How Do I Answer This Interview Question: How many Rubik’s Cubes fit inside an airplane?

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Umm wait what? I thought this was a job interview, not a test of my knowledge about the iconic puzzle cube invented in 1974. What in the world does this interview question have to do with measuring my ability to do the job in question? More than likely, the interviewer doesn’t even know the right amount of cubes that fit inside the plane, and probably doesn’t care to know. In reality the final answer isn’t so important; rather the interviewer is more concerned with how you got to that answer! This kind of question may be asked to gauge your problem solving ability and how well you deal with vague situations.

There are a lot of unknowns in this question, and that is the point. If you are presented with a situational question like this, clarify! Ask questions about the problem to help you better understand the answer you are about to give. Thinking “out loud” (sorry introverts!) in this setting will allow the interviewer a peek inside your thought process so they can follow along as you solve the problem. Remember, the math, and final answers may not always add up for this type of question and that’s ok!

Example:

You: Before I give an answer I feel is correct, I’d like to ask a few clarifying questions. What model airplane is this?

Interviewer: It is a Boeing 747.

You: Great, and could you tell me more about this 747? Is it fully loaded with passengers and luggage? How many seats does it have? Is it totally gutted and we are just filling the empty shell?

Interviewer: This 747 is totally empty. There is no luggage, passengers or seats in the plane. For this problem we are curious about how many cubes can fit in the hollow shell of the 747.

You: Perfect, can you tell me more about the cube? Is it a standard sized cube? Could you give me the specific dimensions of the cubes that we will be filling the plane with?

Interviewer: Sure, the Rubik’s Cubes are 3x3x3 inches.

You: Fantastic! So to summarize, we are assuming that this 747 is empty, with no people luggage or furnishings inside, and the volume of each cube is 27. With this knowledge, I my best estimate would be roughly 150,000 Rubik’s Cubes inside the 747.

And there you have it! Just remember that these types of questions are less concerned with the actual answer, but more about how you arrive at the answer. Happy interviewing!

Mike Ariale is the Assistant Director of Career Development & Social Media at Northeastern University. He specializes in disability employment issues, and works with many other diversity initiatives on campus. When not at work, you can find doing heavy bag work at the boxing gym, hanging out at the latest SoFar concert, or enjoying Boston’s foodie scene! Tweet him @CareerCoachNU

That end of the interview dreaded question…. Do you have any questions for us??

Interview Questions

It would be easy to take this question literally, and think to yourself, I just want to get out of this interview, so you say “no, I don’t have any questions for you.”

Bad idea! You want to leave the employer with the impression you are the one for the job and that requires you to ask more questions!

Why does the interviewer ask this question?  To find out if you can step back from the long hours of interviewing and ask some broad processing questions. In a nutshell, the interviewer wants to know how you think.

This is a great opportunity for you to not only show them that you are a big picture thinker but you’ll also find out if your need to tell them anything more about yourself!

So, what are some good questions you can ask?

  1. Tell me more about the culture of the office or company? Or how would you describe the culture of the office or company? (You want to make sure this is the right fit for you too.)
  1. What are the opportunities for professional development? How do you develop your employees to take on more responsibilities?? (You are exploring advancement opportunities.)
  1. I read that your company is moving in X direction, or just made X acquisition; can you tell me more about that and how it might impact the company both short and long-term? (You’re showing them that you have done your research on the company.)
  1. What do you see as the greatest challenges for your company over the next 5 years? (Again, you want to learn more about the company.)
  1. Are there any special projects coming up that you’d want me to work on if I got the job? (You’re showing your interest in the job.)

And finally….

  1. Is there anything you need to know about me that will help you to make a decision?
  1. What happens next in this process? (You want to know the timing of their decision.)

Sharri Harmel works in career development at Northeastern University, acting as the liaison to the College of Engineering. She loves international travel, creative thinkers and good books, all with equal passion. Tweet at her about the article @careercoachNU!

