About Conversations on Careers and Professional Life

On each episode, I speak with guests about topics related to the job searches, professional development, public speaking, resilience and mindfulness. Guests include current MBA candidates and past students, faculty and staff, and outside experts.

CONVERSATIONS ON CAREERS AND PROFESSIONAL LIFE

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Recent Episodes

Tips Improving Your Behavioral Interviewing

This episode is different than most others. I don’t have a guest. So it’s not really a conversation, but it is based on the conversations I’ve had with many students preparing for behavioral job interviews. What follows is pretty close to a transcript, so you can choose to read, or listen, or both!

Students often come me and the other coaches at Foster to work on their “Tell me About Yourself” or TMAY answer. It’s important to recognize that there are different contexts for answering this question. Students are often preparing for information sessions or networking activities before they start preparing for interviews. The way you answer the question in a networking setting is going to be a little different than in an interview.

In either situation, this is your opportunity to explain your career and highlight your interests and the skills and talents that have contributed to your success along the way.  Another way to think about the answer is: where have you been, where are you now, where do you want to go, connecting the dots along the way.

In an interview, you usually do not need to start with your name, or that you are a first-year student in an MBA program. The interviewer should know these two things at least, and you’ve probably already had some rapport building chit-chat.

I like to say that this first answer is your opportunity to lay a foundation for the interview and the other stories you will share.  That foundation should include the talents or strengths that have contributed to your success and that you believe are applicable to the role you are applying for. During each of the subsequent behavioral questions you have the opportunity to stack bricks on that foundation. By the end of the interview, the interviewer should be able to recognize what you’ve built, rather than see a muddy lot strewn with bricks and stones.

Another question I often hear is, “How should I end the TMAY?” This is another aspect in which context is important.  In a networking setting, you should end the TMAY with a clear direction of where you hope to go with your MBA. That way the person you are speaking with has an idea of how they can help you.  In the context of an internship or job interview, you don’t want to end it with a statement like, “and that is why I want to work for your company in this role.” The reason being: those were the next two questions the interviewer was likely to ask you!

  • “Why do you want to work for my company?”
  • “Why are you interested in this role?”

For each question, you have 90 seconds to three minutes for your answer.  The shot clock resets with each question.  If you spend 5 minutes answering the TMAY question and touching on the role and company, the interviewer may skip those two questions.  It’s awkward to follow up a statement like, “and that’s why I want to work for your company.” with the question, “Why do you want to work for my company?”

I advise students to end the TMAY in a way that invites the next question.  “And that’s one of the main reasons I decided to get my MBA” or “just one of the reasons why I’m interested in working for ACME co.” or “and that’s one of the reasons why I am pursuing a career in consulting.”

The key part of all of these examples is “one of the”  that makes the natural next question, “what are some of the other reasons?”

Now this is, of course, not the only way to bring your answer in for a landing, but I think it is a particularly effective way.

For the next two common questions in a behavioral interview, “Why this role” and “why this company”  one of the mistakes I see people make is telling the interviewer things they already know about the role. You may think by sharing these things you know about the role or company you are answering the question, but you haven’t.  You need to explain why these things you have shared are important to you.

It can also be helpful to use sign posting in these answers, for example, “There are three main reasons I’m interested in consulting” and then enumerating those reasons.

After these first three questions are out of the way, the interviewer moves to behavioral questions  that start like, “Can you give me an example of a time when” or something similar to that.

You may have prepared a half dozen to a dozen stories, and hopefully your will have a number of “direct hits” where the story that you’ve prepared exactly answers the question that was asked.  But the same question can be asked different ways and you want to demonstration that you listened and understand the question by making adjustments to the story you use in your answer. It might also take you a few moments to sort through your mental catalogue of stories for the right one. For both reasons, it’s a good idea to have some time-buying phrases like, “That’s a good question, let me think of the best example to share” or just, “Let me think of an experience that answers your question”  Each of these will serve to acknowledge the question, and give you a few extra moments to prepare your answer.  Now, you can’t say, that’s a good question” for obvious and predictable questions, like “tell me about a time you led a team”.

