Friday, February 20, 2015

Talking To/Like Real People

This week, I had five Real Person conversations, by which I mean I had three interviews for fellowships, one meeting with a grad student in whose lab I might work, and one conversation with a mentor I've met through the Stanford Alumni Mentorship program. A few things in common with all of these: handshakes, "tell me about yourself," "do you have any questions for me," "feel free to email if anything comes up." More handshakes.

I do not think of myself as a Real Person because I have never had a job besides tutoring, I have never lived on my own, and the most money I have made through one source is winning Italian writing competitions. But now that I am in college and applying for things, I have to seem employable.

How am I doing? I don't know. I haven't gotten accepted anywhere yet; haven't even gotten responses to most of the emails I've sent to construction companies, even the ones that were just asking for more information. Job anxiety is strong.

On the other hand, the interviewer for the fellowship that most interests me told me, flat out, that my writing sample was impressive enough that it compensated for the fact that, as a freshman, I have less technical and work experience than other applicants. At least my written communication skills are up there, even if I am not good at communicating verbally.

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What worked well, and what could I work on?

Work On:
  • answer questions more directly, and have an idea of where things are going
  • redirect questions or find opportunities to talk about things that demonstrate my passion
  • stay engaged and attentive even if utterly exhausted
  • have a go-to list of questions that cover a broad spectrum, so that follow-up questions can flow naturally
  • research the organization or position a lot more pre-interview
  • smile, prove that I'm not a robot (I'm very reserved and in normal life it takes me a while to build a connection with anyone)
  • figure out what persona I'm wearing/integrate my persone in a genuine way (idealistic eager freshman? serious engineering student?), which in practice means being able to talk about my idealistic goals without having my voice jump an octave (I feel a lot more in control and competent when I'm speaking in a lower register)
  • think more about what I've done so that I'm not referring to the same projects/classes over and over

Worked Well:
  • ?????
In seriousness, I did think that I did all right. I remembered to say thank you and send thank you emails, I asked some questions that garnered lengthy and informative responses ("what are the final deliverables of this project?" "what is the state of the work to date?" "what skills would allow someone best to contribute in this position?"). I was up front about the fact that as a freshman I have less experience, and also managed to say, in more or less effective ways, that I learn quickly and that if I believe in the importance of what I am doing then I am not afraid to put in the work.

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One thing I know for sure is that when I'm doing this next year, things will be easier in some ways and harder in others. I have to get something good this summer, something that will challenge me and give me valuable experience, because it's okay that I'm unproven as a freshman but as a sophomore I'll be expected to have some more substance. I'll have taken more engineering classes, which is good for some jobs and less good for some fellowships because it seems no one wants civil e except other civil e. Right now I can say that I'm fascinated by everything, and I will still be able to say that next year (hopefully), but with a more directed transcript some places might not want to give me that chance.

I don't know. I have gone to career fairs and my upperclassmen friends who see me there say "it's great that you're getting practice!" People say to chill out and not worry too much, that I have time, but I don't know if I do.

Just hoping that something good comes out of these conversations. Well, good has already come: I've identified ways to improve, and that information is always valuable.

Forza!

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