Ten Top Tips to a Winning Case Interview!

picjumbo.com_HNCK3988Whether you’re studying Business, Engineering, or Computer Science, you may likely have to master the case interview.  Depending on the organization and your interviewer, it may either be the format of your whole internship or after graduation interview, or a part of your overall interview experience. Kudos to our employer partners and presenters as these tips have been adapted from Case Interviewing workshops presented by Liberty Mutual and Vistaprint, as well as from Northeastern University faculty presenters and a panelist who was a student Case Competition Winner.

Here are the Top Ten Tips to Ace Your Case!

1. How long do you have for your case?

Many employers will do a 45 minute or a 30 minute case question. Having an understanding of approximately what you have to work with for time is important.  It’s also absolutely fine to take 45 seconds to collect your thoughts before starting to tackle the question. Moreover, often, it’s expected!

2. What are some of the issues at the core of your case?

Be sure you understand the case. Does it pivot around a new market entry or product launch, a finance, technology, or innovation case, or does it have multiple overlaps to other areas? What framework are you going to use? While professionals sometimes disagree on the importance of deciding on a framework, identifying the business problem(s) at the crux of your case, as well as your hypothesis, helps you determine your strategy and a structure for your answer. This is true whether you are tackling a case as part of an internship interview, or for an awesome after graduation opportunity!

3. Ask questions and take notes.

Your interviewer will often give you the bare bones of a case, sometimes as little information as possible. They may take two to three minutes to provide an overview. You can help yourself to excel by asking good questions. Great questions include:  how are you measuring success? Is it solely profit or are there other metrics or criteria? What are some of the “barriers to entry”? Are the competitors across the street—literally? Do you need capital? What questions are priorities to ask versus optional? Asking questions, determining shared assumptions, and eliciting clarifying information demonstrates strong analytical skills. Expect some push back and be prepared to support your answers.

4. Put some math around it!

While your analytical skills are undoubtedly super, you’ll impress your interviewer more if you back up your answers by showing strong quantitative skills. Starting with a conceptual understanding of the case is fine. However, you can be sure your prospective employer is looking to see if you can do the math!

5. Show your strategic thinking abilities.

Case interviews allow applicants to shine when they can use their strategic thinking skills to adapt and change gears quickly in analyzing business situations.  Flexing your strategic thinking skills is important, no matter what type of interview you are on and it’s absolutely critical on internship or after graduation case interviews. While some questions are more brainteasers (“how many balloons would it take to fill this interview room”—a real question asked of an applicant!), the case questions we’re focusing on here are complicated with a lot of moving parts (“we’re launching a new water filtration product fall 2015 in xyz country which is a new market for us…”). Whether it’s a brainteaser, a case about a new product in a new market, or something completely different, let your prospective employer see the logic behind your thought process, as well as what solutions you arrive at. Show them how you break the case problem down.

6. Think holistically about the problem.

Although your case might be focused in one area, for example, finance, being able to “connect the dots” to other functions like marketing, supply chain, technology or innovation management, demonstrates your intellectual capital and versatility, as well as the value you would bring to that prospective employer. It illustrates your ability to anticipate how different choices may have different impacts and may change the recommendations you select. Thinking cross-functionally will allow you to showcase your abilities and provide a stronger answer.

7. It’s not always about the right answer, 

it’s about how you frame the analysis. It’s about making a connection with the interviewer and being the right person, not just for the job, but for the team and organization. It’s about being the professional you are, especially under the pressure of a case. In some cases there is no one right answer.  If it becomes apparent that you made a mistake, don’t panic! Admit your mistake. Stay focused and calm under pressure. Don’t assume you’ve lost the job. Employers tell us that many candidates who have made a mistake will still land that offer.

8. Do what helps you create the right space to be in before the interview.

Clear your schedule. Do you need to go to the gym? Do you need to review your notes? Don’t go to the interview hungry and expect your best brainpower. This is great advice given by one of my panelists during a case prep workshop. Implement what works for you and throw out the rest.

9. Picture yourself confident and successful.

What you can control, control, and release the rest. There is lots of ambiguity around an interview. You can’t prepare for everything so prepare as best as possible and then create the conditions of your success by relaxing into the interview, enjoying the intellectual challenge of the case, and staying confident that you’ll be successful.

