Tell Me About Yourself…

I know what you are thinking – do I have to? Yes, you do because in all likelihood, you’ll be asked this question numerous times during the interview process. In most initial interviews, it’s the default launching point and nailing this question goes a long way towards creating a spark with the interviewer, getting them onboard with the idea that you could be a great fit and ultimately, moving you forward in the process. This is also a question that gets asked and answered in networking situations so it’s important that you nail this one.

As a recruiter, I can’t count the number of times that I’ve asked this or the number of  candidates who have been ill-prepared to answer it. A few tips and things to remember when you ultimately must tackle it:

  • Don’t wing it. Practice (out loud) what you are going to say in advance. You don’t want to stumble over your words while you make it up on the spot.
  • Don’t recite your resume. This takes way too long and goes into way too much detail for what should be a relatively high-level answer. Average time to shoot for: 2 minutes. Any longer and the interviewer has likely zoned out.
  • Personalize it Part 1. You are not a robot. The recruiter or hiring manager genuinely wants to get to know you. Consider mentioning a hobby or community involvement. You never know which detail will be the one to build that connection but doing your homework on the interviewer will help. You can bet that if I’m interviewing someone and they make a connection with me about Boston, Colby College, educational access or hot yoga, my ears perk up.
  • Personalize it Part 2. Your answer should be customized for the role and company. When preparing what you’re going to say, go back and look at the job description. Which skills/attributes are highlighted? Be sure to speak to these things in your answer.
  • Past, present, future. Consider this simple format for telling your story. Take the interviewer on a journey with you – where have you been, what are your biggest accomplishments/achievements, what crossroads are you at now and where do you want to go? Some questions to ask yourself as you piece this story together (because you’ve promised me that you aren’t going to wing it!):
    • What have I done?
    • What am I passionate about?
    • What did I learn, develop or accomplish?
    • What am I interested in doing next?
    • Why did I take that particular step/make that move?
    • Why am I sitting here today?

While it might change slightly from situation to situation, here’s how I’m currently structuring mine: I have almost 20 years of experience managing recruiting and HR programs for a variety of industries – legal, non-profit, consulting and financial services. Across all of my recruiting roles, I’ve focused on helping hiring managers to identify best fit candidates for roles from entry-level to c-suite. After moving from Boston to Raleigh 6 years ago, I decided that I wanted to stretch myself outside of corporate recruiting and use my skills in evaluating candidates in a new arena so I joined the admissions committee at the Fuqua School of Business at Duke University. Today, I use my background in recruiting and admissions (and the knowledge of knowing what hiring managers, recruiters and admissions officers are and are not looking for) combined with my passion for working one-on-one with people (most HR people will tell you they are part therapist) to now help my clients put their best foot forward when applying to college or grad school or approaching the job search process.

Need help developing yours? Drop me a note at megan@bestyouconsultinggroup.com.

 

 

Veritas, flannel and the Development of Western Civilization

On a recent road trip to the Northeast, we made a pit stop at my husband’s old stomping grounds, Providence College. Here’s his trip down memory lane…

It’s any Tuesday morning in October in the mid-1990s and flannel is king. Hootie & the Blowfish are sure to outlive The Rolling Stones and define a generation. They can’t miss. Right? These are the things I’m concerned with as I begin the trek from Fennel Hall up toward main campus and ultimately to class. But not just any class; it’s the heart and soul of the academic experience for all students who have called this institution home since 1971. I am talking about what outsiders to Providence College refer to as “The Development of Western Civilization.” What near outsiders call “DWC.” But to us, it will always just be CIV. Ah. CIV.

Any discussion of the quality or uniqueness of a Providence College education, as well as the essence of the Providence experience, must begin with an understanding of CIV. CIV truly is the lifeblood of my alma mater, and remains one of the most unique offerings of any college or university in the country. CIV is a comprehensive study of the development of Western Civilization, meeting five days a week for your first two years at Providence. Each group, or CIV team, is headed by a panel of professors representing the key areas of focus for the program: History, Philosophy, Religion, Art & Literature. Students are required to complete 16 CIV credits in their first four semesters on campus (I won’t even mention that fact that it was 20 credits when I was there and these students don’t know how easy they have it!). It’s fair to say that students at Providence have a love/hate relationship with CIV. It is demanding. It can be all consuming. But there is absolutely no question that it is an amazing program. And while 18-year old me does not want to hear this, it is the source of some of most my cherished college memories. Maybe I needed to get out more, but there was something special about that shared experience. Knowing that all 1077 of my classmates were in this with me, scrambling to find a unique angle on the relevance of Plato’s Cave to the fall of the Berlin Wall. I am certain no other college offers a program so comprehensive and so unifying to its students. To this day when I meet a fellow Providence alum, whether they graduated in 1975 or 2015, our secret handshake is CIV.

