Vault's Careers Blog

Career advice and job search strategies for the modern careerist

Posts Tagged ‘interview tips

5 Things Comedy Class Teaches You About Job Search

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For six weeks this fall, I’ve been studying writing of a different kind—Karen Bergreen’s beginner comedy class at the Manhattan Comedy School. I always tell my job-seeking clients and column readers to be well-rounded and unique and to keep learning and stretching. So learning about things seemingly unrelated to my own day job is part of taking my own advice. Luckily, comedy is relevant to job search technique:

Be specific. The funniest comedians give very specific details. The same can be said about compelling job candidates: the best candidates are specific in explaining what they want and what they contribute. When good job candidates give an example, we understand the scope of their responsibilities and the scale of their accomplishments.

Edit ruthlessly. You don’t need a lot of explanation before getting to the punch line of the story. In fact, too much explanation diminishes the power of the joke. Similarly, don’t ramble in your interview responses and other job search communication. Get to the point quickly and keep your listener’s attention.

Talk about what you know. Being comfortable and familiar with your subject matter made it infinitely easier to be specific and find the humor. Successful jobseekers need to get comfortable and familiar with the industries, companies, and jobs they are targeting. Do research before meeting people. Prepare your interview examples. When you talk about what you know (because you have researched and prepared in advance), you captivate your listener.

Be yourself. There is no one profile or style that is the funny one. It is better to infuse who you are genuinely into your comedy set. In the case of job candidates, your unique personality differentiates you in addition to your professional attributes. There are other good communicators, exceptional problem-solvers, and strong leaders. You compete on skills and experience but also contribute your unique style.

The audience needs to get the joke. Sometimes a student was really attached to a joke that others in the class didn’t understand or didn’t think was funny. Instead of arguing the point, students were encouraged to rewrite and rework the original premise. Similarly, jobseekers should pay attention to any feedback that suggests what you’re doing isn’t working. You may think your job search technique is fine, but if it’s been several months and you haven’t landed anything, employers clearly aren’t “getting” you. Don’t argue with the market; rework your job search.

Sometimes when you are overly-focused on a goal, you can get stuck. It’s very helpful to step back and focus on something very different—to refresh, reignite your creativity, and broaden your perspective. You may find that you come back to your original goal with fresh eyes and are more productive. You don’t have to take comedy class specifically or even do something artistic. It can be sports, cooking, joining a book club. Diverse interests are valuable to the jobseeker because they make you more unique, they stretch and challenge you in different ways, and they enable you to remain fresh and productive.

Caroline Ceniza-Levine

Written by A.A. Somebody

November 3, 2010 at 3:28 pm

Book Review: What Color Is Your Parachute? (2011 Edition)

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Few readers need an explanation of the What Color is Your Parachute? series’ pedigree, or its ubiquity on the shelves of many professionals. As a manual for launching and furthering one’s career, the book has been a staple of graduation season gifts and a must-read for job-seekers since its first printing in 1970. However, with the latest edition of the guide hitting bookstores today, the 40-year old series risks looking long-in-the-tooth in light of the current economic climate.

Commendably, author Richard N. Bolles does his homework, returning each year to thoroughly revise the book’s content and address the ever-changing career landscape. As Bolles describes the process, his is not a job for slouches: “Four times a year, for five days in a row, I do nothing but interact with job-hunters, gathered in my home. I stay very up-to-date on the current problems men and women are running into, out there in the job market.” This research is employed to emphasize the troubled state of the job market, affirming the book’s scope and relevance, although his immediate lesson is that even a rocky economy can yield new jobs. To this end, Parachutes goes two steps ahead by pinpointing where the jobs are and leading readers to land a position on their terms.

These methods track, point-by-point, the path to professional success, dispelling initial discouraging mentalities along the way and finding optimal routes for submitting applications, preparing for interviews and conducting post mortem self-evaluation (after all, even a bad interview can offer positive results). The lesson doesn’t end merely with finding employment, as Bolles walks readers through the delicate art of salary negotiation and onward to preparing for a long and fruitful career.

