January 2011 Archives

Dear Del,
I have an upcoming interview with the government concerning a full time position as well as a temporary position.  I was wondering if you had any tips for questions I could prepare for the interviewees.  The interviews are being conducted by my potential future supervisors. Since it's a government position, are there any particular questions I should ask?


A question about questions is an excellent question. Concerned is wise to think of how she will prepare for her upcoming interview, right down to what she wants to ask. Frequently, those being interviewed are so focused on the questions they will be asked, they forget that an interview, when done well, should be a dialogue between you and the interviewer. In other words, you don't want to sit back and passively answer questions. Take an active role in getting the information you require in order to make a good decision about accepting or rejecting a job offer. If you have no questions, it reflects poorly on your preparation, maturity, and initiative.

The best way to prepare questions is to jot down a list of them as they occur to you. What do you want to know? Then go back and prioritize them according to importance and group them according to similarities. By organizing them, you will find it easier to keep track of what ones are answered within the natural course of the interview, and what ones you can pose when there's a pause in the conversation.

Although there are no particular questions for a government position, common areas to explore are the background of the interviewer, the responsibilities of the job, the resources available to you, how the position fits into the organization, what are the significant projects you'll be working on, how you will be evaluated and by whom, and what happens after your interview.

For example, an excellent question to ask an interviewer early in the interview is how he/she came to work for the company. It establishes rapport and shows you're a good listener. It also gives insight into how the interviewer thinks. Try to get the interviewer to describe the ideal candidate for the position early in the interview too. Use the response to highlight the ways in which you meet the criteria the interviewer expressed.

Another good question is, what is a typical day like for the person in this position. This helps you envision yourself in the position. You want to assess whether or not your skills and talents are a good match for the specific tasks you'll be assigned. Does it sound like it's a desk job? Would you travel? What are the hours? Often the history of the position is mentioned in the interviewer's response; you may be able to determine the satisfaction level of the previous employees who occupied the job.

 After you've established some comfort in the interview, you might ask what the most challenging aspects of the position are. You might say something such as, "All jobs have both good and bad aspects, and we've talked a lot about the good ones. But what do you think is the most challenging aspect to this position?"  This can help you figure out if you really can deal with the worst this job has to offer. Remember you want to have a good work history, and this means you probably need to stay in the position for at least one year and preferably two.
It's important toward the end of the interview to ask where you go from here. This question can be presented in a variety of ways such as, "when will you be making your decision?" You don't want to leave without knowing this because it helps you plan when you will make follow-up contact.
If at the end of the interview, you really want the job, you might say, "I am very enthusiastic about this position, and I want it very much. Is there anything else I can answer for you that would make it more likely that you would offer it to me?" This gives the interviewer a chance to revisit a response you may have made that was not in your favor. In other words, you may get a second chance.
There are many more questions to ask, but follow your natural curiosity. Think of the details you'll need to weigh the pros and cons of the employment offer. Of course, you can Google potential questions too. (Search "questions for interviewees.")
Finally, there are some areas to avoid. Avoid asking questions about salary, benefits, sick leave, and vacation unless they are brought up by the interviewer, especially if this is the first interview. Don't ask questions that you could have answered by doing your research. If it's on the company website, be familiar with it!
So concerned is already a step ahead because she's practicing a safe interviewing principle: be prepared. Her odds of winning her dream job are on the rise.

ON ANOTHER NOTE: If you have questions about the job search process or any ones related to writing, send them to me at kdb9@psu.edu.

burning bridges.jpg

After the holidays, many of us have to sit down and write thank you notes to our friends and family for all the gifts we got. But writing thank you notes is also an important aspect to the job search process. In fact, writing a thank you note after an employment interview may help you edge out your competition. I know of specific instances that students have come back to tell me that they were told by their interviewers that they got offered the position, in part, because they were considerate and wrote a thank you. At the very least, sending one gives you yet another opportunity to remind the prospective employer why they should hire you, and also reinforces your enthusiasm for the position.

Plan to send your note within three days after the interview. You may either type, handwrite, or email your note. If you type it, use a traditional letter format (block or modified block). Also if you type or handwrite the note, use high quality stationary. If your note is handwritten, make sure your writing is legible. Keep in mind handwritten notes are less formal, so if your interview was more informal and you had a good rapport with your interviewer, this may be the best choice. In more formal cases, it may not be a good choice. It's also acceptable to email your note, particularly if you know the employer is going to be making a decision quickly.

If you were interviewed by more than one person, send each person his/her own note. It's polite and also demonstrates your thoroughness.  Make sure to spell the interviewers' names correctly.  Recruiters have told me stories about how turned-off they are if a student spends a whole day interviewing with them, and then fails to get their correct names and spellings in correspondence.  

 Here's the recipe for a thank you note.

                In the first paragraph,

                   Remind the interviewer of what position you interviewed for and the specific date

                   you met. Thank the interviewer for his/her time and clearly state your continued

                   interest in the position.

                In the second paragraph,

                   Remind the interviewer of a special qualification that you have and indicate your

                   commitment to the job if you are hired. Mention something specific that you

                   learned in the interview.

                 In the third paragraph,

                   Close on a confident, audience-centered note. Be friendly and complimentary.

                   End with a request for a decision and provide your contact information.

You should also write a thank you note even if you don't want the position; in this case you would let the interviewer know that you'd like to withdraw your application. This is good manners and may be helpful to your future job search. There's a reason your mother told you never to burn any bridges!





I want to earn $1,000, to get published, and to have something impressive to put on my résumé. Where can I get this?

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As a scientist you will need to be able to communicate science to nonscientists without compromising the quality of your information. Knowing how to adapt your writing to various audiences is an important skill to develop while you're an undergraduate. Considerations of what to include, the level of detail, vocabulary, tone, visuals, organizational structure, citation styles, and readability all come into play when you want to explain science in a non-technical manner. Using analogies that are familiar to your audience to illustrate difficult concepts is a winning strategy too. Incorporating a lively style through vivid word choice and sentence variety helps improve your audience's engagement with your prose. This is hard work and takes lots of practice!

You can start practicing these important skills now, and I'll help guide you. The deadline for submissions is February 15. Find out more by reading the guidelines. And, make an appointment; we'll talk about how you can earn money and improve your writing in one fell swoop, as Shakespeare would say.

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