Interview Freak Out: How Do I Answer That?!

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Our worst fear, when walking in the door for an interview, is that we’re going to get stumped. This HR recruiter is going to ask us something that stops us in our tracks. We imagine ourselves sitting there with a blank stare, dumbfounded expression, and sweat starting to form on our brow. So what can we do?  Consider using these 4 strategies.

  1. Buy some time. Restate the question to the interviewer. It will look like you are just getting clarification. It might look something like this:

“So, you are wondering about a time when I had a disagreement with my boss about an issue at work? Let me think about that for a second.” 

By restating the question it’s giving that question time to settle into your brain and buying you valuable seconds to see if you can come up with an example. It’s far better than saying, “ummmmmmmm”.

  1. Swap the scenario. If you can’t think of a time when you had a disagreement with your boss, then swap out the scenario. Maybe you can come up with a slightly different example.

“While I’m not able to think, right now, of a time when I had a disagreement with my boss, I can think of a time when I had a challenge with a classmate during a semester long academic project. Could I share this example with you?”

  1. Answer directly. Now if you are still drawing a blank, here’s one other approach. Consider stating that you can’t come up with an example, but mention in general how you handle conflict and ask if that helps.

“While I’m having trouble coming up with a specific example, I can share that in general when I have a conflict with someone I typically pause first to think through the situation, step into the other person’s shoes to try and see where they are coming from, then think up questions that I can ask that would allow us to explore the situation in more depth as a means to working through it.”

4. Postpone

“This is an excellent question, and I can imagine it’s important to know how an individual employee will deal with conflict.  I’m having a hard time thinking up an example in this moment; however, I wanted to see if we might be able to circle back to this question at the end of the interview?”

In the end, one of the most important things you can do is to stay calm and be real.

Sabrina Woods is an Associate Director at Northeastern Career Development and also has a private practice as a Holistic Career / Life Coach & Linkedin Trainer.  She has been in this field for 15 years and is a Husky (BA in Business) plus has a Masters in Holistic Counseling from Salve Regina University in sunny Newport, RI.  When not working at NU, teaching Linkedin or coaching private clients, Sabrina loves to hike, bike and kayak.  For more about Sabrina, go to


Mentorship? Go Organic!

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Every so often, we come across articles preaching out “the power of mentorship”. We read about how one mentor can open your mind and help your career flourish. These articles instill such a desire within us to find that one person who can change our lives and our professional careers for the better. The desire to find this person can grow so strong that we begin to focus less on the quality of the mentorship and more on the search itself.

Mentors (like most things nowadays) should form organically. Often times, you won’t realize the caliber of mentor you have in front of you until you step back and really study your relationship with them. This was the case for me when I first met mine.

I was about one month in to my second co-op when another teammate started. Even on her first day, her confidence and bright personality lit up every room. We bonded over being the newbies on the team and shared very similar senses of humor. As my co-op progressed, our conversations would get deeper and our friendship grew stronger. When I was back in classes and my homework was to interview a mentor in my chosen field, my mind immediately turned to my colleague. I realized that not only was she the first person I immediately turned to for career advice, but also the person I aspired to be more like.

By allowing relationships to grow naturally and fostering them over time, strong and meaningful mentorships will begin to form. There’s no need to force it! Be patient, keep an open mind, and let a mentorship form organically. Trust me, a true and valuable mentorship is 100% worth the wait.

Jessica Mertens is a senior studying Communication Studies, Business Administration, and International Affairs. With experience in PR, internal communications, and CSR from Metis Communications and Staples, Jessica is now in an eternal state of wanderlust at Travel + Leisure. Offline, you can catch Jessica exploring NYC, binge-watching Scandal, and planning her next world travels. Connect with Jessica on Twitter @jessica_mertens and LinkedIn.

Post-Work Habits

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Photo: Boston skyline and the Charles River

It’s 5pm, you’re off from work, and headed home. But what to do? The possibilities are endless, but it doesn’t mean we should go home, hop on the couch and watch Netflix for hours on end. We should use our evenings to try new things, be productive, and most importantly, unwind after a long day at work.

Cook something new at least once a week. I often find myself cooking the same thing on a weekly basis, but sometimes I’m really craving adventure! Try to cook a new meal, something you’ve either never cooked before or tasted before, at least once a week. It’ll spice up your day post-work and let you be creative in the kitchen. Try allrecipes for ideas!

