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.


Yawnfest: Don’t Be a Boring Interviewee

March 11, 2015

Post written by Amanda Dumsch, Career Counselor at OITE.An image of a big yellow smiley face yawning.

After graduate school, I applied for a job I really wanted. In preparation, I did everything I was supposed to – I extensively researched the department and I practiced interview questions at length. On the day of the interview, I was nervous; however, by the end of the day, I was relieved I hadn’t been asked any unexpected questions. A week later, I got a call that I hadn’t gotten the job. I was very disappointed, but again, I did what I supposed to and I asked for feedback.

Here is the feedback I received: “You came across as professionally competent, but at the end of the day, none of us got a sense for your personality and what you would be like to work with day in and day out.” While hard to hear, I realized this was true. I had become so worried about answering all of the questions perfectly, that I forgot to smile, relax, and connect with the interviewers.  I share this story because it is a good reminder. When you get called in for an interview, they already think you are professionally qualified. Much of the time, the interview is to test your personal fit with the team; it is also a chance for you to demonstrate your enthusiasm for the position.

Interviews are anxiety provoking though. As it happened to me, your nerves can get the best of you making you come across as serious and somewhat robotic. So, how can you be memorable during your interview and not bore your interviewers to tears?

Don’t be afraid to show your personality

In an interview, the easiest way to accomplish this is by answering questions with anecdotes. People don’t tend to remember facts and figures, they remember stories. Create your personal narrative for them by walking them through your past experiences, especially your accomplishments.

Demonstrate enthusiasm
Positive energy is infectious, but don’t go overboard. Simply remembering to smile and explicitly state your excitement about this opportunity can go a long way. Employers will be excited about individuals who genuinely seem passionate about their organization and motivated by their work.

Stand out for the right reasons
Interviewers will positively remember candidates who came across as professional, pleasant and prepared. Sometimes the best way to stand out is not only by answering the interview questions in stride but by asking them great questions as well. It is important to remember that you are interviewing them as well. Some good questions to ask include: How would you describe the work environment and company culture? Generally, how is performance measured? How did you choose to work at this organization? In your opinion, what are some of the strengths and challenges in your work? What types of opportunities, for career advancement or professional development, might open up?

Nobody expects you to be perfect in your interview, so take a deep breath, do some power poses, and most importantly be yourself!


Answering the Weakness Interview Question

February 14, 2015

Picture of a notebook and pen with a running list of four strenghts and zero weaknesses.The question which often stirs the most dread in interviewees: “What is your greatest weakness?”   Interviewers may also ask it in other ways like: “Tell me about some of your areas for professional development and growth.” or “What are three weaknesses you have in relation to this job description?” or “If I were to speak to your previous supervisor, what would they say you needed to work on?”

No matter how it is phrased, you need to be prepared with a response. Many times this question is asked simply to evaluate your preparedness for the interview itself. Like everything else, there is often not one “right” or “wrong” way to answer this question, but here are some things to keep in mind.

Turning a negative into a positive can backfire.
This is the way you are supposed to answer this question, right? Say something negative that is actually a positive. We hear these answers all the time. Some examples include:

  • I tend to be a perfectionist.
  • Sometimes I work too hard and push myself too much.
  • I have extremely high standards for myself and others.

Sorry if you are reading this and genuinely identifying with these statements because you’ll have to come up with other weaknesses to share. Statements like these often come off as contrived and disingenuous.

Turning a negative into a positive can work – if done correctly!
This tactic can work if you focus on a specific skill that you are trying to improve. Important note: make sure the skill is not a critical one for the job at hand. A good formula to follow would be, “I realized my presentation skills needed some work and since it is not a major part of my current job, I sought other opportunities like joining Toastmasters and asking my supervisor for more feedback on my presentations.”

Being genuine doesn’t mean you have to be too honest.
Authenticity is the key to a good interview. You’ll want to be yourself and see if you are a genuinely a good fit for the position. It goes without saying that you should be honest at every step of the application process – interview included, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be strategic. It is sometimes shocking what an interviewee will reveal if they are feeling stressed and unprepared for the question. Individuals will offer up deal breakers like being “quick tempered” or “always late to everything.” You might laugh but these are real examples and they will raise real red flags.

Don’t shut down during the answer.
Some individuals will take way too long to answer the question and then finally assert that they can’t think of a single weakness. Well, we just discovered a couple for you – a lack of self-awareness and a lack of preparation for this interview!

Take some time and prepare for the question as best as you can. Doing an honest self-assessment about what you would feel comfortable revealing will help you on interview day. If you need help practicing, come into OITE for a mock interview.


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 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.


Tips on Conducting a Job Search Anywhere

May 20, 2013

Do you need to find a job in a geographically limited area far from your current location? Maybe your significant other just found a dream job, or maybe you just always wanted to live in Seattle, WA – whatever the reason, a remote and geographically limited job search poses a distinct set of challenges that require some strategizing to overcome. Here are a few thoughts that may help from a person who recently was searching for a job in Dallas, TX, while living in Bethesda, MD.  These tips are useful in any job search, but particularly for conducting a remote search.