In your answers you will want to highlight particular talents or strengths that contributed to your success, these should match with the foundation you laid in your TMAY.  Of course, you will want to use a structure like STAR — situation task actions result, or “CAR–context, actions, results, or Lewis Lin’s DIGS method, Dramatize the situation, Introduce the alternatives, Go through what you did, summarize the results.

Whichever you use, you want to make sure you have a balance, between each part of your answer. Often I see students spend too much time on the situation or context, rush through a very procedural set of actions, and sometimes leave off the result.

I like starting with the CAR structure and aiming for spending about 1/3rd of the time on each part, or moving to a 25%, 50, 25% distribution. In the actions section it is important to not only explain WHAT you did but also the why and the how, in other words, the strengths or competencies that lead you to take those actions or contributed to your success. This is especially important for career changers because the tasks you performed in your previous roles may have little to do with the responsibilities of the role you are applying for. Be sure to explain the strengths and talents that contributed to your previous successes.

Some stories do require a good bit of context, if you know you’ve got a story like that, you may want to provide a summary statement at the outset, “I’d like to tell you about a time when I used a strong relationship to influence a decision on a team.”

If you get to the end of your story and realize that you didn’t highlight a strength, you can use what I call a summarize and generalize statement that sounds something like this, “so I think this is a really good example of how my ability to build strong relationships helps me influence decisions on a team.”  You can’t use this at the end of every answer, though. That would just be weird.

Let me leave you with a few concrete next steps to improve your stories for behavioral interviews:

  • First, figure out what your listener truly needs to know about the situation or context to understand the actions you took and the strengths or talents you demonstrated in the situation.
  • Next, be sure you’ve identified those strengths, talents or competencies in each story and you’ve laid the foundation for them in your TMAY.
  • Prepare a summary statement for each story that could be used before the story, sort of like a results first, or a Bottom Line On Top statement.  Last, prepare a summarize and generalize statement that can be used at the end.  It is not that you will use these two statements in every question, but they will help you think through the key messages of the stories.
  • Lastly, spend more time talking through your stories than writing and wordsmithing them on the page. The way we speak and listen to spoken word is different than the way we write and read. Kristin Graham and I discussed this a bit on an earlier episode of the podcast. If you spend too much time on the page with your stories you may get caught up trying to remember an exact script, and that will make it even more difficult to adapt stories to the specific questions you are asked in an interview.

For more tips on behavioral interviewing, check out my conversation with Career Coach Elaine Newtson!

Business Communication Advice During a Pandemic With Kristin Graham

On this episode, former journalist and current technology leader Kristin Graham and I talk about tips for improving your  business communication in normal times and right now during during the Covid-19 Pandemic. Kristin works at Amazon where, among other things, she is one of the leaders of Amazon’s business writing course which reaches tens of thousands of Amazon employees annually.  

Kristin lead a few workshops for Foster’s MBAs and specialty master’s students in the fall of 2020 where she shared tips on what she calls “real simple steps” or RSS to improve productivity and focus, as well as advice for improving email communication.  Listen to the episode to learn how you can become “reader obsessed” in your written communication, the importance of editing, why you should use a BLOT (bottom line on top), and the importance of a good email subject line.

We also talked about phone or voice only communications instead of video and zoom calls, and the benefits of pen and paper to organize your thoughts before and during meetings and presentations.

You can find Kristin on LinkedIn and other her website, https://www.kristingrahamcomms.com/

Reframing Internship Rejection With MBA Career Coach Julie Boden

My colleague Julie Boden and I took some time to discuss reframing internship application rejection and put it into the broader context of an MBA career plan, and the application and review process. We’ve reached that time of the year where first-year MBA’s are receiving the unwelcome news that they will not be invited to interview for an internship they applied for.  Some students will receive this news from multiple companies and it can feel very personal. We often remind students to put this news into perspective and reframe it. They are not being individually rejected for a role, they are not being selected to interview for a role out of very large applicant pools.

