A Great Interview (For a Job I Didn’t Get)

By Dan Moseson, Ph.D., CPDC Graduate Career Coach

Our CPDC blog is called Peaks and Valleys because the job search process has natural ups and downs. Like a trail up a mountain, there will be wide, smooth paths with beautiful vistas. There will also be steep rock-falls you’re not sure how to navigate while keeping your ankles intact. There will even be times when you fall down, fail, or need to turn around. There may even be moose. Don’t provoke them.

My career has worked the same way. My biggest false start was an interview for a job I really wanted. I put my all into preparing for the day to perform at my best, and in the end, I didn’t get the job. However, I still think of it as one of the most valuable experiences of my career. It taught me a lot about myself and helped me identify what I needed to do to up my game for future interviews.

Below is a summary of what I learned from this interview:

  • Thoroughly read the job posting…multiple times
    After my interview, I finally understood how important it is to identify an employer’s specific needs from their job posting and determine how my accomplishments matched them.
  • Learn how to write a successful cover letter and resume
    At the time, I learned how important it is to articulate your accomplishments in your resume and cover letter so you show the employer clear evidence of how you would do the job well and add value to the role.
  • Learn how to prepare for an interview
    Be sure to study the organization, learn about and take notes on everyone you may meet and prepare questions for each of them, hone your presentation, and prepare to dress professionally.
  • Learn how to answer different types of interview questions
    This interview was the first time I realized I needed to be prepared to answer behavioral questions, which are very common in interviews. Make sure you prepare for them!
  • Prepare to experience a full-day interview, with everything on the line
    Experiencing this full-day interview was so enlightening! I’ve never felt so in-the-moment, ready, and engaged. It showed me a new version of who I can be in an interview setting.
  • Trust that you can still perform at 110% under less than ideal circumstances
    I didn’t sleep the night before (or much the night before that), and still performed at my best (…until about the 7th meeting). This was a major confidence boost!
  • Accept that you can give it your all, not achieve your goal, and still feel good about yourself
    While I didn’t get the job, I was still thrilled and enlightened by the experience. I now know how to interview. I know what I can really do under pressure. And I know enough now so I can help others prepare as their Career Coach!

I hope these lessons will help you better prepare for future interviews, as they have since helped me. For additional support preparing for interviews, meet with a Career Coach.

Diversity in the Workplace Series: Expert Career Advice From Professionals of Color

By Megan Randall, CPDC Undergraduate Career Coach

Diversity in the Workplace is a CPDC career series for People of Color (POC) in which students and a panel of Professionals of Color come together over lunch. Students listen to panelists’ expert career advice and learn how they’ve navigated the workforce as POC, how to build a network, and much more. This space for POC to connect with and learn from one another is critical because POC experience additional hurdles in the workforce due to systemic racism and oppression. This series was created after our team had conversations over time about the ways we can support and lift up the voices of POC.

After attending a couple of our panels as a White ally in this work, I know I do not experience life in the same ways as POC, nor can I ever fully understand what it is like to navigate the workforce as a Professional of Color. During this crucial moment, I wanted to take the time now to amplify the wonderful advice I heard as an ally and highlight the key quotes and paraphrased takeaways that emerged directly from our panelists’ expert advice during our November 2019 and January 2020 panels:

Theme #1: Identify Companies That Are Inclusive in Your Interviews
Remember, “You’re also interviewing each company”. Do your research to see if a company is a good cultural fit, then ask more questions during your interview, including:

  • Ask what employers mean when they say, “We’re looking for the right cultural fit”.
  • Ask, “Are there POC here (company and city/state)?”
  • Ask, “Who is on your board of directors and in leadership positions?” to see if the company has diverse leadership.
  • Ask, “Is there room for me to join the table at the top?” to see if there will be opportunities for you to rise.

Theme #2: Be Your Full, Authentic Self with Employers
“The most important advocate for yourself needs to be yourself.”

  • “Cultivating a sense of belonging means empowering POC to show up as their true, authentic selves and be recognized for who they are.”
  • “Belonging is about being able to show up as your full self all the time.”
  • “Strive to be your whole, authentic self from the beginning. If not, you’re doing a disservice to yourself.”
  • Don’t shy away from talking about your identities and why they’re important to you. “Help people get to know the real you and ask them to respect you for who you are.”

Theme #3: Find a Mentor, Fast!
“Find mentors who will advocate for you.”

  • “Find a mentor and find them fast. Don’t wait until you’re ready for a career, do it right away. If you find someone who’s willing to be your champion, go with it”
  • “Interview people to be on your mentor board – not just anybody should be on your board.” Find mentors who are willing to bring up conversations for you when you’re not in the room.
  • “You can find mentors in a lot of different people. A mentor could be someone you report to, a colleague, or even a friend who’s moved up in the ranks.”
  • “Mentors also don’t always have to look or sound like you. You can learn a lot from mentors who aren’t exactly like you, and provide them with a return on investment because they can learn from you too.”
  • “Don’t use the term “mentor” when asking people because it can be off-putting. Instead, set up informal 1:1 coffee meetings or lunches. Start small and informal to test the waters.”

All of us in the CPDC acknowledge that this is an ever-growing list of advice, and we remain committed to continuing to create intentional spaces like our Diversity in the Workplace series for POC to learn and grow together. Updates about our 2020-2021 Diversity in the Workplace panels will be published soon in our Handshake Events. We invite you to join us at our future panels!

Special Thanks

I would like to thank the many incredible people who have made our Diversity in the Workplace Series and this post possible. Thank you ALL especially for engaging with me during my writing process for this post, sharing your feedback and suggesting changes I incorporated, and giving me your approval to publish this post.

