Interviewing with Confidence

January 9, 2017

At last, all that you have worked for has led to the highly desired interview. Congratulations! The interview process can feel daunting, but don’t let it.  At the heart of all interviews is an exchange between two or more parties about shared interests and desires to determine “best fit”. Hopefully, by this point you have done some self-assessment and know yourself well enough to effectively communicate your fit for the program, school or organization.  If not, now is the time to reflect. Consider clarifying your strengths, areas of expertise and desires for your future. Re-evaluating your interests, values, and skills helps to enhance confidence that you are on the right track in applying for specific programs or positions. Ask yourself:

  • Why do I want this job?
  • How am I prepared to take on the responsibilities being asked of me?
  • What do I have to offer them?
  • What do they have to offer me?

Answers to these and other questions help you prepare to respond confidently to the interviewer in ways that show your fit for the position or program.

Preparation is the key to successful interviews. Interview candidates who fall short of receiving offers are often ineffectively conveying confidence in their skills and expertise as related to the position they are interviewing for. The more knowledge you have about the organization you are interviewing with, the individuals interviewing you, the mission and vision of the department or program, and/or specific duties and responsibilities involved, the better able you are to connect your strengths to their needs. Often individuals engaged in an employment or educational search believe their skill set will win them the job or offer.  Although indeed that may look great on paper, it doesn’t always lead to an offer.

Not long ago, a trainee shared their interviewing experience that reflected success in obtaining interviews, however, they had not yet gotten an offer. In this case, the interviewee found themselves problem solving for the interviewer – asking questions that may have laid seeds of doubt in the interviewers’ minds. As an individual skilled in analysis and problem solving, it was easy for them to do so. However, it wasn’t the candidate’s job to figure out solutions to potential problems they saw in their being hired, simply to convey confidently how they could help. Reflecting on their interviewing experiences and brainstorming alternative strategies for responding to interview questions allowed the candidate to more effectively convey their fit at the next interview.  Soon after the candidate received an offer which they accepted.  Success!

You too can come across confidently in the interview. Consider this as you prepare:

Know Yourself – Re-clarify your interests in the position, as well as your values and skills to allow for connections between yourself and the employer or program.  An OITE Career Counselor or Graduate School and Pre-Professional Advisor can help in this process:  https://www.training.nih.gov.

Prepare for the interview – Research information about the organization, institution, or program so that you are confident about your fit and can effectively communicate this as related to their core values, mission and needed skills and expertise.  We also suggest that you watch the OITE Interviewing Techniques workshop to learn and practice your skills.

Interview the Employer – Be prepared to ask questions in an interview if time allows.  Choose questions that help you determine whether there will be a good fit for you such as: “What opportunities for advancement are in place?”, “What type of mentorship is available for new hires?” or “What resources are available to help students engage in career planning?”  Knowing what is important to you will help you generate questions to ask.

Breathe, Relax, and Enjoy – Most interviews offer you the chance to meet new people, see different places and experience new things.  Take the opportunity to do so.  Whatever happens, this kind of mindset will help relieve worry and nervousness about the interview, allow you to stay focused on the big picture, and encourage confident communication in the interview.

Interviewing can be difficult, especially if you feel unprepared. Preparation will help you feel more confident about the unique things you offer and encourage a focus on where you fit with the employer, institution or program.  Remember, the absence of an offer after an interview doesn’t mean you were not qualified, simply that you were not the fit that the employer was looking for.  Keep in mind that getting an interview is evidence of success in the search or application process.  Be sure to give yourself credit and acknowledge your successes along the way.  Before you know it, you’ll have an offer too!


Staying Sane During the Waiting Game for Professional School Admission

December 19, 2016

You successfully applied to a range of medical or dental schools and now are anxiously waiting to be contacted about interviews and (hopefully!) acceptances to these schools.  During this time, it is normal to feel anxious, worry that you have not provided enough information, or think that there is something else you can do to improve your chances.  Maybe you are tired of family or friends asking, “have you heard yet?”

