Category Archives: Career Potential

A Different Way to Prep for an Interview

Since entering college, I would estimate I’ve found myself in about 25 interviews.

Many of these interviews resulted in a second interview or a job. A lot of the time, I think it’s mostly because I was qualified and a pretty charismatic, amenable person. But at least once or twice, I attribute my success to the method of interview preparation that I’m about to share with you. It may not work for everyone, and it may seem like more work than it’s worth at first. But, when the alternatives are attempting to answer generic interview questions you don’t even know you’ll be asked or going in without any plan at all… I think this is worth a shot.

Step One: Make a list of times you rocked at your job.
The best examples of these are going to be projects you managed or had a good deal of responsibility for, but there should also be a lot of examples where you were just a great team player. Try to remember specifics about these moments and how you know your work stood out. But don’t write all this out. Just run through it in your head and make quick notes. I also recommend putting a star next to any examples that are directly related to the type of work you would be doing in this new position.

Step Two: Make a list of attributes and skills you know the hiring organization is looking for.
These attributes will probably come from the job description and the company/organization’s mission. But even if they aren’t listed, you can probably assume all employers are interested in someone who can demonstrate integrity, responsibility, and communication skills. Organization, multi-tasking, punctuality, and professionalism are also common themes. If this list is very long, as job descriptions can sometimes be a catch-all, underline the traits that you think are most vital to this position. It also can be useful to note anything that you think you are uniquely skilled in, since that will definitely help you stand out from your competition.

Step Three: Connect the tops.
Now comes the fun part. Figure out how to tell each of your top examples in such a way that it highlights one of those most important skills. You might have to alter which stories you use in order to accommodate all the attributes the company is asking for, but that variety will be stronger than a bunch of stories that all show you’re great at diffusing conflict. If you can’t find a story for one of the attributes, think of one!

Step Four: Find the weakness in your greatness.
The best part about this step is that you don’t even have to think up new examples! Rather than trying to come up with a weakness from scratch for that blasted question, look back at that glowing accomplishments list. Somewhere in those projects, you faced a challenge. Whatever made that situation challenging for you can be a weakness. And the best part? You can cite the weakness and prove immediately that you worked through it.

Step Five: Know what you’re walking into.
Steps 1-4 will give you a really solid foundation to answer a lot of situational questions interviewers might throw at you. Most of my interviews for hourly positions haven’t required much more. However, going to interview for a salaried position with a larger organization, you will definitely need to do a bit more preparation in the form of research. Know what the organization does, who they work with, their biggest projects, possibly their budget, who their board members are, what social media presence they have, etc. Stalk your co-workers and superviser on LinkedIn. Learn as much as you can, and then explain what the organization is and what your job will be to as many friends and family as you can. They’ll probably ask questions you didn’t think of, and maybe some of their questions will be good to ask at the end of your interview.

Step Six: Make a list of questions. A long list.
Here’s the thing about questions for your interviewers: good interviewers will already have answered most of your questions by the time the interview is over. Plus, if you want the interview to feel more natural (and if the structure allows), I find it really works well to ask one or two questions throughout the interview when they are relevant. So, you want to make sure you have enough questions (or, perhaps, interesting enough questions) that you can cross off four or five and still have some good ones left.

Step Seven: Relax!
Once you’ve gone through these steps, you really ought to take a breather. Don’t over practice. Don’t script yourself. Don’t worry! Mostly, preparing for an interview is like reviewing for a test. You know all the information already; it’s all a part of your life and your work history. Your job pre-interview is just to organize that information and have it at the front of your brain for easy access. So do a little review, but don’t go overboard. Be yourself, be confident, and you’ll do just fine.

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Why your “Dream Job” Doesn’t Exist

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about employment. This tends to happen to me when I am unemployed, as I currently am. (P.S. Know anyone hiring in Austin, TX?)