Hit the gym. Work it out, after work. Let off some steam after a hard day in the gym or simply celebrate a great day at work with some extra endorphin release. Working out makes you feel better and might just be enough to give you that motivation to have a great evening. Bonus: if it’s nice outside, workout in nature! You get some extra sunlight (hello vitamin D!) and some fresh air at the same time.

Explore your city. We live in Boston, so there’s always something going on in some part of the city. Take some time to walk around, look up, and explore what your stomping ground has to offer. Also, chances are that there is at least one free event happening somewhere at night, so that’s a great way to spend your evening to unwind after work.

Your day after work doesn’t have to be dull, make it exciting!

Photo courtesy of National Geographic.

Are Leadership Development Programs Right for Me?

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Unsure about what specifically to do after graduation? Are you interested in many different areas of a business or company, but unsure about what area you specifically fit in? Leadership Development and Rotational programs provide mentor-ship, training across different functional business areas, and experiences that can help you determine where your best fit is in terms of interests and skills.

Career Development is hosting a Leadership Development Panel on September 30, 2015 in 10 Knowles from 12-1pm (there will be pizza!) featuring representatives from State Street, GE, TJX, and Johnson & Johnson to talk specifically about their LDP programs. To register, click here.  This event is the day before the Career Fair so that you can gather more information about a company/program before seeing them again at the fair.

So why should you consider a Leadership Development or Rotational Program? Here are the top 5 reasons:

  • Access to top executives and leaders: Rotational programs often have projects or assignments that require buy-in from and require you to work with top executives and leaders, allowing you to meet and brush shoulders with the current leaders of the company.
  • Rotations through different functional areas: In a leadership or rotational program, early-career individuals work alongside industry experts on in-depth projects in various functional areas of the company. This allows you to identify an area of the company that is the best match for your skills and caters to your interests.
  • Mentors: As potentially high-performing employees of the company, you are assigned mentors at the manager level or above to help you reflect on your experiences, hone your skills, and help with your career development.
  • Job placement: The end-goal of these rotational programs is job placement in an area that fits with your skills and interests. You will know what you like/dislike about a certain area since the rotational aspect of the program will allow you to “sample” what it’s like to work in different areas.
  • One day you want to be a boss: Many companies rely heavily on their Leadership Development and Rotational programs to identify and groom future leaders of the company, so the training and mentorship you receive will allow you to not only identify your interest area, but also understand other parts of the business, which is crucial in a company leader.

Leadership Development and Rotational Program deadlines tend to be around October/November of your senior year, so if you’re interested in these, make sure you apply soon!

Ashley LoBue is an Assistant Director at Northeastern Career Development.  A Boston College graduate, Ashley has over 4 years of experience working in higher education and is a proponent for international and experiential education.  Ashley also enjoys binge-watching HGTV and aspires to be like the Property Brothers, Drew and Jonathan, as a possible secondary career. Tweet her @CareerCoachNU

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Resume Shortcuts 101

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Who doesn’t love a good shortcut? Just the other day I found a new way to bike home from work that saved me a few minutes on my commute. I got way too excited about it, I’ll admit it. But c’mon those are a few extra minutes I can sleep in now!

In my time as a Career Counselor, I have discovered a few resume “shortcuts” that make the job search process more manageable. They may not save time on your commute, but I still think they can help your job search! Try these three resume shortcuts to make your resume work harder and smarter for you when you send out job applications.resume, shortcuts, hyperlink

