Featured

Interviewing: The other side of the table

Sorry there was no post last week, but we’re back! Recently, I’ve been helping interview candidates at my job for a position very similar to mine (slightly more junior). I know, I know — how the turn tables.

And while I’ve already written on here about interviewing, that was from the perspective of someone being interviewed. Before this, I hadn’t been the person interviewing candidates in almost 2 years. In college, I interviewed dozens of people for almost as many positions when I was working with my student media organization. So today we’re going to tackle interviewing advice from the perspective of the person asking (most of) the questions.

Yes, your resume matters. Especially for a Millennial or Gen Z candidate, I expect not to see rookie mistakes. Other than including the most vital information, all the “rules” of resumes are technically just guidelines, but you need to have a darn good reason if you’re going to break them. That means:

  • Keep it to 1 page. Unless you have 8+ years of experience, you shouldn’t need more than that. Concision is a necessary skill for almost any job, so prove you have it.
  • For the love of all things holy, make it a PDF. Word docs are nice, but they are prone to formatting glitches, font issues, and accidental edits. You put a lot of work into your resume. Keep it crisp with the extra 3 seconds to save it as a PDF.
  • If you have a professional website or portfolio, definitely include the URL. Do NOT include personal blogs or non-professional websites. The people who are deciding whether or not to hire you do not need that info. (Pro tip: If you are including a website, make the URL as simple as possible. This is 2019. You don’t have to put “www.” or “https://” preceding the domain name.)
  • Don’t include a bunch of irrelevant info. It’s just more that I have to read, and lowers the chance that the relevant info will stick with me as well. Trim the education section down significantly after your first job out of college, and only include skills/experience pertinent to the job you’re applying for.

But if you make it to the interview, that matters more. I’ve seen resumes that, um, could use improvement and then been genuinely impressed by the person during the interview. The resume is how you get your foot in the door. The interview is where you get a chance to make an impression (and is almost always what people base hiring decisions on).

We’re just as nervous as you. Seriously. An HR person might have interviewed dozens of folks, but chances are most of the people across from you don’t enjoy the process any more than you do. I try really hard to put interviewees at ease, but just remember this isn’t anyone’s comfort zone.

We want to like you. Virtually no one goes into this with a bad attitude. Even if we weren’t keen on your resume or some other previous info, we want to be proved wrong. Interviewers would rather have a lot of great candidates for a position than just decent ones. Be friendly, be attentive, be professional. It goes a long way.

We know the questions are weird. Myself and my fiancé have been interviewing folks at our respective jobs recently, and since we aren’t too removed from the experience (especially the intense job hunt right after college), we try not to pepper candidates with questions we hate answering unless it’s necessary. Sometimes, it’s necessary. While I don’t really care about your greatest weakness, I will ask what drew you to the role and company just to see where your interests are — and often to check if you’ve done your research. Some organizations have lists of questions interviewers have to ask. Just roll with it and try to have a number of examples/answers that can apply to common questions.

There’s rarely a single right answer, but there are wrong answers. I have a decently extensive list of questions for the folks I’ve been interviewing (and I usually throw some more in on the fly). For some of them, I’m looking for a specific type of answer, but for a lot of them I’m just trying to get to know the candidate. Compose your answers in a way that honestly reflects your experience and personality while acknowledging (even if indirectly) what the interviewer is likely looking for in a candidate. There’s a lot of wiggle room, just be aware of how you’re presenting yourself.

Ask good questions. This is one of the easiest ways to set yourself apart from other candidates. When I’m interviewing people, this matters more than a good number of the questions I ask. If you ask thoughtful, insightful questions, I’ll remember you. And it will prove that:

  1. You’ve done your homework
  2. You’re truly interested
  3. You’ve got critical thinking skills.

Some good stock questions are things like what the day-to-day routine is like or what a person’s favorite part of working there is, but try to think of one or two that are highly specific to the role/company or otherwise out of the box. One of my favorites when being interviewed is to ask people what they wish I would have asked. One that endeared me to a candidate when interviewing them was about my preference on a highly contested (like to the point of being an inside joke) topic in my field.

