October 26, 2014

Job Interviews

In our COE 313 Community Experience: Internship and Professional Seminar class all students do mock job or graduate school admissions interviews. The students who are on campus do their mock interviews in front of their peers. Sometime a community partner comes to class and does the mock  interviews. Sometimes they are stuck with me, their teacher, interviewing them. Apparently, this is very anxiety provoking. Either way, the experience provides some practice and feedback that are critical. We want you to get the job. We want you employed.

From mindmapart.com
The number one piece of feedback I have for students year after year is that it is clear that they haven't practiced for their mock interviews. If you want that job or admission to that graduate school, practice, practice, practice. Prepare by thinking through questions and writing notes for yourself, but don't forget to practice answering these questions out loud. It really makes a difference. Speaking is a lot different than reading your notes or just thinking about it. Here are some more suggestions. [Yes, there is a bit of repetition. On purpose.]

1. Prepare

This is pretty simple advice. Probably something you already know you should do, but don't necessarily do it or give it the time it deserves. If you want the job, do your homework. Research the job (i.e., community support worker), the organization (#3 below), and list what you bring to the job (#4). That part is just gathering data. This is what you do before you practice answering questions. Writing out your qualifications is not the same as articulating them in an interview.

Onet is one online resource that allows you to search occupations to find out required skills, abilities, and knowledge, education/credentials, work activities, work context, related occupations, and salary and employment trends. Have a look.

You should also look up common interview questions. Here is a Forbes article on the Top 50 Most Common Interview Questions. The list is fairly generic. You can search for other lists. Consider making sure you are comfortable with Behavioral Interviewing questions. This type of question asks you to explain what you do or would do in specific situations. The interviewer is trying to learn about how you think and then respond in work situations. Here is a Top 10 Behavioral Interviewing Questions article for About Careers.

2. Know your audience

Your audience, that person who is interviewing you, is not in your head. They don't know what you know about you. Make sure when you describe experiences and your skills that you give them enough information to appreciate them. So often in classroom assignments and mock interviews student expect the teacher or the interviewer to connect the dots rather than making an argument. In a mock interview or a real one, your job is to make an argument connecting your experiences and skills to the job description or organization's mission so it is clear that you are a strong candidate for the job. 

An example of forgetting your audience is sharing that you interned at The Next Step and then not explaining what The Next Step is (a domestic violence project that provides service to families experiencing domestic violence, trainings on domestic violence, and advocacy and prevention programs) or how your experience there helped you develop skills or knowledge that is transferable to the job that you are applying for. Connect the dots for the interviewer. Don't assume they will do it for you.

3. Understand the job and the organization

Do your homework to understand the job expectations, qualifications, and as much about the organization as possible. This will help you be clearer when arguing that you are a strongly qualified candidate. If you can reflect back some of their language or values or ask questions that show you took an interest in understanding the organization, you sound thoughtful and diligent. Also, you may have relevant experience that doesn't seem related to the job.

4. Make your pitch (as in sales pitch)

Think of that first open-ended "Why are you interested in this job?" question as a prompt for you to make 1) a good first impression and 2) an argument as to why they should hire you. By argument, I mean your organizing your thoughts in order to persuade someone or to make your point clear. Do the work for your interviewer. If you are experienced in that field or that role, don't coast assuming that your experience will speak for itself. Explain why you are a strong candidate for the job. If you are new with less experience in the field or that role, your argument will explain how you are prepared in light of not having much formal experience. 

5. Don't assume your degree means anything to anyone. Highlight what you want them to know.

Our program is unique. Psychology & Community Studies does not explain itself. People think they know what psychology as a discipline is, but they have no idea what community studies is or what they are when you put them together. Frankly, even if you have a Psychology major or English major or Chemistry major, you still need to explain how your college experience prepared you for the specific job. I'm not saying just list relevant classes or your minor. Think though assignments, courses, general skills, experiences at conference, research experiences, service-learning experiences and more and then explain the most relevant pieces and how they prepare you for this particular job. Our degree is very malleable in description. Explain it to your advantage, which will depend on the specifics of the job. Make sure to make the most out of highlighting your senior project.

6. Have questions for the person who is interviewing you.

When you have questions ready for your interviewer it makes you look prepared, thoughtful, and thorough. Granted, the content of your questions matter. So consider what your questions will communicate about you.

