Skype First Impressions

July 8, 2015

Do you have a Skype interview coming up? In a previous blog post, we went into great detail about how to prepare for a Skype interview. 

Now, here is a quick video with some tips on how to look your best on interview day. Don’t have time to watch the video? Check out the pre-interview checklist here as well as these four key tips on how to look and sound your best.

  1. Find a quiet place with no distracting sounds.
    Turn off your phone ringer. Mute the TV.  This can be hard to do if you are interviewing at home with kids or pets running around, but it is imperative to plan accordingly for uninterrupted interview time. Make sure you also keep other programs closed on your desktop that might ding alerts about calendar reminders or emails.
  2. Locate a good background and keep the camera at eye level and an arm’s length away.
    Think about your surroundings and what will be visible on the screen.  It is best to be positioned in front of a wall free of clutter or personal items.
  3. Good lighting is imperative.
    Make sure your lighting is aimed at you and not behind you; otherwise you will appear as simply a silhouette.
  4. Make sure YOU look good.
    Convey the right first impression and dress as you would for an in-person interview.  Even if that means a blouse and blazer on top and pajamas on the bottom.

Do you have other suggestions from your own experience? Let us know with a comment below.


Illegal* Interview Questions – What They Are and How to Handle Them

June 11, 2014

A white button with the words "Illegal Interview Questions" covered by a red X.In the United States, federal and state laws prohibit prospective employers from asking certain questions that are not related to the job for which they are hiring; however, most interviewers are not deliberately trying to discriminate against job applicants. In fact, many illegal* interview questions come out unintentionally in a conversational tone. As an example, an interviewer could start the interview with some ice breaker type questions and say, “You have such an interesting name! What’s the origin?” Outside of an interview, this would be a pretty innocuous question; however, within an interview, it could be construed as trying to ascertain your nationality.

Personal information like your heritage, religion, age, and marital status can very subtly sneak into an interview. Here are a few more examples:

Subject:
Nationality
Illegal Questions:
Are you a U.S. citizen? Where were you born? Is English your first language?
Legal to Ask:
Are you authorized to work in the United States on a full-time basis? What languages do you speak and what is your proficiency level? (This can also be tested by the interview itself and/or a written exam.)

Subject: Marital/Family Status
Illegal Questions:
Are you married? Are you planning to have children? How many kids do you have? What are your child care arrangements?
Legal to Ask:
Would you be willing to relocate if necessary? Are you willing to travel as stated in the position description?

Subject: Disabilities
Illegal Questions:
Do you have a disability? Have you had any recent illnesses or operations?
Legal to Ask:
Are you able to perform the essential functions of this position with or without reasonable accommodations?

Subject: Age
Illegal Questions:
How old are you? What is your birthdate? When did you graduate from college?
Legal to Ask:
Are you over the age of 18?

Subject: Affiliations
Illegal Questions:
What religious holidays do you celebrate? What clubs/organizations do you belong to?
Legal to Ask:
Are you available to work Sundays (if the position notes this)?

What should you do if one of these questions gets asked during your interview? It can be a challenge to weigh your options quickly while you are still face to face with the interviewer. So, if there is an area which is of specific concern for you, try to prepare some possible responses. Here are four different options:

  1. Simply answer the question. Only choose this option if you are truly comfortable providing that information and don’t personally feel that it could cause an issue for you.
  2. Answer the question with a question of your own. You could say, “I’m happy to try and answer that question for you, but can you help me understand how that relates to this job first?”
  3. Don’t answer directly, but respond to the intent of the question. For example, if the interviewer asks if you are a U.S. citizen, you can respond by saying, “I think you are meaning to ask if I am legally authorized to work here and the answer is yes.”
  4. Refuse to answer the question. This last resort should only be utilized for a very egregious question.

Knowing in advance what kinds of illegal questions are apt to sneak into an interview and how you feel about answering them should be a part of your interview preparation. This can help you quickly diffuse an uncomfortable situation should it arise. Beyond what’s legal, there are also disclosures that can make you feel uncomfortable discussing in a professional setting. We will be touching on some of these issues in future blog posts.