What Running Taught Me About My Career and Success

Image via Huffington Post

Image via Huffington Post

As I entered my twenties, two big things happened: I went on my first co-op and I started running. These pivotal moments shaped not only my career, but also how I perceive my successes and shortcomings. Luckily for me, my co-ops and my running have always seemed to be in tune together. They’ve gotten more challenging, more exciting, and more frustrating all totally in sync with one another over the last few years.

Going from my first 5k to half-marathons and now training for the big 26.2, running has given me lessons on how to achieve on the road and in the office.

Schedules Are Necessary

Raise your hand if you have ever, and I mean ever, said, “I just don’t have time for… X,Y, or Z.” I definitely have. But when you’re training for a race, you have to schedule your day out a week or more in advance. Life and work can’t go on hold just for you to get in that 5 mile run, so you have to plan. Writing things down in a planner works or put it all together in your Google Calendar.

By making time and making schedules, you can cut down on the time spent distracted or stuck in one project. Planned days and weeks will help you be mindful of importance and force you to prioritize your projects.

On top of day-to-day prioritization, schedules can let you keep the long-term goal in mind rather than keeping your head down stuck in the daily grind. The goals that may seem distant become far more motivating when there is a plan, schedule, and strategy on how to get there.

Not Everything Will Go According to Plan

As a self-proclaimed perfectionist, this was the hardest lesson for me to grasp. I would go out for a long run, not hit my goal paces, and come back grumpy or frustrated (but usually both). Talking amongst running friends, I discovered I wasn’t alone in these feelings. It wasn’t long before I drew the connection between how I felt after a bad run and how I felt after a bad day at work. The frustration wasn’t always because of what happened, but because it wasn’t in the plan.

Learn to let go of the things that go awry and run with the new direction. While you may see the whole picture as “bad”, take a few minutes to think about something good that is coming from it. Sure, it’s never fun to be in a less than ideal situation, but by breaking it down into a few good takeaways can help you to learn, appreciate, and go forward with the new direction.

Rest Days Should Be Restful

Whether it’s your legs or your mind, you have to let them rest. Your weekends and nights are yours! Or if it’s Monday night and The Bachelorette is on, turn your thoughts away from work worries and try to predict who’s getting the final rose. I’m a worrier, I don’t like taking time off from anything. But despite that, I learned that if I don’t take a day off from running, my workouts would suffer. Similarly, if I’m working or worrying even after I’ve left the office, my work the following days becomes sub-par.

Let your mind take a break from work and you’ll be able to return the next day fresh and able to attack problems with a sharper mind and new perspective. Sometimes we get too close to the work and too close to the problems. Taking time away can help you stand back and see it all from a new light. Rest days from the work world can not only feel refreshing for you, they can also help to bring about new ideas and energy each week.

Celebrate Success

The end goal is always the most exciting, but never forget the little successes along the way. Have a killer 2 mile run? Ride out that happiness! Learn something new that will make your workday easier? Have a little solo dance party! If you neglect the celebrations you owe yourself along the way to the big ultimate goal, you’ll lose your fire and joy in the project. But if you can take moments to appreciate the work you do, or the work others around you do, you can have a lot more fun in the process.

Tatum Hartwig is a senior Communication Studies major with minors in Business Administration and Media & Screen Studies. Tatum brings experience and knowledge in the world of marketing and public relations from her two co-ops at Wayfair and New Balance. Her passion revolves around growing businesses via social media, brand development, and innovation. You can connect with Tatum on Twitter @tatumrosy and LinkedIn.

Stepping Back: How to Troubleshoot Workplace Mistakes

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As someone who currently works in research, it involves a critical thinking, especially when something does not go as planned. I’m constantly asking the question of “why” to every step I take in my workday. But just because I work in a research lab does not mean that I’m the only one who faces this trial-and-error process: we all do.

For me, it means re-evaluating all my protocols, every last detail written in my lab notebook, and a lot of critical thinking of what may have caused things to go awry. It’s looking at everything super close-up to catch that one tiny detail that may have caused an error. However, it is more than just the details: it’s the big picture.