While CIV is the school’s centerpiece, it is certainly not all Providence College (affectionately known as “PC”) has to offer its 4,300 undergrads. Not even close. Providence College was the nation’s first college to offer a bachelor’s degree in Public and Community Service Studies. The college was founded by and conducted under the auspices of the Dominican Friars. The Catholic identity is hard to miss. Sunday night mass is standing room only (or at least my roommates told me they were) and service is a big component of the student experience. While at PC, I volunteered with the Chad Brown Boys & Girls Club and the Providence Plan Housing Corporation. I was certainly not alone, as almost everyone I knew was involved with some kind of organization off-campus. Students have the opportunity to serve through a number of curricular and co-curricular programs, including FriarServe which pairs Providence College volunteers with five Providence Catholic Pre-K – 8 schools.

The school is nestled less than 2 miles from downtown Providence, RI, one of the best kept secrets in the northeast. With the city as its backdrop, students enjoy limitless social and cultural activities. And with Brown University and the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) a mile from the edge of campus, the entire city takes on the feeling of an extended campus.

Of course, no discussion of Providence College would be complete without a discussion of our rich sports history. In 2017, Time Magazine ranked Providence as the 28th best college in America for sports fans. The Friar Faithful ranked higher than some traditional sports powerhouses such as: Florida State, Penn State, Villanova & Michigan State. Providence College fields 19 varsity athletic teams. All are NCAA Division 1, and all compete within the Big East (with the exception of men’s & women’s ice hockey which compete in Hockey East – hockey’s Big East equivalent). Providence has enjoyed immense success in all sports but has recently flourished in men’s basketball (having participated in the NCAA Tournament each of the last 5 years under beloved coach Ed Cooley) with the future looking brighter than ever. Men’s hockey also enjoys both a storied past to match a successful present. The Friars were the founding members of the mighty Hockey East Conference, which was the brainchild of then Providence Head Coach, Lou Lamoriello, for whom the Hockey East Championship Trophy is named. Providence College has maintained the commitment to hockey excellence outlined by Lamoriello. This culminated in 2015 when the Friars won the NCAA Division 1 Hockey National Championship, defeating Boston University 4-3 in the title game.

This summer, I had a chance to revisit. It had been a long time since I’d stepped foot on the campus and while some things have changed (much less flannel and Slavin got a nice facelift, that’s for sure!), the fundamental components that make Providence College unique (its Catholic identity, rich sports history and of course CIV) remain intact. Veritas!

A Visit to the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD)

Our family trip up north this summer offered up the opportunity to spend an afternoon at the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD). It was a campus visit unlike any other.

The RISD Admissions office had multiple rooms packed with high school students eager to learn more. Isabelle Sanchez, Class of 2015, led my information session and is clearly passionate about her alma mater. She described RISD as an organically collaborative community where you will be surrounded by fellow students who are as passionate and eager to talk about art as you are.

A few of my key take aways from the visit:

  • First year is about experimental and foundation studies – all students take two liberal arts classes per semester and are encouraged to explore (3D, charcoal drawing, spatial dynamics and more).
  • You can receive your Bachelor of Fine Arts in four years or your Bachelor of Architecture in five.
  • First years get first pick of classes during the five-week winter semester which could take you across the world on a study abroad program (perhaps the European Honors Program or RISD in Seoul) or to Los Angeles for an internship.
  • While RISD offers >300 liberal arts courses, you can cross-register to take courses at Brown beginning your second year.
  • Speaking of Brown, you can apply to get a dual degree (BA/BFA) in five years. Getting in is very competitive as you must be separately admitted to both schools and then selected by a committee. Only 15-20 students are offered the opportunity every year.
  • The Nature Lab (the coolest part of the tour!) offers unmediated access to natural history specimens (puffer fish, human bones, coral and so much more) for inspiration.
  • The RISD Library includes a student-curated section.
  • While on a huge hill (the tour was quite the workout in the heat!), the campus is very walkable and in the heart of downtown Providence. With your RISD ID, you’ll have full bus access to the entire state.
  • The MET dining hall is every vegan’s dream.
  • You will apply via the Common App. In addition, you’ll submit a SlideRoom portfolio of 12-20 images of your work and complete the RISD “Assignment” (choose one of three words – Error, Forge, Verify – and create two visual responses and a written reflection). As for your essay, don’t write about art! The school knows you are interested in art and wants to learn something else about you.

