On Tuesday, November 4, 2014, Executives on Campus (EOC) hosted a Job$mart Career Hour entitled HR Insider Info: How to Get the Job. The event was geared toward teaching students what it takes to stand out to an employer in today’s highly competitive job market. The panel consisted of Craig Dinsell and Reena Scoblionko. The event’s moderator was EOC’s Karolina Novak-Choinska. Mr. Dinsell is Chairman of Psynet Group, a firm that assists companies in improving their assessment, team building, individual development and retention processes. He has had an extensive career in the human resources field, leading such efforts at Oppenheimer Funds, Fidelity Investments, and American Express Bank. Ms. Scoblionko is the Director of People Operations at Contently, a start-up firm that helps brands to create great stories and empowers freelancers to do what they love. She has also worked as a recruiter for ThoughtWorks, a technology company, and as Human Resources Manager for ComiXology, the leading distributor of comic books.
Mr. Dinsell kicked the discussion off by asking “What is special about the workplace today and why does it matter to you?” His answer was that this is the first time five generations of people are employed together in the workplace, creating what he humorously described as a “huge mess.” Additionally, technology has vastly increased the speed of communications over what was common just a few decades ago, a factor which adds to the generational complications. The speed of information has forced the organizational structures of many companies to shift from the traditional pyramid to a more horizontal structure; this is due to information no longer being accessible only to an organization’s top leaders. Mr. Dinsell encouraged those seeking job opportunities to pursue a broad range of positions which offer experiences that keep one’s skills competitive, instead of focusing solely on positions that offer promotions and are more relevant to pyramid organizations.
Ms. Novak-Choinska then asked the panelists “As practicing HR professionals today, what trends are you seeing in terms of what employers are looking for from candidates?” Ms. Scoblionko answered first, saying they are looking for candidates who have done their research on the company and the job they are applying for. She has seen many generic resumes (including some where the applicant named the wrong company!) that indicate a lack of awareness of what the company actually does. She suggested that job seekers narrow their job search to companies and positions to which they think they could add value, instead of sending out as many resumes as possible. Ms. Scoblionko emphasized the importance of utilizing networks, as about half of the candidates she hires come from employee referrals. Finally, job seekers should be sure their LinkedIn profiles do not reflect a completely different person than their resume. Her recommendation was to use higher-level bullets on one’s LinkedIn profile and then tailor each submitted resume to the job one is targeting.
Ms. Novak-Choinska next asked the panelists about listing job accomplishments versus responsibilities on resumes. Mr. Dinsell replied that especially in the case of younger job seekers (i.e. students), not everyone will have a resume’s worth of accomplishments from previous positions available to list. He recommended using websites like themuse.com, which provide insights into working at different companies. This is beneficial, because it allows one to get a feel for corporate values and figure out ways to tie those to the work and related experiences one has. Another website recommendation was catchafire.org, which matches professionals who want to volunteer their skill-sets with organizations that have projects requiring those skill-sets.
After concluding the moderator-led portion of the workshop, Ms. Novak-Choinska turned the floor over to event attendees for an open Q&A session.
Question: What sort of questions should a candidate ask during a job interview?
Mr. Dinsell responded that in the interview process, interviewers will likely have a set list of questions for the interviewee to help determine if they are a good fit for the position. Once they are done asking their questions, they consider the candidate’s questions to assess “what the candidate is really like.” The question portion of the interview is also the time when candidates can demonstrate how proactive they have been in their research of the company and the position. Ms. Scoblionko said that candidates should not ask about work-life balance or benefits, as those will be covered by the interviewer, and are not the types of questions a company is looking for during the interview. She recommended asking “How do you define success for this role?” as a way of showing that the candidate is interested in the needs of the company and how they can meet those needs with their skill-set.
Question: How can candidates show they are confident without coming across as over-confident?
Ms. Scoblionko said candidates should not arrive too early. Her recommendation was to arrive ten minutes before the interview. Arriving too early may be interpreted as an unawareness of how busy everyone in the office is. She also emphasized that candidates should treat everyone they meet at the office equally and with respect since all present staff, not just the interviewer, are evaluating the candidate. As long as candidates demonstrates they have researched the company and position, ask good questions and make an attempt to connect with their interviewer (for example discussing a shared alma mater) they will make a good impression. Mr. Dinsell added that the interview is a two-way street, so while the candidate is being evaluated by everyone in the office, they should also be observant and watch how people in the office interact with each other. This can also lead the candidate to ask the types of insightful questions that interviewers are looking for. Ms. Scoblionko then cautioned candidates that before sharing a story during the interview, they should be certain it fits into the conversation, otherwise they risk making a bad impression by going off on an unrelated tangent.
Question: What sorts of behavioral questions do each of you like to ask candidates?
Ms. Scoblionko said that one question she has both been asked and likes to ask is “Tell me about a mistake you have made in the past.” This question presents an opportunity to show how the candidate has learned from a past mistake, and gives the interviewer a sense of how he or she will perform when faced with future challenges. Another one she likes to ask is “Our company is currently dealing with this problem (the problem is specified), is this something you have faced before and how did you deal with it?” This question is designed to allow the candidate to relate to a specific need the company has. She emphasized that it is very important candidates never, for any reason, make up a story. Mr. Dinsell said some of his favorite questions are “What are your aspirations?” “Why do you want to work for us?” and “What differentiates you from the other candidates?”
Question: What should candidates do to avoid being “trashed” by an automated resume submission system?
Mr. Dinsell said that nearly all resumes do end up in the hands of an actual person. Candidates should ensure their resumes relate to the job being applied for, and are clear, crisp and ready to quickly show HR personnel, who have limited time and hundreds of resumes to read. Ms. Scoblionko then said that at her company, the system does not eliminate candidates based on a lack of resume keywords. However, when she is actively searching for candidates on LinkedIn she will use keywords in her search.
Question: How long should someone should stay in a job?
Mr. Dinsell responded that for a large company, 18 months to three years is a good amount of time. Both he and Ms. Scoblionko agreed that changing jobs merely for a higher salary would be looked at negatively by most employers, and employees should have a more sophisticated rationale for the change.
Overall, the event was highly informative and relevant for those on the job hunt and in the professional world. We encourage you to attend future EOC events, as much can be learned from the panelists and overall discussion.