(CC Image Courtesy of SalFalko of Flickr)
Chicago Business asked first-years to submit their most pressing questions about recruiting. We selected the most common (and some of the oddest) topics. Below, second-year students respond.
Q: What is the best way to prep for an interview?
Anonymous: Practice like it was a real interview not only with second years but also with a Career Adviser. They tend to give very honest and straightforward feedback, which is the only one that counts. If you weren't able to convince that person about your story and why you want to work there, then you'll know you won't make it to second round.
Anonymous: Practice with others, practice with yourself in the mirror and really think if this is a company and a person you look forward to working with which ultimately leads you to researching the company and asking fit questions.
Journee Isip: Read the website and find out what you're tested on. Importantly, practice with first- and second-year students. Offer genuine, pointed feedback when you practice, and that's what you'll get in return.
Miriam Owens: I can only speak to consulting, so bear in mind this is only about that. "Fit"/"Behavioral" prep: I'm starting with this because a lot of people give it short shrift, and it's an incredibly important part of the interviewing process. You can actually start this now, and you will be way ahead of the game once wInterview rolls around (I was not this prepared but I wish I had been).
Drawing inspiration from your résumé (it helps to actually take it out and look at it), start to think about five to seven stories you can use from your experience that demonstrate typical consulting skills: teamwork, problem solving, influencing others (especially without formal authority), analytics, communication, resilience, etc. The MCG case book you will get will have typical "fit" prep questions - it's a good idea to know what you would say given any question, and any story you choose to tell should have an overall, positive moral about you. E.g. "I convinced my superior to make a decision that saved the company millions." = "I am great at managing up."
Once you know what stories you are going to use, start polishing them up so that they are under 90 seconds when you tell them. It works to use a "SOAR" framework: Situation, Obstacle, Action, Result. What was the context, what was the conflict, what did you do and what happened? Try to weed out unnecessary details and context and focus on what YOU did. But be prepared to go deeper than 90 seconds - some companies will want to probe more deeply, so be sure you know your story inside and out.
I wouldn't crack a case prep book until Thanksgiving at the earliest - earlier than that, and the marginal benefit is extremely low if not negative. Some people will tell you to wait until January or winter break, but for me, starting a little earlier was about making myself feel less anxious ("What IS this case interview like, anyway?!" had basically been on my brain since October). Take those first couple of weeks to just get familiar with the format of a typical case interview and to familiarize yourself with usual do's and don't's; serious prepping doesn't need to start that early. If you want, you can start working on your mental math - MCG has great resources on their website to practice this.
Anadi Misra: Sleep well. Have a cookie. Know the four basic questions well - WMTYR? Why this company? Why this role? Why you?
Q: What's the best way to reach out to someone cold if I can't find a connection to introduce me?
Miriam Owens: For second-years (speaking for myself anyway), just go ahead and reach out! I don't mind at all if someone emails me cold.
For actual firm contacts, it's trickier. Leverage the On-Campus Representative for the firm, of course, but if you've already done that, done the crop circles, gone to the LnLs and BnLs (pro tip: BnLs are much more lightly attended, so if you're getting no traction at events, they can be a good place to connect with folks), you may be stuck with sending a cold email. These are pretty sub-optimal, so it's a good idea to use these as a pretty late choice.
Diana Zink: Find something you have in common or an interest you can add value with and send a LinkedIn request to the person, mentioning that in one sentence.
Anadi Misra: Create a FB page for them, become the president of their fan club! Invite them to all sort of FB events in their honor. Tell them you are their long lost younger brother or sister who was kidnapped at birth.
Anonymous: Don't underestimate the power of the Booth network. I reached out to several alumni just by expressing my interest in their industry and making sure that I do not waste their time. I would then ask for further recommendations from the alumni to reach out to next level of people.
Q: Does following up with people I meet during a networking event really do anything, or will the more important connections be people whom I reach out to on my own?
Anonymous: In my experience, it didn't help me at all. It depends on the industry though. In your cover letter and interview mention the people you've talked to.
Anonymous: Following up is important but will not necessarily distinguish you from the others at the event nor among those that do follow up. Find a balance and while at the networking event make sure you also discuss other topics not just recruiting. Being more personal will help the recruiter or contact remember you as 'that one who loves to knit,' rather than 'the one with the white shirt and black shoes.'
Diana Zink: The more important ones are people you reach on your own. Especially those who don't get contacted often. The second most valuable will be people you met at a networking event, and contacted months after - they will be impressed you remembered them.
Anadi Misra: Yes, it does. Only one in five people might respond, but most would notice it. The follow-up needs to have a specific 'ask,' in order to succeed. E.g., " I really want to learn more about topic X. Would you have a few minutes for a brief phone conversation about that sometime next week."
Q: When trying to connect with an interviewer, how casual is too casual?
Anadi Misra: When you start telling them about what you did at TNDC.
Anonymous: Always a judgment call but be sure to show a bit of the casual side of you. That person may be wondering if you are the type of person they will be ok with sitting with for dinner.
Journee Isip: Figure out how casual the interviewer is. Try to be at that level, but err on the formal side if it's hard to get a read. As a lower bar, think of someone you know who you have a lot of respect for professionally, and never use any words/phrases in an interview that you wouldn't want that person to hear.
