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Liz Ryan
Liz Ryan

BOULDER, Colo. –

oulder’s Liz Ryan is a former Fortune 500 human-resources executive, a syndicated columnist and a career adviser. Every Monday, she’ll dish out job-hunting advice for college students.

Q: How early should I get to a job interview?

A: I’d get there 15 minutes early just in case there’s any trouble in the commute, and for one other reason: if you sit in an employer’s lobby for a bit, you can learn a lot about the company culture.

If you get there really early (like 20 minutes ahead of time) tell the receptionist not to call the person you’re meeting just yet; you can use that extra time to check out the conversation and general demeanor of the people coming and going.

If everyone is tense and rushing, that’s not a great sign. If they’re happy and having fun with one another, that’s a cultural thumbs-up (unless you really like jobs where the people are tense and rushed).

Q: I need to write an essay for a job I’m applying for and I need some ideas. What should I write about?

A: Write about an experience you had that either taught you an important lesson, or forced you to change your approach on a dime, or put you in a situation where you had to surmount a big problem.

The two elements you want to illustrate in your essay are your great writing skills and your wise and mature worldview.

You’ll do that brilliantly by telling a story about a time when you… whatever.

Q: Is there any merit to writing to a company CEO directly to ask about employment?

A: There is, and in that case I’d be very specific as you describe how you can help the company and why you want to work for them, in particular.

“I am a new grad looking for job” is not going to help you, but a thoughtful discussion (in two paragraphs) of the employer, changes in its industry and your take on the opportunities and challenges very well might.

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