We can break everything we do down into its components, which may point us in the right direction of solving the problem. But if we are looking to troubleshoot for the future, it’s important to not only observe the details, but look at them in regards to it’s bigger picture.

Take a walk. Take a little escape from your workday. If you hole yourself up and delve immediately into what went wrong, there’s a good chance you are not going to see it. You might, but it’s going to be that little detail. Some fresh air, a cup of coffee (or tea), and just a different view for 5 minutes will give your mind a break so you can go back and troubleshoot with a fresh pair of eyes.

Ask for help. Someone who is not at all involved in your project may be able to give a different perspective on a problem. I tend to think of something in one way when a fellow colleague thinks of the same thing from an entirely different perspective because we are not working directly on the same project. It’s nice to have that different vantage point and someone else to think aloud with about both the details and the whole picture.

Get some paper and a pen. In a world full of technology, our computer, phone, tablet, etc. is our go-to for almost everything. But I find that when I’m faced with a error at work, it’s best to pull out paper and write down whatever comes to mind. That way, it’s written down and I can start to connect the details I’ve written down to formulate troubleshooting in regards to both details and the larger, connected picture.

Take a step back. Like I said earlier, I am detail-orientated. Recently, however, I learned to literally take two steps back and look at whatever I may be working on from that angle. It does give a new view and instigate new thoughts, as silly as it may sound.

Dealing with trial-and-error processes does not have to be dreadful. Find what works for you and go with it.

Colette Biro is a 3rd year Biology and Mathematics major with a minor in Chemistry. She is currently on her first co-op in a biology lab at Northeastern working on transgenerational immunity in social insects. Colette is passionate about running, November Project and being a Husky Ambassador. Feel free to reach out to her at biro.c@husky.neu.edu.

How to Make the Most Out of Your Summer

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With summer classes mid-way through and spring co-ops left with about a month, college students’ minds are inevitably shifted to a long-overdue summer vacation. After a semester long of hard work, we all deserve a nice break, where we enjoy the warmth of sunshine and good company with friends — after all, post-graduation this will all be a luxury for young working professionals. But while it is important to have fun and wind down, college students should also be taking advantage of a summer when they have fewer obligations with schoolwork to make the most out of it.

Here are a few possibilities you can try to keep yourself busy this summer:

  1. Find a Summer Internship/Job

It’s a no-brainer that summer internships ensure career success after graduation. After all, isn’t what Northeastern’s co-op program is for, to make sure that Huskies graduate with ample work experience to get ahead in the game? Regardless of your co-op experience, an extra summer will give your future employers an impression that you are driven, ambitious and willing to learn. Plus, who wouldn’t want extra cash even if it is part-time? Or even if it is just a summer job, be it in a coffee shop, restaurant or a country club, the skills and experience that you will learn to be crucial to building your character and financial success.

  1. Travel

When scrolling through your Facebook newsfeed or Instagram pictures, it is not unusual to see pictures of friends traveling for fun, studying abroad, and doing a dialogue. After all, “life is a book and those who don’t travel, read only one page.” Moreover, travel is crucial for us to understand and make sense of the world around us. The experience, history, culture and the people we encounter will help us discover ourselves and appreciate people different from us. If you are really serious about it, many travel agencies and companies with great deals, such as EF College Break, TravelZoo, and Expedia might be good sources to check out. Moreover, with the vast amount of Northeastern alumni and friends across the globe, it is easy to get connected or even crash at their places so you can save money here and there.

  1. Learn a new skill

Have you ever get passed over for a co-op because you didn’t know Adobe Photoshop or excel? While soft skills such as communication and writing are important in the workplace, hard skills are equally important in helping your application stand out. Consider spending this summer taking classes on acquiring or polishing a new skill (or even mastering a foreign language). From publishing, coding, building a website, to learning Adobe Photoshop, endless online courses and tutorials are at your fingertips. All you need is just a willingness to learn!