*  Illegal interview questions, while not illegal in the strictest meaning, do have great potential to open a company or organization up to being held liable in a discrimination law suit.


How I Used LinkedIn to Get a Hiring Manager’s Attention

April 2, 2014

Part one of a two-part series written by guest blogger Dr. Phil Ryan, Director of Student Services at the Office of Intramural Training and Education.

I am in an enviable position because I love my job. Regardless, we should all be looking forward in our career and thinking about what the next step entails. While I am not actively pursuing new positions, every now and then a job posting comes to my attention and piques my interest. I am sure many of you have had a similar experience. Usually the scenario goes like this: you see the job title and it sounds like something that really interests you. Next, you click on the posting and read the job description and you really love what you are reading. Then, you scroll down to the qualifications section and your heart sinks a little bit. The degree and field in the education section does not match your own. The position description lists years of experience that you don’t have on your resume and the wording they use does not match any of the official titles you can list on your resume.

The truth is if you submitted your resume through the normal channels, it would not get forwarded on to the hiring manager for them to review. But, you feel certain you can do that job, do it well and really enjoy it. This experience recently happened to me and I want to share how I used LinkedIn to overcome some of these barriers in order to grab the attention of the hiring manager before I ever submitted my application.

Step 1: Get Prepared

The first thing I did was find the Web page for the department in which this position was located. In many job postings it will list the title of the person that position reports to. Sometimes, it just lists the department the position will be in. Either way, with a little searching online you can often find the director of that office or department. After I found the director of the office in which this position was located, I looked him up on LinkedIn and searched the Internet for other information on him. I found a couple articles he had written and I read them.

Then, I changed and updated my LinkedIn profile. This is one of the benefits of LinkedIn. On a resume it is hard to stray from your official titles for a position. But in the experience section of your LinkedIn profile you can highlight the activities you are involved in even if they aren’t a part of your official job. You can also include links to your projects available online, or to Web pages of organizations or events you have been a part of. You can highlight whatever projects you want to highlight in the Projects section. Most importantly, your summary can be used to clearly communicate what it is you are passionate about.

Step 2: Reach Out

Once my profile was updated and organized to make me look like a great candidate, I sent the director a request to connect. It read something like this:

“Dear Mr. Director, I am interested in the position of [position title] in your office. I have read a couple pieces you have published and really like your take on [field]. I hope we can link in to share resources and network.”

Notice that I offered up another reason for him to accept my invitation other than to discuss the position. It’s important to realize that my offer of sharing resources and networking was sincere. Even if we were not able to discuss the position, I was making a connection in a field of interest to me professionally.

Within three days we were talking on the phone about the position, the field in general, and our respective career paths. I had not even submitted my application and I was basically having a pre-interview! At the end of our conversation, he encouraged me to submit my application. Within a week of my LinkedIn request, I was on Skype interviewing with the entire hiring committee and was later flown out for an in-person interview. As a career development professional, I had to ask if my application would have made it to his desk had I not contacted him through LinkedIn. He would not go so far as to say “no,” but he certainly did not say “yes.”

The end result was I was offered the position. After careful consideration, I respectfully declined to accept the job. Why? Well, that is to be continued in another blog post….

 


How to Prepare for a Skype Interview

March 12, 2014

Image of a laptop with a Skype video conference going on between two women.It is highly likely you have or will have a Skype interview at some point in your job search.  Budget cuts are making travel arrangements for in-person interviews prohibitive, so more and more employers are conducting initial interviews via Skype or another online video service.  Employers also feel that Skype helps them get a better feel for a candidate than a phone interview allows.

