Job Advice for New College Grads

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Posts Tagged ‘Tips’

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.


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.


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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How Long Should My Resume Be?

Posted by James M on October 31, 2009

I could have titled this post, “In Defense of the One Page Resume” because that´s really what I´ll be arguing here.  You might be surprised to know that while working with students, the length of their resume is one of the most contentious and difficult questions that arises.  I have had clients vehemently argue that they have to have more than one page to get across their vision.

This is understandable in some sense because recent graduates are always fighting to tell an employer as much as possible about why they are the right candidate for the job.  But in doing so, the impact of their resume is often diluted. 

Think Like A Manager

To put a finer point on the argument you need to put yourself in the position of a recruiter or hiring manager.  The first thing you need to understand is that reviewing resumes is often not that person´s primary job.  They already have a 40-hour-a-week “real” job and examining resumes is usually in addition to that workload.

For someone in the HR department this work might include dealing with benefits changes to current employees, updating manuals based on new federal and state employment regulations, planning recruiting and outreach events, etc.  If the one looking at resumes is the team manager herself (as it often is), she has her hands busy with the current team and project she is responsible for.  Hiring is a necessary component of running a healthy company, but the dirty truth is that it is rarely something anyone gets excited about.  It´s not that employers don´t like new talent, it is that often the personnel actually doing the hiring are so busy with their current workload (and of course it is against this performance that their own manager is grading them).  

So put yourself in this position:  Imagine it is 5 PM at the end of the day.  You want to go home and see your family or have a drink with your buddy, and you just remembered you have a stack (albeit in most cases these days a “virtual” stack) of 50 resumes to sort through for the interviews you have to conduct next week.  Now ask yourself if you are going to take the time to read the self-indulgent 3-page resume that reads like a life story, or the compact and powerful 1-pager. 

A loaded question?  Yes, but for a reason.  The time a manager takes to review your resume is, according to some studies, as short as 20 seconds.  At any rate, a resume is rarely reviewed in full unless it is in preparation for an interview.  More often a manager is skimming a set of resumes one-by-one looking for a certain skill or experience or perhaps just a “good vibe”, and uses this as the first-cut elimination process.

And this is why a carefully crafted and targed 1-page resume that uses as its foundation quantifiable examples of past sucess is one of the most powerful tools you can leverage in your job hunt.

The Good News

The general rule for resumes is that a candidate with less than 5 years of experience should keep their resume to 1 page.  And while rules are made to be broken, I have never encountered a resume from a new graduate that I thought should break this one. 

The good news is that I have worked with clients who literally had 3 overflowing pages and, together, we were able to trim their resume down to a single page we were both happy with.

Why One Page?

In addition to the rationale discussed above regarding the extreme time constraints of those reviewing your resume, there is another key reason to keep your resume to one page.  That reason is that it forces you to think about the most important aspects of yourself.  While this sounds cheesy and cliché, it is probably the most underappreciated part of the application process (including resumes, career fairs, interviews, etc.)

Having a one page resume forces you to weigh the relative benefits of your past experiences:  What is more important your past jobs and internships or your educational background?  Which particular job or internship is most inline with the position you are applying for, and what specific skills and projects are most important from that previous employment?  What is more important your foreign language proficiency or computer skills?

Unfortunately, the answers to these questions will be different for everyone and will most likely even change depending on one application versus another.  But that´s the point.  You really need to take time and present not only the best, but the most relevent version of yourself to a potential employer, not present every meaningful thing you have ever done and hope that some of it happens to fall in line with the position´s qualifications.

In upcoming posts I will be flushing these ideas out to explain exactly what self-reflection you should consider.

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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. has a terrific set of resources including a job search database as well as interview and resume tips. 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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Resume Formating Template

Posted by James M on December 2, 2008

Welcome to the first in a series of resume template blogs I’ll be writing.  Each one of these templates will be tailored toward a specific type of candidate—worried about a low GPA, nervous about your lack of work experience, concerned that a previous job was more relevant than your current one—I’ll be providing resume structures and tips to cover all of these issues.

Who is this format good for?

This resume format is ideal for the candidate who is not concerned with their GPA and who’s background is biased towards work and/or internship experience (as oppose to volunteer experience or strong classroom involvement such as class projects or undergraduate research).

Resume Format

This resume uses the format:

  • Objective
  • Education
  • Experience
  • Computer Skills / Additional Activities / Community Involvement / Etc.

