Keys to Successful Career Networking (guest post by Greg Osisek)

April 29, 2013

Career Networking

I became a teenage reader of Esquire magazine after an article on urinal etiquette in an issue my father had caught my eye. While the article was a humorous one, it served as a lead-in to pieces on dressing for any occasion, ordering guidelines at business luncheons, and how to network. These skills are what my father would often refer to as “the stuff no one teaches you in college.”

In an article for U.S. News, Catherine Groux writes:

[According to a York College or Pennsylvania Survey], 48.6% of human resource professionals believe that less than half of new employees  show professionalism in their first year on the job. 35.9% said that the percentage of new workers that demonstrate this quality has decreased in the last five years.”

With spring graduation right around the corner, the dismal U.S. job market is soon to be flooded with the “new employees” Groux mentioned: Graduates who went to school believing a Bachelor’s degree would land them a “good job” right out of college. The reality is, however, that while a degree is a requirement for many positions, so too are a professional attitude, appearance, and demeanor. While it may be true that some universities offer courses in entrepreneurship, and most all have business clubs or fraternities, the fact is that no professor, teaching assistant, or academic advisor will provide you with the necessary skills to be a working professional.

So how can a soon-to-be or recent grad learn what it means to be professional?  Here are three tactics I can recommend:

  1. Internships & Student Activities

Two friends of mine interned in Phillip Morris’ New York office while they were undergrads. It was the experience gained in those internships combined with their active roles in student government (and not their average grades) that landed them jobs with that company making $90k+ salaries with amazing benefits and a fantastic relocation package.

Now I’m not saying that “big tobacco” is an industry everyone should look into, nor am I encouraging you to sacrifice your grades for work or activities. What I am advocating, however, is to add extra-curricular activities to your resume that will give you professional experience. Before joining the Underwater Basketweaving Club, take a look at working for your school newspaper or radio station to get experience in advertising and marketing, become a resident assistant to enhance a skill set in management, or take a job at your school library or computer lab if IT and operations is more your thing. Universities offer a way to gain whatever experience you may want – you just need to go out and look for it.

As for internships, try and find ones that will increase your marketability within the workforce (and potentially even the company you intern for.) In today’s economy more companies are willing to take on interns because interns tend to get paid either little or no money. While this can be frustrating for a struggling college student, college is all about “the long game.” While the internships my friends took didn’t pay much at all, they graduated from college with salaries that were some of the best among their peers. When looking for internships my suggestion is not to think “How can I work for no money?” but rather, “How will this add to my skill set when the internship ends?”

And as for the friends I mentioned? They’re both in their mid-thirties. One of them has stayed with Phillip Morris for the past ten or so years, makes six figures and has been a territory manager for the Midwest, Southeast, and Southwest regions. The other went on to work for American Express before leaving to start his own travel business. Not bad for a couple of guys who decided to get involved in their school and take summer internships that didn’t pay them much at the time.

  1. Find a Mentor

If I asked each of you to tell me who your mentor is, it’s safe to say many of you would draw a blank. If, however, I’d ask you who your hero is you’d probably tell me the name of an athlete, musician, or other celebrity. While I too have those types of heroes, one of my biggest heroes is someone you wouldn’t expect,  my college resident director.

I’ll admit it to all of you here that initially I didn’t think about becoming a resident assistant out of some sense of purpose or nobility. I wanted free room & board. In my sophomore year of college, however, I met the resident director of my then girlfriend’s building and was taken aback by his personality. This wasn’t someone who wasn’t focused on “busting” you or yelling at you to obey the rules – this was a guy who made the resident experience fun by planning positive activities and interacting with residents on their level while at the same time teaching lessons and shaping the minds of the students who lived in his building. I knew then that was the type of person I wanted to be like, and when I heard he had an opening for an RA position in his building I applied, interviewed, and landed the job. We’ve remained friends, colleagues, and business partners for the past 13 years, and I still find myself looking to him for professional guidance, advice, and motivation.

