Job Search Tips from Erica

I’ve been asked by Sally to write a bit about job-hunting. I’ve added some tips from other Oliners as well. Hope it helps!

Oliners from Auris Surgical Robotics enjoy a night of ice skating: (From left) Nick Eyre ’15, Alex Niswander ’12, Erica and Travis Schuh ’12

Tip 1. Be aware that people may not know what your major means (especially self-declared ones) – they may even have a different definition and scope of just what your educational background .  Remember, just because their expectations are different from yours, doesn’t make your expectations wrong – just be ready for it, not necessarily to defend your definition so much as to learn from theirs. It may also mean explaining more about not only what you’ve learned, but also what kind of a college Olin is (e.g. “Oh, Oberlin? I think I’ve heard of that school.”).

Tip 2. Don’t hesitate to reach out and often, but know your expectations. I was shy, and often hesitated to contactothers for help and advice, because I didn’t want to be a burden. Why would an essential stranger want to spend time with someone who couldn’t offer them anything? (I later learned, several companies offer a bonus for successful referrals.)  What if someone recommended me, and I turned out to stink at the job?

When I did reach out, I didn’t always know what I wanted; part of me secretly hoped for a magical solution – especially after stories I had heard from others. Consequently, I sometimes felt disappointed even after receiving great advice and invaluable information, but was left wondering if maybe I wasn’t good enough for a “magical solution.”   Knowing what I wanted out of each conversation helped squash that part of me that was seeking that undefined magical solution, which would rarely be reached anyway.   It made conversations more enjoyable and easier to internalize.

Okay, but what if you don’t know what to ask, or you’re not sure what you want? There are workshops and online questionnaires that can help with defining your interests and ideal jobs – personally, I never had enough patience for them. I ended up asking a senior employee what he looked for in a job, the questions he liked to ask in interviews, and any other general career advice – and in hindsight, treated informational interviews like UOCD, with the user as anyone going into industry.

What if you don’t know who to ask? Ask professors, Sally, or classmates – sometimes there are Oliners and contacts, where you least expect them, which can be great for making your resume stand out in a stack. There are also Olin Facebook groups and LinkedIn boards to post requests for advice. You may not hear back right away, but now you have at least one person who is aware and can keep an eye out for potential opportunities. Also, don’t be afraid to poke back after a two-week radio silence. The person on the other end may have just had a busy few days.

Have your resume ready. Ideally, have a website or portfolio linked as well – in some cases it’s better to have a portfolio than a resume, because photos can describe projects much faster than words, and remember that interviewers can be lazy/desire expediency too.
That said, know your resume and your publicly posted work, because that’s what they’ll expect you to know and be ready to talk about.

Tip 3. Watch your mindset and body language. It’s easy to sink into a pattern of thinking – the more you do it, the easier it is to do it. What makes the self-doubt and recriminations problem worse is the whole body impacting mind, and mind impacting body loop – especially when interviewers want confident candidates. There are many tricks online – biting a pen when you don’t feel like smiling or spreading your body as large as you can, speaking slowly to take up space in time, etc.

Tip 4. Know what you want in an employer. At the very least, know the basic facts about the company – one recruiter told me how he had written off a candidate because the candidate didn’t even know where the company was based.

This post by a ’12 alum also made the case that you are interviewing the company just as much as they are interviewing you – similar to Candidate’s Weekend.  Different companies may look for different things. My co-worker broke down his interview process to me, with his top four values, in order of priority, being: character, capability, energy, and experience. He prioritized experience last, because in his opinion, our workplace needs would shift over time, so the capability to grow would be much more important than static experience. To determine character, he would often push a candidate, testing them on foundations he felt they should know based on their resume, before pushing them purposefully toward something he did not expect them to be able to answer, to judge how they reacted under pressure.

In other words, sometimes it’s ok not to know the answer, because the true question is how you react and/or work through it. Everyone freezes, but don’t stand there in silence. Pretend it’s another team project that you and the interviewer are attempting to solve. Ask questions – it takes up time, and you’ll learn something!

Summary. Be mindful of your expectations toward yourself and others – and don’t hesitate to reach out for help.

Note from PGP: Erica’s job search efforts paid off.  She is now an Associate Mechanical Engineer with Auris Surgical Robotics in San Carlos, CA. 

Posted in: Alumni Speak