Here are some tips to take your next Skype interview from awkward to awesome:

  1. Practice first!  Do a trial run a few days before your real interview with a friend or a career counselor, and make sure you record it. Your first few video calls are bound to feel a bit uncomfortable as you figure out where to look, how loudly to speak and what to do with your hands.  Analyze your tape and adjust your actions accordingly.  It may take a few practice rounds until you feel comfortable.
  2. Adjust the lighting and background in your interview room.  Think about your surroundings and what will be visible on the screen.  It is best to be positioned in front of a wall free of clutter or personal items. Also, make sure your lighting is aimed at you and not behind you; otherwise you will appear as simply a silhouette.
  3. Find a quiet space.  This can be hard to do if you are interviewing at home with kids or pets running around, but it is imperative to plan accordingly for uninterrupted interview time. Make sure you also keep other programs closed on your desktop that might ding alerts about calendar reminders or emails. The interviewers will also be able to hear these beeps.  If you are having trouble finding a space for your interview, be in touch with the OITE and, if space allows, we will do our best to try and make an office available for your interview.
  4. Dress for an in-person interview.  Make sure you are conveying the right first impression and dress as you would for an in-person interview.  Even if that means a blouse and blazer on top and pajamas on the bottom.
  5. Don’t sit as close to your computer as you normally would. Sit a little further back so that your face and upper shoulders are in the shot. It can also be helpful if you position your webcam a little bit higher so you are looking up and not down. This can be easily accomplished by propping your laptop on a stack of books.
  6. Cover the image of yourself. If you find the image of yourself distracting, minimize it as much as you can. If you still find yourself looking at your image and not the interviewer, then put a post-it note over that window on your screen.
  7. Don’t forget to smile! Smiling often comes naturally in a face-to-face interview, but it can be surprisingly difficult to remember to do in both phone and Skype interviews. Smiling can help reduce stress levels and your interview anxiety; plus, it is a subtle but powerful way to convey your enthusiasm for the position.
  8. Have notes in front of you. The perk of a phone or Skype interview is that you can have notes in front of you without the interviewer realizing it. It can be difficult to subtly look down at key points during a Skype interview, so tape notes around your screen with important points you want to make or questions you may wish to ask.

As with all interviews, be sure to follow up with a thank you note to each person you spoke with that day.


Interviewing the Interviewer

October 21, 2013

Picture of a door with a sign on it that reads "Interview in Progress"Thorough preparation is essential in advance of any industry job interview to ensure that you perform at the highest level possible.  Making sure that your resume is in order, that you have accessed available sources to obtain vital information both on the company and the person who will be conducting the interview and practicing your responses to anticipated questions are all key to completing a successful interview.  One additional step that is just as important, but often times overlooked is preparing a set of questions to ask of the interviewers to help you determine whether the company and the work environment are right for you.

The interview process is designed for the interviewer, and in many cases interviewers, to ask a series of questions that will help determine whether your educational background and work experience, as well as your personality attributes are likely to lead to your success in the position.  In the same way, your preparation should include highlighting key questions for the interviewers so you can determine how comfortably you will be integrating into this department and company.

Aside from obtaining the basic information on the job, questions should be designed to evaluate your match with the company and the position in four general areas:

Strategic:
For a large company, assess the role the department and the position play in the overall success of the company.
Example:
How does the role/department fit into the overall mission of the company?

For smaller companies, assess the viability of the business plan in leading to the long-term success of the company.
Examples:
What are the company’s short term and long term goals?
What are the company’s sources of funding and are they adequate to reach those goals?

Work Environment:
Ask questions to assess things like the amount of flexibility and/or autonomy to work on your projects, relationships between managers and subordinates and the way that salary increases, bonuses and promotions are determined.
Examples:
Can you tell me more about the reporting structure?
How will my success be measured, and by whom?

Values:
It is important to determine if the company’s values (the operating principles that guide an organization’s conduct), business practices and ethics are compatible with yours.
Examples:
What are the most important values (e.g. commitment to sustainability, customer service, profit) in this company?
How are these values exhibited in the every-day work environment?

“Fit”:
You will be spending 40+ hours every week in the work environment.  It is important that you determine how comfortable you will be in interacting with your bosses and co-workers on an ongoing basis.
Examples:
How would you describe the culture of the office?
What are the key elements that make up a typical work day?

When interviewing with multiple people within the company, asking similar questions to a number of them can give you different perspectives and, therefore a more complete picture of what it is like working at the company.