  • Thank you to my colleague, Carmen Gold-Johnson, our CPDC Assistant Director of Employer Engagement and Internship Development, and James Jackson III, Founder of the Utah Black Chamber (UBC), for creating and continuing to offer this incredible series for our students!
  • Thank you to our November 2019 panelists: Karen Rodriguez (Code in Color), Laura Stireman (WCF), Nikki Walker (Domo), and Risshan Leak (eBay).
  • Thank you to our January 2020 panelists: Deneiva Knight (Comcast), Isaac Ewaleifoh (Goldman Sachs), Krystal Guerra (Instructure), and Robyn Cohen (W Collective).
  • Thank you to my colleagues, Carmen Gold-Johnson; Crystal Cory, Career Coach; Devon Darland, Assistant Director of Programming; and Mary Arola, Career Coach, for working with me to edit and finalize this post for publishing.

How To Better Describe Your Strengths In An Interview

By Crystal Cory, CPDC Undergraduate Career Coach

Hardworking. Detail-oriented. Organized. Passionate. Over the years, I’ve heard students use these words to describe their strengths in practice interviews more times than I can count. (I did count once – and I had 26 separate students tell me that they were hardworking over the course of four weeks!) Why is it problematic that all of these students used the same four words to describe their strengths? It makes everyone sound the same!

Because I’ve heard these words used so frequently, I’ve taken time to reflect on why I’ve heard these words so much. I believe that these four words are what our U.S. society thinks a great worker should be. They should work really hard at their jobs, be super passionate about their work, and let no detail or deadline fall through the cracks. Inherently, these aren’t bad qualities to have. But by using the same words as everyone else, you are doing yourself a disservice.

The entire point of an interview is to make yourself stand out from the rest of the candidates in the pool and highlight what makes you a unique fit for the position. If you use the same words as the rest of the candidates to describe your strengths, you completely ruin your chances of standing out in the employers’ memory. But don’t worry, there is a way to dig deeper to help yourself stand out!

The first strategy you can use is to think about how you would personally define these very broad terms. Let’s take hardworking, for example. For one student, hardworking could mean that no matter the obstacle, they are going to get the job done. For another student, it could mean that they will keep trying until they reach their goals. What do you think of when you read these definitions? Sure, they both fall under the broad term of hardworking, but the first student could say instead that they are perseverant, while the second could say they are persistent. Completely different, right?

Another strategy you can use is to think about the reason you are the way you are. For example, I consider myself to be pretty organized. I keep to-do lists and color code things whenever I can. But upon further reflection, I realized that my organization allows me to be efficient in my work. I pride myself on getting tasks done quickly and effectively, and my ability to organize is just one strategy I use to do that. Saying that you are efficient (instead of organized) will help you stand out more in an interview.

While these common words aren’t inherently bad to use, you run the risk of sounding like all other candidates when you use them. Dig a little deeper and really reflect on what you uniquely bring to the table. If you’re struggling, Undergraduate Career Coaches and Graduate Career Coaches are at the ready to help you! Give yourself the best shot of standing out in an interview by reflecting on what makes you, you!

Key Takeaways I Learned From 3 Informational Interviews

By Dan Moseson, Ph.D., CPDC Graduate Career Coach 

Recently, my colleague, Crystal Cory, wrote a superb article about how to network during this unprecedented time. Adding to Crystal’s advice, I encourage you to think outside the box as you seek out new and exciting career conversations. You’ll gain new perspectives on your current work or study, and an expanded sense of what’s possible.

To prove this point, I set up three informational interviews with professionals who work in areas I knew hardly anything about: tornado science, landscape photography, and outdoor education. Below, I’ve broken down three takeaways from each interview: How these professionals built their careers, what I learned that can aid me in my current job, and how I plan to learn more.

Interview #1: Dr. Kim Klockow McLain, Research Scientist and Social Applications Coordinator at NOAA National Severe Storms Laboratory in Norman, Oklahoma

Kim built her career in risk communication by pursuing academic training in weather science and the psychology of risk, then learning to support research during a science policy fellowship in the U.S. Senate. She helps community members learn to protect themselves by “thinking more like the storm”. Kim passed on great lessons in working across disciplines: learn each side’s language, create spaces for overlap, and build trust over time. I can use this advice to help graduate students and faculty re-imagine career paths. I plan to follow-up by surveying jobs at weather and hazard labs where, Kim told me, my students can make a difference.

Interview #2: Dave Koch, Landscape and Real Estate Photographer in Salt Lake City, Utah

Dave studied film in college and got his first job in television, largely by hanging out and engaging with people who already worked in television. He learned photography by taking background images for weather forecasts. The first of two great lessons from Dave: “Take pictures every day” and “Create every day”. You’ll surprise yourself when, one day, you have a good body of work. Second, Dave said how useful it was to shoot on assignment when he worked in television. “If you self-assign things,” he said, “you’ll play to your strengths”. In other words, you may benefit if you’re not in charge right away. I plan to follow-up by speaking with two photographers Dave kindly recommended.

Interview #3: Allison Hughes, Co-Manager of Outdoor Adventures at the University of Utah’s Campus Recreation Services

Allison has built her career through study and a series of recreation and student development roles, despite not growing up outdoorsy. She passed on two great leadership lessons. First, “Confidence is contagious”. If you project confidence, you’ll grow confidence in those you lead. Second, learn to take feedback. You’ll grow faster than those who can’t. Allison recommend that I follow-up by visiting the Association for Outdoor Recreation and Education’s website, which provides information on a wide range of outdoor careers.

I hope these interviews were as enlightening for you as they were for me. I stepped well outside of my field, learned a lot, and made wonderful new connections. Try it out!