A fair number of the posts I see online about job searching and living your best life encourage us all to find jobs we really enjoy. They push us to create our ‘dream job’ because that’s a part of what leads to the ever-elusive ‘happy’ life.

And yet, when I look at online job postings, and when I examine the world around me, I find that there is quite a disparity between the jobs we’re supposed to strive for and the jobs that need doing.

Of course I think everyone deserves to have a job that fulfills them. We spend too much of our lives working to do jobs that we hate. But, I think there is a big expectation difference in this generation. No one expects to have to work as a plumber or a mover or the person who installs your cable. We all want these jobs that give us the goods along with a little glamor.

I think about how many marketing advisers or television newscasters or event planners we, as a society, really need, compared to how many people we need to figure out what to do with the trash we produce as a country, or how many people we need to assist the people who are ill or dying or disabled, how many people we need to ship things, build things, fix things.

Yes, I believe services that add to the quality of life in this country are important. But are they more important than making sure the basics are covered for everyone?

I think our western culture has a lot of priorities to sort out, and I wish we paid people based on the social utility of their job rather than what the most privileged and wealthiest among us think is most important. Money obviously isn’t a real indicator of someone’s value, but in this country, where money goes or doesn’t go is pretty significant evidence for what we believe to be most valuable. When we have people paying as much money for cars as most people make in an entire year in some of the most vital roles in our society, I think we have some problems.

It’s when I get to this point in my line of thought that I remember how few truly useful skills I’ve learned so far in my life. My heart reminds me that listening to people, giving them their humanity in a momentary, interpersonal way, is vitally important. But, it isn’t enough. It certainly isn’t enough when I know I am capable of doing so much more.

I just don’t know exactly what that looks like yet.

Being For Others

There’s something a lot of people talk about doing, especially here in the monastery and in my Jesuit school, but also very frequently in the “real” world that might require a little more examination. The way my school put it, “we want to be men and women for others.” A lot of people say it another way: we want to make the world a better place; we want to live God’s word; we want to do service; we want to go out and do good.

I once referred to my experience at the monastery as one of the most selfish things I’ve done—not in a negative sense, but in a practical, “this is really going to mostly benefit me” sort of way. Being here, I temporarily forgot about that realization until tonight. In evening prayer, I found myself combing through my day and trying to think of ways that I had helped other people, little ways I had made the world a better place. To be perfectly honest, I couldn’t think of anything. Sure, I helped with dishes. I worked on projects to help promote the Monastic Immersion Program. And if I really wanted to stretch it: I smiled at people and said thank you.

But none of those really felt like they counted. I didn’t go out of my way to do them. They’re things that I kind of feel are obligations to living in a community, and most of them are technically assigned tasks. And did I really do anything to make the world better? Or did I just help the world continue on its normal track?

My days at the monastery often revolve around trying to find time to do things for me. I do my work quickly and plan time so I can pray, work out, have coffee, write, read, call friends, or send letters. I am constantly wondering when I’ll have time to sneak back to my room and write a few more sentences or do some more push-ups. No matter how I spin it, I can’t help feeling pretty sure that all of those things are not really helping anyone besides me.
What have I done for others besides loving and appreciating them as people—which may be a challenge sometimes, but I feel maybe ought to be the bare minimum?

And in thinking all of this, I began to look back at the last ten years (since I was 12 and slightly more aware of the world as an entity much bigger than me or my family) and ask the same kinds of questions. To my slight discomfort, overall, I don’t feel like I’ve done that much; I have consistently been pretty self-focused. I’ve focused on my own education, relationships, growth, work, and personal needs pretty exclusively, with volunteering thrown in every so often when I had some extra time.

I’m not ashamed of this. It’s not as though I think I’ve been a terrible person. It’s important for us to grow and learn in order to become the people who are informed and skilled enough to participate in positive change and to really be of service to others. It’s probably good that our early adulthood is driven by self-understanding and self-betterment. But, it does make me think.

What happens now? How can I truly be a woman for others now that I’m temporarily done with formal education? Most of the lives I’ve thus far imagined for myself don’t really seem quite up to that standard.

