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Gaucho to Gaucho: Advice For Landing a Job From a Student Who’s Been there

March 4, 2013

Tanya Smith is a senior at UCSB. She had some  fears that most college seniors could understand. She was worried about getting a job after college. She was worried about whether she could be competitive with a degree in liberal arts. But now Tanya has accepted a full-time job offer from Macy’s for a position in their Executive Development Program. How did Tanya land that job? To learn more about her success, Tanya was interviewed by Career Services so that other Gauchos could benefit from her experience and knowledge.

How did you find out about the position?

Because I majored in the liberal arts, I worried that I had painted myself in a corner when it came to career options. I figured that I would become a junior high teacher. In October I went into Career Services to have my resume edited. At Career Services, I met Lily, who was extremely complimentary of my accomplishments; she urged me not to settle and told me that I would be a perfect candidate for a corporate training program. She also convinced me to research the various companies coming to the Career Fair. The only company I loved that had a renowned executive development program was Macy’s.

What did the application process look like? What efforts did you make before turning in your application materials?

The application process was incredibly time-consuming but definitely worthwhile. I think that the application process began the minute I shook hands with one of the Macy’s representatives at the Career Fair and turned in my resume. A 3.5 GPA was a prerequisite for the position. I turned in a polished resume and came prepared with questions to ask at the Career Fair. Afterwards, I was invited to attend a virtual information session online (we had the opportunity to ask questions) and then afterwards I was invited to attend an information session on campus (followed by a meet and greet with Macy’s employees). I had to complete a few surveys and an additional job application online which tested my critical thinking skills and analyzed my personality. Afterwards, I was invited to sign up for an on-campus interview, and that was followed by an off-campus interview in Los Angeles.

What did you do to prepare for your interview?  

I spent an entire day preparing for my interview. I reviewed the interview tips on the Macy’s website and also browsed through feedback on the website Glassdoor. Interestingly enough, a few of the practice interview questions from the Macy’s website ended up being asked during my on-campus interview. I made sure to have specific questions to ask about the company and about my potential to grow in the company. I reviewed about 50 practice interview questions (which I drew both from the Career Services pamphlet and from the Internet.) I made sure to have several stories ready to illustrate my strengths.

What did you wear and bring to your interview?

I wore a gray and black professional dress and shiny black flats. My dress was conservative but I also made sure that it was quite stylish since I was applying to work with a company that is an established leader in fashion.

What was the interview like?

The on-campus interview consisted of two parts; the first part was a “coaching exercise,” in which I was asked to take on the role of a department manager and to analyze the potential of my associates. I had to decide which sales associate I wanted to make an investment in, and had to explain how I would connect with that associate to help them reach various sales goals. There was really no way to prepare for this part of the interview. The second part of the interview was a basic behavioral interview, during which I was asked traditional interview questions. I especially liked that my interviewer asked me questions that made the interview feel like a conversation. He was not merely reading off a list.

After my on campus-interview, I was invited to a two-day, all-expense paid interview in Los Angeles. To prepare, I read a book on store management while I was on the train; I also invested in two new interview outfits. I was put up in a beautiful hotel room (which I had all to myself!) The first day was quite casual. We received gift bags, attended an information session, and went out to dinner together. The other students being interviewed came from across the country; everyone was extremely friendly and put-together. Many of our interviewers attended the dinner and were present during the first today, so I kept in mind that they were constantly taking notes on us. I was nervous, but I made sure to act confident. I smiled the entire time and made some great friends. The second day was extremely long but exciting. We had an individual coaching exercise, a group exercise, a traditional behavioral interview, and then another interview with someone from HR who used our responses to the behavioral questions we had answered prior to the on-campus interviews to ask us questions catered to our unique personality traits.

What were some interview questions you expected? 

I expected to be asked about my strengths and weaknesses, and also expected that the interview would begin: “so tell me about yourself…” I was wrong. Nonetheless, some of the interview questions were expected. For instance, I knew I would probably be asked to talk about why I wanted to work for Macy’s and I also knew I would probably be asked about a time that I had resolved a conflict. I had answers ready to those sorts of questions.

What were some unexpected interview questions? How did you handle that?

I did not expect to be asked, “Tell me about a summer internship or a summer job that taught you how a business works.” I had worked an internship the previous summer for a nonprofit organization, the National Student Leadership Conference, as opposed to a traditional business. I handled this question by racking my brain to see what this organization had in common with a corporation and recognized that the NSLC attracted students because it was great at advertising and also because it prided itself in excellent customer service. As a result, students continued to come back and the organization continued to expand to new sites, as any corporation would want to do. Rack your brain and don’t panic if you get asked something you didn’t expect to be asked. Make sure your answers show skills that you can transfer over to your new place  of employment.

What follow up did you do after the interview?

I sent personal thank you emails to both of my interviewers after my on-campus interview. The man who conducted my behavioral interviewer offered to be a resource to me if I needed any help in the future, and so as soon as I was invited to the on-site interview in Los Angeles, I called him and asked him for some words of wisdom. He gave me great confidence and also told me I was the only student who had reached out to him. He seemed impressed. I spent time on my thank you emails and asked someone to proofread them. At the on-site interview in Los Angeles, I met about ten top Macy’s executives. I asked all of them for their business cards and sent them personal thank you emails the next morning to stand apart from the other students applying for the EDP Program.

What do you attribute to your successful job search?

Career Services played an instrumental role in my successful job search, because they gave me the information I needed to pursue a job that I really wanted. At the same time, I attribute my hard work throughout college to my successful job search. College is only four years so you might as well take on as many responsibilities as you can and to work as hard as possible to make yourself stand out in this difficult economic climate. I showed my interviewers that all of my various commitments made me someone worth investing in. For instance, I used my experience as a Division I athletics to show that I was industrious, self-driven, and worked at a fast pace. I used my job as a spin (indoor cycling) instructor to show that I am confident and know how to inspire people. I used my role as co-president of the Italian Club at UCSB to show that I am a leader and that I know how to work with others. I used my GPA and my jobs as a library assistant, exam proctor, and tutor to show that I am extremely well-balanced. Working hard in college really pays off and the more experiences you have, the more you will be able to bring to the table in an interview.

What role did Career Services play in your job search?

Career Services played a key role, because Career Services was the place where I was told I had potential – that I had a promising future. I went to Career Services to have my resume critiqued, to conduct a Mock Interview, and even to partake in my first interview with Macy’s. Career Services is a great resource to all of us and it is something that we should definitely take advantage of while we have the opportunity!

What advice do you have for other Gauchos looking for employment?

I hinted at this earlier, but more than anything I would say to take on as much as you can during college. If you manage your time well, you can make it work, and it will make you a much more viable candidate once you jump into the job search. If you are a senior, no matter how good a student you are, I think you need to realize that your future career is more important than your academic work. If you need to skip a class or skip a few readings to prepare for an interview, you should do it. Why would you spend more time preparing for an exam than an interview? Finally, draw on your strengths and act confident, but don’t pretend to be someone you are not – it will show through. Just be the best version of yourself. Invest in nice interview clothes – look clean, polished, and well-put together. If in doubt, err on the edge of looking too conservative.

Tanya Smith  is a senior at UCSB. She is an Honors student majoring in Italian Studies and double-minoring in History and Education. She recently accepted a full-time job offer from Macy’s for a position in their Executive Development Program.

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