Begin the search early. Job options tend to be reduced when they are limited by geography. Imposing boundaries on the location means relying on fewer potential employers. The more time you allow for finding a job, the better.

Use your network. Your network should be your first resource in a remote job search. Know the histories of the people in your network, and keep up with their current locations. Ask people currently or historically linked to the area for suggested companies or connections. Some of your contacts may work for a company with an office in that location and may be willing to send out feelers on your behalf. Always ask permission before using a contact’s name or, even better, ask them to provide an introduction.

Do not limit yourself to professional contacts. Talk to friends, alumni associations, volunteer organizations, members of your religious institute, or anywhere else you may find an unexpected lead. If you are a member of a professional or volunteer organization, contact the local chapters to make some connections. Seek local people at conferences. Make your job search as widely known as possible – the more exposure the better. Conducting a secretive job search poses more of a challenge, but typically you can advertise pretty broadly without you current boss finding out.

Use job Sites. Job sites will be your friend. Most career sites filter searches to a specific area or radius around an area. Check out the state labor department for local search engines. The City of Dallas website had links to six local search engines.

Know your business. If you are looking for an academic job, search all the universities. For me, looking for a job in science policy in Dallas meant searching anywhere that might have a policy/government relations office, like non-profit organizations and universities. After finding some leads, go back to your network and look for the connections. Cold e-mails to directors or assistant directors (managers) located in offices of interest can end up in future leads or even a job.  So don’t be afraid to write them a note.  None of the offices I contacted were hiring at the time, but I continued to receive several leads from the people I contacted with in those initial cold e-mails.

Be flexible. Compromising a little on the job you are seeking may go a long way towards finding a position. As a person recently preparing for a science policy career in Washington, DC, where policy jobs are plentiful, now moving to Dallas, TX, where science policy jobs are next to non-existent, I had to broaden my search to jobs with similar skills requirements and career goals. After some considerable research, I found a job in the communications office of a local university requiring many of the same skills and tasks that I enjoyed in science policy.

To recap: start early, use your network heavily, use search engines wisely, cold call companies of interest, and use your network even more.

What are your suggestions or experiences for a remote job search?


Interviewing advice from the hiring partners perspectives

March 6, 2013

We had a workshop on interviewing this week, here is a wrap-up of what was said, and more information to make your interviews a success.  If you want to watch the videocast, it is archived here.  We had three speakers to highlight multiple aspects of the hiring process; a hiring manager, a human resources person, and a recruiter.  The advice here is mostly for non-faculty positions (although we have information on the faculty job hunt at www.training.nih.gov)

Interviews questions are best answered in the Situation-Action-Response format.  The basics of this format is that you need to have a story that you can tell that gives background to the situation, tells about the action that you did, then finishes by telling a result or the outcome of the challenge.  You should be able to tell this story in about 90 seconds.  The hiring manager emphasized the need to practice these stories, which gives you the ability to stick to your script and not get led down tangents in the interview process.  He also mentioned that by practicing you are able to maintain your poise and a positive tone of voice, even under difficult questioning.

The human resources manager and the recruiter are looking for the skills specifically based towards the job you are applying to.  Neither of these partners in the hiring process will likely be subject matter experts, so they may not understand the full details of your science.  Rather, they are looking for technical skills and perhaps even specific instrumentation.  They are also looking for good responses to the opportunity questions, such as “Tell me about yourself”.  Being able to answer these questions clearly and concisely is a benefit to getting past these hiring partners.  Answer these questions based on the job ad, to always link how you would be a terrific fit for the position you are applying to.  Here are two examples:

Tell Me About Yourself: “I am a scientist with strong program management, communication and leadership skills.  I have taken on responsibility to organize events, influence leadership with respect to the needs of my fellow postdocs, and have defended scientific ideas. I am looking to use my strong analytical and people skills to move into science policy to help direct science.” (for a non-bench job)

What interests you about this job: “This job utilizes my strengths as an innovative scientist, specifically with XX diseases.  I have had success utilizing new technologies such as XX to explore (my subject matter) can be used for drug development.  Based on the ad, you are also looking for someone who can lead and influence other scientist.  I enjoy that, and have had success in the lab as seen by the numerous collaborations with other scientists and by direct and informal mentoring of other lab members.  I enjoy working with people, and this job seems to have a nice mix of cutting-edge science with leading a team of people to accomplish that science.”

This is just the start of your preparation and the information available from the OITE.  The OITE has posted here on the blog many other articles on interviewing, and have also videocast many in the past.  Here are some links that you may want to read/watch:

BLOG POSTS:

You Got an Interview, Not a Job Offer: How to Impress Your Way into a Position

How to Manage Stress in Interviews

Phone Interviews

Preparing for interviews

VIDEOCASTS:

Interviewing Skills

Interviewing outside the Ivory Tower