10. Use Your Resources!  See: Case Interviews on the Career Development website which has Interactive Cases, a YouTube Case Interviewing channel, links to company websites that feature case interviews, and other resources!  Check with your professors! Glassdoor is another great resource for checking out types of questions candidates before you have been asked at that company. Leverage all your resources.

Now go out and crush your next case interview!

Ellen Zold Goldman is Senior Associate Director here at Career Development and liaison to the D’Amore McKim School of Business. She loves all things international, as well as all things Business.

First Impressions, Or How Job Interviews Are Like Tinder

tinder gifSwipe right or swipe left? Most users of the dating site Tinder take mere seconds to decide whether to connect with a potential partner or to banish that person to the reject pile.  Would you be surprised to learn that it doesn’t take a potential employer much longer than that to form a strong impression of a job candidate? Being invited to interview for a job means that you and just a few other candidates were chosen, possibly out of hundreds of other applicants, to make your case in person.  Given this chance, it’s important for your in-person performance to be as flawless as you can make it. And that begins, and unfortunately sometimes ends, with your first impression.

gross cher reactionIn one study, 33% of hiring managers surveyed said that they knew within the first 90 seconds of an interview whether or not they would hire a candidate. In the same study, conducted by Monster.com, 65% of bosses said that appearance could be a deciding factor when two of the candidates being interviewed are otherwise very similar.  Appearance includes not only clothing but hairstyle, hygiene, makeup and jewelry.

What you wear must fit well and be clean and in good repair, including your shoes. Select and examine your outfit before the interview so if cleaning or mending are in order, you will have time to do it.  If you’re planning to wear something new, make sure you remove the tags and stitching in the pockets or pleats. Be conservative with makeup unless the job you’re after requires big floppy shoes and a fake red nose.  Likewise, jewelry should be unobtrusive except if the norm for your industry says otherwise. Regardless of industry, skip the cologne or aftershave; you have no way of knowing whether any of your interviewers have allergies or sensitivities. If you smoke, you may not be aware of the tobacco smell clinging to your coat, clothing or hair, but your interviewer will be, and most likely will not be impressed.

Knowing what to wear can be tricky. Your goal is to dress like you belong in the organization where you’re interviewing, preferably on the more formal side. For consulting, financial services and legal positions, that means wearing a suit for both women and men.  In other fields, it is up to you to do a little sleuthing to find out what is the norm. You may look crisp and professional wearing your suit, but if you’re meeting with people in a much more casual environment, they could take one look at you and decide that you don’t understand their culture. Dressing up may not score in your favor if it isn’t what other employees do, since an interview is largely about determining fit.

When you walk into the interviewer’s office, be aware of your posture. Convey a confident attitude by standing up straight and walking purposefully. A natural-looking smile is also important, as are a firm handshake, a heartfelt “Pleased to meet you” and good eye contact.  Practice these things with a friend until they are second nature.

If this seems like a lot of work for the first 90 seconds of your interview, don’t forget that without that great first impression – swipe left! – your well-prepared interview talking points may fall on deaf ears.

Author Susan Loffredo began counseling NU students well before the iPhone was invented and owns socks that are older than the class of 2015. Email her at s.loffredo@neu.edu.

Image Source: Tinder Gif; Cher Gif

What should YOU be asking in an interview?

notesLet’s face it — Interviews are nerve-racking. Everyone knows how to dress and that they need to research the company. We’ve all probably practiced answering typical interview questions, too! But what questions should you be asking when the tables turn and the interviewer says, “Now, do you have any questions for me?”

Here are my go-to questions and why I ask them in every interview:

Can you tell me about the team I’ll be working with?

It’s great to know about your coworkers, there’s no doubt about that. This question is mainly geared to give a better understanding of team structure and dynamics. However, the use “I’ll” shows a confidence in your ability to get the position and crafts an image in the interviewer’s mind of you working in that role.

What opportunities are there for growth?

Whether you’re a co-op student or interviewing for a full-time job, nobody wants a stagnant position. From this questions, you can discover how you can move up within a company or what additional responsibilities you can take on. This question also tells the interviewer that you are eager to work and to grow as an employee!

How does the company measure success?

While this isn’t the most common question to ask, it’s one of my favorites. Success is key to any business and knowledge of how the position can add to that is key.

What is the company culture like?