Finally, when the interviewer asks, “Do you have any questions?”  The absolute worst answer for you to give is, “No, not at this time.”  This may communicate that you have not done your homework or that you are, in fact, not really interested in the position.  Therefore, as you prepare your answers for the interviewer’s questions, it is equally important to prepare your questions.  Asking relevant and insightful questions can, not only, solidify in the interviewer’s mind your genuine interest in the position, it can also provide you with important information on the company and its people to help with your decision.


NIH Alumni: Where are they now? Assistant Professor at UPenn

September 30, 2013

Name: Elizabeth Grice, PhD

Job Title & Company: Assistant Professor of Dermatology, University of Pennsylvania

Location: Philadelphia, PA

How long you’ve been in your current job: 1 year, 8 months

Postdoc Advisor, IC: Julie Segre, NHGRI

What do you do as an Assistant Professor?
It’s varied. When I first started, I did a lot of stuff setting up my lab and hiring people. Now, that I’ve hired people and they’ve become accustomed to the lab and I’ve trained them, they are a lot more independent. So, now I spend a lot of my time writing grants and manuscripts. I have found that I spend a fair amount of time traveling and talking about my research with people at other universities or conferences.

What do you research?
We work on microbiome, especially related to skin health and disease. One area that we focus on is wound healing and how the microbiome influences wound healing. We recently published a paper in PNAS showing that an arm of the immune system called complement actually modulates the skin microbiome and vice versa.  So, that was kind of cool to get my first big paper since my start in my lab.

What are the most important skills that you utilize in your current position?
I think the writing skills are really important as are the communication skills. Oral and written communication skills are key because a big part of your job is selling your research so that you can get funded and get publications.  The other part, which I didn’t necessarily anticipate, is being able to manage people. Right now, I have six people in my lab and I am responsible for them and I have to be sure that they are doing their jobs. Being able to successfully manage a research program really depends on these two skills. Of course, on top of this, you need to have ideas and an excellent scientific background.

How did you develop your communication and management skills?
I wrote a K99 grant which helped a lot. I realized that this is what I wanted to do because I really enjoyed writing the grant and I did enjoy writing the manuscripts when I was a postdoc. This was one of my favorite parts. I didn’t enjoy the bench work as much as much as taking my ideas and putting them into a coherent story.

I took a grant writing class through NIHGRI and I also participated in Lori Conlan’s Management Boot Camp, which was really helpful. I also draw on a lot of advice from my colleagues at Penn and other professors that have labs. This can be especially helpful to get input on how to handle different personnel/management scenarios.

What is your favorite aspect of your current job?
I really like the flexibility and the freedom and the fact that I go to work every day and get to do exactly what I want to do. Of course I have deadlines and I have to write grants, but they are all things that I am interested in and I really like that. I love that I have a goal (up for tenure in five years). I have mentors who advise me along the way and my chair is very helpful, but no one tells me what to do – I am in charge of my own destiny and my own time. I also like collaborating with people. The research in my lab is highly multidisciplinary and I get to collaborate with unique people from different areas that I never thought I would get to work with.  For example, for a proposal for the US Army, we are looking at what types of volatile organic compounds are produced from the skin microbiome and how those compounds affect the attractiveness of people to mosquitoes, which can cause diseases like malaria. So, although I never thought I would be doing this, it is fun because the team includes an organic chemist, a mosquito expert and a statistician. It is fun to draw on the expertise of other people.

What has been the hardest aspect about transitioning into this career?
The hardest part has been managing people and I am still grappling with my style and how I should do it. I often wonder if I should be more hands on, more hands off, all the while realizing that different people respond differently to different types of management.  I never had people working for me before, so it has been something that I have had to get used to and I am still figuring it out. I actually think more senior professors are still figuring it out too – it is a challenge for all.

What was your job search like?
My job search was crazy and stressful. I applied to every place that had an opening that was within my range of interest and it also had to be somewhere my husband was willing to move. I didn’t apply anywhere where I wasn’t willing to move and I ended up interviewing at 12-13 places and the interview process is just grueling for each place. It is usually two days long; one day, you give a seminar and the next day you give a chalk talk. In between all of those, you are constantly meeting with people, even during your meals.  I squeezed all of my interviews into a short time span of three months, so it was just really exhausting.  I didn’t know how many interviews I was going to get or how many offers I was going to get; there is just no way of telling and I wanted to be sure I was going to get an offer eventually, so I just applied to a lot of places.