Think about it as a date, not a test. When it comes down to it, this isn’t about simply checking boxes or passing a test (see above). Interviewers want to see if you’re the right fit for the company and the role, and you should be considering the same thing. If it’s not a place that would be good for you (and you aren’t in a situation in which you really need it), it might be best to consider other jobs. It’s about both parties assessing the chemistry and likelihood of a successful partnership. Make them want to swipe right.

Ultimately, breathe and do your best. You’ll be fine.

I hope that was helpful! If you have any interviewing advice (or questions), feel free to leave them in a comment below, on Twitter @ohgrowup, or Instagram @oh.grow.up! Thanks for reading, and happy adulting!

(Photo is a free stock photo because it would not be professional to post the inside of my office building.)

P.S. I am still locked out of Instagram (@ support, come thru), but all the recent posts will get updated on there as soon as I’m back in!

Professional can be relative

A lot of emerging adults hear about and fear the word “professional.” That is by no means a negative mark on the age bracket — new and unfamiliar things are just intimidating. Part of the problem is that, like a lot of cultural phraseology, the word professional doesn’t mean the same thing to every person or in every context.

I work in California, specifically a rather urban part of it. So “professional” here looks very different depending on what you do. Of course lawyers and high-rise business execs still dress out in more formal business wear, often with the office atmosphere to match. But a lot of places are startups are simply more focused on the product than appearance, and tend to be a lot more casual. Most of the folks in my office dress on the nice side of casual, or the very casual side of business. Everyone in the office jokes around and our Slack channel is full of reaction gifs, but when we get to work we do it well.

Different regions or companies will all be different — one woman I did an informational interview with was one of only three people in her office but still dressed business casual. What’s expected under the term “professional” can also change temporarily. When I first started my job I purposely dressed a little nice than was necessary because I wanted to make a good impression during my first few days.

So if you’re interviewing with a company, or looking to get started in a particular region or field, do some research. Find out as much as you can about the company culture, or what offices/managers in that area typically expect. To be safe, dress a little nicer than you need to for both your interview and first week or so.

Clues can include not just the type of profession (obviously lawyers generally dress more formally than software engineers), but even any pictures you can find of the office. Cubicles and white walls usually mean you should behave and dress more formally. Open floor plans and bright colors mean things are probably a bit more casual. As general rules of thumb, East Coast is usually more formal than West Coast, and downtown is usually more formal than midtown, old town, or suburbs/industrial.

If you really can’t find any info to help you out, the default should be at minimum business casual. This means a button-down shirt, slacks, and probably a tie for guys, and a blouse with slacks or a pencil skirt for women. A blazer or a nicer sweater can be a good addition, but for guys, if you’re adding a blazer you can lose the tie and still be business casual.

Of course, attire isn’t the only means of being professional. In any professional environment, use extra manners and keep an extra filter on conversation — coming across as rough or crass is never a good look. Address people how they introduce themselves to you, and default to traditional titles if you’re not sure. This is especially the case if someone has advanced degrees — they worked hard for them!

Any company or office culture will take time to assimilate into, but putting in a little extra effort is sure to help you out in the long run. What’s the most helpful tip you’ve received for presenting yourself professionally? Let me know in a comment below, on Twitter @ohgrowup, or Instagram @oh.grow.up. As always, thanks for reading, and good luck adulting!

Long-distance life

As I mentioned in a previous post, my boyfriend and I did long distance for almost 4.5 years. Starting a couple of weeks ago, we semi-permanently live near each other for the first time since we started dating.

The very brief explanation is we were friends in high school, and got together a couple of weeks before leaving for college. The problem is those colleges happened to be 400 miles apart. We had no idea if it would work, but felt it was worth seeing if it was something we could handle. Lucky for us, we’ve managed to grow a relationship in spite of it. But that doesn’t change the fact that maintaining or growing any sort of relationship long-distance sucks.

