This recent graduate wanted to give students real, actionable career advice.
Tucker Stein, an MBA-candidate at Stanford’s Graduate School of Business, partnered with the University of Redlands’ Hunsaker Chair of Management, and career expert, Jack Osborn, to create the ultimate guide to finding your first job after college. GET TO WORK helps students who don’t yet know what they want to do, or know how to approach the first steps of finding a great job. Stein’s job guide tackles every part of the career search process, from building a list of target companies, understanding job descriptions, crafting a competitive resume, to evaluating the best position from multiple offers.
We interviewed Stein to get first-hand answers about the undergraduate job and internship search. Here is Stein’s real, practical career advice for students in all steps of the career search process.
How should freshmen and sophomores, who haven’t selected their majors, prepare for the job market?
To build a starting platform, freshmen and sophomores can ask themselves: What are my strengths? What are my industries of interest? Am I passionate about healthcare? Am I passionate about fashion or food? Similarly, from a skill-set analysis perspective, what skills or classes do I succeed in and enjoy? Do I like numbers? Do I like public speaking? It is important to identify strengths and interests for both an industry view and a functional view.
Though attempting to conceptualize a “perfect” position as a first job may seem abstract, it will provide you with a number of different career paths to explore. If I were a freshman, I would ask: what am I really interested in? I like numbers, I like looking at companies, and I’m really interested in solar energy. Maybe I want to do something in finance, in corporate development, or find an entry level position at a renewable technology company. Though few will find their perfect career directly out of undergraduate, attempting to identify this hypothetical perfect position will give you a number of derivative paths to broaden your company search.
What’s the most effective coursework to make yourself marketable while you’re in college?
In particular, quantitative classes, professional writing, and public speaking are the most sought-after items on a transcript. Whether you’re in marketing, sales, human resources, or operations, math and an understanding of basic financial concepts will be important in your first position.
What is the the value student-run clubs?
From a career search perspective, it’s more powerful to be in one or two clubs and hold a leadership role, rather than five to six clubs and with passive contribution.
Any type of small group leadership role you can establish where you’re able to lead people from different backgrounds is a huge advantage in the application process. It’s one thing to say “I led a team” or “I worked on a team.” It’s more important and more powerful to say “I worked on a diverse team with a number of different backgrounds, interests and skill-sets represented, and I was able to bring all these diverse individuals together.”
Why does working on a diverse team matter to employers on your resume and during your interview?
It’s a little bit easier to lead teams when everyone else has a similar goal, background or personality type. You can almost always apply, “how would I think about this?” to the whole group. Participation on a diverse team–such as a classroom assignment outside of your major or with students from different departments–is where you really develop the leadership skills applicable in the work force.
The teams in most companies will be very diverse. If you’re an accountant, you’re going to work on cross-functional teams with someone from marketing or someone from human resources. Additionally, you’re going to constantly collaborate with people from different divisions, skill levels, and seniority ranks.
Where can students find opportunities to lead these types of teams?
One way could be an opportunity to serve as a teacher’s assistant within a field that you know well. For example, if you’re a senior and you have the opportunity to hold a teaching assistant position for a freshman-year class where you advise many different students with different backgrounds who might not be interested at all nor fundamentally understand the material. Being able to get them excited about a topic, or being able to teach the process, is an excellent chance to practice leading and motivating diverse teams.
What are S.T.A.R. interview questions? Can you give recent graduates advice on how to answer these tricky questions in their interviews?
S.T.A.R. stands for Situation, Task, Action, Results. What they’re looking for the student to do is break down four different and clearly defined steps.
As an example, a number of companies like to ask the S.T.A.R. (also called “situational”) question: “Tell me about a time when you solved a problem or improved a process at work.”
Step One: Setting a background for the situation or task. It’s very important to give a detailed description, to clearly set the stage to allow the interviewer to visualize how you solved a problem, and what specific outcomes you drove. As an example: “As an intern at XYZ company, I was in charge of procuring parts for a sign board advertisement where we previously procured from over twenty-five different suppliers. The process has been in place for the past ten years and had become inefficient as it didn’t realize the buying power of a consolidated procurement approach.”
Step Two: Specifically, what was your action? In the action portion, they’re specifically looking for: what did you specifically do to make a change? What was your approach to the problem – and what resources did you utilize? Specifically, describe the action and make it clear what you did versus the group. In the book, we talk about different action verbs to use in situational answers. Many of the verbs we see students use are collective or passive; the interviewers will be looking for an active verb to describe your action.
Step Three: The result – what came of your action? In this section, specifically identify the result of your action. If possible, interviewers are really looking for students to provide some type of quantitative explanation. When explaining the details of the result, with regards to saved time or money, we suggest students speak in percentages. To tie back to the previous example, if you were able to improve the process through bulk part procurements for this signboard, rather than say, “I saved $1000,” say, “I saved 25% by implementing this process.”
And, remember, “the result” is really explaining what happened as a result of your individual action.
Step Four: Tie it all together. Though it is not required, sometimes it may make sense to explain what you learned from the experience. Some possible closure sentences could be: “and through this process, I learned…”, or “through this process my approach changed because…”
How do you close an interview?
Normally, students have time to ask 3-5 questions at the end of the interview. This is an opportunity to display company knowledge while finding out additional information about the position. Remember: never ask anything you can find online! In this closing session, inquire about any opportunity to sit with someone in the position for which you are interviewing. This will allow you the opportunity to experience the position and build another point of contact.
Finally, one of the things we never see students say, and that the interview hosts really look for, is, “I really want this job.”
Interview credit: Tucker Stein
GET TO WORK is designed to help students understand how to build a strong undergraduate resume during the course of their studies and how to achieve maximum success in both internship and job searches. Whether you are a first-year student building your resume for a first internship, or a senior seeking to enter a specific industry, this book will help you through the process and give you actionable insight into every step on the journey to finding meaningful employment.
GET TO WORK is partly interactive and partly anecdotal. Throughout the book, we provide dozens of “Insider Tips” which are real examples from many successful professionals whom we have coached through this process. We believe these examples will help you understand real-world job search situations and that you will be able to apply these lessons to your own search. With this text, the time-constrained student can streamline their search, find efficiencies in the process and increase their return on invested time. The information helps you get started early so you are not left behind.
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