The Hidden Advantage of Panel Interviews and How To Survive Them

 

When I was a junior in college, I thought that I would be pursuing a career in television production.  So, when I found out that I got an interview for an internship at the Late Show with David Letterman, I was ecstatic!

Letterman Interns Summer 2008

Letterman Interns Summer 2008

However, my euphoria only lasted a couple more seconds until I read the e-mail further: the interview would last between 2-3 hours and I would be interviewing with twelve different people from seven different departments.  Some departments had one person, and others had three and four.   I was not comfortable interviewing with one person at that point, let alone interviewing with multiple people, so I was intimidated.

Help! source: sodahead.com

Help!
source: sodahead.com

After going through the experience and other experiences like it, I realized that most employers conduct panel  interviews, not to intimidate you, but to introduce you to people you could potentially work with all at once.  This tactic saves you (and them) precious time by not requiring you to participate in multiple interviews on different days to determine whether you are a fit for the position or not.  During that experience at Letterman, I learned a lot about how to successfully navigate the panel interview and was able to land the internship in the end.  Here are a few tips for success:

1.)    Make sure your first impression in the best impression.   This is obvious in any interviewing situation, but since you will be meeting with multiple people at once, their first impression of you is magnified.  Many panels meet after the interview is over to go over impressions, so do not let them harp on your errors in judgment instead of your fit for the position. Make sure that you arrive on time, are professionally dressed, and are prepared for the interview.

2.)    Make eye contact with each person on the panel and use first names to make connections.  When getting introduced to the people on the panel, make direct eye contact and write each person’s name down in the order you are introduced, so that you can use first names when answering questions to personalize responses. Engage in eye contact with everyone, not just with the person who asked you the question, to build rapport with the entire group.

3.)    Be prepared to repeat yourself.  It is counterintuitive that there should be repeat questions during a single interview, but some panelists may need further clarification about your answer either immediately after you answer the question, or later on in the interview.  This may be because each panelist has different needs—your potential supervisor may be more interested in why you left your last job, while a peer may be more interested in your analytical or data analysis skills. It doesn’t necessarily mean that you gave an unsatisfactory answer the first time around, so don’t let a repeat question slip you up.

4.)    Observe the group dynamics. Many people forget that an interview is a two way street. The panelists are there to interview you as a potential fit for the job, and you are there to interview the employer as a potential fit for your next career move.  A panel interview is an opportunity for you to observe how the group works as a team, and assess whether or not you will fit in the company culture and enjoy working there.

5.)    Get business cards and send individual thank you e-mails.  The thank you letter is a great way for you to solidify your interest in the position, and reconnect with everyone in the group.  Make sure that you send a letter to each individual, and personalize the content so that the letters aren’t all the same.  Think about what is important to each person in the group, and try to focus on one key exchange you had with that person.

Though panel interviews can be a very nerve-wracking experience, you are able to save time and observe group dynamics that you otherwise would not have been able to observe during multiple one-on-one interviews.  If you’re prepared, act professionally, and show enthusiasm, you’re on the fast track to earning a job offer.

Ashley LoBue is a Career Advisor at Northeastern Career Development.  A Boston College graduate, Ashley has over 3 years of experience working in higher education and is a proponent for international and experiential education.

References available upon request

Emily Brown is a Career Development intern and a graduate student in Northeastern’s College Student Development and Counseling Program. She is a lifelong Bostonian interested in the integration of social media into the professional realm.  Contact her at e.brown@neu.edu.

Looking back to high school, I didn’t realize how easy I had it getting recommendations for college applications: one from my guidance counselor, ask two favorite teachers, done and done. With big plans to enter college undeclared, I wasn’t at all worried about the subject matters taught by these teachers.  I also wasn’t worried about etiquette of the recommendation process, since I had explicit instructions from my guidance counselor –  provide a stamped and addressed envelope for each college you’re applying to and post-it with earliest deadline on top.  Send a thank you card no later than that first deadline.  So simple. Looking back now, I realize that these concepts are also relevant for getting professional references.