It is at that point when Bolles introduces the interactive portion of the book. Forming the centerpiece of his advice (as well as informing the title) is the Flower Diagram, a circular chart which helps candidates determine their strengths, experience and interests. By measuring these factors, this mainstay of the series encourages the reader to pursue his or her professional priorities and find the ideal role.

However, what Bolles doesn’t touch upon in all this is the element of social media. Considering the increasing usage of Twitter, Facebook and Linkedin among candidates, this exclusion proves shortsighted—as Vault’s career experts have determined, companies now use these networks not only to connect with candidates but also to screen them for interviews and consideration. Thus, a developed social media presence becomes imperative to competing with fellow job seekers.

This is where Parachute shows its age: While it does make mention of applications such as Skype as a tool for counseling, few pages are devoted to using internet resources, with its analysis even pooh-poohing the practice of applying for positions online. Bolles, considered by many a veteran of the career advice trade, isn’t off the mark by suggesting that the tried and true methods are still the most effective, but his disregard for the global resources afforded by the internet will hopefully change in later editions.

Another note on Bolles: Readers will find that the author imbues Parachute’s more personal insights—particularly its workbook—with references to Christianity and spiritualism. Bolles acknowledges that his devout beliefs might not mesh with those of other faiths; as such, he “tried to be very courteous toward the feelings of all my readers, while at the same time counting on them to translate my Christian thought forms into their own.” So take it as you will.

Ultimately what earns What Color is Your Parachute? its lasting reputation is that very human voice behind the career lessons. This sense of personality separates Bolles from his many contemporaries, who more often rely on faceless, clinical bullet points to do the talking.

How Showing Flexibility Can Help You Land Your Next Job

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Following on from yesterday’s post on changing paradigms in the working world, both the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times provide further evidence that this isn’t your grandparents’ hiring market, and that the key to surviving in it is adaptability.

First up is a piece in the Journal, which points to the trend of companies giving younger workers “new responsibilities typically reserved for employees with more work experience under their belts.” The reason: younger workers are typically cheaper and therefore less likely to be laid off for cost reasons than more experienced colleagues. That creates opportunity for younger workers seeking to get ahead—provided they’re willing to take on extra responsibilities, and likely for little to no extra money.

Then there’s the Times, which reported yesterday on a surge in short-term contracts—a result partly attributable to cautious employers not wanting to commit to full-time hires, and partly, as the Times piece makes clear, to employees seeking to keep their options open and not become reliant on a single employer.

What both articles make clear is that flexibility and adaptability are key qualities to be able to demonstrate to existing or potential employers. Short of including those qualities as adjectives on a resume—not a tactic that’s likely to be especially effective, given that anyone can do it—the question is how to draw attention to one’s ability to deal with flux and learn on the job.

For those already in jobs, that answer is easy: volunteer for new tasks and projects, and express willingness to try anything that comes along.

For those seeking a new position, however, the task is trickier. Obviously the best place to stress your adaptability is in an interview. For that reason, it’s worth brainstorming a few examples of different types of work you’ve done in advance of an upcoming interview. And, if you can stress how you stepped up to a new task that lay outside of your regular responsibilities, so much the better.

For so many of us, nailing the interview is the easy part. Getting it—especially with so much competition—is the tough part of the process. As such, try preparing a resume that demonstrates a range of skills and abilities, even if you held the same job for the past 20 years. And, as always, if you can provide details of how those skills brought value to your employer you should be a lock for a call inviting you to come in and press your case face to face.

The importance of being flexible cannot be overstated in this economy. But it’s about more than a simple exercise in branding yourself: with temporary positions likely to dominate the market for some time to come, demonstrating flexibility and adaptability on the job is the real key to getting ahead—not to mention securing that permanent offer or killer reference for the next position.

Batman’s Interview Portfolio

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Bruce Wayne never went on an interview in his life. An international playboy and the inheritor of a family business worth obscene amounts of money, Wayne didn’t even have to graduate from Princeton; he was already a made man. But imagine what might have happened had Bruce Wayne started off today. The stock market crash would have reduced Wayne Enterprises to a ghost of its former glory, and Bruce’s only hope for maintaining his expensive brand of superhero do-goodery would have been to apply for an actual, real-life job. And in that case, he might have wanted to use an interview portfolio.