Interested in art and design and wondering what else should be on your college list? Besides RISD, consider the following*:

Art Center College of Design

School of the Art Institute of Chicago

California College of the Arts

California Institute of the Arts

The Cooper Union

Kansas City Art Institute

Maryland Institute, College of Art

Massachusetts College of Art

Moore College of Art and Design

School of the Museum of Fine Arts (MA)

North Carolina School of the Arts

Otis Institute of Art and Design

Parsons School of Design

Pratt Institute

Ringling School of Art and Design

San Francisco Art Institute

Savannah College of Art and Design

School of Visual Arts (NY)

*Source: Fiske Guide to Colleges 2018

Finding the Confidence to Write High-Quality College Application Essays

I recently discussed confidence in the college essay writing process with Matt Bieber of Real Clear English. Below is our transatlantic conversation…

Matt

When students sit down to write their college application essays, they’re expected to share their inner worlds with distant, anonymous readers who hold a great deal of power over their future.

It’s no surprise, then, that students are reluctant to tell their stories – even if they have really good stories. I see this hesitation all the time in my own students, and my guest – Megan Johnson of Best You Consulting Group – does too. The question is, what do we do with this feeling?

Megan

My students tend to fall into one of three categories:

  1. They think they have nothing interesting to say.
  2. They think that a good essay involves kicking the winning goal or going on a mission trip.
  3. They are hesitant to tell their secrets to strangers.

The students who fall into the first group often feel that because they haven’t encountered tragedy in their life, no one will find them interesting and therefore, they’ll never be admitted. While tragedy can make for a good essay, it’s not your only path to admission. Everyone is different. Your “boring and regular” life may not have seen tragedy, but you still have something to say.

The second group feels like their essay needs to fall into the safe zone. Volunteering and sports are “safe.”

To students in the third category, I understand the hesitation. Will a group of strangers judge me for what I’ve done or what I’ve been through? In short, no. They are longing to get to know you. They are not judging and they understand that sharing your story is personal and completely respect that.

When I served on the admissions committee at Fuqua, Duke’s MBA program, I read a lot (I mean A LOT) of applications. My favorite essay at Fuqua asks for “25 random things about you.” Those who repeated pieces of information from their resume or only provided surface-level (safe) information about themselves were not memorable when it came time for admissions officers to present at committee meetings. The students who went deeper, were vulnerable, shared a story about something that went wrong, were funny – they were memorable. I felt like I got to know them personally by reading their essays. I bonded with them. As I result, when it came time to make admissions decisions, I fought for them.

Matt

I often tell my students that this is where admissions officers are coming from, but it’s great to have some hard proof! And it makes sense: admissions officers aren’t robots – they’re real people who want to feel connected to other real people.

Let me ask a little more about your third category – the students who are wary of sharing their secrets with strangers. You and I both encourage our students to share. In your view, how much should they share? Is there such a thing as over-sharing? Or are these the wrong questions?

Megan

I do think there’s such a thing as oversharing. Vulnerable, yes. Vulgar, no. In some ways, I think the students who choose to overshare are afraid that their lives are boring and that they need to shock the reader in order to get attention.

As students begin drafting essays, I think they need to ask themselves why. Why am I sharing this particular story? What does it say about me? Is this how I want to be remembered?

I’m interested in your take, Matt. Does all this talk of oversharing scare students into playing it safe?

Matt

I hope not! I’m all for honesty and vulnerability – the more, the better. But as you say, it has to be honesty with the right motivations behind it. Just trying to shock the reader will almost certainly backfire, and for two reasons: one, because admissions readers have seen just about everything before, and two, because telling lurid stories often involves cheapening your own experiences. It’s painful to see students treat the most sensitive moments in their own lives – or in the lives of their loved ones – as currency to be traded in an admissions game. And naturally, doing so doesn’t inspire confidence among admissions readers, either.

Confidence strikes me as central to the whole essay-writing process. Students who have some basic sense of their own dignity – who trust that their own experiences are valuable, and who don’t feel a constant need to compare themselves to others – often end up writing the essays that imprint themselves in readers’ minds. And a big part of my role is reminding students of that truth, and helping them see it for themselves.