There are approximately 10 thousand MBA candidates per year at the top 25 MBA programs in the United States (depending on who’s list of “top 25” you use). Nearly this entire population is applying for internships at the same time. It is reasonable that some of the most coveted internship opportunities — at companies like Amazon, Microsoft, Google, Apple — receive thousands of applications. Of course every applicant can’t be individually screened and evaluated. Depersonalizing the news can help minimize the emotional impact of not being selected.

I was reminded of words shared by UW Professor of Social Work, Bonnie Duran shared on an episode of the Ten Percent Happier podcast, when something “bad” happens, ask yourself, “is this perfect? Is this permanent? Is this personal?”  When it comes to the internship search, it can certainly feel like a particular internship would be perfect, but in reality, there is no “perfect” internship. Not being selected to interview may feel like it is a permanent judgement on the candidate, but it is not, it is just for this one opportunity. Each year we see students who may not have gotten the chance to interview for a role at their dream company — or did and did not get the internship offer — get a chance to interview and get an offer during full-time recruiting. And lastly, the news of not being selected can feel intensely personal, but if we keep in mind the volume of applications that recruiters are considering, and the techniques and tools they use to evaluate candidates based often on just a resume, we realize that it is not a personal and individual judgement.

Dr. Alexandra Samuel on Networking During A Pandemic and More

Dr. Alexandra Samuel joins me for a conversation about strategies and techniques for networking when you can’t actually meet people in person, like right now during this continuing Covid Pandemic.  Alex and I actually met in person at a conference over 15 years ago, and have only seen each other in person at conferences or when we’ve been in the same city in the years since. Our relationship has been made possible by social media, so it is fitting that she is the author of, Work Smarter With Social Media from the Harvard Business Review Press. Alex is a regular contributor to the Harvard Business Review, The Wall Street Journal and JSTOR where I have followed her writing about the internet, technology and the way we live and work.

During our conversation, which was originally inspired by a piece she wrote for the Wall Street Journal, How To Network When You Can’t Meet Up With People, we talked about that of course, but also the importance of authenticity and vulnerability in building strong connections, digital wellbeing (even a little digital parenting) and strategies for not letting email sap all your energy.

You can find some of Alex’s recommended articles for getting through the pandemic lockdown on her website, AlexandraSamuel.com and you can follow her on Twitter @awsamuel. Alex is the co-author of the forthcoming book, Remote, Inc: How to Thrive at Work… Wherever You Are, out in April 2021. 

The 2-Hour Job Search With Author Steve Dalton

On this episode I speak with Steve Dalton, Program Director For Career Services at Duke’s Fuqua School of Business and author of the 2-Hour Job Search. We talk about the 2-Hour Job Search method and how the Covid pandemic has impacted job searching with it.  I’m a big fan of the 2-Hour Job Search because it offers a step-by-step recipe for organizing and advancing through a job search from the brainstorming phase of assembling your 40-company lamp list, to crafting effective outreach emails, tracking your follow up and preparing for informational interviews that convert your contacts into booster/mentors.

You can find out more on the website 2HourJobSearch.com or join the 2-Hour Job Search Q&A group on LinkedIn.

Steve shared a fantastic resource from brainstorming target companies, CrunchBase. I shared the Geekwire200 as another resource for identifying startup companies in the greater Seattle area and suggested that lists like 50 Best Places To Work, that are often published in local magazines can also be helpful. Seattle Business Magazine, Seattle Magazine and the Puget Sound Business Journal, all publish lists of this sort, and sometimes even more granular.

Behavioral Interviewing with Career Coach Elaine Newtson

Foster MBA Career Coach Elaine Newtson and I have a quick discussion about strategic approaches to crafting behavior interview answers.