I realize not everyone has been in or is in a long-distance romantic relationship, but nearly everyone has friends or family that are much further away than we’d like. So I’m going to do my best to take that into account throughout this post. I also have a special treat! My boyfriend, Parker, was kind enough to co-write this post with me so it isn’t limited to my perspective. Below are some questions, with each of our answers, regarding how we’ve learned to manage long-distance.

Did you think we had a good chance of making a long-distance relationship work when we first started out?

Parker: Yes.

Rachal: Care to elaborate?

Parker: From an objective perspective, we already had a long-standing friendship with good communication habits, we already texted regularly and made an effort to consistently reach out to one another. From a subjective perspective, we cared about each other quite a bit and are both the type of people that typically put in the effort to make difficult things work. And as people we were very similar and compatible, so if one of us was going to try and be committed, there was a good chance both of us would be, and that often lends itself to a successful relationship. So I thought we had a good chance of making it despite the distance.

Rachal: I hoped that we would, but as people who know me are well aware of, I don’t like to make bets on things that are not guarantees — as my boyfriend rolls his eyes and laughs. So I thought it was worth it enough that I wanted to try, and I had a lot of faith in us, particularly given that we had been such good friends for a fair amount of time, but admittedly I was a bit nervous that it might not work.

What have you found beneficial about long-distance?

Parker: [laughs] It forces you to become really good at the habits that often slip for people who aren’t long-distance, like communication and working out a schedule, because all you have is phone calls and Skype and the very occasional visit. If you have bad communication habits in long-distance, your relationship is going to fall apart, so long-distance really teaches you to form a good communication system with your partner, which then helps once long-distance is no longer a factor.

Rachal: I would definitely second that, and emphasize it more if possible. Because distance is difficult to deal with it can be weird to think about upsides, but in addition to that I would also say that it makes the time you do have in person feel way more valuable and special.

Parker: Took the words out of my mouth (again).

Rachal: It definitely makes it easier to not take each other for granted.

What sucked about long-distance that you didn’t expect (or was worse than you expected)?

Parker: Two things mainly. One, that it didn’t really get better over time. You would think that after doing long-distance for a while, you would start to get used to it and it wouldn’t feel as difficult. And there was some element of that, but there were certain things that got more difficult, like as you’re reaching the end of long-distance your patience with it grows shorter and shorter because you know it’s almost done. Second, even though our issues were relatively infrequent, when struggles did come up, it’s hard because you don’t have the ability to give little physical reassurances like holding someone’s hand or giving a hug. So it’s just words and voice, and there aren’t accompanying physical motions or actions that can give that reassurance that everything’s going to be okay even if it’s a rough patch.

Rachal: I think the first one that you mentioned is what stands out to me the most. Not that I ever specifically thought, “Oh, this is going to get easier,” but I definitely didn’t think it would get harder. So it was weird to be caught off guard after we had been together for a few years and, by all objective standards, had a grip on how to handle things, but from an emotional perspective, the distance took more of a toll than it had previously. I also agree with the second point, and would add that it was just really disappointing to not be able to share the little things as often — like pointing something you passed by or just the small things that are easy to share with someone who’s right next to you, but not necessarily significant enough to save for a nightly phone call.

How have you handled long-distance family relationships?

Parker: I called my parents once a week or more, occasionally spoke to grandparents, and tried to go to family gatherings and stuff like that.

Rachal: Since I have a few younger siblings, I try to keep in better touch with them through facetime or sending them cards on occasion, but for most other family it’s occasional phone calls and visiting when possible.

What about friendships?

Parker: I’ve kind of had mixed success handling long-distance friendships. Some people I’ve had a really good experience keeping up with online, and have a few friends that I’ve never met but have developed friendships with online. Some other personal friendships I haven’t had as much success with but try to text to check in and see how things are going and then try to make the effort to see when I’m in town and near them.

