About Ryan LaHurd


Posts by Ryan LaHurd:

Acing the Telephone Interview

  • February 4, 2014 2:52 pm

As everyone knows, it’s a buyer’s market in hiring right now.  Human Resources staff have so many applicants for every job that they are finding new ways to reduce the pool of those under consideration. One of their techniques – not really new but increasingly being used – is the telephone interview.



Not a surprising choice, the telephone interview offers an inexpensive way for hirers to get beyond the paper file and meet candidates live while learning about their extemporaneous thinking and communication skills.


Telephone interviews are different from face-to-face interviews live and via internet-based apps like Skype. Phone interviews require a special kind of preparation and a special kind of attention. While such interviews have many disadvantages like not being able to see the facial expressions and body language of the interviewer, they have some advantages like permitting you to have notes to refer to.


Following are some tips to help you prepare for a telephone interview:


  • Dress the way you would for an in-person interview. Even on the phone, we broadcast a different vibe when we are wearing sweats rather than business clothes.
  • Give the interview your full attention. Have your computer and other mobile devices turned off. Clean up the area where you will have notes. Standing up will help you stay focused and will increase the energy you project.
  • Smile and gesture as if there was another person in the room. Your voice will sound friendlier and more energetic. The biggest failure of people interviewed on the phone according to studies of hirers is sounding bored or unenergetic.
  • Be conscious of enunciating your words clearly. Hold the phone; do not put it on speaker mode which makes your voice sound tinny and garbled. Allow pauses – they will give your interviewer time to process what you have said and will help you avoid verbal graffiti like “um.”
  • Have an “elevator speech” ready that includes the main points you want the interviewer to know about you. At an appropriate time, you can interject all or part of it. As with in-person interviews, you may ask, “Would it help if I told you a bit about myself?” at the beginning or when there is a lull.
  • As with in-person interviews have questions for the interviewer. You want to show an interest in the interviewer, the company, and the job.
  • Remember to use examples, stories, and details to flesh out your answers. They give credibility to your assertions of skills – “I definitely used my attention to detail in my internship when my supervisor needed me to . . .  .” And they make you more interesting.
  • Be as prepared for a telephone interview as you would be for an in-person interview. Know everything you can about the position, the company, and, if possible, the interviewer. A comment like “I saw on your LinkedIn profile that you are in an MBA program at the University of Chicago. The Booth School program has a great reputation,” will sound like interest rather than stalking!
  • Near the end of the interview mention that you are looking forward to meeting the interviewer. This action will show your interest and friendliness and will imply a sense of confidence that you will  be invited to the next stage.
  • Try to be natural; be yourself. Of course, this advice is easier given than put into practice when you are anxious. But it is even more critical when you cannot be seen. It might be helpful to have a photograph of a friend or family member that you can look at while you answer.


Most of all, be aware that you must never assume that you are hidden from the interviewers. Act as if they are there with you. Our voices and energy levels convey much more than we think, and an experienced interviewer is more intuitive and astute at reading those things than you might think.


How to Enhance your LinkedIn Website Presence

  • October 25, 2013 1:54 pm

            LinkedIn provides professionals and those entering the job market an easy and inexpensive way to build a wide professional community, create a self-controlled professional online presence, and connect – both actively and passively – with employment possibilities. Current research shows that as many as two-thirds of employers either check out job candidates or search for potential employees online, especially by way of LinkedIn.


            In view of the potential value of LinkedIn for Kemper Scholars, I recently attended a workshop on how to enhance one’s LinkedIn presence and better make use of the site’s possibilities. The presenter, Sima Dahl, had some helpful suggestions about how to use the site to “promote your personal brand.” I followed up with my own research, and I am sharing what I found out with Kemper Scholars and others here. I urge you to work on your LinkedIn page soon.