BatmanMany career advisors would suggest an interview portfolio for older (read: more experienced) candidates, yet there is no reason why new job-seekers couldn’t also benefit from having one. The premise is relatively simple: assemble any and all materials that would be useful for a potential boss, then bring those materials along to the interview. Having an interview portfolio will set you apart from other applicants, spark conversation if there is a lull, and generally make you seem like a prepared and outstanding individual.

The contents of your interview portfolio are entirely up to you, and simply serve to highlight why you would be a good employee. Below is a brief set of guidelines — by no means hard and fast rules. For instance, because Batman’s interview portfolio would have had its high points – evidence of heroism and feats of strength – and its low points – a half-complete undergraduate transcript and a resume devoid of any internship experience – he might have amended the list below to showcase his strengths. An interview portfolio should also not remain exactly the same for every job; rather, add and subtract materials to best suit the position to which you are applying.

An Interview Portfolio for New Job Seekers

  • Your resume: Obvious, right?
  • A transcript: Companies hiring recent graduates will be especially keen to see your grades and verify that you’re up to snuff.
  • Letters of recommendation: If you’ve been employed in any way (including internships or part-time work), it’s always good to solicit a written recommendation. A professor with whom you’ve worked closely can also be an excellent source. Interviewers will want to see verification of the accomplishments you claimed on your resume, along with information about how a potential hire interacts with his or her superiors.
  • Samples of your work: This category can include anything from that paper you wrote for your Shakespeare class, screen shots of a website you designed, or a brief your boss asked you to write up a few summers ago. The point here is to show off what you can do when it comes down to actually producing something.
  • Evidence of awards or certifications: If you’re certified as an Emergency Medical Responder or recently received a grant to fly to China and study Maoist-era architecture, you may want your portfolio to reflect that.
  • The choose-your-own-adventure category: The contents of an interview portfolio will also vary depending on the industry in which you are applying. For instance, a hopeful teacher with tutoring experience might want to include a sample of his or her student’s work or a parent testimonial. Batman might have added a video of him outsmarting the Penguin. In short, be creative.

Finally, there are a couple of ways of showing off your interview portfolio. You can either wait until an appropriate question is asked and then open to the relevant page with a cool panache that would awe any potential employer, or you can mention it up front to show how fantastically prepared you are. Many job-seekers will even mention it when they are setting up the interview, in case the interviewer would like to review it beforehand. Writing a short caption for each document is a good idea if you choose the latter, so that your portfolio can stand alone and make the points you want it to make.

In sum, an interview portfolio is an easy way to show yourself off as the excellent applicant that you are. It would be nice to inherit a multi-billion-dollar corporation and build your very own cave instead, but life isn’t always perfect.

–Posted by Madison Priest, Admit One.

MBADiversity’s Hiring Event Hits New York This Weekend

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Event Alert! MBADiversity, a global MBA prep program is hosting its New York City Forum this weekend. What’s on offer? Chance at meeting one-on-one with recruiters at the recruiter fair, hearing first person accounts from alumni and a financial aid and scholarship workshop.

If you’re not in the New York area, don’t worry because Vault’s Education Editor Carolyn Wise will be on site to talk to attending recruiters, alumni and students and bring you insider info! So stay tuned for her updates and key thoughts from the event. For those of you who’d like to attend, the details are below:

What: The MBADiversity 2010 NY City Forum

When: Saturday, March 27, 2010; 12:00-5:00p.m.

Where: Grand Hyatt, 109 East 42nd Street, New York, NY 10017

Registration Info: Free, if you’d like to attend the networking lunch, it is $19.95.

Agenda: Introductions/Networking Luncheon, an information session about the graduate school application process featuring an Admissions Panel and an Alumni Panel; an information session about the MBADiversity Fellows Program and Global Immersion Module (GIM) Program; a Financial Aid and Scholarships Workshop; and finally the Recruiter Fair.

For information on which recruiters will be there and other FAQs, visit the MBADiversity blog. For our perspective on the event as well as insider quotes, stay tuned next week on Admit One as well as @VaultMBA!

And remember, the keys to a successful graduate school application as well as a job are few, yet essential: Pitch yourself, Add brand value to your experience and wow them! And of course, network, network, network!