A mentor is similar to a hero, but the best way to describe the difference is that a mentor is much more “human.” Heroes tend to be people we regard as god-like: athletes, musicians, movie stars, etc. These people are idolized for what is seen as as their perfect life, wealth, beauty, etc. A mentor is someone who has success or possesses qualities that others may strive for and who is down to earth enough to help lead others down the path they themselves took.

My mentor and I are not in the same industry, but he continues to provide me with professional insights that can cross into any field. Through his guidance I’ve learned how to be a leader and better public speaker, how to develop, manage, and train a staff, and how to handle stressful and emergency situations with ease. The skills he’s helped me develop have become invaluable to my career and I can’t thank him enough.

My suggestion to each of you is to make a list of the qualities you want to improve on or one day have and then make a second list of people you already know who have these qualities. Send them an email or make an appointment to see them and ask if they’d be willing to mentor you. Be open and honest with them. Tell them what you think your positive qualities are, what you’d like to work on, why you’d like them to be your mentor and what you think that mentoring would entail. Most people will be flattered at the idea, but it’s good to have a backup or two just in case scheduling is difficult. Just remember that a mentor is there to guide you. You don’t need to take everything they tell you as “gospel”, but you should try to be as open as possible to the advice they provide you with.

  1. Read

I’m sure that with all the reading assignments you’ve had to endure though college, taking on more seems about as appealing as an axe to the head. This assignment is fun though: Read magazine articles on the topics or industry you’re interested in.

Smartphone and tablet apps like Editions, Flipboard, Pulse, and News Republic make pulling a stockpile of articles on any topic form many different sources easy and (thankfully) free! By far my favorite right now is Flipboard, which allows you to sync your social networks with current news and events and literally “flip” (with your finger) through them quickly. I have sections like sports, technology, business and entrepreneurship in my Flipboard account. As an example, my entrepreneurship section pulls articles from Forbes, Entrepreneur, and YE (Young Entrepreneur) magazines. I can choose to read one, none, or all of them.

The iPad-only app Editions is cool because it takes the same principle as Flipboard, but delivers your daily news in a magazine “edition” format. You’ll be notified when your edition is ready and can read it like any other digital version of a magazine. Very interactive and fun!

It is important to stay well informed. The more you stay informed on the industries you’re interested in becoming a part of, the more you’ll get used to the language people use in those industries and the easier it will be to have meaningful and topical discussions with interviewers in those industries. While there’s no guarantee that any one thing will help you land a job, I can tell you from my experience that employers love to hire people who are knowledge and well informed. An employee who stays up to date on the business sector they’re in stands out in the workplace.

There are many other ways to enhance your professional attitude, appearance and demeanor as well, but the above list is a great way to get started at little to no cost to you other than time. What are some other ways you might enhance your professionalism?  Leave a reply in the comments below!

Greg Osisek resides in the Greater Philadelphia Area and has over a decade of business leadership experience. He is one of the founders and CEO of Valeo Consulting Group (http://www.valeo-consulting.com) and can be reached at greg@valeo-consulting.com, @ValeoGroup, or www.linkedin.com/in/gregosisek for comment.

*** Photo courtesy of John Lee.

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Strategies for Managing Multi-Day Interviews

April 1, 2013

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Many college and university departments include a multiple day interview process in which a candidate meets, interviews with, and sometimes presents to potential supervisors, subordinates, and colleagues over the course of two or more days. I have been on many multiple day interviews over the past 15 years, and I can tell you that they are challenging and tiring. However, there are many strategies and tactics that you can employ in order to be fully prepared and in the right mindset to excel.

1. Remember that You Are Always “On”
From the time a representative from the organization you are interviewing with initially meets you to the time they say goodbye, you will be scrutinized. Being cognizant of your actions during this process is the most challenging part of multiple day interviews. Keep your “game face” on not only during the interviews and presentations, but also during meals and when traveling between meeting venues. Blunders are likely to occur if you take a mental break when you need to be constantly vigilant. You can rest after the process is over.