What are the most important soft skills needed for your position?
In a postdoc, you are so focused on getting papers out and getting your scientific skills together, it can be easy to forget that ultimately you are going to need to be able to hone your communication and people skills. I was really lucky because my postdoctoral advisor, Julie, got so many invitations to speak at different place and she wasn’t able to speak at all of them, so she would send me sometimes. That was really helpful because it not only helped me with my presentation skills, but also helped me to network and get my name out there. To get a job, you have to do a considerable amount of networking which I am not great at, but I know this was always stressed during seminars. If you do a lot of talks and posters, then people come to you and things seem to start falling into place.  My mentor did a great job thinking about my career development and introducing me to people who might be important to know. If Julie hadn’t been so proactive and such a good mentor, I don’t think I would have been nearly as successful in my job search.

How did you prepare for the interview?
I did practice the chalk talk portion, which I think is really important because the chalk talk is really your plans for your research and what direction you are going to take.  You can’t use slides, so you have to think about how you are going to communicate that and how you are going to sketch it out on the blackboard.  Practice with people who have seen and judged these types of talks before.

Any last bits of advice?
Be prepared because it’s a hard path to go down unless you absolutely love what you do and love your research. You need to live and breathe your research because it is a lot of hours and it is a lot of work. Unless you are totally invested in it, it’s probably not going to work out, you probably won’t be happy.

This is not a field you go into for the pay, but remember you have the power of negotiation. I remember reading somewhere that only 7% of women negotiate their salary and when I read that, I was right in the middle of negotiation and I made sure to try to negotiate my salary and I felt ridiculous doing it because I thought “Well, that’s enough money, it’s more than I make now.” But you can always ask for more — whether it is space, equipment, money, salary, startup funds. I think it is important to negotiate, but then again, if you ask for a lot, they are going to expect more. Always be sure you are given the resources to do the best job that you can do. You need the resources to succeed.


In Industry, It’s About More Than Just Salary

July 24, 2013

Pondering a career in industry?  Then you need to be aware that the industry job offer may contain elements not part of offers in academia, government or non-profits; industry jobs often include a profit sharing plan.

Industry profit sharing takes two basic forms; dividends, a cash payment made to employees and share-holders based upon the performance of the company, usually on an annual basis, and equity, the actual ownership of shares of the company.  Equity in a company is granted by one of the following methods:

  • Stock grants:      A company may grant actual shares of its stock to employees.  The value of these grants is determined by the price at which the shares are traded on one of the stock exchanges.  An example: You are granted 100 shares at $5 per share. Over time if the value rises to $10 per share; the grant becomes worth $1000 after a vesting period.  Vesting is the time that you are required to hold the stock before you can sell.  If the vesting period is four years, you may sell up to 25% of your shares each year, or you can wait the four years and opt to sell all of your stocks.
  • Stock options:   If the company grants a stock option, it gives you the right to buy a specific number of shares of your company’s stock during a time and at a price that the employer specifies.  Typically this stock price is lower than market value.  As in the above example, you are granted the option to purchase 100 shares at $5 per share.  If the value rises to $10 per share, the option to you becomes worth $1000, minus the $500 you paid, or $500.  As in stock grants, a vesting period usually applies for options as well.
  • American Depository receipts (ADR’s): ADR’s are used by non-American companies whose stock trades on a foreign exchange to provide an equity vehicle for American employees.  Its value to you would be calculated in the same manner as a stock option.

Most importantly when considering a job offer, make sure to take into account the offer in its entirety, not just the salary.  The value of these other elements may comprise a significant percentage of total compensation.  In some cases, where the value of the stock has risen tremendously, many of their employees have made huge sums of money.  However in other cases, where the stock has hovered near its price at the public offering, employees have made very little.

The value that these profit sharing vehicles can add to your compensation may vary.  Make sure you connect with your Career Services Center (for NIH intramural trainees that is the OITE) to help you with the negotiation process to optimize the value of the offer you receive.