Example Resume

Objective: Position with the Microsoft Technical Leadership Program utilizing my real-time software internship experience and leadership skills gained through extensive student government work

Bachelor of Science in Electrical Engineering
University of Washington, Seattle, WA
Expected Graduation Date: Jun 2009
Grade Point Average: 3.54

Work Experience:
Intel Simulations Division
Phoenix, AZ                                                Jun. 2008 – Sep. 2008
Real-Time Software Engineer

  • Created software simulations that administered CPU performance tests on a GE X45 processor hardware test bed
  • Used efficient coding techniques to create simulations that saved 20 minutes over the previous testing run time
  • Created and maintained ISO-9450 compliant user documentation on 5 major simulation branches

Associated Students of the University of Washington
University of Washington, Seattle, WA            Jan. 2008-Jun. 2008
Elections Committee Chair

  • Coordinated the successful completion of the 2008 student body elections while managing a committee of 4 people and a budget of $8,000
  • Increased the number of candidates by over 40% and voter turnout by 4.3% (1615 total votes) over the 2007 totals

UW Leaders Program
University of Washington, Seattle, WA            Aug. 2007-Jun. 2008

  • Administered a program containing 15 mentors and 25 undergraduate participants
  • Oversaw weekly organization of leadership curriculum and guest speakers
  • Raised $800 and organized a weekend retreat
  • Increased program applicants by 100% and yearly funding from $500 to $2000

Computer Skills and Languages:

C++, Java, Python, FORTRAN, CORBA Interface Patterns, GE X45 Simulation Test Bed, Microsoft Access, Linux

5 Format tips

1. Font Type and Size – I suggest using a simple font type like Arial or Times New Roman in a type face of 11 or 12 points.  Try to avoiding using multiple types of fonts even for your name or address.  Multiple font types are often over utilized by students at the expense of readability and professional appearance.

2. Using Caps – Avoid using all cap headings.  Studies show that caps decrease readability.  Try reading an entire paragraph in all caps and you’ll quickly see this is true.  The exception is online application that offer a plain text box entry system for your resume.  Since these don’t allow font modifications such as bolding, all caps services as an acceptable alternative for your headings.

3. Bold, Italicized, Underlined – You can create a completely readable and clear resume using only bolded headings without other text effects.  Like font type, font effects are used far to often, almost always at the expense of clarity and flow.

4. Consistency – Check, double check, and triple check that your resume is consistent.  This means that all font is the same size, all spacing is the same, and dates, company names, and job positions appear in the same place in the same format throughout your resume.

5. Text Position – I think the text format that provides the easiest flow, and gives you the most bang for your buck in terms of available space on your resume, is left aligned headings with text appearing underneath (not to the right) of the heading.

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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.

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

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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.”

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:

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Types of Interview Questions – Behavioral Questions

Posted by James M on November 14, 2008

Behavioral questions are by far the most prevalent type of interview question you will encounter as a new college graduate.  A “Behavioral Question” is the generic term given to questions that ask you to talk about yourself—your experience in school and at previous companies, your leadership ability, and your strengths and weaknesses.  Behavioral questions include some of the most famous interview questions around.  You have probably heard about many of them, or already faced them if you have interviewed for an internship or entry-level position.  Some representative examples include:

  • Can you tell me about your greatest strength?
  • Can you tell me about a time where you had to lead a team?
  • Can you tell me about a time where you were faced with an ethical dilemma and how you dealt with it?

Because these questions are so common I will address specific behavioral questions in individual posts, but for now we’ll talk in general about the method used to answer these questions.

Fortunately for us there is a very effective method used to respond to this type of question called the STAR framework.  This method takes on the talking points of telling a structured story to discuss a situation you faced, how you handled it, and what the outcome was.  STAR stands for Situation, Target, Action, Result.  Let’s talk about each of these elements in more depth.

Situation – What is the situation you faced?  The situation is very closely tied to the specifics of the Target discussed below.  If working in a team or as an individual on a school project the situation would be the very basic elements of the class that assigned the project and information about your group members.  If you are discussing an internship it would be information about the company and your position within that company.  The situation could even be a weakness or strength you discuss if faced with a question regarding one of these attributes.  A strength or weakness discussion would usually be focused in a situational context like that stated for the school assignment or internship project.

Target – What were you tasked to do?  If this were your school project the Target would be the required outcome of the group assignment.  The same goes if you are discussing an internship and a project assigned in a paid position.  If discussing a strength this would be a situation where you utilized a strength effectively.  If discussing a weakness this would be the target outcome for improving this weakness and what benefits you believe improving that weakness would have in a professional setting.