  • Of course I chose my favorite teachers, right? Why would I even consider that pre-calculus teacher who gave me the stink-eye all of sophomore year for giggling with my best friend through each class (I’m sorry, but he shouldn’t have seated us next to each other). The same concept still applies. Choose people who have positive things to say about you and will be able to speak to your overall character.
  • At this point though, subject matter matters. It is important to consider who will be able to speak to the specific skills that will be required in the position you are targeting. It’s okay to tell a reference which skills you believe will be most important and to ask her/him to emphasize those.
  • Since job references probably won’t be a one-shot deal like mailing a stack of college applications, it’s important to keep your references updated as you apply to jobs. Since you won’t often know when exactly a potential employer is going to call a reference, keeping her/him updated on jobs to which you have applied ensures that s/he can speak knowledgeably about your goals.  In the case of a written recommendation, you should ask about 5-6 weeks in advance of the deadline. However, it’s rare that an employer will ask for a written reference, they usually want to speak to the person directly.
  • The most nerve-wracking part of asking someone to serve as a reference is probably the initial request. Hanging around after class worked in high school, but, as a professional, stopping by someone’s desk unannounced is not recommended. Asking via email ensures that the person knows exactly what you want and has time to think about his answer. It’s important to be clear about what you’re asking – the subject line might read “Job reference for [your name]?” – and you should get right to the point at the beginning of the email before further explaining the specifics of why you are asking this particular person.  It can be helpful to mention specific projects or tasks you’ve worked on with that person that you think will relate to skills needed for the new job. This helps the person understand why you are specifically asking her and gives her some guidance in regard to which of your skills to highlight. Even if you’re 99% sure the person will say yes, it is polite to give him/her an out. Use language like “would you be comfortable…” or “Do you feel you know me well enough to…”
  • I remember seeing classmates being scolded for being late with thank you cards. Though it is unlikely anyone will directly scold you for skipping this step, people will surely take notice and it’s just good manners to thank someone when they do you a favor It’s important to follow up once someone has agreed to serve as a reference by sending a thank you (email or US mail are both ok, but no need to send both). It’s also good practice to update your references on your job search periodically and DEFINITELY let them know once you have accepted a position. Thank them again for their support in helping you reach your goal.

So maybe it’s not quite as simple as it was in high school, but it’s not bad right? There may not be a guidance counselor holding you accountable (read: stalking you in homeroom), but you can totally handle this. Choosing appropriate references and maintaining open communication with them is going to be key for strengthening your job candidacy, long-term professional contacts, and ultimately taking that leap into the “real world.”

“There Are No Dumb Questions Here”

How many times have you sat in an interview and swallowed a question out of fear it may be the dreaded “stupid question”?   Wouldn’t it be nice to run a few of those by an employer knowing there’s nothing at stake?  Just once?  Well, you may be in luck!

step brothersCopyright: 2008 Columbia Pictures

Career Development has been offering the Employer in Residence program for several years, providing students the opportunity to meet with professionals in an informal setting. They are encouraged to share their apprehensions about interviewing, the job search process and posing those tricky questions they aren’t sure are appropriate to ask during a formal interview.   “It’s like a webinar in that students get information without getting tested on it afterwards,” shares Ezra Schattner ’93, New York Life agent and current Employer in Residence.  “It’s fun for me when students come in and have some good questions like, ‘I don’t know what to say when an employer asks me about a weakness.” (Tip: Repackage the question so references an area for development that complements a strength)

“When I’m interviewing a new candidate, I’m hiring for technical skills, but I”m also hiring someone who can be a fit within the culture of the group and company.  I want a student to ask themselves if they’re going to be in a position they’ll appreciate and grow in it.”

Thuy Le, recruiter for City Year, loves when students ask the “Day in the Life”  question, what motivates her every day and what challenges exist in her role or at her organization.  “I remember attending networking opportunities during my undergraduate years and feeling nervous about it.  ‘Networking’ is often associated with being aggressive and being out of people’s comfort zone.  I learned to understand that it’s simply having conversations and obtaining as much information as you can, and that employers want students to talk to them and ask questions. I always try to paint a realistic picture of what their experience will be like in City Year, because like all employers, we want to find the right people who will be the best fit.  I would also encourage students to relax and be themselves – we want to know the real you!”

Both Thuy and Ezra will be taking part in the Employer in Residence portion of the Senior Career Conference as well as also hosting hours throughout the semester.  If you’re looking for another voice to assuage your concerns and dispel some of the mysteries about the working world, head over to Stearns on Thursday, 1/23 or check out the programming calendar for upcoming dates.  Match Education, Peace Corps, Raytheon and Shawmut Design and Construction will also be on campus throughout the semester so be sure to come on by!

Derek Cameron is a member of the Career Development Employer Relations team and always looking for new ways to bring the employer’s voice to campus.

Top Tips for Career Fair Prep

Career Fair

Welcome to the jungle. I’ll be your guide.

The Career Fair is coming up the pike, and fast: October 3rd, to be exact. This past Monday, Career Services held a workshop for students eager to hear recruiter secrets for making the most of a career fair. The university welcomed a panel of three recruiters – Scott Keeler of Liberty Mutual, Brendan Murphy of Constant Contact, and Chris McMahon of Vistaprint - to share their success tips for students.

Didn’t make it to the workshop? Not to worry! Here are the biggest takeaways from the event.

What should students do to prepare?