Rachal: I’m either really good at this, or really bad. There are some friends who I text or otherwise communicate with very frequently, and other friends who I am just really bad about keeping in touch with. Part of that is a time thing — there’s only time to stay really close with so many people — but part of it is just having not developed as strong of communication habits with some friends as with others.

What tools were the most helpful for dealing with long-distance?

Parker: Phone calls, text messaging, Skype/Google+. That’s pretty much it.

Rachal: I’m going get kind of communication meta here, because it’s me. Technology is obviously a huge thing — I genuinely don’t know how people did this before cell phones and texting.

Parker: Mail, dude.

Rachal: I know people who did it, but that would suck. Worse. But beyond just technology, the sort of shorthands that we developed for things were really helpful.

Parker: What do you mean by the shorthands?

Rachal: So like early on, we had a very specific conversation about what certain things meant if we texted them. If one of us texted “Okay :)” then everything was fine, but “Okay.” meant that we were upset about something. And we could always ask if we were confused about tone or if we needed to talk later, and things like that. Though it was maybe less of a tool, we also made sure to vary how we communicated. So we texted and did phone or video calls a ton, but once in a while I would send a letter, or you would have a particularly funny Snapchat video, or things like that.

How do you think it changed our relationship?

Parker: It’s almost impossible to answer, because we don’t have a frame of reference. In high school we were friends but we weren’t dating, so how it changed our relationship exactly is hard to say, because we don’t know what it would have been like if we hadn’t had to do long-distance. Long-distance made us learn each other very well, because we had to figure out how to sustain a relationship for 4.5 years, where all we would have were brief periods of time together. So we learned a lot about each other because we would talk a ton, and come up with little games to keep our talks fresh or interesting, so it wasn’t the same thing over and over of “How was your day? How was your day?” I do think it made our relationship a lot stronger in the sense of if we can make it through rough patches where we weren’t even near each other, then it made us more confident that we could sustain a relationship when we were actually together.

Rachal: I agree. I think it really forged and strengthened not only our communication, but our commitment. Because if we weren’t sure about this whole thing, then it would not be worth putting in the amount of effort that we did. And like I mentioned before, it made it easier to value our time and each other, because it was not only rare, but something that had to be worked harder for. I have no idea what it would have been like if we had started dating not long-distance, but despite the challenges, I’m very grateful for the way things have turned out.

What did the distance cost us?

Rachal: I’ll go first on this one. The first thing it cost us is time, which is a funny thing to say because we didn’t get to spend as much time together as would have been nice, but it was a lot of time planning or working to set aside specific windows for us to talk, so the combination of time and effort were significant. I think it also cost us a little bit of the spontaneity that’s fun, especially at the beginning of a relationship, because we had to plan, and you couldn’t just swing by my dorm room and say let’s go get pizza.

Parker: I agree. The only other thing that I’d add is that it cost us flexibility. We did have to be a bit flexible with how and when we talked, how long, and things like that — especially given college and the fluctuation in our workloads. But it did cost some inflexibility in our overall lives. We made an effort to have a phone call at minimum every single day, and at least once a week longer talks. So if friends wanted to go out and do something and we had scheduled time to talk, we’d sometimes have to say no because that was important to our relationship. But then also on breaks and holidays, it led to some inflexibility with schedules because we chose to prioritize our time together. We had to balance spending time with each other, and family, and friends we hadn’t seen in a long time, which led to some conflicts and difficulties. Time windows being so limited as far as what we could spend together made it difficult.

How did you go about balancing the priorities of our relationship vs. being independent, and how did distance play into that?

Parker: Not to sound like a broken record, but it does come back to the constant communication. We would talk about what was going on that night, if there was something we knew we wanted to do, and not only making sure the other person was aware, but we had a good system of making sure the other person was okay with it. If needed, we would make up for that time somewhere else. Then there were some set things, like on Friday nights when I would go hang out with friends and play video games and eat pizza, and we would be okay with a short phone call that day — especially if you also made your plans for that day. We were very deliberate in terms of not wanting to limit each other; we want each other to have our own lives and our own friends, but also devote the proper time to our relationships. And we were in near constant communication to try and achieve that balance to the best of our ability — we weren’t always perfect.

