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No matter how well prepared I feel I am prepared for an interview there always seems to be one or two questions that take me be surprise. Recently, I had the opportunity to do a first round phone interview for an organization that I have high regard for and would love to work for. The interview was going well … and then the interviewer asked how is the job search going. Arguably an innocuous question, but once you consider the possible answers it becomes a bit of a conundrum. If I answered ‘fine’ then the question arises why are you looking at our org then, and if I answered truthfully “could be going better” it comes off as I am a bit embittered which makes me less of an employable option. While I stumbled through this question, there is a resource I go to time and time again to prep for interviews:

60 Seconds and You’re Hired

One of the things I like about this book is the section on tough interview questions. It generally helps and on several occasions I have been asked questions from this section in interviews. I also like to review the section on questions to ask. I usually have done a fair amount of research on the org and the interviewer so I have a bad habit of having no questions to ask. This section gives me go to questions to ask … regardless if I know the answer already.

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Career services as an undergrad was a fully formed process. At my undergrad college graduates were scheduled for an exit interview with career services and at the interview you discussed your plan to make use of your newly minted degree. Before leaving a follow up interview would be scheduled in which you would review your resume and cover letter skills. Lastly, all seniors took part in an interview session with career services.

It seemed like a burden at the time and often seniors would make a game out of avoiding the career services gauntlet. But looking back it was a process that, rightly so, supposed the senior wasn’t sure what was needed and insured engagement by them. My current career services department takes a traditional approach that requires the graduate to know not only what s/he wants to do next, but knows the path to get to that point. Given that many enter into graduate school from a different careerpath to expect within 2-3 years of fulltime studies a student would have the answer and the pathway to access the answer seems misplaced. My career services department offers a series of workshops: Bootcamp 1-3, a career changers workshop, and a series of miscellaneous workshops. Bootcamp 3 is an all day affair, yes as in 8 hours, that covers what you should have learned from bootcamp 1 and 2 as well as an on-camera interview. Before starting grad school I sat-in on a career services workshop (the career changers one), and I liked the idea that the program wanted to broach the idea of career changers which other university career services seemed less inclined to address. 

Unfortunately what I know now, that I didn’t know then, was the lack of integration of the various workshops by my programs career services. So, while there is a career changers workshop the bootcamp series of workshops are structured as if there aren’t career changers in the group. PARs (Problem-Action-Results) is the only format offered for resume workshopping and I find it a bit difficult to take that my career services is assuming all graduates entered and are leaving with the same body of experience for the marketplace. I can understand if PARs is the ‘gold standard’ of resume preparation but in a market climate that requires standing out it would be nice to at least be informed of the alternatives. For instance realizing the way we consume information has changed with the advent of google, web 2.0, and the social media centric web I wanted to reflect that change in my resume. I am a fan of the infographs as it tells multiple little stories while presenting the big picture, and I wanted to incorporate infographic qualities into my resume. Sadly, my career services contact only could see PARs. Even after a conversation explaining my concern preparing a resume that parrots every other resume I was urged to go to bootcamp 1 (again) and to do problem-action-results statements for each employment experience and internship experiences on my resume. Needless to say it didn’t seem advantageous to me to sit in bootcamp 1 as it basically teaches you how to do PARs, and I know how to do it — I just recognize there may be other tools that could serve me better in this economic climate.

I wish I could say my university is an anomaly in it’s one pathway approach to career services but per conversations other recent graduates from other nationally recognized programs …. this is not the case. Sadly, instead of grad programs bolstering career services many career services are finding themselves swamped with more students and by proxy a higher demand on services. Because most students are focused on finding the right program for them by the time they begin thinking about what they need from career services, they are usually heading into graduation. Of course by graduation time its a little difficult to make any adjustments for the shortfalls of your programs career services.

Looking back to my selection process I wished I had asked how:

  • alumni services are integrated into career services
  • often career services reviews workshop offerings
  • career services receives feedback from expected grads and alumni currently looking for employment
  • often career services reviews employment search materials
  • employment leads specific to your program are culled

I think that it was naive of me to expect my program to adjust its career services game to the economic market, but I think it is realistic to expect my program to put as much thought into the career services as they do in the coursework design. Likewise, I think those who are looking into programs, particularly given the financial climate, should ask and take time to explore the career services offerings from those programs on a shortlist. At the end of the day going to grad school is a huge undertaking both financially and time wise. If you go to school fulltime you will be out of the market for at least a few years, and of course you will be in significantly more debt than before starting a program. Entering back into the job market is process that requires some assistance in order to navigate effectively. That navigation means the difference between finding yourself in a job under capitalized and finding it difficult to meet your debt obligations, or worst yet you may find yourself unable to shift into your new careerpath and instead falling into your pre-grad school career choices.

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