In our culture, we are trained to think that survival is really hard. Getting a good salary is really hard, finishing your projects on time is really hard, living a healthy lifestyle is really hard—we just don’t have the time to work for the good of others because we barely have time to take care of ourselves. How many times have I complained that I don’t have time to eat, or read for fun, or relax? (Quick note: I’m speaking specifically from an upper middle-class, white perspective, and I fully acknowledge that for many other people in our country, even simple survival can be incredibly more complicated and difficult than it has been for me.)

If we don’t think we’re taking care of ourselves, we feel fully justified in not doing things for others. Put your own oxygen mask on before assisting others. I don’t think that mentality is wrong. After all, it is true that we can’t really love others without loving ourselves; if we’re sinking, we probably won’t help someone else stay afloat. But I think we are too caught up in how hard it is to take care of ourselves; the oxygen mask bands need to fit perfectly around our head, and the oxygen has to be flowing at just the right level, and we have to make sure the color matches our outfit before we can even consider helping the person next to us. In real world terms, it ends up being about accomplishing a certain weight loss goal, getting above a certain income level, having a house, actually managing to take up yoga, meeting the right person, making peace with our parents… How many things do you want to make better in your life that you’d prioritize over spending a few hours a week volunteering?

I sincerely don’t want to call others’ lives into question. I don’t think anyone is less honorable for living life primarily for themselves and their happiness. I personally believe that the more happy people there are, the better the world will be. So by all means, please practice yoga and learn to love your mother and take that extra business class that will earn you a promotion. But for me, I think I may need a little more. They say that the call of a monk is to ‘seek God above all else.’ If you think of God as peace and love in the world, then I want to be a monk. I have a body that works, skills to rely on, and a whole network of people who would be willing to help me if I needed it. With all that, I’d say my struggle to survive isn’t too hard to start spending a bit more time on something greater than my own needs. And if I have the time and the resources, I don’t think I’d feel right not living for others.

 Of course, figuring out just what that might look like for me is an entirely separate issue and definitely another blog post.

Discernment as… Serendipity

I happened to be a part of an event last night that hosted a wonderful Jesuit named Fr. Pat Conroy, who is currently the chaplain to the U.S. House of Representatives, and during this event, Fr. Conroy spoke about his ‘discernment’ process as one of holy obedience. Obviously, that particular label and the connotations of that phrasing are not necessarily perfect for my own journey. For one, I am not part of the Jesuit order, and for another I am not a highly religious individual. However, the way that he addressed holy obedience as a way to find your true calling was very inspiring to me.

Fr. Conroy expressed a concern that many good people are taken away from their true callings because they are tempted by other callings that are useful or good but do not match up best with the individual’s actual strengths and passions. For instance, I may be very good at math, but if I were to pursue a career in engineering or accounting, I would not be following my passions. On the other hand, people can lose their true calling when are attracted to doing something they are very good at but that feeds the wrong parts of them, particularly the ego. An example of this could be any number of famous artists, but it could also be something more like a person choosing to work in a profession that is noble but is very mentally draining for them. Becoming a social worker or working for a non-profit may be extraordinarily admirable, but if doing those things does not fit your passion and abilities, it will likely wear on you in such a way that you will likely not be of service to anyone.

For Fr. Conroy, finding your calling means trusting that the opportunities presented to you are going to be good for both you and the community you are serving. He implied that often, we may not be thrilled about our job at first. We may be neutral, and we may not know how we feel. But, that lack of personal emotional attachment to your work was in part necessary. We shouldn’t be choosing work based on our pride or our comfort or what we think is best for us. Instead, we should be open to the possibility that something else might be better than what we think we need for ourselves. Sometimes the universe works in our favor in ways we don’t understand.

