours in a job you despise.  In my opinion you are better off making a decision based on “fit” and work-life balance and ignoring the salary (within reason).

Other situations where negotiating may be reasonable might include the case where you clearly have a select set of skills and competencies that a normal entry-level candidate lacks.  This may occur for various reasons including work experience acquired before you started your university study (or perhaps if you took a year or more off during college to pursue a career), or if you have some extraordinary academic qualifications such as a dual degree in engineering and finance, for example.  Even in these situations however, I would proceed with caution.

If you do decide to negotiate your salary or other benefits I recommend doing so with facts and data.  This means doing a lot of research about the company and typical industry salaries and their associated experience level and making a strong quantitative argument about how you stand out from a typical candidate based on this information and what your target salary would be.  In addition, it goes without saying (but I’ll do so anyway) that you need to negotiate in the most cordial way possible and retain any contacts you have at the negotiating company if the negotiation breaks down and you decide to go elsewhere.

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