  • Scott: Know your strengths, and know your resume inside and out! Anything on your resume is fair game for a recruiter to ask you to explain in more detail.
  • Brendan: If you’re interested in different kinds of positions, carry a couple versions of your resume. Having a tailored “software company” resume and an “insurance company” resume, for instance, will help showcase your skills no matter which recruiters you meet.

What can students do that impresses you the most?

  • Chris: It’s great when students have researched the company. The more prepared you are, the more time you have to sell yourself, since the recruiter won’t have to explain what the company does.
  • Brendan: Tell us about your passions. We like to see students who are enthusiastic about the things they do, especially if those passions can help our company grow.

What are some pet peeves that students should avoid?

  • Brendan: It’s annoying when students drop off their resume at the table without saying anything, and then leave immediately. We want to have a conversation and learn more about you!
  • Scott: A lot of employers bring free things to give away. Don’t cut the line and start rifling through the free stuff that the employers will have on the table!

What are the WORST questions a student could ask an employer?

  • Chris: “So who are you?”
  • Scott: “I’ve applied to 35 positions at your company. Why haven’t you hired me yet?”
  • And a bonus from Tina: “Wow me.”

How should students follow up with employers after the career fair?

  • Scott: Write a thank you note to the recruiters you met! Be sure to reference the specifics of your conversation in the note, or else the recruiter might not remember you!
  • Chris: Don’t send a generic thank you note that could apply to any organization! Cater it to that specific recruiter from that company.
  • Brendan: If an employer gives you their business card, this is an open invitation to contact him or her. And be sure to do so!

Here’s one final tip from all three of our recruiter panelists: Be yourself! At the end of the day, recruiters are just fellow humans who aren’t scary at all. Explore new companies, expand your network, and have fun! The more fun you have, the more you’ll get out of the Career Fair!

Amy Annette Henion is a senior communications major with minors in theatre and East Asian studies. She basically lives in the theatre department office on the first floor of Ryder. Follow/tweet her at @amyannette37 and read her blog here.

Alum Advice: Create Your Own Opportunity

Image source: http://www.jeetbanerjee.com/50-great-quotes-about-entrepreneurship/

Image source: http://www.jeetbanerjee.com/50-great-quotes-about-entrepreneurship/

This guest post was written by Joe Ciccolo, a 2004 Criminal Justice graduate and an accomplished expert in building enterprise risk management functions.  He now serves as a financial regulatory consultant for various Rotary International service projects. 

There’s no question that the current employment landscape is extremely challenging for today’s job seekers. While employers have trimmed spending to the bone and large-scale layoffs have subsided, hiring remains anemic. Organizations positioned for growth are very deliberate and highly selective when it comes to interviewing and retaining candidates for employment.

This so-called “employer’s market” continues to disproportionately affect college graduates, as employers remain committed to measuring qualification in terms of years of experience. Not surprisingly, the popular refrain I hear from so many recent graduates is ‘how can I get a job that requires experience, if I can’t get any experience?’ It’s a question that I asked myself many a time while submitting 100s of applications in the months following my graduation from Northeastern in 2004. How I wish I knew then what I know!

The answer to this question is simple…create your own job. After all, experience is not the product of formal employment, but rather the demonstration of one’s ability to identify and solve problems, and effectively manage projects.

To accomplish this, I advise those I mentor to seek out and approach an organization that has a particular need that would benefit from their unique skill set. For example, the marketing graduate might begin by exploring the collateral of various non-profit and civic groups within her community. After identifying a potential need, say for example brochures for an upcoming charity golf tournament, she could then approach the group and offer to provide her expertise in exchange for formal recognition. Such an endeavor would not only provide much needed project management experience and items for her professional portfolio, but would also put her in a position to meet business owners and other influential parties. Similarly, a computer science student might offer to create a website and social media presence for a local organization in exchange for his credentials appearing at the bottom of the homepage or recognition at an upcoming fundraising dinner.

The opportunities are limitless, and applicable to all graduates irrespective of major. All it takes is individual motivation and to the willingness to put yourself out there. Non-profit and civic organizations are always looking for motivated individuals to share their vocational talents. In so doing, individuals will have the opportunity to display in demand project management and problem solving skills, while giving something back to their community.

Continued best wishes to members of the Class of 2013 and those following in their footsteps. Go Huskies!

About the author:

Joe Ciccolo graduated Magna Cum Laude from Northeastern University’s College of Criminal Justice in 2004. He’s an accomplished expert in building enterprise risk management functions, including the fraud prevention department of a publicly traded financial services firm and most recently the anti-money laundering department of a large online bank. Mr. Ciccolo is a Certified Fraud Examiner and Anti-Money Laundering Certified Associate. He serves as a financial regulatory consultant for various Rotary International service projects. 

Mr. Ciccolo can be reached via email at joeciccolo@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter: @AML_Report  

Note: Views expressed in this article are solely those of Mr. Ciccolo and do not necessarily represent those of his employer.