  • Hyperlinks, Hyperlinks, Hyperlinks! Look, we all know a resume isn’t supposed to include everything you’ve ever done on it, but that doesn’t mean you can’t get creative about leading readers off the page. Do you mention a portfolio, personal webpage, email address, LinkedIn public profile, or writing sample on your resume? If you do, great! Hyperlink that coding portfolio or that blog you wrote directly onto your resume when you mention it. Want more LinkedIn profile views? Customize your public profile URL to optimize SEO and hyperlink it onto your header! This way a recruiter can learn more about you outside of your resume in one simple click. Recruiters love a good shortcut and the easier you make it for them to see your accomplishments, the more will take advantage of it!
  • Quantify. This is another easy shortcut. Whenever it is possible and applicable, see if you can throw some numbers into your bullet points. How many interns did you train? What percentage of new business did you bring in? How much did user growth increase by? By quantifying with concise numbers, you give the reader a glimpse into some of your accomplishments and scope of your work!
  • Make a “Master Resume” Copy. So I always recommend that you tailor your resume to the job, and get it to a single page which I understand can be a challenge! When I am applying to jobs I always pull out my master resume copy to start. This copy tends to be closer to 2-3 pages and reads a little bit more like a CV. Rather than rewrite my resume from scratch for the job I am applying for I copy and paste the lines and positions I feel are most relevant from my master copy onto my custom made resume. After just a few minutes, boom, I have a great start to a totally custom, tailor made resume just for that job!

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 him breaking a sweat at the boxing gym, hanging out at the latest SoFar concert, or enjoying Boston’s foodie scene! Tweet him @CareerCoachNU

My Marine Corps Adventure at Quantico

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I’ll admit it – I was skeptical going into my week in Quantico, VA for a Marine Corps Educators’ Workshop. I wondered how intense the week of orientation would be and I wondered just how many job options there really were in the Marine Corps.

After my week in Quantico, I thought I’d share a few things I learned and some of the coolest things I’ve done.

-There are 40 MOS (Military Occupational Specialty) job fields available within the Marine Corps including logistics, engineering, public affairs, financial management, and communications.

-Joining the Marine Corps doesn’t automatically put you on the front lines – there are different ways to serve in the Marines – as an Enlisted Marine or as a Marine officer, leading your enlisted peers.

-The average age of a Marine is 23 and most enlist for a standard time of 4 years

-Tuition assistance is available for graduate study and/or professional programs

-There is an opportunity to be stationed in over 100 different countries

-Core values and skill sets (which many employers seek) include commitment; leadership; critical thinking skills; and decision-making

-You could start applying to the Marine Corps already – The Platoon Leaders Class (PLC) is a 10 week paid training session for rising seniors which lets you focus on studies senior year and then post-graduation, you become a Second Lieutenant


Coolest things I experienced with the Marine Corps:

-Completed a simulated ‘mission’ into the woods of Quantico holding a fake (but heavy) weapon, wearing a Kevlar helmet

-Rode in an Osprey helicopter with the back ramp open while practicing evasive maneuvers

-Won a fight with padded Pugil sticks (essentially, big Q-tips used in combat) – see below photo

-Did the Leadership Reaction Course (think American Ninja Warrior obstacles) and climb up a tree and across a branch 8 feet high

-Was awestruck by the precision and skill of the United States Marine Drum and Bugle Corps and the Marine Corps Silent Drill Platoon performing in front of the 32-foot tall Marine Corps War Memorial statue

Want to learn more about the Marine Corps? Stop by the Snell Library Courtyard between 11am-3pm to take the Marine Corps Collegiate Challenge!


Melissa Croteau is an Assistant Director of Employer Relations at Northeastern University. When she isn’t training with the Marine Corps or flying in an Osprey Helicopter, you can find her singing her heart out with the Boston Pops and the Metropolitan Chorale! Tweet at her about the Marine Corps @CareerCoachNU


How Do I Answer This Interview Question: What Kind of Animal Would You Be?

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You’ve prepared for your interview, practiced questions about your experience and skills, and are ready for the question about why you want to work at the company.  You feel ready and the interview is going really well. Mid-way through the interview you get hit with the interview question: “If you were an animal, what kind of animal would you be?”  What? Why are they asking that and what the heck do you say?  While you wish you could just say, I’ll skip that one, you know you need to come up with an answer. 


So here’s the 411 on why they ask this question and how you should respond. “Out of the box” questions, like this one above, are asked because interviewers can learn about your personality and see how you respond when a question is not one you would have been expected to have practiced.

It also allows a prospective employer to gain insight into whether your personality is a fit for the job, the team culture, and organizational culture.

Unfortunately folks, there’s no one size fits all here. Pick an animal that represents real qualities in your personality, and qualities which would also be a fit for the job and company culture. Be honest, strategic, and connect your answer why it’s a fit for the position and company. If you’re asked this question, understand that if the company wants a shark, they may not appreciate a candidate who indicates they’d be a dolphin so you’ll have to help them to understand why being a dolphin is a fit for the organizational culture and job.