Turning a Bad Job Interview Into a Positive Experience

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When it comes to the job search, desperation is your enemy.  It will make you do some crazy things, many of which are ill advised, but sometimes, desperation leads to creativity, especially when turning a negative experience into a positive opportunity.

There was one period of desperation during my unemployment that I decided to broaden my search beyond the boundaries of New York.  In doing so, I found an independent book company in Los Angeles that was in need of a publicist.  To prepare for my phone interview, I researched the company and found a great deal of information I could relay should they ask what I knew about them (which they did).  I picked up on several books they published and studied them intently with the idea that I would mention them at varying times in the interview (and I did).  On the creative end, I even rewrote their press release in case they asked me what I thought and how I would improve it (they didn’t).

With all that done, I wrote up a cheat sheet and then waited for my phone to ring.  When it did, I was on point, answering questions left and right and turning an interview into a fun conversation.

But then, the bottom fell out beneath me.  In addition to having to prove that I was truly ready to commit to a move from New York to Los Angeles, the interviewer started asking me about specific books that I did not pick up on while doing research for the company.

There’s no way an interviewer can expect you to know everything about their company, but I had a gut feeling that mine was unimpressed with some of my answers. The tone of the interview was getting worse and the interviewer didn’t appear too interested in hiring me.  His promise to “let you know if we would like to schedule another interview,” sounded exactly like someone saying “I’ll call you,” after a one-night stand, knowing they had no intention of doing so.  I felt so dirty.

I could have given up, but I decided to take some initiative and try to change his mind.  I researched the books he’d mentioned and came up with a plan of attack.  I emailed the company, letting them know how much I enjoyed the interview and was looking forward to continuing in the process (always do that, even if your interview goes well).  I then made brief mention of how when I was at the New York Public Library, there were some exhibitions that went beyond my scope of knowledge, but that I was able to come up with successful strategies after doing some research. To further demonstrate that ability, I then rattled off a number of blogs and websites I would pitch the company’s books to, as well as a list of other promotional ideas I had come up with.

Two weeks after my email, I was given another phone interview. Another one followed, and then a Skype interview.  The company was still worried about me moving to Los Angeles, so I ended up not getting a full-time job, but I did land a freelance gig promoting one of their books, and was commended for the job I did on it.  I now have experience as a book publicist and a new contact that I still keep in touch with regularly.  (Always maintain contacts: they may lead to your next job.)

I ended up staying in New York and truly have no desire to leave my beloved city just yet.  While I now have a full-time job again, my experience with turning a negative interview experience into a positive outcome is something I am very proud of.  When it came down to it, the job with the publishing company was one where who I know didn’t matter; the only important thing was how bad I wanted it and what I was willing to do, creatively and outside the box, to get it.  If you hold on to that philosophy in your search, there is no situation you can’t handle.

Written by jonminners

March 12, 2010 at 11:35 am

What You Should Ask at your Law Firm Interview

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In the eighth of their series of “Interview Strategies” articles on, legal search consultants Valerie Fontaine and Roberta Kass offer tips on how to prepare for the “So, do you have any questions for us” portion of the interview. As the authors note, the answer to that question had better be “Yes,” not only because that’s what your interviewers want to hear, but also because an interview really is as much an opportunity for you to learn about a potential employer as it is a means for the employer to evaluate you as a candidate. (Of course, that’s no news to members of the Gen-Y Slackoisie, for whom “having a job is an entitlement, rather than a privilege.”)

In addition to providing more general advice—don’t ask questions whose answers are readily available on the internet, do ask questions that suggest you’ve done your homework, don’t bring up money—Fontaine and Kass include a list of 30 sample questions, addressing such things as firm culture (“How would you describe the culture or personality of this firm?”), work assignments (“How are matters staffed? How many attorneys on a case/transaction?”) and business outlook (“Which of the firm’s practice areas are expanding? Contracting? What new practice areas is the firm moving into?”). While obviously not exhaustive, it’s a useful starting point for thinking about what really matters to you in your career and what you hope to achieve by this move.

— posted by Vera Djordjevich, Vault’s Law Blog

Written by Linda Petock

March 2, 2010 at 11:21 am

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