This is, without a doubt, my #1 question to ask. On paper, the position could be perfect you, but are you really the best fit for the company? Really take their answer into consideration, because company culture can affect your happiness, work, and success.

Preparing for a Case Interview

art of interviewing

What is a case interview?

As you prepare for co-ops, graduation, and beyond, it is likely you’ll come across case interview questions during the hiring process. These are questions that pose hypothetical problems to the interviewee to identify their ability to gather new information quickly, process the information, and make an informed decision. They are most often associated with management consulting and investment banking interviews, but can also be used by tech companies (like Vistaprint), to assess critical thinking skills for a variety of roles.

Here are a few examples:

How many bars of soap are used each week across the world?

How many eggs are sold annually in the United States? (This was asked of me during an interview with an advertising agency in Boston.)

If you owned a flying car company, how much would you charge per car?

How is a case interview different from a behavioral interview?

Case interviews differ from behavioral interview questions in that they are specifically designed to examine your thought process, while behavioral interview questions assess personality traits and past experience. Case interviews focus on what you’re able to do now instead of what has been completed in former roles. Being put on the spot this way can be intimidating for the interviewee, but there is a wealth of resources available that can prepare candidates to successfully navigate case interviews.

Case Interview Preparation Tips:

  • Practice
    • Just like anything else, getting better at case interviews requires practice. Case in Point is an excellent resource, as is good ol’ Google.
    • Keeping a notebook with your practice case notes in it is a good way to identify areas to improve and provides practical review material as an interview date approaches.
  • Focus on the Skills Needed for the Position
    • There are many different types of case interviews (marketing sizing, profitability, brain teasers, etc. – see a good list) that can be asked by a hiring company. It’s important to consider the type of position being sought when preparing for a case interview question.
    • A company looking to fill a financial analyst role is more likely to pose M&A, cost cutting, or profitability questions, while brain teasers are often used during engineering interviews. Know what to expect going in!
  • Research the Company
    • Before every interview it’s always a good idea to search for “[company name] interview questions” to see how other interviews been structured for past candidates. This can help identify what type of case questions are often posed based upon the position being sought.

Tips for During the Interview:

  • Confirm the Desired Answer
    • Before starting, it is critical to confirm with the interviewer what the desired answer looks like. You do not want to reach the end of the case and realize the answer is not what the interviewer is looking for.
  • State Assumptions Clearly
    • Stating assumptions clearly and out loud will allow the interviewer to follow your train of thought throughout the case. This is what they are most interested in; they want to know how you think.
  • Ask Questions
    • Asking questions demonstrates your ability to gather and digest new information – a key skill for any role.
    • Sometimes important information regarding the case is initially withheld and is only revealed if asked – so make sure to ask!
  • Simplify (and Check) Your Math
    • Expect there to be mathematical elements to a case interview, but don’t get bogged down with it. Round where it makes sense and, when assuming variables, use easy numbers. Be comfortable with quick “back of the envelope” calculations and be sure to watch those decimal points.
  • Arrive at an Answer
    • Always be approaching the desired answer! It is easy to get sidetracked during a case. Always. Be. Closing (the case).

Additional Resources:

Kyle Risley is currently a Senior Marketing Associate within our Organic Search team. Kyle has been with Vistaprint for 1 ½ years and is also a Northeastern alumni who studied Marketing and minored in Economics.

8 tips to feel confident, articulate, and in control at your next interview


This guest post was written by NU high tech MBA alumna, Charis Loveland. 

Growing my career in the male-dominated high tech industry has prepared me for one of the more stressful aspects of the job lifecycle: interviewing. Although I’ve certainly suffered from my own bouts of impostor syndrome, especially since I entered the technical field from a non-traditional background of English and publishing, I have been able to overcome this and hone my interviewing persona thanks to a lot of helpful advice. I’ve also gleaned tips about confidence, posture, and presentation from role models like Sheryl Sandberg, Grace Hopper, and Duy-Loan Le (who delivered the best keynote I’ve ever seen at the Grace Hopper 2010 conference). I enjoy sharing what works for me by coaching my friends and colleagues in the hopes that it can help them in their next interview or stressful job situation. Anecdotally, these tips seem to work well for all industries, not just technology. I hope that you will find them useful, too!