            Some overall recommendations:


  • Your LinkedIn presence needs regular attention.
  • The value of your LinkedIn profile rests on the keywords you use to describe yourself, your accomplishments, and your skills. The keywords are how potential employers will find you. The English language has more words than any other, so there will often be a great many synonyms for most words. It is important to know how employers describe the skills and abilities they seek. Read job postings and industry newspapers. Use the words most commonly used in the field when you describe yourself. If you find, say, “computer skills,” “tech skills,” and “IT skills” used interchangeably, be sure to use all three somewhere in your profile.
  • Do not limit your connections to people only in the career area you are now interested in. Your contacts have their own contacts and can lead you to relevant connections. You never know who someone else’s connections are and what their knowledge base is.
  • Before you prepare your LinkedIn profile, think about how you want to be known (consult your “elevator speech), what type of opportunities you are looking for, what would make someone notice you (it is usually going to be your experience, accomplishments, and skills).
  • Your LinkedIn page will be catalogued by Google. So even someone who does not initially look for you on LinkedIn may be led there by a Google search of your name.
  • Your Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter accounts may also be searched by potential employers, but LinkedIn is viewed as your professional presence. So do not confuse the sites. Use only professionally-related status updates, links, or postings on LinkedIn.


Tips on Enhancing your profile


  •     LinkedIn has an alert function that tells your contacts when you have made any change in your profile. Before you make a series of upgrades and changes, turn off that function so your account does not send out a whole series of alerts in a row. To do that: click on the Profile pull down menu at the top of your page and choose Edit Profile, scroll down to Connections. At the bottom of the Connections dialog box, on the right, you should see the words Customize Visibility. Click there. The page you will go to has many kinds of settings. On the Profile tab you will see one for turning alerts on and off. Turn them off for the time it takes to upgrade your LinkedIn pages. Then remember to turn alerts back on! While you’re there, look at the other setting options under profile and under the other areas like “communications.” They’ll tell you what you can do to customize the pages.
  •    Remember that it is easy to change your pages, so do not think of this as the final or perfect version!
  •    Create a Headline. A headline gives you the opportunity to describe what you think are your major skills and accomplishments. If you do not have a headline (and most people with whom I am connected do not), then your latest position automatically becomes your headline. Here is a problem with that: Let’s say in Summer, 2013, you had an internship at an accounting firm. That was your headline – helpful if someone wants to hire an accountant — until you got back to school in September and became president of your sorority. You added President of Theta Iota Gamma to your positions – a good idea because it is a leadership role. But now “President of Theta Iota Gamma” is your headline because it is the latest position. Probably not so many people are looking for a sorority president through LinkedIn. So do a headline. Here’s the one Sima Dahl, who did the workshop I mentioned above, has on her LinkedIn page: “Social Media Speaker, Trainer & Coach | LinkedIn for Sales | Social Networking for Business | Personal Brands for Staff.” You see that she used lots of keywords to lead potential customers to her site. I recommend you do not put things like one student’s page I saw: “Hard-Working, Organized, and Focused Undergraduate Student at [XYZ] University.”  That may all be true about him, but these are not the kinds of keywords that people will be looking for and they are not easily demonstrable. If he had said something like “Successful Entrepreneur” and then listed his own lawn care business is his positions, his claims become factual.
  •     Create a Summary.  Your summary is your “elevator speech” in writing. Here you can give details about who you are, what you have done, and what your interests and values are. Make it specific, interesting, and concise. It will be a sample of your writing, so have no grammar or usage errors. Be sure to write in a professional rather than an academic style.
  •      Be sure you have a good headshot that makes you look professional. This should be a head shot – not an action photo —  no one else in the picture, including your pet! Wear professional clothes. Stand against a plain wall when your photo is taken – no brick walls, trees, cars, dressers, kitchen cupboards in the background, no arm of someone cropped out. This is not the place for the photo of you standing above Machu Picchu; that goes on Facebook or Instagram. You can find all the “don’ts” I listed in photos on LinkedIn right now, by the way, and they look pretty amateurish and certainly unprofessional. How long does it take to do this right? Digital photos are free – have someone take a lot to be sure you get a good one.
  •      Your list of experiences or positions is the proof for the things you claimed in your headline and summary. Definitely list your leadership positions on campus and your volunteer work. There is no need to mention it was volunteer work – you get the same experience whether you are paid or not.
  •     If you have multiple LinkedIn profiles, eliminate all others.
  •     Be sure you use the same name everywhere that you can control. It won’t be helpful if all the campus news articles about your activities refer to you as Skip Jones but your LinkedIn name is William Robert Jones.
  •    Include your various email addresses. Your email addresses, however, should be professional sounding and include your name. Do not connect email addresses like guythatrocks@yahoo.com or sweetiepie@hotmail.com.
  •   Add job-related courses, publications, etc., to your profile.
  •    Once your page is upgraded, be sure to turn alerts back on.
  •    Every week or so do something like adding a relevant update about yourself. For example, “Just completed a successful fundraising campaign for Habitat for Humanity, raising $5,000 through the Political Science Club Service Committee’s fall carnival.” Or “Proud to have been named MVP for the Conference Soccer Tournament.” You can link to stories or media (TED talk?) relevant to your career interest with a sentence about what you found interesting or valuable. Look to see what your contacts may be doing for ideas.


