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Job Makeover: New Suit, Old Manners

Giving the best answers to the tough questions

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In the video above, Daniel Essrow learns how to present himself to prospective employers, getting advice from professionals, ranging from how to answer questions to handshake and posture to what to wear.

When Daniel Essrow (CAS’10, COM’10) won BU Today’s jobsearch makeover, he admitted to being excited, mainly about the newsuit that was coming his way thanks to an offer from Dean of StudentsKenneth Elmore.

Except for Essrow’s multiple major, most graduating seniors couldhave penned something with the gist, if not the pizzazz, of Essrow’swinning tweet: “A jobless @BU Haiku: 2.5 majors/4 awesome years atBU/Not 1 job in sight.” As he’d hoped, Essrow did get a great suit fromthe deal, so he will definitely look the part. But after a session withCareer Servicesconsultants Martha Brill and Deborah Jancourtz, Essrow realized that hehad more to learn than he’d thought about how to get employers’attention, sell himself, and seal the deal.

When it comes to landing a competitive, career-track job,deal-breakers lurk everywhere. It could even be something as small as atypo in a résumé. A recent survey by the National Association of Colleges and Employersfound that 34 percent of recruiters and senior executives willautomatically pass over an applicant with résumé typos or grammaticalerrors, and 22 percent will toss an applicant whose résumé has “toomuch information.”

Other stumbling blocks for even the most glowing job candidates areunderwhelming answers to unnerving questions like “what’s your biggestweakness?” or the more benign “what can you bring to this company?” Andthen there are the seemingly trivial things — like Essrow’sovercompensatory handshake.

“I’m a small guy so I like to give a really firm handshake,” saysEssrow, whose friends have told him to lighten up before he crushessomeone’s bones. And for all his obvious personality and talents,Essrow, who’s seeking a job in advertising, could damage a goodopportunity by fidgeting with his pen in mid-interview, according toBrill.

While confident that he’ll have his act together for importantinterviews, Essrow was unsure how to follow up. “Should I e-mail orcall?” he asked Brill. “How long should I wait?” Brill suggestedsending a note via snail mail — old-fashioned, perhaps, but it’sappreciated and gets an applicant noticed.

Career Services director Kimberly DelGizzo says even the mostqualified students can sabotage a job interview. “Their cover lettersmay not explain what they can offer the specific company, and they missout on demonstrating why they’d be a perfect match,” says DelGizzo,whose office has a staff of counselors available to walk job seekersthrough the process, from cover letter to thank you note. It pays to dothe research, she says, and be informed about the company and about theposition so you can answer the employer’s most obvious question: “whyus?”

“Another problem is not answering the question that’s been asked,”she says. “Listen to the question, then answer it directly and don’t goaround it.” Many students play down the importance of presentation —the business suit, the confident handshake, an energetic, engaged bodyposture with no fidgeting or slumping.

“The interview is a conversation,” says DelGizzo, but it’s one whereyou’re competing against yourself. Employers expect you to be nervous,but some interviewees go into the interview so tense that theirpersonality and excitement about the position fail to come through.

“A lot of times students come to me and say, ‘I didn’t know how toanswer the biggest weakness question,” says DelGizzo. She urgesstudents to be honest (don’t say you’re too perfect) and remember toadd something about what you’re doing to improve.

Like most BU seniors who don’t plan to go directly to graduateschool, Justin Breton (COM’10) had been pondering how best to “get areturn” on his investment, meaning he needs a job, and soon. He’sangling for a position in hospitality/public relations, so in additionto posting a résumé with the usual suspects — Monster, Craigslist, PRWeek — he’s spiffing up his portfolio and considering a way to continueat his marketing firm internship.

“I’ve asked friends at different companies to keep my résumé on file;it doesn’t hurt,” Breton said last month at the beginning of his jobsearch. His dream is to do marketing and public relations for a hotelor hotel chain.

Presentable, confident, with a strong résumé, Breton soon learned thatthe most valuable job search tool was networking with people in thefield and setting up informational interviews, which resulted in hisrésumé being forwarded to headhunters. Next week Breton has a formalinterview with a PR agency.

DelGizzo agrees that just submittingrésumés and cover letters to online job sites is a cursory effort atbest. There’s rarely any follow-up, and the Craigslist postings mayinclude scams. She encourages students to do all the networking theycan, but also advises job seekers to keep in mind that Career Servicesfunctions as a bridge between recruiters and students. It can’t hurt toput as many feelers out there as possible, but a one-on-one with acounselor isn’t just about presentation and preparation, she says. Ithelps graduating students hone in on what they want in a job and whatthey can offer, a step that may seem obvious, but is often neglected.

Susan Seligson can be reached at sueselig@bu.edu. Nicolae Ciorogan can be reached at ciorogan@bu.edu.

2 Comments

2 Comments on Job Makeover: New Suit, Old Manners

  • MEO on 05.19.2010 at 11:29 am

    As someone who knows Daniel very well, I am proud to see he won this contest! Very good advice for the tough job market he is entering……but, I would still like to see him show up in the bowtie – it is very much his personality!! Best of luck on the job search, Daniel – wherever you land will be very lucky to have you!!
    -ellen

  • Erik C. B. Olsen on 07.05.2010 at 3:11 pm

    Daniel on NPR's "Here & Now"

    Just heard Daniel’s interview on Here & Now re. “Four Years In College, 2.5 Majors And No Job In Sight,” great advise! Having your 20-30 sec. “personal pitch” ready is important for networking at conferences & meetings, social events, etc. Other ideas: 1) volunteer/intern; 2) have written goals; 3) seek a mentor; 4) attend conferences & network; 5) seek positions you are enthusiastic about; 6) read/listen to motivating books; 7) start today!

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