  1. Be engaged. Let your personality and enthusiasm for the job shine through. Make sure that you take a couple of notes so that you can put an impressive detail or two in your thank you note, but don’t take so many that you are not making as much eye contact as you need.
  1. Prepare. To borrow a phrase from the 90s, “duh,” but hear me out. If a recruiter or potential manager calls to discuss business, and you’re in the car or otherwise engaged, ask to call back at a more convenient time. You don’t want to be responding to detailed salary or other questions without your head completely in the game, or you run the risk of making a costly mistake. Being prepared also means that you know to ask if the job title is negotiable, and that you fully understand the level at which you are entering the organization. Confusing and varying titles mean different things at different companies. If you don’t have this discussion, then you run the risk of entering an organization at a lower title and pay scale than you realize.
  1. Be ready to formulate articulate answers. I value the advice I received from my online moms’ forum about the right way to answer a question: Stop, listen, breathe, then speak. This has the two-fold benefit of giving yourself a chance to collect your thoughts and prepare a reply while minimizing the number of times you use “like” or “um.” This allows you to present the best, most polished version of yourself.
  1. Ask intelligent, relevant questions. A job interview is a two-way street, and you need to ensure that the company and role are as good a fit for you as you are for them. Transcend the hackneyed “what’s a typical day like?” and really dig deep for questions that will help you better understand the role and company culture. Feel free to ask what the interviewer likes and dislikes about the group, or what advice an outside consultant might give the company.
  1. Be aware of your body language. If you haven’t seen Amy Cuddy’s touching TED Talk, do it now. Confident body posture is an outstanding way to show your potential employers that you are professional and prepared. Before an interview, I practice a power pose for about 2 minutes by raising my arms overhead, and breathing deeply. This is best done in a bathroom stall for privacy’s sake.
  1. Take time to visualize. My friend, who just used this tip to get her new job as a professor, calls this my Jedi mind trick. I got this tip from a couple of guys on the sales team at my publishing company. It’s so simple, yet so powerful. Just before your interview, make eye contact with yourself in the mirror and give yourself a pep talk. Mine goes something like: “You deserve to be here. You are articulate, intelligent, and confident. You are going to [fill in the blank with desired outcome: get a second interview, run a successful meeting, get offered the job].” To accomplish this, I arrive at an interview at least 15 minutes early and wait for the bathroom to clear out, or do the technique in my car’s sunshade mirror. I combine this with tip #5 for maximum impact. I realize that this idea sounds so corny, but just try it. Everything in me changes after I give this little talk. I stand up straighter, act with more conviction, and feel professional and together. You can put on this “fake it ‘til you make it” attitude in almost any situation: a big meeting, a first date, or any other potentially stressful encounter.
  1. Close the deal. I always end my interview with this question or a variation on it. “I really want this job. If you have any concerns or questions about my candidacy, I would very much appreciate an opportunity to address them with you before you make your final decision.” This is effective in two ways: you express your willingness to accept the role given the right offer, plus you have a chance to counter any potential roadblocks to getting that offer.
  1. Negotiate. Once you have an offer for a job, be sure not to neglect the last, critical step. Think creatively about what is important to you: salary, benefits, vacation time, flexibility, stock options, travel and training opportunities, tuition reimbursement, anything else that has value for you. Realize that the way you prioritize these criteria in your 20s may be very different from the items that you value in your 40s. It’s normal that you would seek out travel opportunities in your 20s, for example, but might not welcome frequent travel later in your career.

Getting to Yes and Difficult Conversations are two excellent books that can help you to maximize your next job offer. For a bulletproof way to approach your next salary negotiation, check out the Get a Raise Prep School program and its sister site Work Options, which offers several templates for negotiating telecommuting, a higher salary, and other flexible options. Founder Pat Katepoo’s professional writing and solid research will enable you to effectively prepare and confidently negotiate the aspects of your job that you value the most.

This post contains affiliate links. For more information, visit my disclosure policy.

CharisAs a magna cum laude English major at Bates College, Charis Loveland never expected to find herself managing global projects at EMC. But she developed a passion for technology and its ability to transform the world while editing articles teaching SAP software. After leaving the publishing industry to work for SAP for 5 years, Charis joined EMC in 2012. She graduated with honors from Northeastern University’s high tech MBA program in 2013. Follow her blog and find Charis online at http://about.me/charisloveland, @charislove, and https://www.linkedin.com/in/charisloveland.