Typically, candidates try to avoid animals that are perceived negatively, for example, snakes or sloths (lazy). Remember to share why you are selecting that animal. No one word answers—this is your opportunity to show the company that you will fit with their team and culture, and are a good fit for the job.  

If you’re an international student, be sure to ask a American friend or a career advisor about your answer since some animals may not be as common here as in your home country or may have different meanings in different cultures.


 If I were an animal I’d probably be a dolphin because they are very intelligent and yet don’t appear to take themselves too seriously. They enjoy being part of a group and look out for each other and also enjoy having fun. In some of my info interviews with employees here people mentioned that people here are really smart but also like to have fun. I also noticed that was a similar theme on your company’s twitter handle-people are doing amazing work but also volunteering for community projects together. Working hard, working smart, and having fun seem to be important values and that really resonates for me. I would look forward to building my career at ___company if I was selected as this is a first choice company for me.

Who knew this question could reveal so much but it does! So learn about the culture of the company by following them on Twitter. Talk with other Northeastern alumni employed there and check out the organization on Then put on your strategic and creative interviewing hat and pick the animal that best represents you related to that company’s culture and job and job and ace your interview!

And remember, you’re looking for an offer but you’re also looking for a good fit. If you get the offer, awesome! If you don’t, remember it’s hard to be successful and ultimately promoted if you’re working at a company whose culture does not mix well with your personality. Focus on those companies that really do resonate with who you are and maximize your strengths and you’ll be their ‘best hire’ yet!

Written by Ellen Zold Goldman. Ellen is our Senior Associate Director in Career Development. She’s a sheepdog who is loyal, even keeled, a worker dog, super friendly, very adaptable, and always enjoys finding something wonderful in everyone. She loves the work culture and her peeps at Career Development where we all enjoy being helpful to each other, work independently and yet very much rely on each other as a team.  Tweet her @CareerCoachNU

How do I Answer This Interview Question: If we came to your house for dinner, what would you prepare for us?

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Interviewing can be nerve racking, a bit stressful, but super exciting at the same time, right?  We do our best to prepare, practice  and rehearse what to say and be well equipped to answer the typical interview questions, such as, “where do you see yourself in 5 years”, or “why do you want to work for us?” But, what tends to catch us off-guard, are those questions we don’t expect, the ones that are unrelated to the position.

But, there is a way to prepare for those bizarre interview questions! Really, you can actually have fun with them!

I will share a question that I was asked when I was interviewing for a marketing role at a large, well-known company.  My interview was with a hiring manager and a senior sales associate, and they asked, “if we came to your house for dinner, what would you prepare for us”?  I felt like I was staring at them for an hour before I answered, but in reality I sat back and pondered for a minute on how best to answer. My first comment was, that I really like cooking and friends have told me that I am a good cook and an even better host!  From there, it was easy, I made sure to be considerate, I asked if they had allergies, any dietary restrictions, and if they enjoyed sweets! I proceeded to put together a well-thought out menu, right down to the dishes and centerpiece!  I also added, that our dinner gathering was more about the company than the food (they seemed to like that.)  By the way, the company was Disney Publishing, and yes, I got the job!

The reason these bizarre or unrelated questions are asked is often designed to assess your ability to think on your feet and get a sense of your personality.  People who interview you want to hear your thought process and how you handle challenging situations.

Think First, Then Answer

So, take your time when answering a random interview question. Your interviewer (or interviewers, in my case) has designed the question to be intentionally testing and won’t necessarily expect you to have an immediate answer at your fingertips.

Think about what the company does and what role you’re applying for and what the responsibilities are. If there is an opportunity to show off organizational skills, technical ability or math skills in answering the question, this is more than likely what the question is designed to do.

In most cases, these bizarre questions are an opportunity to demonstrate your creativity and about how you could approach the problem/challenge. Remember, there may be a number of possible answers and not necessarily a right or wrong answer. Check out this post about Rubik’s Cubes and 747’s for a similar approach to answering these types of questions.

Your willingness to embrace an unusual question and your efforts to provide a logical answer will be looked upon favorably by an employer, whatever answer you eventually arrive at!