And of course, don’t forget to relax and wind down, because you deserve it! Just remember: Work Hard, Play Hard.

Scarlett Ho is a third year International Affairs and Political Science major with a minor in Law and Public Policy. During fall 2014, she studied abroad in Belgium where she interned at the European Parliament. The summer prior to that, she interned for Senator Warren on Capitol Hill, and previously Congressman Lynch in Massachusetts. She can be reached at ho.sc@husky.neu.edu.

How Do I Answer This: Where do you see yourself in 5 years?

dont know what i'm doing

“Uhh, good question”: A great way to buy yourself a second to organize your thoughts, not so great when you actually don’t know the answer to the interview question. Every Thursday, throughout the summer we’ll tackle a hard-to-answer interview question as part of our Summer Interview Crash Course series on the blog.

This week’s question:  Where do you see yourself in 5 years?

“Um, working here?” Well, yes and no. This question is really trying to gauge how much you’ve thought about how this job will align with your long term goals. It should also speak to your professional ambition as well as your ability to think about both the short and long-term. Even if you picture yourself running your own business or perhaps in the interviewer’s shoes, you can’t really say those things out loud. I’d still suggest being honest about your ambition, but focus it more on how this position would support your long term goals. You can keep you answers relatively general, but be prepared if they decide to push for more details.

Example: Eventually I would love to be leading my own sales team. Based on my research and from talking to others in the industry, *name of company* really invests in the career growth of their employees and many people who start off in this position eventually move into a more managerial role.

You could then ask the interviewer to expand on the career trajectory of this role, but it is likely that they will take the lead and agree with you and tell you some success stories.

Kelly is Assistant Director of Career Development and Social Media Outreach. She is also the “blog master” for The Works. A self-proclaimed social media enthusiast and Gen Y, she likes experimenting with new technology to help clients define their personal online brand. Kelly graduated from Northeastern University (Go Huskies!) with a BA in communication studies and a MS in college student development and counseling. Tweet her @kellydscott4.

Work Smarter: Office Productivity Tips For Co-ops

so productive

We all have those days when sending an email feels like dragging yourself through a mile of hot desert sand. It’s easy to hit a wall around 2 or 3pm, when your brain packs up her bags and takes the first train home regardless of how much you still have to do. Increasing your productivity has a huge effect on confidence and workplace satisfaction (you know how good it feels to cross an item off of your to-do list. It’s awesome). Here are a few tips to enhance your productivity this week:

Beat the crowd. By being the first one in the office, you can catch up on emails from the day before, schedule meetings, and get things done before other people arrive. This prevents you from feeling stressed-out or behind on your work throughout the day. This habit also illustrates your dedication as an employee, setting you up well for a raise or a promotion down the line.

Avoid the social media stare. I often fall into the trap of the social media stare – keeping one or two browser tabs for work, one for Twitter, one for Facebook, one for the blog. The social media stare is a source of constant interruption when you stop working for every Twitter interaction or Facebook notification. Close those windows to take advantage of your most productive hours.

Clump meetings together. It’s impossible to get things done when you have a meeting from 10-11am, a lunch meeting from noon-1pm, and a meeting at 2pm. When scheduling meetings, try to create clusters of meetings so you have a few hours at a time to get into a work groove. If possible, encourage your office or just your department to adopt one meeting-less day each week. This will allow for greater focus and more productivity.

Use two monitors. Just do it. Once you start using two monitors, you will be amazed that you ever got work done before. One screen is extremely limiting, especially when it comes to research, writing, and creating presentations. If you have the resources, adding a second monitor will greatly increase your productivity and ability to multi-task.

Take advantage of technology. You are always connected, so you should probably make the most of the innovative apps and tools that are available to you. Have to focus for a bit, but distracted by background sounds? Check out Simply Noise (www.simplynoise.com), a white noise generator that allows you to block out sounds around you so you can focus and be more productive. For an easy-to-use note-taking app, try Evernote. Perfect for list-makers, Evernote allows you to keep track of everything on your phone, tablet, and computer.