Image source: Interviewing Image via tjpeel.com via Nick at tjpeel.com; Bio pic via author’s father, Chuck Campbell

Call Me Maybe: 5 Phone Interview Strategies

Honey Boo Boo hates phone interviews image source: http://giphy.com/gifs/TFMoOxjnAAMbm

Honey Boo Boo hates phone interviews
image source: http://giphy.com/gifs/TFMoOxjnAAMbm

This guest post was written by Career Development intern and aspiring Career Counselor, Mike Ahern.

Phone interviews are becoming increasingly popular as hiring managers look for new ways to separate desirable candidates from the rest of the pack. Throughout multiple job searches as an undergraduate and graduate student I’ve relied on a few intentional strategies to carry my candidacy through to the second round. Here are 5 strategies to make sure you have a successful phone interview.

1. “Dress for the job you WANT …”

Just because the interviewer can’t see you, doesn’t mean you should take the call in your pajamas. Studies have shown that the type of clothing you wear can greatly impact how you perceive yourself in any given work space or environment. Putting on your business clothes will put you into a professional mindset and better prepare you for the interview. Wearing workplace attire can even correct posture, in turn altering how you sound over the phone. So take the extra time to pick out a professional outfit and dress for the job you want.

(Note: this doesn’t mean you should show up on your first day dressed as an astronaut…)

2. “Before anything else preparation is the key to success”

For any type of interview, whether over the phone, on Skype, or in person, you should be spending a significant amount of time preparing. A large part of efficiently preparing for a successful interview will be anticipating thetypes of questions you will be asked. Be prepared to answer a variety of questions and have answers with specific examples. Take notes on ruled paper or better yet, a personal favorite, utilize note cards. There’s no rule stating that you can’t have your note cards spread out around the desk while you are on the phone. Just be sure not to sound like a robot if you have to read off of them.

3. “Research is what I’m doing when I don’t know what I’m doing”

The phone interview can be a great opportunity to show your level of enthusiasm and knowledge about the position or the industry it is in. Be sure to take the initiative to research the company. How many employees does it have? How has it been performing? Are there any new programs or products the company/business/organization is releasing? Showing that you understand the trends and status of the company will show the hiring manager your level of understanding about the business and that can help push your application into the second round pile.

4. “The only stupid question is the question that is never asked.”

At the end of practically every interview the employer will ask if there are any questions you want to ask. Think of this as one more opportunity to leave a lasting impact. Ask about that new project you researched. Ask what skills the ideal candidate would have (I’ll personally use this one then try to tie my experiences to what the employer is looking for) Simply replying “No I don’t have any questions” doesn’t show a lot of enthusiasm and leads to a missed opportunity to wrap up the conversation in a meaningful way.

5. “Practice… We’re not talking about a game… we’re talking about Practice…”

You can increase your chances of having a great phone interview before you even pick up the phone; through practice. This can be one of the most over looked strategies for prepping for any kind of interview. Taking the time to sit with a friend and parse out possible questions you might encounter will get you in the right mindset. If you can’t find a willing participant to interview you, try utilizing a smartphone to record your answers to preselected questions. Play back the tape and notice how you respond. Do you say “um” a lot? Did a few of the questions make you pause and think? Consider practice as an invaluable strategy to increase your chances of sounding professional on the phone.

Overall these five strategies will help set you up for a successful phone interview. As always keep in mind that as a current undergraduate, graduate or alumnus you have innumerable resources at your fingertips, courtesy of the Northeastern University Career Development office.

Mike Ahern is a Career Development Intern at Northeastern University in Career Development. Currently he is pursuing a graduate degree in Higher Education in Student Affairs at Salem State University. Connect with Mike on LinkedIn or on Twitter @MIkeAAhern 





When My Dream Job Wasn’t

Photo Source: idaamerica.org

Photo Source: idaamerica.org

This guest post was written by BU and NU alum, Lindsey Trione. She now works in Greek Life at Texas State University. 

When I was looking for my first post-grad job I interviewed a lot…I mean a whole lot. I was applying to anything and everything that was close to what I wanted to do. I wasn’t picky about the size of the organization, the location, or even the living arrangements (in my field sometimes you get an apartment as part of your compensation). I just wanted a job.