This post was written by Christine Hathaway. Christine is an Associate Director of Marketing and Communications for Co-op and Career Development here at Northeastern. She is our in house marketing guru and is passionate about planning events, working with others to create powerful marketing materials and presentations and enjoys an occasional kick-boxing class or two! Tweet her about this post @CareerCoachNU.

How Do I Answer That Interview Question: Where Do You See Yourself In 5 Years?

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Do you know what your career path looks like for the future?

For many of us, this is such a tough question.  We’re just not sure exactly where we want to go, or what kinds of opportunities will present themselves.  But, sometimes we get asked this question, which means you need to be ready for it before you walk into the interview.

First, take a step back and think for a moment about the kinds of things that you enjoy most related to your past/current work, and take some guesses on what kinds of things you’d like more of in the future.  Next, look closely at the job description, and provide an answer that would be in good alignment with that role.  For example, if you are interviewing for a job in sales, but you are really hoping to go into PR someday, you’ll want to share an answer that is truthful and that also fits well with the job you are applying for.

In this particular scenario, here’s what you might say:

“While I’m not sure of the exact job title I’d like to have in 5 years, I can say that my goal is to further develop my client relationship building, writing and presentation skills. I’m excited about this job in sales. I’d like to really dive in and learn how to be successful in this role at your organization, then eventually branch out and see in what other ways I can assist the team. My work satisfaction comes from being challenged, pushing myself and seeing what new things I can learn and contribute to along the way.”

Sabrina Woods is an Associate Director at Northeastern Career Development and also has a private practice as a Holistic Career / Life Coach & Linkedin Trainer.  She has been in this field for 15 years and is a Husky (BA in Business) plus has a Masters in Holistic Counseling from Salve Regina University in sunny Newport, RI.  When not working at NU, teaching Linkedin or coaching private clients, Sabrina loves to hike, bike and kayak.  For more about Sabrina, go to

How do I answer this interview question: What are your weaknesses?

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AD I dont understand the question

This interview question is often asked in conjunction with “What are your strengths?”. That part of the question should be easy to answer since it essentially is asking you why you’re a good candidate for the position. But weaknesses? Does the interviewer want to know why you’re NOT qualified for the position?  No. Is it a trick? Probably not, but  perhaps the interviewer wants to see how well you know yourself, or how thoroughly you’ve analyzed the requirements of the position and your ability to perform them,  or to see if you’re serious enough about the position to really spend time thinking about it instead of offering the throw away “turn a negative into a positive”. I beg of you, don’t follow that advice, it is just so much “blah blah blah”. BUT if you do go with that, please give it some substance – provide some good examples of why it is a positive.

A different strategy for answering this question is to re-frame it as though the interview question is, “What are your weaknesses in regard to this position?” this will give you a focus to work from.  Maybe the job or internship you’re applying to is a little bit of a stretch (which is a good thing), but maybe that means there are some gaps in your skills/experience? It can’t be anything central to the position, but there will probably be some areas in which you’ll need a little bit of extra support. Those are your weaknesses. Don’t stop with identifying them, think about what support you’ll need to fill the gaps and how long you think you’ll need it.

Examples of a good response:

For a position that requires significant participation in two teams:

I prefer working independently, but I appreciate the value of working in teams, so 6 months ago I volunteered to participate in a team that is working on a small research project. I’ve been surprised that I’m becoming accustomed to and enjoy this work model. For this position I think it would be helpful if I could begin by working with one of the teams and then in a few weeks add in the second team.

Conversely for a position that requires working independently:

In my classes and activities I have most often worked with other students and enjoyed close faculty or leader supervision and was uncomfortable making decisions and carrying them out on my own. I realized that I might not always be able to do that, so this semester I completed an independent study project.  My professor was out of the country for a portion of the semester so we had 2 meetings early in the semester, then while she was away we had 2 Skype appointments and a few emails. As I result I have started to enjoy and become more comfortable making decisions on my own. For this position I think it would be helpful if my supervisor would remind me to work on problems and develop solutions on my own before seeking her advice. I think it would take a few weeks before I will be comfortable working independently.

This post was written by Kate Famulari. Kate is an Associate Director of Career Development here at Northeastern. She is our in house government job guru and is passionate about helping Northeastern students find meaningful careers! Tweet her about this post @CareerCoachNU.