Rachal: Yeah, this is the part of our relationship where I feel like we have been really flexible. We both want the other person to have a social life apart from our relationship, so we made sure that we each got take time to spend with friends or even on our own while still maintaining our relationship as a priority.

How did our relationship change when we had stretches where we weren’t far away?

Parker: Scheduling became a lot more stressful because we really wanted to maximize our time together, but also had to balance friends, family, other stuff with spending time with each other. Sometimes life throws a curve ball and it would really eat away at our time, or one of us would have a certain expectation of how much time we would have, and significantly less than what we were anticipating would cause some tension and some stress between us. That’s the negative side of things. But for the positive, obviously we would get to be together. We could try new restaurants and make recipes we really like, and really focus on each other and enjoy each other’s company, laughs, smiles. Again, because the time was so valuable and so limited, we both loved spending every minute we could with each other.

Rachal: Yeah, it really depended on the stretch in my opinion. When we didn’t have a lot of other commitments, it was awesome because we actually got to be near each other and do all the things you mentioned. But when there were a bunch of other things we were also trying to do, or circumstances became challenging, then it could definitely be pretty stressful at times. But like you mentioned earlier, it was also easier to work through those tensions when we were in person.

What are your top three pieces of advice for people managing a long-distance relationship (romantic or otherwise)?

Parker: The biggest one, which feeds into everything else, would be to just work extremely hard on your communication. Don’t be afraid to ask almost oddly direct questions to your partner, because it’s more important to figure out what works and what doesn’t and why than it is to avoid asking a slightly awkward question. It makes everything easier if you’re both very clear and aware on what your position is and what your expectations are. Another, as much as it does have its drawbacks, is scheduling things out in advance. When we knew we were going to have time at home together, we’d plan what days we were going to hang out and what movies we’d watch, because even the planning process was fun for us. Of course, leaving some room for spontaneity can be fun as well. Lastly, just both people making the effort. Obviously, we all have bad days where we’re exhausted or overworked, or generally feeling off or cranky. But making the effort not to let those things seep into your relationship, and trying to do something special over the distance occasionally — whether it’s an extra long goodnight text or sending a letter or when they come to visit making a little surprise care package. Small things that are thoughtful can be really helpful. Even not letting yourself get bitter or going to bed angry with the other person; you and I used to have some pretty late talks to make sure we were okay with where things were at after a rough conversation or a rough night.

Rachal: Number one: COMMUNICATE. Please. Clearly. Ask obvious or weirdly direct questions, because the distance makes picking up on nuance more difficult, and there’s a smaller grace area for not communicating clearly. Second, just talk a lot. Be thoughtful and make the other person feel like a priority, even if that means more effort or time than would necessarily be convenient. It’s always worth it to make someone you care about feel valued. Last, I would say really make sure that effort and contributions feel equitable. Particularly with distance, it can be easy for that to start to feel out of whack, and few things damage a relationship quite the same.

I know that was quite a long post, but I hope that was informative or helpful in some way! Distance is a big hurdle in any type of relationship, and one that emerging adults often deal with to a greater degree than other age groups. A huge thanks to my boyfriend for contributing — and for dealing with me for all these years, even with all the miles often between us. What advice have you found most helpful for surviving long-distance relationships? Let me know in a comment below, on Twitter @ohgrowup, or Instagram @oh.grow.up!

(Photo credit goes to the ever-wonderful Megan T.)

Killing the interview

Today’s post is coming to you a little early because later today I will be at a job interview (scary, right?). I am excited and nervous, and it’s much too early to discuss details, but as I was prepping for today, this seemed like a good time to post about some interview tips.