Then along came my dream job. It was doing EXACTLY what I wanted to do for an award winning organization located in a part of the country that I preferred. I knew other people who had worked there and saw all of the great things they were doing, things that I wanted to be doing, and the national recognition they were receiving for their efforts. When I mentioned the posting to my mentor she told me about how highly sought after this position was and how she interviewed there but didn’t get the job. Even my parents, who don’t really understand my field, knew that this was a job I absolutely had to apply for. As you can imagine, my mind was racing “How awesome would it be if I got this job?”, “What could this do for my career?” and “I’m totally going to nail this interview!”

Finally, I managed to calm myself down enough to fill out the application. After what felt like weeks of waiting with no results I finally received that golden email asking to set up a phone interview. This was it! I made it past the first cut! I was ruthless in my preparations for the phone interview. I did practice interviews with friends, asked for advice on how to be successful in a phone interview, I even spent my commute answering questions I posed myself as if I were being interviewed in my car!

The best part was, once the phone interview happened I totally nailed it! My phone call was with my potential supervisor and I really had a connection with him. We discussed his organizational goals, my career goals, and my thoughts on best practices while still managing to have what felt like a real conversation. I ended that call even more sure that this was the place I wanted to work.

When I was invited to an on-site interview I was beyond ecstatic, like jumping up and down screaming ecstatic. I was going to actually visit this great place and meet even more people, people who could potentially be my future co-workers. However once I got there for my interview things started to feel off, the great connection I had made over the phone was almost non-existent.

The day started with a group interview with the staff I would be working directly with. I remember being asked how I would have handled a “hypothetical” situation. In my response I spoke of the best practices that were discussed during my phone interview and how I would use them to handle the situation. When I finished my answer I was met with silence and instead of following up they just moved on. My interview with organizational stakeholders wasn’t much better, except instead of awkward silences I was met with awkward jokes that I had no clue how to respond to.  Overall, the entire day was uncomfortable.

Afterwards I tried to convince myself that I was just really nervous or maybe I put this place on a pedestal with unrealistic expectations. Was I reading too much into their responses, or in some instances, their lack of a response? Slowly I started to realize that it wasn’t because I was nervous, or had unrealistic expectations, it was because this organization wasn’t a good fit for me. I learned that the job search isn’t just about who can advance your career and give you networking opportunities, it’s about where you feel like you can fit in. When I wasn’t offered the job I was actually relieved because I knew that I wasn’t going to accept the position if it were offered. I could no longer see myself working there, and those amazing opportunities I was looking forward to no longer seemed so amazing.

My search ended up lasting a lot longer than I thought it would and maybe that was because I became pickier about where I interviewed. When I did find my current position, I knew I had found the place that I fit in. I saw several people who took the first job offered to them and ended up leaving after less than a year; I’m happy to report that I’m not a part of that group. I love my job and I love my organization. Maybe it wasn’t what I had originally thought would be my dream job, but I can’t imagine being anywhere else.

Originally from North Carolina, Lindsey earned a Bachelor of Science in Hospitality Administration from Boston University and a Master of Science in College Student Development and Counseling from Northeastern University. She found her dream job as a Greek Affairs Coordinator at Texas State University in sunny San Marcos, Texas. When she isn’t working with her students she can be found with her nose in a good book or playing with her dog Brett. Follow Lindsey on Twitter @LMTrione.



Tell Me About Yourself… But Not Really

image source: cartoonstock.com

image source: cartoonstock.com

This post was written by Amy Stutius, Career Advisor at Northeastern University Career Development.

In everyday life, if someone asks you to tell them about yourself, it’s usually because they want to get to know you as a person and learn about your interests, hobbies, and passions.  So if I asked you to “tell me about yourself,” what would you want to say?  Would you tell me that you grew up in California, love to surf, like cookie dough ice cream, and just came back from a family trip to Paris?  That would all be pretty interesting, and a good conversation starter if I asked you that question while we were waiting for a treadmill to open up at the Marino Center, or if we were taking a break from studying for finals.  But what if you were coming in to interview with me for a co-op, internship, or a job that you really wanted?

You response might help me realize what a fun and unique person you are, and that maybe we’d have something in common as friends, but it wouldn’t tell me anything about why I should hire you, and why you’d be a better fit for the job over any of the other candidates I’m interviewing.  Remember, you’re out there trying to compete for, and secure, a great job and the way to do that is to market yourself, not as a terrific and friendly person with an interesting childhood and hobbies, but as a terrific and friendly person who can do this job better than any of the other candidates waiting in the wings!