7. PRACTICE. Out loud. Alone or with a friend role playing with you.

Not kidding here. I see students come to class with well organized notes and still end up with a choppy, discombobulated interview. Gathering information and thinking about it is necessary, but not sufficient. You need to practice saying the words. I prefer the pace-talk-out-loud-by-myself method (at home of course). You can also ask a friend to role play with you. Or ask Career Services (Jo-Ellen Scribner) or someone at your local Career Center if they will practice with you and give you feedback. Repetition is the point here. That way your are more likely to answer smoothly during the interview. It also can also help decrease your anxiety for the real interview.

8. Get feedback and use it.

Along with practice, get feedback and utilize it. You want feedback from someone from whom you can accept constructive criticism. Don't choose your best friend if they are going to pump you up with praise and avoid telling you what you need to improve. This does not help. It is good to know what you are doing well in an interview, but it is even more important to know what you can do to strengthen your interviewing skills. 

Does this picture not scream stock-picture?

9. PRACTICE more.

Not kidding. If you want the job or admission into that grad program, do the work.

10. Understand that not getting a job is not necessarily a reflection on you. Though it may be. And you won't get to know.

This is a tough one: if you don't get the job, you don't get to know why. You have to remember that applying for jobs is competitive, and you don't know who else applied. You might not have had enough experience or someone might have had more. Someone else make have had a proverbial toe-in-the-door (which is what you folks have after a good internship experience because your internship site knows you and has already trained you). And you may not have presented yourself as well as you could have. You don't get to know. Please do not take not getting a job or into grad school too hard. Apply again if you have the opportunity. After realizing I applied to teach at UMM twice, a friend was shocked that I applied the second time. She thought I should have gotten the message and have been upset about being "rejected". I figured I needed more experience teaching to look like a viable candidate (I did) and that if I applied a second time that I would already be familiar (which generally works in your favor provided you didn't make a bad impression the first time.)

Links to Resources:

Career Centers are all over Maine and their are similar resources all over the country. Generally their services are free. Use them! There are two in Washington County, ME (Machias and Calais).
Maine Career Center

Find Jo Ellen Scribner :)
University of Maine Career Services

October 1, 2014

The Big Read in Downeast Maine

Readers! Booklovers! Community Members! Folks Who Love Art! You, who are looking for cool, FREE community events! We have some for you!

Travel to Earthsea with fantasy readers from Downeast Maine! Join us for The Big Read, community events built on themes from A Wizard of Earthsea, the fantasy classic by author Ursula Le Guin. In 1968 Ursula Le Guin published A Wizard of Earthsea, creating a fantasy world that rings true with issues meaningful to us today. Topics to explore include the hidden power of a man's name, what it means to be a wizard, and the importance of home.
The Big Read is a program of the National Endowment for the Arts, designed to revitalize the role of literature in American culture and to encourage citizens to read for pleasure and enlightenment. Porter Memorial Library is one of 77 not-for-profit organizations to receive a grant to host a Big Read project between September 2014 and June 2015. The NEA presents The Big Read in partnership with Arts Midwest. 

Want to know a bit about Le Guin's A Wizard of Earthsea? Here is the link for The Big Read's Reader's Guides, a wikipedia entry, and Ursula Le Guin's website.

The Big Read in Downeast Maine is brought to you by Porter Memorial Library, and the Psychology and Community Studies program at University of Maine at Machias.
Free Community Events include:
  • Discussion groups on A Wizard of Earthsea
  • Fantasy/SciFi Booklovers’ Rumpus
  • Graphic Novel Illustration Workshops
  • Collage & Print Workshops
  • Digital Dragons Workshop
  • Reader’s Theater Performances
  • Wizard Party Masquerade
  • Featuring Fantasy & Scifi on the What's The Fox Say? Children's Radio Show on WUMM
  • Wizard-themed sports: Quidditch at University of Maine at Machias
  • Talk by Author Elizabeth Hand

September 21, 2014

Shepherding Books

The other day I dropped in on the librarian at our local public library. I've been wicked busy, and we have a rapidly approaching Big Read series to pull off. I found her at the bottom of the stairs sitting on a box, surrounded by other boxes stacked against the wall, digging through books. After we talked business, she showed me some of the books and explained that all the boxes were donated from one estate. The owner had passed away and his family donated them. There were books in different languages, books on New Age stuff (... astral projection? Does that count?), photography books, other art books, history books, some random fantasy novels, a bible from the 1800s in German, other books on spirituality and religion, and Tibet seemed to be a theme too. She got off the box she had been sitting on to point out that "books on intimacy" was neatly written on the box. Two thoughts: a) yea to those who so thoughtfully labeled the all the boxes and b) that particular box will make the annual book sale more interesting for people watching.