Here are common challenges and strategies to help you maintain your sanity and manage stress during this time:

Common Questions

  • Is it okay to call or email the schools and ask for an application status update?
  • Call only once. Curb your desire to call repeatedly.  Sometimes schools feel like students put them on re-dial with the volume of individual calls!
  • I want to update my application materials. Is this a good time to do it?
  • Some schools accept updates to applications and will publish this clearly on their webpage. If you do send updates, it should contain only SIGNIFICANT additions (e.g., papers published, new clinical experience position, completed science courses with a grade, leadership).  Remember that the on the original AMCAS application, a description of each experience is limited to 750 characters—this limit remains. In most cases, an update should be a concise bulleted list.  If you have a publication, use the formal citation.  No lengthy letters with veiled pleas for acceptance. One update letter is acceptable, a second is pushing it unless it contains something amazing.
  • I have been placed on a waitlist for an interview or acceptance. Does this mean I won’t get in?
  • Being placed on a waitlist or in the hold file is not a rejection. This means that you still have a possibility for acceptance. Some schools are sorting through their acceptances and attempting to figure out their yield rate before extending more invitations to interview.  Schools with a high number of applicants are still reviewing applications as well.
  • Should I send a letter of intent?
  • Submitting a Letter of Intent at this point in the cycle is of little value. You applied to the school, so the committee knows you want to go there.  It is not going to move you into the ‘accept’ category if you are not there already.  Letters of intent should not be sent to all schools.  Rather, letters of intent should be reserved for the school where you can guarantee that if you are accepted you would turn down other offers that you may have.  Check out the US News article on letters of intent.
  • How long can I expect to be on a waitlist?
  • Expect significant movement from Waitlists and Hold files after 15 March. Another time will be around  April 30 of each application cycle year, when admitted applicants are required to choose a medical school to attend and decline multiple offers.  This way, medical schools begin filling these spaces. Still, many in April, May, and often up to one week prior to the first week of medical school.
  • I have begun to receive rejections from schools to which I have applied.  Should I plan to re-apply next cycle?
  • Each year, many students are not admitted to school and decide to re-apply to medical school and successfully matriculate in later years.   You should re-apply when you have significantly improved your application materials and experiences. Meet with mentors, career or professional school advisors, medical students, and admissions officers to get feedback on how to strengthen your applications.  You may need additional clinical hours, research, or leadership experience. You could work on strengthen your AMCAS application and personal statement.  You should be practicing your interview skills.  See the 2015 blog article, “So I didn’t Get in Medical School Now What

Step 2   Do’s and Don’ts in the waiting game
Here are some do’s and don’ts behaviors that many applicants may default to during times of high stress.

Don’t

  • Launch a social media rant about schools or admissions teams. Admissions committees and students check social media.
  • Complain to admissions officers or medical students about the perceived amount of time it is taking for them to reply to you for interviews or admissions decisions.
  • Contact each school more than once to check on the status of your application.
  • Re-take the MCAT yet without significant preparation. Your goal is to raise your score significantly before re-applying.

Do:

  • Surround yourself with positive and healthy individuals, mentors, groups, and activities
  • Meet with advisors, career and personal counselors who can support you through this period.
  • Continue to show your continued passion for professional school. This includes staying involved in a combination of clinical, research, leadership, service, coursework activities.
  • Prepare for interviews. Many professional schools are now using the Multiple Mini Interviews.
  • Stay emotionally strong and resilient
  • Practice healthy coping behaviors including exercising, healthy eating, and involvement in social activities and mindfulness
  • Utilize any cultural, spiritual, familial, and other personal support to maintain hope and develop coping skills and strengths.

Feel free to visit the OITE https://www.training.nih.gov to meet with medical school advisors, wellness or career counselors who can further support you during this process.

* OITE services are available to NIH intramural trainees only. Check with your home university or college and utilize the personal, career, and professional school advising resources they offer to you.


Why RCR (Responsible Conduct of Research) Training is a critical part of your NIH training

December 6, 2016

This week the OITE launches a new research ethics workshop for postdocs at the NIH. This addition joins our ongoing PostBac and Grad Student workshops. More info and upcoming events: https://www.training.nih.gov/ethics_training_home_page

You may be wondering.. why should you attend one of these courses? Perhaps your institute requires it or it is needed for your grant/fellowship application. But above that, an understanding of research ethics is an integral part of your training as a scientist or clinician. Still not convinced?…How about this:

  • To protect yourself. In a recent Nature article, more than 50% of people caught in acts of research misconduct stated they did not know the rules. As with judiciary law, not knowing the rules or regulations is not considered a valid excuse for violating them, nor is being told by others that the action is permissible. We want to make sure you know the explicit rules and implicit expectations of the ethics of performing research. You should know what to do if you aren’t sure about something; who to contact if you witness or feel pressured into doing something you think may be unethical; who to contact if you need external intervention regarding lab conduct; where, in general, to seek all of this information both here and at any institution you may end up in the future. Plus, the consequences of poor ethics ruin careers (read more at: http://ori.hhs.gov/case_summary).
  • To inform yourself. Many of the federal guidelines regulating research are reactionary in nature, enacted following public revelations about terrible mistreatment of human and animal subjects, violations of conflicts of interest, and of misplaced trust in scientists by those who they believed were trying to help them. Unfortunately, these sorts of event have not been eliminated; we see them in the headlines all too often. To learn the history of research ethics guidelines in the US means to learn what triggered these outcries and ask “How could they not know what they were doing was wrong?”
  • To question yourself. Where do our professional ethical norms arise from, and how must we ensure we never lose sight of our personal ethical codes to practice science that is safe, sound, and justifiable? The research environment can often be one of high stress, high uncertainty, and high pressure. You must learn to navigate it without compromising your integrity.
  • To communicate to others. The public is going to see more headlines about failures, ethical breaches, and lost resources than they are about breakthroughs and successes. We can all act as scientific ambassadors; to show that we are thoughtful, methodical, and take the upmost care in the work we do (and that we are not all cartoonish images of mad scientists laughing wildly as we do mad science-y things).
  • To protect the scientific endeavor. Much science is funded by the public and therefore explicitly depends on public trust. Without the trust of the public we lose the ability to both conduct research and effectively move our research to treatments and cures.

We do not think ethics training is something you need because you lack the moral grounding to do good science; but rather because we think it benefits all of us to have a shared understanding of the rules and ethical norms it takes to perform research.

So, join us!  More info here: https://www.training.nih.gov/ethics_training_home_page

 

 

 


Life’s Got You Down?  Staying Strong and Resilient in the Midst of Disappointment

November 21, 2016

Life can be challenging at times, as scientists in training you know this all too well.  When daily life doesn’t go as planned it can lead to lack of motivation, frustration, and sadness. Stress and strain can be draining, leaving you with less than 100% of yourself to put into your work, relationships, and pleasurable activities.  How do you make it through?  Resilience—it can help you manage the tough times allowing you to persist and persevere in whatever the challenge may be.

Resilience refers to our ability to bounce back, learn from our mistakes and come out of the challenge stronger.  Years ago, in graduate school, myself and my fellow trainees experienced a very challenging work situation.  It was physically, mentally, and emotionally challenging, so much so that several staff members left, including a fellow trainee, opting not to complete her degree. We had to find ways to persevere in spite of the challenges we faced.  Although it was extremely difficult and far too tempting to give up and quit, we quickly identified aspects of the training experience that felt supportive, focusing on relationships and people who offered support and encouragement. We re-examined our priorities, and began to shift our thinking so that we could see an end to the experience and the rewards to follow. Perhaps some of your academic work or personal life situations feel similar.

Dr. Martin Seligman, a psychologist and researcher of positive psychology, has spent years researching resilience, hope and optimism.  He and his research team have identified characteristics that help to build resilience. When things get tough, consider these strategies:

Acceptance – Accept that setbacks and disappointments are a part of life.  As much as we wish things would always go our way they simply don’t.  Dealing with small everyday setbacks helps us development the resilience to handle larger challenges in life.

Stay Connected – Connect with others who are supportive and will encourage you. Spending time alone when you are feeling down can lead to isolation, loneliness, sadness, and pessimism.  Find others in the lab, in your families, or among your friends who affirm you and acknowledge your strengths.

Keep Perspective –  Keeping things in perspective helps us see things as they are.  Having perspective allows us to see the broader picture which can offer us a more realistic view of the experiences we face in the moment.

Opportunity – Consider the setback or challenge as an opportunity for new learning.  Seligman’s research suggests that individuals who bounce back more quickly often see their failures as opportunities as opposed to those who struggle from the same experiences.

Optimism – An optimistic attitude allows us to view disappointments as temporary, isolated experiences that are brought on by external factors.  Individuals who are optimistic appreciate their experiences, value their relationships, and are encouraged by the future.