2. The 7/11 Rule
Seven impressions of a person are made in 11 seconds. That is a very short amount of time to make a good first impression. Even though you may have already spent hours with your host interviewer, each person you meet throughout the day needs to be met with enthusiasm, a positive approach, and respect. Tailor your approach so seven great impressions are made about you in those first 11 seconds.

3. Prepare for Evening Activities
In some cases, you may be invited to be a part of evening activities that staffers are taking a part in such as dinner, drinks, a sporting event, or other entertainment. I always recommend that you participate in these activities if invited no matter how exhausted you are as to not offend your potential employer. This is also a great time to see your interviewers in casual mode to better determine whether or not you actually want to work for and with these people should you be offered the job. Keep in mind that evening activities are a tactic that hiring organizations can use to see what you are really like outside of the question-and-answer sessions. Remember that even though you may be in a casual situation, you are always “on” (refer back to #1).

4. Be Mindful of Interactions with Support Staff
In many cases, administrative assistants and other support staffers can hold the proverbial keys to the kingdom. These potential colleagues may provide valuable opinions to upper management that will impact a decision to hire you. Be sure to not only show respect and humility in your discussions with these people, but positivity as well. Even though you may be a big shot where you come from, especially considering the position you are applying for, this doesn’t mean you should regard the support staff like hired servants.

5. Never Complain or Whine
During the course of your interview process, you will be faced with multiple questions between interview sessions and presentations: How was your flight? Did you find the hotel nice? Was the food good last night? What did you think about the tour of our building? The last thing anyone wants to hear is a negative opinion or whining. You could perform well in interviews, but kill your chances for the job during small talk.

6. Prepare “Thank You” Cards in the Evening
It is crucial that you craft thank you notes for everyone that you met with. Do your best to create a custom note for each person rather than using a boilerplate message. Once I had a multiple day interview in which I had to write nearly 50 thank you notes. I was able to get half of them done on my first evening in the hotel and the next day asked my host if she would be willing to distribute them through the organization’s mail system. Through this process I was able to get my thanks back to the people I met with quickly plus it saved on postage costs. The remaining notes I finished upon returning home that evening because I met with over 20 people on that particular day. Thank you notes could have been crafted ahead of time, but I wanted to be able to incorporate discussion points and other critical information that occurred during meetings with those particular interviewers. This demonstrates a particular savvy that some of your competitors may not necessarily show.

What other strategies and tactics have you used or recommend to those who will be participating in upcoming multi-day interviews? Please share your comments, thoughts, and stories below.


Recognizing Employer “Red Flags” During Interviews

March 2, 2012

Now that the job search season is in full swing with both NASPA’s Placement Exchange (TPE) and ACPA’s Career Central, I thought it would be helpful to provide a perspective that is infrequently discussed. What qualities should candidates look for in potential employers during job interviews at the conventions and on campus? While new professionals and “soon-to-be” graduates are eager to land that new job, I challenge them to thoroughly analyze and assess the people that are doing the interviewing rather than simply doing and saying anything in order to get a job. A career in student affairs is a lifestyle so take time to make sure that you will be working for and with people that can and will provide you with a healthy working environment.