By the way: The librarian held up a book with a design of a naked woman's torso on the cover and she said, "Orgasmatron? What am I going to do with this?" That book was not in the "books on intimacy" books. For some reason, the twenty books with astral projection in the title all blend into one another. Orgasmatron, which was overlapping with Voltron is my lexical space, stood out. Google tells me that book was: "Adventures in the Orgasmatron: How the Sexual Revolution Came to America" by Christopher Turner, which seems to be a biography of Wilhelm Reich, but puts itself forward as a history of "how the sexual revolution came to America." People who reviewed the book on Amazon gave it either fives stars or one. Loved it or hated it. Those who gave it one star generally argue the book egregiously misrepresents the Wilhelm Reich, who is apparently an Austrian Psychoanalyst (who I don't remember reading about in my clinical psychology graduate program) who went off the rails around sex and sexuality and was in some ways respected and in others written off as a crackpot or radical.

Weird, weird Maine connection? Reich died in 1957 and apparently (if Wikipedia is correct on this) is "at rest" on his his estate in dear old Rangeley, Maine. Yes, search for Orgonon. His estate maintains a museum of his work. And it is in Rangeley.

Back to shepherding books. It occurred to me while watching the librarian look through the books that she is performing a solemn duty on behalf of the departed person, or a really depressing one on behalf of the departed person's family who thought, "What the hell are we going to do with all these books?" I helped figure out what to do with my grandparents' book collection when they passed away. It was very interesting go through the books that they acquired over their lives and chose to keep, but despite an inclination toward sentimentality and being quite attached to my grandparents, I realized that my grandfather and I didn't have similar taste in reading material. Military books and westerns are not my thing.

Aren't books cool? They are artifacts and small time machines that take you somewhere while leaving you physically in the present.

I couldn't help wonder about the couple whose book collection we were looking at. What were they like? Then I wondered out loud whether these estate donations were a boon for the library or more of a burden. Getting rid of stuff can be logistically challenging and time consuming. Even if the books are worth money, you need to know where to find buyers, have room to store the books, and staff time to work through the books (unless someone will take the lot). Would these books be saved for the annual fundraiser book sale? Would they be combed through by a buyer who may purchase a few? My dad says there are many collectors of old bibles, and thanks to the internet collectors are easy to find. Would the books be donated elsewhere? Sold in the library fundraiser book sale? Disposed of? Made into a new form of art? Boxes upon boxes of books. Heavy boxes, that take up space?

I think all sorts of appreciative things about libraries, librarians and library staff, but until that conversation and looking over all those books, thinking about the people to whom they belonged,  I hadn't realized what a strangely intimate responsibility librarians have when given an estate's collection of books. These books are the physical accumulation of a person's interests and the worlds they have immersed themselves in. They having writing in the margins and notes and random items pressed between the pages. Some have dedications in the front. And yet, that doesn't mean that loved ones or anyone else will value them as the owners did. Or maybe they will, but valued differently. Your adult grandchildren may end up thinking, "How many freaking novels did Zane Grey write? And why couldn't Granddad have loved scifi instead of western novels?"


This makes me wonder what our son will do with our book collection some day. At this point in our lives, we aren't endlessly moving and switching apartments, so our collection curation has changed in response to a greater capacity for books and no foreseeable need to box them up for moving day. While Potty! and Jamberry are some of our son's current favorites, we harbor fantasies that he might also love our books (which we refer to as his books.) What happens if he grows up and thinks, "Good grief parents! Enough science fiction and fantasy already. And what's with all the books and journals from the Peninsular campaign? Sharpe's this. Sharpe's that. Did you read anything besides Bernard Cornwell?!" Who knows. True Grit may be his gateway Western. He'll end up smitten with Louis L'Amour, and I will be wondering why I didn't hold on to Grandad's western novels. But surely he'll keep all the Terry Pratchett books, right?

xkcd :)