Miriam Owens: You have to use your socio-emotional intelligence here - follow their lead. If they're talking about the game and joking about the traffic that morning, participate in the conversation and throw in a few (very low-risk) jokes if you want. Do NOT try to bring up hot button topics like politics, the recruiting process or anything even remotely controversial. Stick to the weather, traffic, restaurants or whatever. If they're all business, don't try to lighten the mood - just go with it and put on your professional face.
Anonymous: My rule of thumb was not anymore casual than the stuff written on the "Additional Section" of my résumé. Beyond that I was always formal as that's the safest approach.
Anonymous: This really depends. You need to follow the lead of the interviewer. If he or she is casual, you can respond likewise. Always err on the side of formality, but if your interviewer notices you went to the same undergrad and starts recounting stories of frat parties and keg stands, feel free to reciprocate. Of course, there are lines you should never cross - sex and drugs are pretty much always off limit; even if the interviewer brings it up, just laugh and move on.
Q: What's the right move when I find out midway through a conversation that I'm not interested in the company / industry / person?
Diana Zink: Offer to bring them a drink, toss their empty plate, exchange business cards or connections on LinkedIn. All good moments after which you can leave.
Anonymous: Nod a couple of times, smile and when you find a silence say, "This was very interesting, I don't want to take more of your time. It was a pleasure meeting you."
Anonymous: You owe yourself and that person the benefit of continuing to talk make sure that the deal breaker really is a deal breaker, at which point maybe say "thank you for clarifying, I don't think this is exactly what I'm looking for." If you are unsure, hold your doubts and get more information. Talk to more people including about your concerns. If you really aren't interested, don't waste anymore of your or their time and leave politely. But if you feel an urge to get the hell out of a conversation that just got super awkward, create a diversion. This is especially easy if you have a friend you can signal to get you out.
Journee Isip: If it's an interview, be polite and do your best anyway - it's important for the school's relationship with the firm, and you might even build rapport with the interviewer, which is never a bad thing. If it's a networking event or coffee chat, then I don't understand this question. The point of these conversations is to see whether you'd be interested in the company, so I consider it a success if you realize you're not. Just enter the conversation with the mindset that you simply want to learn more about what they do, and you'll avoid coming off as aloof.
Anonymous: Find an exit point by saying that you don't want to take up all their time and exit gracefully thanking the person. I would still send a thank you note without asking for a follow up as you would never know who ends up where and your paths may cross again.
Anonymous: Stick around and wait for a convenient time to make a polite exit. Remember that even though you aren't interested anymore, your behavior reflects on your classmates who are. There are lots of externalities in recruiting - be conscious of them.
How do I recover after making a huge flub in a crop-circle?
Anonymous: Doesn't really matters in certain companies/ industries. It was probably less of a flub than you think.
Anonymous: Be sure to apologize and try not to make it worse. Try to laugh it off and joke about yourself and your clumsiness.
Journee Isip: It depends on what the flub is. If it's physical (spilled your drink, tripped, accidentally elbowed the recruiter in the rib), just apologize quickly, clean up and don't draw attention to it - no need to leave the circle. If you said something personally offensive, gauge what it was. You could change the subject by asking another question, or you could find a way to leave the circle smoothly and find other recruiters you get along with better.
Anonymous: Reset. Think of it from the sunk cost perspective :)
Anonymous: Don't try to recover; you'll just end up digging yourself a deeper hole. Move on and hope that the person forgets about it. Also, don't fret too much, one bad interaction probably isn't enough to sink you with an entire company, just try to do better next time.
Anadi Misra: Acknowledge it. Gracefully accept that you made a fool of yourself and just carry on nonchalantly.
Q: Can I invite a particularly attractive interviewer on a date if the interview goes well?
Diana Zink: No. Wait for many months to pass.
Anonymous: Of course you can! Just don't expect them to say yes or that you will continue along the selection process.
Journee Isip: Probably not.
Miriam Owens: Um, no.
Anonymous: An absolute NO.
Q: I have a nervous habit of pulling at my eyebrows. How can I break the habit?
Diana Zink: Put something pointy and painful over your eyebrows at home to train yourself it is unpleasant to touch that area when you are not around people and thus remember not to do that when you are.
Anonymous: Sit on your hands or hold something during the interview so that your hands cannot be anywhere near your face. Alternatively, a vet collar similar to the one pets have after surgeries are also effective but not yet fashionable for humans. If all else fails, shave your eyebrows...
Journee Isip: I flip my pen in my fingers when I get nervous. It helped to be holding something else in my hands when I wasn't writing, like my résumé, the interview folder or the recruiter's business card. Keep your hands rested on the table so that it's not so obvious.
Miriam Owens: It helps to have a good friend or partner who knows about how you're trying to stop who can help support you (i.e. tell you to stop when you are doing it). Other things that work: Keep a habit journal, and write down every time you do it and in what situations. This does two things: First, the act of recording it at all will help you stop or do it less frequently. Second, it makes you become aware of the situations in which you are most likely to engage in the habit, so you can make small changes that make you less likely to be in those specific situations. Good luck!
Anonymous: Ummm....don't do it? In all seriousness, nervous habits are tough to break because you often don't notice you're doing them. Try to find a friend at recruiting events who can look out for you and give you a discreet signal if you're doing something you don't want to be.