Sunday, December 25, 2011

Interview like a Yoga Instructor

If life is a cycle of breath, we currently find ourselves mid-exhale at Darden.  Exams are over.  Winter Break is here.

And yet, the next inhale is just upon the horizon—interviews.  We’re still dropping resumes, and the invite lists are starting to trickle in from companies.  That means there’s no real rest during the holidays.  Students must find time to practice and prepare for interviews in between shopping for (and opening) presents, job treks and family time.

I’m dialed in, back in Charlottesville after an awesome job trek to the Bay Area.  The goal? Concentrate on landing a great internship.  It won’t be the first time I’ll be working instead of playing this time of year—reporters have to work most holidays, and I’ve spent many a Christmas Day hunting down stories instead of drinking eggnog.  This time, though, it’s different.

The truth is interviews are intimidating, even though I’ve been a broadcaster for my entire career.  And so I’m reading every possible marketing website, scouring the Darden company Wiki, and building elaborate interview spreadsheets.  I’ll also be doing a number of mock interviews with second year students, CDC faculty, and prospective companies. 

That being said, I’m taking this time to regain my balance.  It’s no secret that hobbies go on hiatus during first year at Darden.  I used to rock climb three or four times a week: I’ve probably climbed that many times the entire semester.

One of my other favorite forms of fitness is yoga.  Climbing is my favorite activity, but yoga is my most necessary one.  It helps me breathe.  It improves my flexibility.  It brings me peace and balance.

In Nashville, I did Vinyasa Flow Yoga weekly.  I’ve yet to do it a single time in Charlottesville.  However, break has given me time to Bikram Yoga four days in a row, and I’m loving it.

So there I am, in 105 degree heat, locked into triangle pose, drenched in sweat.  In the background I hear the instructor’s calm, steady voice.

“Bend until your right knee is at a 90 degree angle… eyes gazing over your thumb… good… gently push your elbow against your knee… breathe through your nose… hold… and hold… and hold.”

I listened, I followed, I acted.  That’s when I realized something: I want to interview like a yoga instructor.  Allow me to explain:

1. Practice, practice practice- You didn’t become a yoga instructor without being good at yoga.  Similarly, you don’t become an interview expert overnight.   Practice case questions, learn more about your field, and research the companies. 

2. Cool, calm and collected- If you pull someone off the street, put them in a room that’s hotter than the Sahara, bend them up like a pretzel and tell them not to move they’ll probably freak out.  And yet, the key to yoga is calm.  Students pick the calm vibes up from the instructor.  Likewise, calmness equals confidence in that interview room, and companies need to know that you’ll be calm in high pressure situations.

3. Rehearsed, but genuine- Instructors often repeat the same lines.  Go back, way back, fall back… etc.  But to some extent, that’s okay.  Students need to know which foot to pick up, or how their weight should be distributed.  That stuff needs to be right every time.  Your “tell me about yourself” pitch needs to be the same way.  However, you still have to be passionate and care about your story, much like an instructor must genuinely care about his or her class.

4. Be flexible- This one is a double meaning.  Ha!  Sorry.  The skill level of yoga students varies with each session, and invariably a student will need specific help from an instructor.  And so, mid-class, mid-pose, mid-sentence, an instructor must be able to call out guidance on the fly to that student.  The same goes in interviewing.  You’re gonna get hit with a question you didn’t prepare for.  How well can you adapt what you’ve practiced to this unexpected challenge?

5. Have fun- Let’s be honest: not too many folks would practice yoga unless it was a.) good for them and b.) enjoyable.  The best instructors aren’t afraid to laugh, flash a smile, and engage their students.  Great interviewees must do the same.  Why would a company want to bring you in to their family if you don’t have a personality?  There are a million other candidates out there with great resumes gunning for the same job, and I bet a bunch of them are pretty cool people.  They’ll win the tiebreaker every time.

So there you have it.  Interview like a yoga instructor.

Darden, finish that exhale and then take a deep breath—we’re not done yet.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

From the Foxhole

High pressure events have a way of knocking us out of rhythm, and I'd classify exams and resume drops as high pressure events.

Darden first years are squarely in the middle of exams and the job hunt.  As a result, my faithful bi-weekly blog entry rhythm went out the window two weeks ago.  It's not that I didn't have any spare time, it's just that I had WAY less of it.

So, here's the update: we've begun submitting our resumes and cover letters to the companies we'd like to intern with.  The networking is over, but the interview preparation process is just around the corner.  That means hours of industry research, hours of structuring responses to likely questions, hours practicing in front of the mirror, and hours of mock interviews.

This is where we lean on our incredible second years, like my SY Coach Devin.  Devin is an absolute rockstar.  In the midst of her own constantly changing, busy life, Devin found time to leave massive amounts of ink on my resume and cover letter, helped connect me with folks who can help with my internship search, and offered honest criticism of my two minute pitch.  Most importantly, my coach is a master of motivation.  She's positive, encouraging, understanding.  Her confidence in me gives me confidence in me.

Devin doing an all important task: Darden tailgate setup.

Devin's not alone.  SYs are always willing to sit down during First Coffee to talk about their internship experience.  They share their insight on how they made it through interview season.  It is this kind of selflessness that separates Darden: we are truly here to help one another succeed, and I treasure that spirit.

Lastly, I'm in the middle of exams.  Like right now.  My left side brain is yelling, "the finance exam won't take itself!"  My right side brain, though, needs a moment to write something fun (although I'm enjoying finance way more than I thought I would).

This is by far the most daunting exam period we've had- five tests in six days.  And, they're not fluff exams either: strategy, operations, accounting, finance, econ.  Fortunately, I feel prepared for most of them, thanks to an awesome group of professors and the patience of my learning team.

LT 54, Hillary you should have eaten pizza with us that night!

OK, time's up. Right brain wins.  It's back to my foxhole (aka my desk) and my new rhythm- the exam rhythm- one driven by the cadence of laptop keys and page flipping.