Bryn Panee Burkhart: “I advocate only connecting with people you know as the quality of your contacts matter more than the quantity” © Jessie Wilson/Wildlee Photography
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Welcome to the Financial Times web chat with Bryn Panee Burkhart from MIT Sloan School of Management in the US.

Are you an MBA student or graduate looking for a job or internship? Bryn Panee Burkhart answered career-related questions on the 21st of August, 2014.

Ms Burkhart, associate director of alumni career development, wrote “ How to use LinkedIn for career success” for the Business Education’s MBA Careers hub.


Wai Kwen: Welcome Bryn and thank you for taking part in today’s MBA Careers web chat. Here’s question 1.


Q1: When it comes to researching companies, what sites do you recommend and how credible are they? For example, I started using – is this a reliable source of information?


Bryn: When researching companies, I would not base your opinion on only one source. I recommend using a variety of sources so that you research from different angles and remain current. At MIT Sloan, we offer resources like Vault, Capital IQ and Plunkett Research to our students. Avention, formerly OneSource, is also a site that our career resource librarian likes.

I can’t really comment on the reliability of a site like GlassDoor, which posts company and salary information based on self-reported information from employees. If you read the FAQ’s on GlassDoor’s website, it says they are unable to fully verify the identity of their anonymous users, although they do ask for users to certify their relationship to the company they are rating. But the bottom line is that you should do due diligence on any sites you may use for company research and understand how the sites obtain and report their data.


Wai Kwen: Question 2 coming up.


Q2: I realise it’s important to build a good online social reputation to impress potential employers, but how far do I go in doing this? All I have is a LinkedIn account, but do I really need to be on Twitter, blog every week and take part in LinkedIn discussions. I personally don’t want to spend most of my time online. What is reasonable nowadays?


Bryn: There is a lot of buzz around having an “online brand” these days! First, I highly recommend job seekers have a LinkedIn account. It’s a robust professional networking site and, in my opinion, an essential part of one’s career management strategy – you can refer to the Q&A article I did for the FT in June on LinkedIn for career success, with tips on how to approach your LinkedIn profile and use the site.

Engaging in LinkedIn groups can be helpful, but I only recommend contributing to discussions when you actually have something valuable to add – be genuine in all your online interactions. I don’t think blogging is necessary unless it is relevant to your profession and your work – do you have a reason to blog?

Or do you have something meaningful to say, and are you eager to put it out there for public consumption? If so, then go ahead – but if you are doing it because you think you have to do it, then it will appear forced and inauthentic.

As for Twitter, if you use Twitter for personal interactions, I would establish a separate Twitter account that you use purely for professional interactions. Following companies or professionals you admire on Twitter can be helpful for getting just-in-time updates on companies and trends.

Finally, I recommend keeping Facebook for purely social interactions. In this day and age, you’ll want to check privacy settings on all your social media accounts and be mindful of your online activity and how you present yourself.


Wai Kwen: Here’s question 3.


Q3: I’m rewriting my resume, is it worth adding references at the end of the page or do I just write “References are available on request”? I get mixed feedback on what to do. What is good practice?


Bryn: I don’t recommend adding references to the end of one’s CV/resume, nor is it necessary to write “references are available upon request.” An employer will ask you for references when they want them and I think it’s understood that you would provide references.

I do recommend you take the time to speak to those you will use as references – make sure they feel comfortable speaking about your professional abilities, and take the time to tell them why you are interested in the position you are interviewing for, how it fits into your professional goals and how you can add value to the role. This will help the reference speak specifically about your abilities to a potential employer, which can help you in the long run.


Wai Kwen: Question 4 next.


Q4: What should I say if I don’t know the answer to an interview question? Is it acceptable to say “sorry, I don’t know…”? Does it reflect badly on me?


Bryn: In general, I would not recommend you answer a question by saying “Sorry, I don’t know…” but it depends on the question being asked! The bottom line is that you MUST prepare for interviews. You should be able to speak confidently about yourself, your professional history, your strengths and weaknesses and your goals.

You should do research on the company so that you have an understanding of their business. There’s no reason why you should not be able to answer most common interview questions. I recommend preparing brief “capsules” of answers to common questions, such as:

- Tell me about yourself

- Achievements in your past/ current positions

- Why you have left past positions

- Strengths and weaknesses

- Your management style or working style

- What appeals to you about the company and/or the role

- Trends in the industry

Practice your answers to these questions – out loud – so you feel comfortable with them and don’t have to answer them with “I don’t know.”


Wai Kwen: Bryn, thank you for your answer. I just wondered – what happens if a candidate encounters tricky interview questions, for example, how many lightbulbs are there in New York city?


Bryn: Good point, as there are times when interviewers may throw curveball questions to see how the interviewee responds. Questions like these can be designed to see how you think on your feet and how creative and/ or analytical you can be, as well as test how you maintain your composure.

I think it’s key to remain engaged and keep a sense of humor, too. If you get asked a question out of left field like the lightbulb question you proposed below, you could say something like: “Well, that’s an interesting question – not sure I’m prepared for that, but let’s see if I can think through it.”

Ask the interviewer to be more specific – no one really knows how many lightbulbs there could possibly be at a given time in NYC. So does the interviewer want to know how many lightbulbs are there in residences, businesses or both? Then show them how you would think through it.

While there are some interviewers who like to ask “stress questions,” as I call them – I think more often than not they are looking to see how you think on your feet and how you respond in high pressure or ambiguous situations.


Wai Kwen: Question 5 coming up.


Q5: What is the most challenging interview question you have ever been asked? How did you answer this?


Bryn: Honestly, I can’t remember! It’s been almost a decade since I last interviewed for a job! However, I think the heart of the question is about how to manage challenging interview questions. As I have already stated, it’s key to be prepared and to be comfortable with yourself.

You will be at your best when you are comfortable, authentic and genuine in your interactions. If you’re trying to come up with answers you think people want to hear, I think it will be evident to the interviewer. Keeping a sense of humor about things is helpful, too.


Wai Kwen: Last question – number 6.


Q6: I applied for an HR role and didn’t get it, but now (six months later) it is being advertised again, should I bother applying? I didn’t get an interview the first time I applied.


Bryn: If it is a role you are both qualified for and interested in, absolutely you should apply! You never know the situation – maybe you can net an interview this time around. If you don’t apply, you definitely won’t get an interview, right?

Now this question prompts me to talk a little bit more about how people approach their job search. Seeing a job on a website, submitting your resume and sitting back to see if you’re going to get an interview is NOT the most productive way to obtain your next professional position.

One of my colleagues here at MIT Sloan has a saying – “Job boards are market research.” What she means by that is that job boards will tell you what companies are hiring and for what roles – but it’s in your favour to be more proactive about getting into the company rather than just uploading your resume into their database.

Use LinkedIn to see if you have any 1st or 2nd degree connections who work at that company (you can find this out on the company homepage on LinkedIn). Also, use the Alumni Tool on LinkedIn (it’s fantastic, I talked about this in my FT article) to see what fellow alumni currently or formerly worked at the company.

Reach out to them! Express your interest in learning more about the company. Can you get a sense of the company culture? Do they know someone in the department you are targeting that they could introduce you to? Taking the time to talk with employees can be really beneficial, and networking your way into a company has real advantages.


Wai Kwen: Great, thank you so much Bryn for your advice. The web chat has come to an end and I hope you enjoyed today’s session.

If you are an MBA student or graduate seeking careers advice or a job, please go to our MBA Careers hub.

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