Megan

I couldn’t agree more on the confidence piece! I think a lack of confidence makes a student fall into one of the three buckets that I described earlier. It takes confidence to feel like your story matters, to not play it safe or to share something that feels personal. Borrowing from Augusten Burroughs, I think it means letting go of other people’s perceptions that are out of your control and granting yourself some basic space to work.

Matt, any closing advice for high school students trying to find confidence in their writing?

Matt

I think you said it perfectly! Of course, that kind of confidence can be hard to generate and maintain, and it helps to have support as you go through the process – a family member, a friend, or a professional coach. It’s also important for students to remember that writing well about your own life is hard – it’s a real skill, one that takes time to develop just like any other. If you walk into this process thinking you’re going to sit down and slap together a high-quality essay in a few quick sessions, you’re probably setting yourself up for frustration. But if go into the process humbly, curious to see what you might learn and how you might share your discoveries, you’ll do beautifully.

13 things you must do to stand out in today’s competitive job market

There are many things that make living in North Carolina hard to beat. People are right to tout the limitless outdoor activities, the near perfect climate and the booming economy. But another thing that sets North Carolina apart from many other states is the sheer number of world-class colleges & universities the state is home to. From time to time, I am fortunate enough to partner with these schools in a professional capacity.

I was recently asked to participate on a panel and conduct mock interviews at the Master of Quantitative Management program at the Fuqua School of Business at Duke. This ten-month business analytics program was introduced at Fuqua this year. It is designed for college graduates with strong quantitative backgrounds and provides training in analytics and communication within the context of finance, marketing, forensics or strategy. The objective is to prepare students for a career in data-based problem solving.

Panelists represented a variety of companies including Stealz, Lenovo, Data Blueprint and LivingLab. While the companies represented a wide range of sizes, industries and locations, some common themes emerged:

  • Startups and smaller companies place a premium on transferable skills. Given their size, these companies often require employees to wear multiple hats. Therefore, they seek candidates who can demonstrate agility.
  • One size does not fit all. Candidates must write targeted cover letters and resumes for the job they want.
  • Make the top third to half of the resume and cover letter count as the recruiter or hiring manager may not have the luxury of reading to the end.
  • Apply early. Recruiters review the early submissions and only go back to review more if they don’t find who they are looking for.
  • Expect some kind of case exercise during the interview process. Hiring managers want to know how candidates will handle real life situations, on the fly. They are looking for insight into your reasoning and problem-solving capabilities.
  • Candidates need to anticipate behavioral-based interview questions. Therefore, they must be prepared to share examples to highlight competencies. This requires a thorough understanding of the role and the position description.
  • Passion! Hiring managers are seeking candidates who are passionate about their company and are looking for genuine alignment with the company’s values.
    • SAS even has a separate values interview conducted by a group of people from across the company who demonstrate those values.

Most of the conversation at the event revolved around the importance of building a network and utilizing referrals, which is something that I’ve written about previously in How Kevin Bacon will help you find your next job. Across the board, panelists agreed that referral candidates get extra attention and are sent to the front of the line.

The room, made up largely of students with fewer than six months experience, wondered, “how do I build a network if I don’t have any real work experience yet?” Many international students also expressed concern over not having a deep network in the U.S.

  • The consensus of the panel members was:
    • Identify where you are likely to meet your target network. Attend conferences, meet-up groups and networking events.
    • Don’t blindly send out a LinkedIn request. Find common connections, organizations or interests. Use those as the basis for building a relationship.
    • Recognize that networks are a two-way street. When connecting, think about what you have to offer the other person.
    • Look to your left. Build relationships with those around you. Utilize your undergrad and graduate school alumni networks.
    • Devour your passion. Comment, like and share white papers and blog posts. Compliment the writer.
    • Pursue extracurriculars related to your interests.

The representative from LivingLab mentioned that he doesn’t think the company has hired anyone who is not a referral. If you didn’t think referrals were important before, I hope you do now!

The professionals who participated on the Fuqua MQM panel represented organizations of all shapes and sizes. But the common messages were loud and clear: Be versatile. No one knows what business challenges we will face tomorrow. Be direct. You can’t assume the person reading your cover letter or resume will eventually get to what makes you extraordinary. So lead with it. Cultivate your network. Cast a wide net, but do so deliberately. And engage with your connections. Lastly, let your network know who you are. Show them what you are passionate about and why it makes you both more interesting and valuable.