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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!

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Rejection happens

We’ve all experienced it, likely in a few forms. Whether it was school applications, job applications or interviews, a dating prospect, a leadership position, or something else entirely. You can’t win ‘em all. The trick is learning how to take the L.

I’ll be the first to confess that I’m not awesome with rejection. I got in to the (very few, not moonshot) colleges I applied to, but rejected for most of the scholarships. I got snubbed a few times by guys I was into. I applied for 61 jobs before getting hired at my current position. Knowing that it’s normal doesn’t make it suck any less.

Of course, the more invested someone is in something, the more rejection stings, and I tend to be the kind of person who invests pretty heavily in things that are important to me. Still, I’ve gotten better with it in my emerging adult years, and have found a few tricks that help:

Manage expectations. This is not me saying to be a pessimist, or insist that it won’t happen to try and protect yourself from possible rejection. But it can be helpful to remind yourself that it may not work out. If possible, especially with things like college/grad school and job applications, you can do a little research regarding response and acceptance rates to inform what your odds of success might be. (That being said, if doing that only freaks you out, don’t do it.)

Diversify. Or don’t put all your eggs in one basket, or whatever other pithy sound byte you want to use there. The point is that it is very, very rarely a good idea to put all you’ve got in terms of resources into one chance. By all means, put in all your effort, but don’t call in all your favors or put all your hope in the one thing if you know there’s a significant chance of it not working out.

It usually isn’t personal. Sometimes people are mean, and really do make rejection personal and unnecessarily hurtful. But usually, they’re just saying they don’t think what you’re looking for is the right fit, whether that’s a job possibility, date, or submission for publication. And even if it felt personal, there is zero excuse for you to be a jerk or take the loss out on someone, whether they were involved or not.

If you see a pattern, there might be a problem. The problem could be on your end or the other party’s, but if rejection persists and repeatedly doesn’t make sense, it might be time to re-examine. Maybe you need to change your approach or figure out what thing they’re looking for that you might not have. Maybe the timing is wrong. Though I would caution to never jump to this as a first conclusion, it’s also worth being aware that some level of discrimination may be a factor. Unfortunately, there are always hurdles, but figuring out what they are is the first part of getting past them.

It’s not the end. It might be the end of that opportunity, but you might get another shot at it later on. Even if you don’t, there are other opportunities out there. There are a thousand and one success stories that were preceded by piles of rejection. It might take a lot of tries, but it only has to work once.

What are your tips for handling rejection? Let me know in a comment below, on Twitter @ohgrowup, or Instagram @oh.grow.up! Thanks for reading, and good luck adulting!

(Photo is a free stock photo because it’s a weird thing to visualize.)

Debunking dream jobs

Although I doubt it comes as a surprise, your first job more than likely isn’t going to be your dream job (and if it is, it’s really likely that your dream is going to change). Most emerging adults these days are more than aware of that fact, and a job at all is great, while a job in one’s field is pretty sweet.

My very first “real job” (aka not babysitting) was working at the call center at my college. I worked part time in the evenings calling potential donors, and it sucked. My co-workers were great, but asking a bunch of people who usually didn’t want to be bothered to give money over the phone usually isn’t a recipe for a fun experience. Sometimes people would be kind or chat for a bit, some people would be irritable or angry, and sometimes the computer would accidentally dial a fax machine and an insanely loud tone would blare through the headset. Understandably, I didn’t stay there super long.

My first paid full-time job is the one I’m in now. It is, thankfully, infinitely better than the call center. Pay is good, I like my co-workers, and the work is something I’m both skilled at and decently enjoy. But like any job, it’s not perfect. My desk is in a weird spot and my work is super feast or famine — I’ll be slammed with a bunch of assignments, and then may have nothing come my way for multiple hours. I still do side jobs now and then for the extra income, and I honestly have no idea how long I want to stay in this role.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s a job I’m both happy with and super grateful for — but dream job? Like any other little kid, growing up I went through a host of jobs I thought I wanted to do when I grew up, from waitress to teacher to writer to grocery store bagger (and yes, the last one is for real). But here’s the thing: Just like how what a little kid wants to be when they grow up often changes, your dream job can and probably will change as an adult too.

One of the most noticeable differences in terms of career with today’s emerging adults when compared to generations past is that we don’t start working with one company and then stay there for 40 or 10 or sometimes even 2 years. Today’s culture means each of us will likely change jobs and even career paths multiple times. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average person will hold more than 11 jobs in their lifetime. That’s kind of a lot. But the moral of the story is simple. Don’t freak out if you don’t know what you want to do for the rest of your life. Don’t freak out if your first job isn’t the dream. And don’t freak out if your dream changes over time. (Are you sensing a trend here?)

In his book Outliers, which is about what patterns contributes to success, Malcolm Gladwell explains that there are three necessary characteristics for meaningful work: complexity, autonomy, and a clear relationship between effort and reward.