You may think that you are too busy to do this, but think again. After the initial investment, keeping up takes little time, and it is one of the most valuable free tools you have to advance your career. I’m betting many of you find plenty of time for Facebook. Spend just a bit of that time on LinkedIn.

In honor of James S. Kemper

  • April 15, 2013 1:00 pm

I wish I could have known James S. Kemper, the founder of the James S. Kemper Foundation. I admire many things about his personal attitudes and philosophy, especially his commitment to and valorization of lifelong learning. He himself referred often to the influence of Benjamin Franklin on his belief in the need for continuous learning and its role in the achieving what is best in human nature.


In his honor, I pass on the following quotation from The Ravenous Brain: How the New Science of Consciousness Explains Our Insatiable Search for Meaning by neuroscientist Daniel Bor:


“Humans are unusual in the animal kingdom in that although we are born fully formed, with all the parts where they should be, we are helpless for many months—normally having to wait for over a year before we can even walk. Part of the reason for this is somewhat trivial: If we were born with our brains properly developed, we would have to be born with much larger heads, and our mothers would require pelvises so large they would hardly be able to walk. Another reason, though, goes to the heart of what it means to be human. In this seesaw between fast, brittle, uncomplicated instincts and slower, flexible, potentially complex plans, humans definitely weigh heavily on the side of the latter. We begin life embarrassingly ignorant and incapable, but have an enormous capacity to learn and optimize any motor skill and any representation of the world—and that’s exactly what we spend our lives doing.”

Kemper Scholar Recognized at Wake Forest University

  • April 2, 2013 8:52 am

We are proud that Kemper Scholar senior Charles Ramsey was singled out for recognition at Wake Forest Univeristy. At the university’s special website InsideOutWake.com, Charles and four other students are featured. And their faces grace a giant mural on campus!


The website explains “We have carefully chosen five upperclassmen that represent different niches on campus, as well as cultural and ethnic backgrounds. We feel these students embody the well rounded Wake Forest community and through them, we want to exhibit the Pro Humanitate ideals. Their faces are currently displayed on the Lower Quad in a 70′ x 10′ print as an artistic expression of the Wake Forest experience.”


Check out the website and the profile of Charles here.

It’s nice to be right ;-)

  • April 1, 2013 12:36 pm

Despite the barrage of media attention to the issue, I have not yet come anywhere near being convinced that the main purpose of getting an education is to secure a job. From my own experience as a student and from a career of being involved with college students, I know that education is primarily about personal growth and development.


That said, I am also convinced that gaining meaningful and productive employment ranks a close second as a goal of becoming educated. Sigmund Freud was wrong about many things, but I think he was correct in observing that two things give meaning and purpose to life: love and work.


The mission of the James S. Kemper Foundation focuses on assisting students to complement their liberal arts education with hands-on experience in the world of work. For about 65 years the Foundation, through its Kemper Scholars Program and grants, has operated with the belief that enabling students to work in professional positions with mentoring will educate them about the workplace application of the skills they have been developing on campus and about ways to be an effective, ethical professional.


It feels good to have evidence that employers share our values and our philosophy.


The Chronicle of Higher Education, the trade paper of college and university professionals, reported in its March 8, 2013 issue on a survey conducted by The Chronicle and American Public Media’s Marketplace.  The study concluded, “Employers want new graduates to have real-world experience. Internships and work during college matter most. . . .”