Three Perspectives on the National Black MBA Career Expo and Other MBA Career Conferences

Three conversations about national MBA career conferences including National Black MBA Career Expo, Prospanica and National Association of Women MBA’s Career Conference with Foster 2019 MBAs Jamie Young and Johnathan Duong and MBA Career Management’s Bronica Sam. For more information about national career conferences, Foster students can visit you Foundations of Professional Development course on Canvas.

Coaches’ Tips For Informational Interviews

On this episode I sit down separately with Foster 2nd year MBA Career Coach Elaine Newtson and 1st year/evening MBA Career Coach Stacy Duhon to talk about tips and best practices for informational interviews. Students and job seekers can use informational interviews — sometimes called “coffee chats” or “expert interviews” or “prototyping conversations” — to learn about companies and roles. The object of these conversations is twofold:

  • Gather information that will help you understand the company or role better so that you can ultimately interview better
  • Build your professional network so that you might learn about opportunities before they are publicly listed, or in the best case, get a valuable internal referral to a job opening.

To achieve the first goal, you need to go into the interview prepared having done your research on the company and the individual so that you can ask good questions that both elicit the valuable information and demonstrate that you are serious and professional.  Both Elaine and Stacy concur that you should not ask overly general questions or questions that you could answer with a Google search or by reading the company’s website.

You also need to take good notes from your conversation. You might do this during or after the conversation. Since most of these informational interviews will be held virtually, it may be easier to take notes contemporaneously, but you should let the person you are talking to know that if they hear typing, it is because you are going to be taking notes. As you prepare for an interview with that company, or for that role at another company, it is a good idea to review all your relevant notes.

To achieve the second goal of building your professional network, you need to conduct yourself in a professional manner, from the first reach-out on LinkedIn or by email, to the reminder message you send a day or two before, to the actual conversation and then the immediate and longer term followup.

  • After the meeting, be sure to followup with a thank you note. Since most people are working from home, it is probably not practical to thank the person with a physical card, but an email that thanks them for their time and might highlight 1 or two key messages you took way from the conversation is sufficient.
  • If you felt a strong connection to the person, you might add that you’d like to followup with them later in the year, or if/when you are preparing for an interview at their company. 
  • If not already, you should connect to them on LinkedIn
  • If the person suggested an article, podcast, book, class, or other activities that they thought would be valuable to you, after you have read, listened to, attended, you should drop them a note thanking them for the valuable suggestion.
  • If you come across a book, article, podcast, event or similar that you think would be valuable to them, a good way to strengthen the relationship over time is to share these suggestions by email or LinkedIn message.

As always, I hope you enjoy the episode and find something valuable in it. Please consider sharing this episode with a friend, or rating or reviewing the podcast on Apple Podcasts.

Foster MBA Career Management Coaches on Informational Interviews


I talk with Coach Elaine Newtson and Stacy Duhon about tips for informational interviews. Learn more at http://conversationsoncareers.com

Check out this episode!

Peter Boyd on The Hunt: Charting The Path to your next career move

Peter Boyd, lecturer at the Yale School of the Environment and Yale School of Management, and Resident Fellow at the Yale Center for Business and the Environment joins me to discuss his webinar, “The Hunt: Charting The Path to your next career move.

Peter explains what he calls the Connected Leadership Framework’s four Ps:

  • Purpose
  • Priorities
  • Potential
  • Performance

And how these factor into, and influence, the career search. I particularly like the way he talks about clarifying and personalizing your hunt with the “Two Triangles” visualization that identifies what is crucial to you about an opportunity, and what about you is crucial to the company.

To learn more about The Hunt, view the slides and access other resources including a short workbook that guides you through a variety of exercises, visit the Yale Center For Business and the Environment website.

Gregory Heller

Gregory Heller

Meet The Host

I’m the Senior Associate Director of MBA Career Management at the Foster School of Business at the University Of Washington and a Gallup Certified Strengths Coach. I work with MBA candidates to achieve their career objectives through one-on-one coaching, and trainings on presentation skills, public speaking, and executive presence. 

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