So how do you master your answer to this question or some variance of it?  Think it through and then PRACTICE, PRACTICE, PRACTICE.  You’ll need to answer this question in some form during your interview, whether the interviewer comes out and asks you to “tell me about yourself,” or if they say “what brings you in here today.”  Even if they don’t ask you the question that directly, it’s great for you to try to weave your proposed answer somewhere into the interview because the whole point of the answer is to clearly and articulately relay a bit about your background and experience, and why that makes you a good fit for this position and this company.

back to the future poster

image source: meansheets.com

When you’re thinking through your response, I like to take the “Back to the Future” approach (part 1, that is). You want to start in the present, then travel to the past, and then head back to the present and into the future.

So by starting in the present, you’re going to be talking about your current status, namely, your class year, and major, and anything else relevant that’s going on right now.  Next you’ll travel with your interviewer to the past, where you’ll share a few RELEVANT snapshots of some experiences you’ve had that tie in well to the job you’re interviewing for.  These could be co-ops you’ve done, academic projects you’ve worked on, and/or any research you’ve completed.  After you discuss those all-important RELEVANT experiences, you want to travel with your interviewer back to the present and start heading into the future, meaning that you’re going to very briefly find a way to explain how, through those experiences and your coursework, you’ve developed the necessary skills to make a strong contribution in this position, which especially interests you because….[and here’s where you fill in exactly why you’re so very interested in this position at this company!]

Sound good?  So next time someone asks you to “tell me about yourself” in an interview, remember that they’re looking for you to tell them about yourself in a way that’s relevant to, and focused on, why you’re a great fit for the position and the company.  Save any cute childhood stories and discussion of your favorite ice cream flavors for some friendly banter once you get the job!

Amy Stutius is a Career Advisor at Northeastern University.  She practiced as an attorney before transitioning to higher education.  Email her at a.stutius@neu.edu.

It’s Nothing Personal, Just Business


This post was written by Derek Cameron, Associate Director of Employer Relations in Cooperative Education and Career Development.

It doesn’t take Luca Brasi or an ill-fated thoroughbred to successfully negotiate a job offer. As a matter of fact, most of the negotiating takes place from the first point of contact and candidates can improve their lot with just a little bit of homework.

“We’re going to invest a lot of money and time into this person so there’s a lot of risk involved”, says Brenda Mitchell ‘92, Senior Recruiter for Criteo, a Paris-based market leader in targeted online advertising, with a new office in Boston.  “When I’m talking with a candidate I’m looking for their value proposition, right from the first point of contact, so I know what compensation range they fall into. A student graduating college hasn’t really proven themselves in the workplace, like someone who’s been on the job for 2-3 years, so I look for the value they can bring in right from school. If I see a student has completed 2 co-ops or 3-4 internships I know they are going to take less time to ramp up and that’s important when bringing someone on board.”

When an employer picks up the phone or emails a candidate about an opportunity they’ve determined that there is value in reaching out to that person.  From that point on they’re trying to determine three essential qualities:

  • What skills and experience can the candidate can offer?
  • How quickly can they offer it?
  • How do they fit, personality-wise?

This comes in the form of a variety of tools such as: case interviews, behavioral questions, competency tests, team exercises or coding challenges. If a candidate has done their homework on the company and assessed their skills and experiences this goes a long way in making it a smooth process.  Making it even smoother is if the candidate has also done the necessary salary research.

“I like to soft-close the candidate along the way and will ask them up front what type of research they have done to evaluate themselves in terms of compensation.  If they state a number at the beginning that seems much higher than what the current range is I’ll ask them how they came to that figure and have them explain it in detail.”   If a candidate has done their homework ahead of time they should be able to provide metrics and specific examples to justify the number and in many cases this proves successful.

Considering the wealth of salary information available online it’s never been easier to run the numbers and get familiar with how much a position, in a particular market and company is going to pay, so by the time an offer is made there shouldn’t be any great surprises. Even if the employer hasn’t broached the subject in the first couple of discussions it’s still important to do that research early.