While that part of the conclusion may not be surprising, the other part is. It runs counter to what students think (as established by a parallel survey) and contrary to what they often told by others: “Employers said that each of those [internships and work] was about four times as important as college reputation, which they rated as least important. Relevance of coursework and grade-point average rounded out the bottom of the list.”


This study has many implications, but one that supports one of my favorite hobby-horses is that students should exchange their choice of seeking multiple majors and minors for opportunities to get internships and work experience.

Kemper Scholar Plays Role in Nobel Peace Prize Forum

  • March 18, 2013 9:56 am

Kemper Scholar Ibrahim Al-Hajiby of Augsburg College in Minneapolis played a major support role in this year’s annual Nobel Peace Prize Forum at the college. He had the opportunity to spend time in close contact with Nobel Peace Prize laureates and acted as translator for his country-woman, laureate Tawakkol Karman. You can read about Ibrahim’s experience in an article in the Minneapolis StarTribune by clicking here.

Plays well with others

  • January 10, 2013 1:27 pm

Each week my Chicago church sends out an e-newsletter with reflections on spiritual matters and information about upcoming events. This week’s reflection by my pastor, Craig Mueller, contained some ideas I thought relevant to college students preparing to go into the professional world. The following three paragraphs contain his thoughts. If you would like to read his full reflection, you can find it by clicking here.


“Earlier this week I heard a story on NPR on maps. Simon Garfield, a map expert noted that it’s easier these days to use GPS on a smart phone than it is to look at an actual map.

“Garfield regretted that one of the losses is that we lose the beauty and romance of maps. But his concluding comments had a spiritual ring to me:   ‘The other thing we lose, is a sense of how big the world is. Because now we look at our map, there’s a real sense of, ‘Get me to where I want to go.’ Now you get the feeling, actually, ‘It’s all about me’ … It’s a terribly egocentric way of looking at the world. So I think the view of where we are in the world, in the history of the world, is changing. And I think in a way it’s one of the biggest, if not the biggest impacts of the digital and technological revolution – is how we see ourselves in the world.


“As 2013 begins, it is good to reflect on the way we see ourselves in the world. Most of the time we are apt to reflect on our own financial situation, health, emotional landscape, and to-do list. Everything depends on how we are doing as an individual. It is a bit like looking on a Google map and seeing the dot in the middle showing where you are. Everything revolves around you.”


Here is why I thought these ideas are relevant to college students.


Whenever I get a chance to speak with executives or with people who do hiring, I ask them what they most look for in new employees. My goal of course is to get information to funnel to the Kemper Scholars I work with, giving them insights into how to further their professional careers.



Recently the answers to the question have had a consistency around two points: they want people who can communicate clearly, interestingly, and correctly (“Not at all a given with today’s college grads,” one executive told me.); and they want people who can work as part of a team.



As a former English professor, I have thought and written a great deal about communication skills – including in this blog, so I will spare you more. And the desire for employees who can work as part of a team is nothing new either. As I asked them to clarify, however, I heard some new things.



One executive compared her difficult search for team players with the paralysis in American legislative bodies. “People see themselves and their positions as the center of things. They demand that others adapt to them and not vice versa,” she told me. Sounds remarkably like Simon Garfield’s and Craig Mueller’s words above, right?


When I asked whether employers therefore prefer graduates who have been part of sports teams, the answer I got was “Maybe in the past. But now athletes are as likely to be grandstanders and hotshots as team players.”



Since most of American academia does not create situations where students must complete course assignments as part of a group, I suggest undergraduates would be wise to find teamwork opportunities on their own. These are most likely to occur in internships, jobs, and extra-curricular organizations.  Volunteer at an organization like Habitat for Humanity where everything is done in work teams. Learn how to operate as part of a group without being the leader. And when you do these things, take time to reflect on how people work best as groups and how setting aside your personal goals can get larger ones accomplished.


Drilling into the Job Market

  • January 5, 2013 9:00 am

In his article in the October, 2012 issue of INC., Jason Fried, co-founder of 37signals, a Chicago-based software company, includes an observation by Theodore Levitt, legendary professor of marketing at the Harvard Business School:


“People don’t want to buy a quarter-inch drill. They want a quarter-inch hole.”