Not every job out there is going to fulfill all those things for you. And a job that does for one person may not for another; you are perfectly allowed to have your cup of tea. But if you’re still trying to navigate jobs and career paths — which in truth, is most of us — it can be a really helpful tool to see if the work will feel meaningful while being less intimidating (and less potentially misleading) than “Is this what I want to do with the rest of my life?”

Try some stuff you’re good at. If you’re still in college, take classes or do internships in things that interest you. Do research online. If you know exactly what you want to do, awesome. But if you’re still figuring it out, or realize what you want to do has changed, that’s totally okay. I still love bagging my own groceries, but that’s no longer my career aspiration, ya know? I hope that was helpful, and I’d love to hear any feedback you have in a comment below, on Twitter @ohgrowup, or Instagram @oh.grow.up. Thanks for reading, and good luck adulting!

Experience for the inexperienced

Meeting the qualifications for a job isn’t easy. Being actually prepared for the job is even more difficult. And though I will admit that my experience is limited, I’ve found that the big long list people often cite of things that will prepare you for the working world can really be boiled down to a few major things.

So, particularly if you’re feeling like you’re lacking in experience or are just starting out in the emerging adult world, focus on these things:

Interning. Interning somewhere you love is great, but this is really about base experience. Get your foot in the door somewhere. First, future employers will see that you’ve at least put in some office time, or the equivalent for your field. Second, you get to know if you do or don’t like the type of work before you commit to an actual job. Third, you’ll just become more familiar with the working environment and hopefully feel a little less lost once you step into it permanently.

Of course, a part-time or full-time job is also great experience, but in a lot of fields that’s nearly impossible to get without internships. NOTE: This is not the case everywhere, but in lots of places there are legal requirements regarding compensation, usually meaning that if you aren’t being financially compensated you’re obligated to receive school credit. If whomever you’re interning for isn’t on board with either of those, it might be time to consider other options.

Group projects. I know you hate them. I do too. And there was a time when I was naïve enough to look forward to being done with school so that I didn’t have to deal with them anymore. The truth is the rest of your career will be, in some way or another, filled with group projects. In other words, learn how to handle them well. Also keep track of significant experiences in group projects as examples to give during interviews with potential employers.

I’m really fortunate in that my major in college provided a billion and one opportunities, including multiple classes where we had semester-long, large-scale projects. None of the direct results were groundbreaking (though one project did get published!), but the skills I got to hone in those projects have made me much better-equipped to handle myself now. So yeah, they suck, but they can actually pay off.

Hard skills. I can’t emphasize this one enough. It’s great that you know stuff, but employers want to know that you can do stuff. I actually wish this is one that I had been more proactive about, because while I have some hard skills (particularly with Adobe CS), more computer skills (like HTML) would have qualified me for a wider range of positions. I made up for it a bit in this area by having very specific softer skills under my belt, like experience with writing/editing styles, certifications, and work samples — so it can also be worth looking for opportunities like that if they can apply to your field.

The good news is you can always learn hard skills, whereas the window of opportunity on interning and group projects is a bit more limited. But that doesn’t mean you should put it off until post-college or late in the game if you can help it. Find a basic coding class, or take a shop class that relates (even loosely) to what you want to do.

Be nice. This one feels obvious to the point of debating its inclusion, but it’s no joke. Being not only polite, but amiable and gracious, can do just as much to help you land a job as a lot of experience. And guess what? You can gain experience in that literally whenever, and it very well may set you apart from other applicants. Just remember, people hire people who they want to work with.

I hope that was helpful, and I’d love to hear what you’ve found served as the most valuable experience. Let me know in a comment below, on Twitter @ohgrowup, or Instagram @oh.grow.up! Thanks for reading, and happy adulting!

Ghosting is not professional

As a heads up, this one is a bit of a rant, but also a really important lesson. For anyone who doesn’t know what ghosting is, it’s when someone cuts off communication and/or avoids you for unspecified reasons. It leaves the person on the receiving end with a lot of questions and no closure, and is usually seen in the dating world. But, unfortunately, it’s also far too common in the professional world.

Like most people getting started in the workforce, I applied for a lot of jobs. Of the 61 I applied to, I never heard back from 46 of them. To be fair, a small portion of those sent automated emails that said they would only reach out if they were interested, which in a busy world I consider perfectly acceptable. But the majority of those just never responded at all, and frankly it’s a huge pet peeve.

I once got denied in less than 30 minutes for an application I submitted at midnight on a Friday. As much as getting shut down quite so promptly kind of sucked, it felt nice to at least have an answer.

A few of the companies I interviewed with simply never got back to me after I came in for an interview. I was able to follow up with some of them, and at least received an answer that way. One company offered me a position and then fell off the map, despite me calling and emailing (the good news is I wasn’t eager about that job anyway).