Another important takeaway in doing this, is it also gives the candidate critical insight about how the organization may values its employees.  If an employer makes an offer far lower than research indicates or the entire benefits package looks shoddy then it could be a reflection of what the company may be like to work for.  “A poor offer package is a good indication of a poor company,” shares Jon Camire,  VP of Risk Modeling at Unum Group, a Tennesse-based disability insurance company. “A company that values its employees is going to offer the best benefits it can so if you’re getting a competitive package then it’s a pretty good indication the company cares about its employees.”

If you’re going through the interview process or think you’re about to receive an offer don’t forget that Career Development is also here to help you.  Feel free to set up an appointment with a career advisor or if you’re pressed for time come on in during walk-in hours.

Just remember:  It’s nothing personal, just business.

Derek Cameron is a member of the Employer Relations team and when he’s not helping develop jobs then he’s either out walking his dog or working the grill.

The Informational Interview: The Secret Weapon of Job Searching

This guest post was written by Katie McCune, a Career Development Assistant at Northeastern University Career Development. She’s also a Career Assistant at MIT.

Ever heard of an informational interview? If you’re anything like me when I was an undergraduate, this concept is drawing up a big, huge question mark in your thought-bubble. If you don’t want to be in the successful job-search club, then this is your queue to go back to wondering why you didn’t come up with these college hacks (because let’s be real, they are pretty awesome). If, however, you would like to join the pay-check earning, “look at me, I got a job” club, read on.

Yes!!!! source: memegenerator.net

source: memegenerator.net

So, what the heck is an informational interview?

An informational interview is an interview in reverse. Instead of an employer interviewing you, you meet with somebody in an industry you’re interested in learning more about and interview them. And…you got it…the whole point is to gather information. Think of all you could learn if you had 30 minutes with the CEO of your favorite company, or anyone in your favorite company for that matter! Sometimes all you have to do is ask for their time.

But what should I ask in an informational interview?

There are no right or wrong questions to ask, so ask whatever would be helpful for you. Want to know how to break into the field? Ask it! Want to know how important creativity is at the organization, or what the day-to-day work looks like, or the work/life balance, or…? Ask away!  You can ask about the person’s own background, the company that person works for, or the field in general. There’s only one rule: don’t ask for a job. I repeat, DO. NOT. ASK. FOR. A. JOB! It’s sort of like dating. How awkward would it be if on your first date your lucky companion asked you if you would marry them? Whoa, slow down buddy, we just met. Same deal with an informational interview. Don’t ask for a job on your first meeting, it’s not going to work.

If I can’t ask for a job, then how does an informational interview help me get one?

You’ve probably heard that networking is the number one way that people find jobs. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics in 70% of people found their job through networking. Informational interviews are just like going to a networking event in that they are an opportunity for you to make a first professional impression and help you get the inside scoop on what could make you a successful candidate (but one-on-one meetings are a lot less intimidating for my fellow shy networkers out there). That way, when you apply for a job at the company where you did an informational interview, they don’t just know you as a one-page resume, but they know your face, they know more about your story, and (hopefully) you made a great impression on them so you’re already ahead of other candidates. Better yet, they may even tell you about jobs in the “hidden job market,” or the ones that are never posted.

Case in point, I was looking to get into career counseling, but I didn’t have any experience in the field. I did an informational interview with a career counselor and asked her if there was anybody else she recommended I talk to. I followed her recommendation and did an informational interview with her contact. In this second interview the very last question I asked was, “Do you know of any opportunities for me to test the waters before I make a long-term commitment to this field?” Yep, in fact she did. Northeastern’s Career Development was looking for interns, so I applied to the position that I wouldn’t have known about otherwise. And voila, now I’m writing this blog, and the woman that I did an informational interview is my supervisor. See, I haven’t been lying to you, this really works!

The Secret Weapon of Job Searching!

Here in Career Development we have gotten a lot of great feedback from students and alumni alike that these interviews have helped develop themselves as professionals and learn about new opportunities. They’re the secret weapon of job searching because often times, people don’t think to do them as part of their search, but they can be oh-so-powerful. But I hate keeping secrets, so check out Career Development’s resources on how to conduct informational interviews, and help me spread the word by sharing your success stories with us, your friends, and anybody else who is looking for a job! Happy interviewing.

Katie is a Career Development Assistant at NU with a background in sociology. A teacher at heart, she loves leading workshops–in addition to the career workshops, she’d gladly teach you how to hula-hoop, how to organize your house/office/desk, or how millennials can make great employees. Email her at k.mccune@neu.edu.