Action – This is the meat of your response where you talk about the discreet steps that you and/or your group took to accomplish your Target outcome.  Again, if you are discussing a group assignment you would discuss facts such as how the team delegated the tasks.  What task you were assigned.  How you went about accomplishing this task both as an individual and within the framework of the team.   Any difficulties you encountered and how they were resolved.  What you learned from the project.  These same talking points would be applicable if you were discussing an internship project.  If you were discussing a strength you would also use similar points to discuss a situation where your strength was utilized.  If you were discussing a weakness you would talk about the steps you went through to address your weakness and improve upon it.

Result – This is a discussion of the outcome, either successful or not, of your Target.  It is also where you would address anything you might do differently if assigned a similar project again.  If discussing a group assignment you would talk about the end product you and/or your groupmates produced.  What did you and your team think of the final product?  What did the class think about the result?  What did your professor think?  If you had some other customer such as a small business or non-profit, what did they think of the product?  Would you do anything differently if you had to do the assignment again?  If you are discussing an internship project you would talk about what your coworkers and manager thought of the end result.  You would want to put extra focus on any cost or time savings or any other measure of efficiency that might have resulted.  Talking points about a strength would be very similar to those of the school project with a focus on how your specific strength contributed to the desired outcome.  A discussion about a weakness would end with some words about how your steps to improve your weakness have resulted in improved performance and what additional steps you might take to further improve this weakness.

Stay tuned for specific posts addressing common types of behavioral questions.

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Resume Tips – How to deal with a low GPA

Posted by James M on November 6, 2008

One of the biggest fears many graduating seniors express when attempting to find a job is the all important GPA.  And there is no denying that your GPA is one of the top factors influencing recruiters during their selection process.  As well it should be, it is a strong indicator of the amount you have learned in college and the amount of work you put in.

That being said, your GPA is not the only factor affecting your candidacy and there are plenty of examples of people who have lower than desired GPAs who get great jobs by supplementing their grades with other experience and taking the time to market themselves well.  So how do you put a positive spin on a low GPA?

Well there is a little trick and today I’d like to share it with you.  But first I’d like to digress briefly.  The first piece of advice regarding your GPA is to actually put it on your resume.  I can’t tell you how many resumes I’ve seen without a GPA listed. With few exceptions (such as a school grade no disclosure policy) I think it is a real mistake not to list your GPA under the Education section of your resume.  It is extraordinarily unlikely that you will make it to the offer stage with your target company without them finding out your GPA at some point along the way.  They may ask during the career fair, during one of the interview rounds, or they may ask for your transcripts as proof of graduation before you are hired.  So why not just put it out there so you can start to have the discussion about how you are more than your grades?

Ok, on to the trick I mentioned above, which is to actually put down two different GPAs on your resume.  Let me explain.  The first will be your cumulative GPA for all of college up to that point.  But it is really the second GPA that does the work for you.  This second GPA should be a logical grouping of classes that has a calculated GPA higher than your cumulative.  For example, it may be all of your senior year classes.  It may be upper division classes in your major.  It might be your major GPA itself if it is significantly higher than your cumulative.  Or it may be the GPA of a specialization within your major that is often part of the curriculum at many schools.

So let’s look at some real world examples of groupings you might use as they would be listed on your resume:

Senior-level Accounting GPA
Mechanical Engineering Major GPA
Comparative Literature Specialization GPA

So after choosing a grouping the process becomes pretty easy.  You just get a copy of your transcripts and calculate the GPA of the grouping you choose.  If you don’t know how the calculation works at your school, you can often find it in the academic handbook.  So after you have decided on a grouping and done the calculation you might get a line under your Education that looks like this:

Cumulative GPA: 2.54; 400-level Accounting class GPA: 3.18

So finally let’s put it together and see what your Education section might look like on your resume:

Bachelor of Science in Electrical Engineering
University of Washington, Seattle, WA
December 2007
Grade Point Average: 3.05
Senior level engineering class GPA: 3.44

What you are doing is really two-fold.  First, you are giving a visual indication of solid academic performance.  And man whenever I see this dual GPA method I just love the way it looks!

More importantly you are indicating to the employer that you have a deep understanding of some target subject or set of classes, in the example above, in senior level engineering coursework.  This also shows the recruiter that your academic performance got better with time and that you were able to hunker down towards the end of college.  For that reason, my advice would be to try and create a grouping from the second half of college.   Choosing from the later half of your college career demonstrates improvement with time and involves more relevant classes that have occurred more recently.

For an additional tip on dealing with a low GPA check out my post entitled: “Resume Tips – Discussing Number of Hours Worked.”

Well I hope you find this little trick useful.  Most students I share this with get really excited about the chance to show a positive side of themselves and this trick really does help.  If you have any questions about this post or need tailored advice to your specific job search, including free resume consulting, please e-mail me at

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