Here are some questions to consider when interviewing:

  • HOW ARE YOU TREATED? This I feel is a snapshot of the climate of how it may be working with these folks (and their department) so it is important to take note of this. Ideally, interviewers should be respectful, positive, and take an interest in what you have to say considering that they invited you to interview. If they do not, this can be an indicator of other issues surrounding these particular staffers and /or the department and institution itself. During one of my first professional interviews at my first ACPA conference many years ago, I had two administrators hassle me when they found out that I was an ice hockey fan. They started making disparaging comments about the sport and placed me in a very awkward and uncomfortable situation even before the actual interview began! As I am sure you would agree, this was an inappropriate way for them to “break the ice” and start the conversation. Interviews should be professional and not glorified hazing rituals. Steer clear of those who treat you poorly.
  • HOW DO THEY TREAT EACH OTHER? Likewise, how do your interviewers treat one another. You can get a better sense of this when on an actual campus interview as there are normally multiple individuals rather than a conference interview that may only have one or two people present. The dynamics of these relationships are a gauge of colleagiality or a lack thereof. Does it appear that they have fun together? Or is there a stiff and regimented type of feel? Or do you see overt instances of a lack of respect among these staffers? I have been on a handful of campus interviews in which individuals bad-mouthed their colleagues and / or supervisors outside of the interview room. Take mental notes of how each of the staffers treat and interact with one another. Also be sure to take notice of those on the search committee who are not interacting with their colleagues and what that may signify.
  • WHO IS DOING THE INTERVIEWING? While there can be a wide variation as to the institutional role of the staffers performing the interview, it is important to note what role these individuals have with the position you are applying for. Even though you would assume that you should be interviewing with the person who would be your future supervisor, this may not be the case. You could be interviewed by an executive (i.e., dean, assistant VP, etc.) someone from human resources, or even someone in the same type of position for which you are interviewing. It should make institutional sense as to why this particular person in their particular role is interviewing you. If not, this could be a clue that something is amiss. Some institutions may simply be interviewing as a formality to meet a paperwork quota when they already have someone in mind for the position. So be on the lookout for this and do not be discouraged if you do not get a second interview.
  • ARE THEY PREPARED? I am empathetic to the fact that job interviewing can be tiring on top of all of the other tasks administrators have to do, but I strongly feel that if candidates should be on their “A-game” so should the interviewers. Poor preparation, off-the-cuff questions, and a semblance of scrambling can be symptoms of larger problems with their department and / or leadership.
  • DO THEY STRAY FROM THE INTERVIEW? While interviewing at a NASPA conference years ago, I had two interviewers at a table who became distracted by maintenance workers attending to a lighting issue on the interview floor. They focused their attention on what was happening with the lighting fix rather than my responses to their questions. By that time, unfortunately, I knew that my interview was essentially over. Needless to say, I did not get a second interview and found that someone from their own institution was offered and accepted the position. At this point in my career, I probably would send a formalized “Thanks, but no thanks” card after having an interview like that. Furthermore, keep an eye out for those who turn the conversation from interview mode to social mode. If they veer way off course from a typical interview protocol, try your best to steer it back to what you have to offer them. If it becomes obvious that they are not interested in what you are selling, feel free to tactfully wrap up the coversation, politely thank them for their time, and dismiss yourself. Do not needlessly waste your time, particularly when there are other potential interviews to schedule.
  • DO THEY OFFER THE JOB? While getting a job offer is the goal of interviewing, being offered a job too early may be a sign of desperation and poor decision-making on their part. You could be walking into a departmental mess rather than a well-oiled machine. While I personally have not heard of any of my colleagues getting an offer at a conference interview prior to a campus visit, I do know folks in other professions who have had offers during the first interview much to their dismay. Be weary of over-eager employers. As the adage goes, fire fast, hire slow.

When it comes to feeling out a potential employer, go with your gut because you are probably correct. If it doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t a good fit. Most student lifers are not formally trained in how to interview and hire a candidate, and this can be very telling during interviews. While I am not suggesting that you completely dismiss an institution in which you got a bad vibe during your initial interview, I recommend that you choose wisely when offered second interviews at multiple colleges or universities as your time, financial resources, and emotional well-being are precious.

Just as much as they are interviewing you, you should be interviewing them as well. Good luck to you in your search!

What are some other “red flags” to look out for when interviewing? Do you have any personal “red flag” interviewing stories that you can share with our readers? Please share your comments below.


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