To be fair, this isn’t a one-way issue. I have seen and heard about candidates never getting back to potential employers, and it is not a good look. Don’t be that guy.

Of course, this isn’t just an emerging adult issue. People of all ages are both guilty of it and harmed by it. So here’s the moral of the story: If you’re applying for jobs, or dealing with any kind of meeting/appointment/interview, RESPOND. If someone calls or emails you, get back to them at the earliest reasonable opportunity. If you’re waiting on something, even let them know that so you’re at least maintaining communication. If you’re on the hiring end of this type of situation, REACH OUT. A polite copy-paste email telling someone “thanks, but no thanks” takes so little time, and leaves the person on the other end with a much better impression.

If you’ve been communication with someone from either end of this and it’s been a while since they responded to you, follow up. My usual policy is at least two emails and a phone call before I give up, though circumstances differ.

It takes effort but is so much more kind and professional to let someone know that you want to pass on an opportunity or cancel a meeting, rather than have them wondering what went wrong. I also usually end my emails with “I look forward to hearing from you!” as a hint that I’ll be waiting on a response.

What small things have you experienced that convey professionalism? Let me know in a comment below, on Twitter @ohgrowup, or Instagram @oh.grow.up. Thanks for reading, and good luck adulting!

Raining and pouring and such

It has been a very, very big week for me. In the last 7 days: I signed a lease for an apartment, interviewed for and accepted a job I’m actually excited about, and my boyfriend and I are no longer long distance after almost 4.5 years. On top of that, I got to see The Last Jedi on opening night, got a cold, and flew across the country to visit family for a week. So you could say it’s been busy. And while “when it rains, it pours” is a tired cliché, it’s remarkably accurate.

All of the things that have happened in the last week (except for the cold) have been good, but I am definitely still processing all the news. It’s been super surreal, and I have gotten way less sleep than would be recommended — part of the reason for the cold, I’m sure — but overall I’m stoked for the opportunities.

This means that very shortly I’ll be exiting the lives-with-parents-and-works-part-time phase, and entering the independent-and-maybe-bumbling-young-professional phase. Still emerging adulthood, just a new chapter.

This does not mean I have it more figured out, or that I even feel like I’ve got a better grip. (As proof, I got chocolate on my shirt and cream cheese on my pants during my time spent traveling yesterday.) But it does mean I’ll hopefully have some more helpful info to share for the situations that come at this stage.

Of course it looks different for everyone, but as a start, I thought I’d share some of the stats on what it took me to get to this point:

  • 61 job applications over the course of more than 10 months. Applications started out fairly slow because I was purposely biding my time, but 24 were within the last month. Of those 61 applications, I got 9 interviews and 2 offers. That’s about a 15% success rate for getting an interview, and 3% for getting a job offer, or 1 in 7 and 1 in 30, respectively
  • Lots of part-time and piecemeal work. The numbers above don’t count my part-time job as a nanny, freelance work I did, or housesitting and babysitting a few times a month, all within the last 6 months
  • 5 rental spaces toured (having looked at probably 3 times that many online, and I had appointments to tour 2 more when the application was approved for the place I’ll be moving into)
  • 4.5 years of long distance. It’s not a stat, I’m just glad it’s over — and will be putting up a post on how to survive all sorts of long-distance relationships soon!
  • 4 years of college, and 6+ years of experience in my field at 4 different organizations (at one of which I held 5 different positions), plus freelance work
  • About 6 months of saving money to try to have a good financial cushion for moving out
  • Almost 22 years of learning not to give up, and countless people who had my back and helped teach me along the way

There were lots of days when I didn’t think things would work out, or that I might be accidentally going down the wrong path. There were also several times when other people believed I was making the wrong decision despite their well-grounded concerns, and it took time to see how it would play out.

Even still, it’s worth noting that I’m really lucky. The job offer rate I mentioned is just slightly better than what it’s been for most of my friends, I got to not only go to college but graduated in 4 years without significant financial burden, my parents let me live at home rent-free for 8 months after graduating college, I get to splitting living costs with good friends, and landed a well-paying job in my field. I also owe a huge thanks to the people who supported me on the way, so if you’re reading this, thank you.

This is all much more perfect than I had dared to dream possible, let alone anticipate. I know a lot of other people aren’t so fortunate, and want to recognize that just because your path looks different or has had more uphill battles doesn’t mean that you’re on the wrong one. But I do hope that wherever you’re at, you’re able to find some contentment both now and in the next steps.

If there’s something you’d like to see more of on the blog in the coming months, let me know in a comment below, on Twitter @ohgrowup, or Instagram @oh.grow.up! As always, thanks for reading, and good luck adulting!

(Photo credit goes to my incredibly talented friend Vin.)

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!