So the next time you find yourself faced with a significant setback, resist the temptation to give up.  Engage in the above strategies and look for the positive things around you.  If you are intentional about looking for them you will find them.

Other resources from the OITE on resilience:

  1. Join our Mindfulness Meditation group on Thursdays: https://www.training.nih.gov/mindfulness_meditation_group
  1. Need help now?? Check out resources for NIH intramural trainees: https://www.training.nih.gov/get_help_now
  1. Watch out for our next Tune In and Take Care workshop held each semester
  1. Check out our YouTube video: Resilience in the Job Searchresilienceresilience
  1. Related blog posts:
    1. Enhancing Optimism and Resilience in Your Job Search & Beyond
    2. Job Stress, Resilience and Support
    3. Is Grit the Key to Success?

 


Personality Type and Burnout

November 14, 2016

Image of file folder and pens in a briefcaseHave you ever taken the Myers Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI)? If so, you know that this is an assessment with the aim of measuring your personality preferences along four different dichotomous dimensions. The MBTI helps people answer the following questions:   Where do you focus your attention and/or get your energy?; How do you prefer to take in information?; How do you make decisions?; and finally, How do you organize the world around you?

Myers and Briggs believed that in order to have a more satisfied life, people needed to better understand themselves which could then help them choose an occupation which better suited their personality.

The Myers Briggs will not tell you specific career paths you should choose; however, you can utilize your results to consider the pros and cons of different employment sectors/occupations/work environments and how much they match with your personal preferences.

What if your personal preferences clash with your work environment though? It is very common to see an employee who is dissatisfied and on the road to burn out because their job doesn’t match their personal preferences. How does this look along the different dimensions of the MBTI?

Extroversion vs Introversion – Where do you get your energy?

A strong extrovert who is in a lab all day by themselves will become restless and bored. Extroverts tend to need outside stimuli to help maintain their enthusiasm. They enjoy being out in the world and interacting with others, so if deprived of that, their energy will begin to wane.

Conversely, introverts can get easily overwhelmed by too much external stimuli. They prefer positions where they can work alone and have quiet, reflective time. A position in sales or customer service could create stress for an introvert and more easily result in an individual feeling bunt out.

Sensing vs Intuition – How do you take in information?

Sensor like facts, details, and tend to feel most comfortable in structured work environments. Whereas, intuitives are generally open to multiple variables and they tend to respond negatively to rigid work environments and/or repetitive processes.

Intuitives tend to feel a sense of accomplishment in the creative process, but sensors like to point to firm achievements such as solved problems or finished projects. If they don’t see that, it would lead to burn out for a sensor.

Thinking vs Feeling – How do you prefer decisions to be made?

Thinkers want to see a logical approach to decision making and they crave results that make clear sense based on facts. Feelers, on the other hand, are more likely to see the emotional and sociological sides of decisions.  Feelers tend to be better at understanding the need to compromise based on office politics or diplomacy which would frustrate a thinker.

Burnout can ensue if you are in a position where you have to make decisions that are at odds with your personal preference. For example, a feeler as a bank loan officer might have a hard time removing their emotions from their job.

Additionally, thinkers and feelers could both get frustrated if the office is managed and their boss’ decisions are made in ways they don’t understand or relate to.

Judging vs Perceiving – How do you organize your world?

Judgers like things ordered and routine whereas perceivers like things spontaneous and flexible.  You can probably easily tell who is a judger and who is a perceiver in a staff/lab meetings. A judger would want an agenda and clear follow up action items while a perceiver might view the same meeting as a place to chat and brainstorm without any structure.

A disorganized work environment can be a major stressor for judgers, who like to know what is expected of them and their performance. Perceivers might feel too constrained by these limits and would prefer the autonomy and ability to innovate.  Perceivers often like jobs that are unpredictable like event planning or emergency services or even working at a new start up where they can invent the process.

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No matter your MBIT type, the key is recognizing your fit with your job. Given how much time one spends at work, it is important to consider your personal preferences in relation to the work environment. Hopefully, thoughtful consideration of yourself in relation to your work will ensure it is a good match and you won’t be prone to burn out within your role.  If you find yourself still struggling, check out our blog post on ways to prevent burn out.