It made me think hard about applying for jobs and programs after I graduate. How will I know if the job I take is feeding me or helping me feed the world? I’m hoping I’ll find things that can do both, in positive ways. Fr. Conroy’s talk did give me a little bit more peace in terms of letting my path shape itself as I walk rather than trying so hard to control every step. Here’s to hoping he’s right!

Becoming an Au Pair

I’m looking into becoming an Au Pair in the next couple years of my life, largely because I would love to gain more knowledge of another country and potentially become more fluent in Italian or Spanish. The tricky thing is that I don’t have a lot of experience with people who have done it before, so I don’t know much about finding a host family or how to ensure that everything works smoothly, legally, and happily.

It’s kind of a big adventure, and a big investment, so I’m a little nervous about it. But I’m sure I would be a great live-in nanny/assistant/big sister, and I really love kids. And what an amazing way to see another part of the world!

If anyone has any suggestions for getting started, I’d love to hear them! Until then, I’ll just be surfing the internet trying to do as much research as I can.

Deciding to be Undecided?

I’ve spent the last two days fretting over my post-graduation options, researching programs I am interested in, looking up details about requirements for graduate studies, even preemptively looking at prices for travel across Europe (in case I make enough money this year to actually treat myself to a backpacking excursion). And in all my fretting and ferreting here are some things I’ve realized.

For one, post-graduate programs rarely operate well with quarter system schools. Generally, I’m a big fan of my school’s academic year, but in this case, I must say it has been frustrating. My graduation date isn’t until June 16th, 2013. The program I am most interested in (ACE, Alliance for Catholic Education) requires me to start training on June 3rd. I’m not willing to finish my coursework early and ditch all the senior stuff, so that rules out this program for at least a year.

Also, I’ve come to realize that I just blatantly don’t feel prepared for some options. Like the Peace Corps. Granted, I would love to be in the Peace Corps, and I am probably qualified enough to get a secondary English education placement. But, do I feel mentally and emotionally ready to jump into that right after school? A part of me says yes–the adventurous part, not the rational part. Not to mention my thought that I might be a lot more useful abroad once I’ve had a bit more experience here, teaching or otherwise. Maybe that’s just a cop-out to keep me from giving up everything I know and love and shipping out of country for over two years, but so be it.

I also have reaffirmed for myself that graduate school is not in the cards right now, for two important reasons: 1) If I study what I want to study at graduate school, I’ll really still have the same career options that I currently have–a Master’s in English doesn’t really get you much; and 2) I don’t have any money, and I would love to not have to take out loans. So, I’m postponing this option as well, hoping that maybe once I serve in the Peace Corps or earn my Master’s in Teaching through ACE, I won’t have to pay as much for further upper-level education. Plus, I might then have a clearer idea of what degree would really further my career plans.

So, if I want to do all those things, but none of them right now, where does that leave me? I could work for a year, living in Seattle. But if I’m planning on leaving in a year, I couldn’t get a very permanent job. And my somewhat irrational fear is that I’ll find a job that is pretty stable and with good potential to advance, and I’ll end up not wanting to leave it for fear of never finding that stability again. (The irrational part of that is that I’d find a job like that, not that I’d fear leaving it.)

So here’s what the next few years could look like, then:
2013-2014 work in Seattle or volunteer with St. Gertrude’s Monastery
2014-2016 Teach and earn my Master’s with ACE
2016-2019 Peace Corps
2019-2021 Earn a Master’s through the Peace Corps Fellows program
2021- …
Really? You expect me to have a ten-year plan? Come on. Don’t you think that might be a bit excessive?

But honestly, who knows what I will decide to do and what other opportunities will arise. It’s tricky to know if I’ll ever do the things I want to do if I don’t do them now, so I end up putting all this pressure on myself. Ultimately, I have to accept that if, when the time comes, I still want to do those things as much as I do now, I will make that choice for myself.

So I’m just going to go through my senior year planning on being undecided… Ahh! It just feels wrong.  Perhaps this will turn out to be just as stressful for me as applying to graduate programs would be. Oh, the irony.