Of course, a lot of the things I’m going to mention are not new, but they are incredibly important. This list is not comprehensive, and there are other useful tips, but these are the ones that have made the biggest difference for me personally.

DO YOUR RESEARCH. Please, please do not go into an interview without having researched the company and the position you are interviewing for. It shows. At the very least, read through the entire (and yes, I do mean entire) company website, as well as studying the job posting. Other good sources include checking out the company on Glassdoor, googling their work, hiring practices, and even interview questions.

DRESS BETTER THAN YOU THINK YOU SHOULD. That means business professional, unless very specifically directed otherwise. As my mom puts it, dress for the boss’s job. Also be sure that your outfit isn’t terribly uncomfortable, so that you’ll be less likely to fidget while you’re interviewing. Finally, iron your clothes. Wrinkles impress no one, and you want the focus to be one what you’re saying, not what you’re wearing.

BE PRACTICAL. This means bring a physical copy of your resume, a pen and paper, put your phone on silent from before you walk in the building, and arrive early. Also, research parking ahead of time — you do not want that to be the thing that hinders you before such an important moment. Fun fact: I once forgot to put on deodorant before an interview, but had planned for enough time beforehand that I could stop at the store and buy a new stick. Allotting extra time matters.

BE NICE. You’re nervous, obviously. But use those nerves to be even kinder to everyone you come in contact with from the time you walk up to the building to the time you leave. Remember names, smile and say thank you, and be gracious. It makes a far bigger impact than you know. (Pro tip: Sending a thank you card or email after an interview is also a great way to follow up and make a good impression.)

BE CONFIDENT. This is the one I’m the least comfortable with, and (in my opinion) the least skilled with, but it’s so important. Good posture, smiling, a firm handshake, and eye contact work wonders. It doesn’t matter if you are nervous as hell and you don’t think for a moment that you can pull it off. This is the the time to lie — to yourself, the interviewers, everybody. Psychologically, pretending to be confident will actually make you more confident, so fake it ’til you make it.

THERE IS A DIFFERENCE BETWEEN EMPHASIZING AND EMBELLISHING. Don’t lie on your resume, or in your interview. Do talk about anything you have done or have skills in that is applicable to the position. If you can’t do something, say that — then add that you’re quick to learn and eager for the opportunity. But if you used that skill in your sophomore year of college internship, then by all means point it out.

BE YOURSELF, JUST GO EASY ON THE JOKES. Most of us have a tendency to be awkward or make weird jokes when we’re nervous — don’t. Instead of channeling your inner Chandler Bing, treat it like Christmas dinner with your significant other’s family: Be yourself, laugh when it’s appropriate, but make sure to be extra mindful of your manners. And if you’re stumped by a question or need a moment, take a moment; better to answer well and more slowly than to rush and botch it.

ASK BACK. Make sure that you have a few questions to ask at the end of the interview. Good standbys are: asking about company culture/core values (especially if you cite them and ask how they play out), the interviewer’s favorite part of working at the company, upward mobility and opportunities to grow, the training process if applicable, and — always last — what the next steps are.

RELAX. I also really suck at this one, but try not to stake your whole future and hope on it. For me, I try to tell myself that if it works out, great, and if not, then it was quality practice for whatever time in the future things do work out. It doesn’t take all the nerves away, but it helps. This may also mean having a drink or a night off ready for afterward.

FINALLY, PRACTICE. Practice interview questions (and more importantly, your responses) with a friend or family member before your interview. You don’t have to stick to a script, but you should have anecdotes that answer a variety of questions and key words in mind for what you want to say when you’re in the room.

Job searching an interviewing can be a grueling process, but eventually it pays off (at least that’s what I tell myself). Progress means risk. At the risk of being incredibly cheesy, ad astra per aspera. Through adversity to the stars.

I hope these interview tips were helpful, and would love to hear what job interview advice you’ve found most helpful. Let me know in a comment below, on Twitter @ohgrowup, or Instagram @oh.grow.up. As always, thanks for reading, and good luck adulting!