Squash those ANTs

November 7, 2016

Even the most optimistic person is not immune to negative thoughts, but for some, automatic negative thoughts (ANTs) are a regular part of life and the chatter of self-doubt and worry can be constant.

During times of high stress, like a job search, ANTs can become even more pronounced. Often job seekers will face a barrage of worries and doubts like: Am I making the right decision? Maybe I should wait until I finish X experiment and get Y publication? Should I leave the bench? I like what I’m doing… why do I have to change? I hate what I am doing…will I really like anything else?

Career planning and job searching is all about transitions and transitions are always difficult. Perhaps we have to let go of an idea we once held for ourselves; or we have to find a way to manage the uncertainty of a job search; or we have to deal with the discomfort of examining our strengths and weaknesses while others do the same.

Stress can create a time fraught with challenges and thinking errors. Some of the most common thinking errors that can occur include:

Overgeneralization
Taking one isolated situation and using it to make wide generalizations. For the job seeker, this could look like, “Well, I didn’t get that one job. Nobody wants to hire me. I’m never going to get a job.” All or nothing language like “always” or “never” is another form of overgeneralization and black-and-white thinking.

Mental Filter
This occurs when somebody focuses almost exclusively on one specific, usually negative or upsetting, aspect of a situation while ignoring the rest. For the job seeker, this could look like, “I answered that one interview question so terribly!” Even if the rest of the interview went well, the person will ruminate about their perceived mistake.

Fortune Telling
This is often also called jumping to conclusions or mind reading and it happens when you assume you know what is going to happen.  Perhaps in an interview, you imagine what the hiring manager is thinking. “They are probably thinking my answer was really stupid.” Then you anticipate how the situation will unfold and assume you will never get the job.

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There are many thinking errors that can occur and Dr. Amen has devoted his research to this topic. Dr. Daniel Amen is a psychiatrist, director of the Amen Clinics, the author of “Change Your Brain, Change Your Life”.  He notes that our brains are actually wired to focus on the negative and to scan for threats, but you can also learn how to stop your automatic negative thoughts and focus on the positive.

According to Dr. Amen, there are three steps to kill thos ANTs:

1. Write them down and clearly identify them.

2. Ask: are these true?

3. If you discover these thoughts aren’t true, talk back to them !

Labeling, investigating and talking back to your ANTs takes practice but it time can help you to minimize these cognitive intrusions. Watch Dr. Amen’s video here:


FROM THE ARCHIVE: Boo! Why Job Searches are So Scary

October 31, 2016

Happy Halloween from OITE!Image of two bats, a ghost, a pumpkin and the word "Boo!".

Today is a day for tricks, treats and all things spooky. While we hope you will enjoy the spirit of this holiday in your personal life, we also invite you to think about your professional life and what part of the job search scares you.

Job searching can feel like navigating your way through a haunted house – it can be riddled with false doors, creepy detours, and hair-raising events.  As proof of this, read some Job Search Horror Stories as shared by OITE staff.  Many questions can come up during a job search: What in your professional past, if anything, haunts you? How spooked are you by networking? What eerily hard questions have you received during an interview? How frightened are you about finding the perfect job?

The questions and doubts that arise during a job search are very common.  You are opening yourself up to new opportunities, which is often synonymous with change. Plus, you are putting yourself and your professional accomplishments out into the world for consideration.  You are pulling back the mask; on a superficial level, it is easy to understand how the job search can make an individual feel vulnerable, exposed, and anxious.  The anxiety and risk aversion associated with this process can cause individuals to procrastinate.  Like a ghoul you can’t shake, there can be a nagging voice in your head reminding you that you need to be doing more.

Brain research has repeatedly shown that humans try to maximize rewards and minimize threats – we often condition ourselves to avoid pain or resistance.  Often times, we also avoid what is most important to us.  Many scientists tend to be perfectionists, and this can be a debilitating attribute for a job search. We all want to choose the perfect job, create the perfect resume and negotiate the perfect salary.  Fear that we will fall short can cause us to avoid those activities and procrastinate.

Take some time today to think about the ghosts of your job searching past.  Remember that there are a lot of “tricks” to job searching, so be sure to utilize the “treats” from OITE. We are here to help you at every stage along the way and can hopefully begin to help demystify a scary process.