No matter what, you will hit difficult days when your efficiency seems to plummet and it feels like you can’t get anything done. Focus on these tips or make your own to improve the quality of your work without spending extra hours at the office.

Lindsey Sampson is a junior International Affairs major with minors in Social Entrepreneurship and Writing. She enjoys writing about Millennials in the workplace and social media as a marketing tool. Find her Tweeting at @lindseygsampsonand blogging about travel & career at http://moreawesomerblog.com/.

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.

Rekindle Your Motivation

running highway sunset

Motivation is key. It is what drives us to what we love, to be who we are, and to take on challenges. Without motivation, we would not be who we are today. There’s a certain drive that exists deep inside of us that powers our everyday actions and decisions. That’s motivation.

It might be something as simple as a motivational poster or a Post-it note telling you to keep it up. Nonetheless, it keeps you going. I’m a person who needs motivation to keep going. When life gets rough, it’s what makes me do what I love. Whether I’m stressed from exams or an extremely busy day at work, I stay motivated, holding my head up high with passion in my eyes.

Here’s some ways to stay motivated and keep going:

Notes. Write something cheesy on a Post-it and put it at your desk or on your computer. It seems so silly, but it really does keep you motivated, and more importantly on task!

Music. There’s something great about an upbeat playlist. The quick beats and catchiness of it lets you enjoyably power through that stack of work. There’s no point in doing work if you don’t love it. Put on some tunes that you like; that alone will motivate you.

Treat yourself. Tell yourself after completing a certain amount of work that you’ll get a reward. It might be a break, a walk outside, or some candy. Regardless of what is, it’ll motivate you to get through the work you have set to do. It’ll also break down a huge stack of work into smaller, more manageable stacks. Two birds with one stone: tackle stress by reducing workload and provide a reward as motivation to get it done. Even better: it works.

Motivation is different for everyone, so take some time to find what drives you. Find a passion and work towards it. Set some time aside for yourself to discover your personal motivational factors and incorporate those into your life.

Power through.

Colette Biro is a 3rd year Biology and Mathematics major with a minor in Chemistry. She is currently on her first co-op in a biology lab at Northeastern working on transgenerational immunity in social insects. Colette is passionate about running, November Project and being a Husky Ambassador. Feel free to reach out to her at biro.c@husky.neu.edu.

Learning to Unplug

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When you work in social media, public relations, and marketing, you’re probably glued to some device at all times. You could make the same statement for just about any field or person these days, too. Whether it’s Twitter, Instagram, Gmail, or random blogs, I feel like I’m always checking something, scrolling through something, or reading something. There are, of course, benefits to my addiction, but sometimes it is best to live life (or at least a couple days) unplugged.

Last week, my laptop charger broke and I was without a laptop until I could find a replacement. I did still have my phone in hand, but ridding myself of one large screen for a few days was, truth be told, a relief. I find myself immersed in my computer and smartphone sometimes, and I don’t like it. When my laptop is open or nearby, I feel like I have to be working. There is always something to work on. The irony is that despite always feeling like I have to work, I also feel constantly distracted when working online. One BuzzFeed article here, an acquaintance’s Facebook status there.. It’s always sucking you in.

In addition to going laptop-free for a week, I also tried turning off my phone or leaving it behind for hours at a time. For me, this is a bold move, but something I felt I needed to try.

So, what did I discover from my unplugged hours? I was calmer. At first, I felt uneasy.. What if somebody needs to get ahold of me? But those thoughts faded to ones of contentness. Being a highly anxious person, this calmness helped me to enjoy time with friends rather than being on edge and let my mind settle down after a long day rather than stay in a heightened, overthinking state. I also found that my time spent working or online later were much more productive. No longer was I clicking link after link on Twitter (okay, maybe one BuzzFeed article..), but I felt the urgency of the task at hand.

It may not be feasible to go every day unplugged, but when the weather is nice or your mind is too cluttered, it’s nice to take a breather from technology.