Levitt was speaking about the misguided approach to advertising and marketing that emphasizes the features, characteristics, or specifications of a product. Marketers should be telling potential customers what a product can do, how it can meet their needs.


As I thought more about Levitt’s comment, it occurred to me that the same advice can be very helpful to job seekers.  Potential employers do not want a description of the jobs you’ve had, a list of personality traits, or a rehash of your college curriculum.


Employers want someone who can do a job for them. Usually it is a very particular job which they have described in their ad or announcement. Your best approach in cover letter, résumé, and interview will be to tell with concrete details what you have accomplished and how these accomplishments match those skills the employer seeks.


“You say that you want someone who can X, Y and Z? I’ve X’d, Y’d and Z’d many times in many circumstances with these positive results. And here are the names of some people who can tell you about it.”


Of course, this assumes that you have had jobs, campus roles or internships where you have gained hands-on work experience. It is not too late!


“Our Perfect Candidate”

  • December 7, 2012 9:00 am

The Baylor University Business Review in its Fall, 2012 issue contains a comment from Scott Smith, a Baylor alumnus and senior vice president of human resources operations at AT&T. “Our perfect candidate is one who has the underlying technology foundation along with key self-directed leadership abilities such as collaboration, creativity, critical-thinking, communication and customer service skills.” [You can see the whole issues by clicking here.]


I was happy to see Mr. Smith’s observation, because it validates something we have learned from the Kemper Scholars Program over its more than sixty-five years. The skills organizations want in their employees and future leaders are the skills honed in the course of completing a liberal arts college education.


Despite all the punditry about what is new and different and changing and developing in the workplace, someone like Mr. Smith who does the hiring for one of the country’s major corporations reminds us that the ideal employee skills they are looking for have not really changed.


So if liberal arts college and university students will possess the skills at graduation, what do they need to do to secure those jobs reserved for the “perfect candidate”?


First, they need to be sure that they select courses and campus experiences that are challenging and will help them test and hone these skills.  Sign up for the logic course that will push your critical thinking skills. Even if it requires more work, take the course with the writing and speaking components that will give you opportunities to refine your communication skills. The best way to improve writing and speaking is to do them.


Second, they need to find non-classroom experiential opportunities in the workplace (jobs or internships) and extra-curricular leadership positions where they can test out and practice these skills. Things like collaboration, creativity, critical-thinking, and communication look different in the classroom than they do on the job. Having the chance to do them in this environment helps one to adapt these skills appropriately. For example, academic writing is communication, but not the style called for in the workplace.


Third, they need to reflect upon how the skills they learned on campus are playing out in the workplace and leadership positions. This practice will give them the confidence, the specific details and the vocabulary to show prospective employers in résumé, cover letters, and interviews that they in-deed have the skills employers seek in the perfect candidate.

Virtual Job Applications

  • November 9, 2012 10:00 am

More and more commonly, job applicants will be making their bids virtually through online applications or by email.


When you apply for a job by email, should you write a full-blown cover letter?


The hiring experts say, “Yes.”  Though the form of delivery is different, the cover letter still serves its purpose of guiding the reader to see the connections between your resume and the desired characteristics mentioned in the job posting.


Highlight or expand upon those items in your résumé you think will show that you have the skills and traits the hirer seeks.  Use the same vocabulary used in the job posting.  If it said they want “creativity,” give evidence that you are creative and use that word. Remember that the reader may have scores, even hundreds, of applications to read; so you have to guide the reader to see what is most relevant.


Most first job applicants are in school or just graduated. You will be in the mode to write for professors in an academic style. Don’t. Be clear, concise, and pointed. Use straightforward Anglo-Saxon vocabulary when possible and use concrete, specific examples. If you majored in something like sociology or gender studies with a specialized vocabulary, do not use it unless you are applying for a job in that field and feel confident that your reader shares the same jargon.


Try to start out with a hook or punchy line that will grab your reader without being cute. You might begin with something like “Why would an education major think she is qualified to work in a bank?” Then go on to explain how you have developed the necessary skills and attitudes to fit in.


Attach a résumé to your email and note it after your signature, adding the program in which the résumé was prepared: “Attachment:  résumé in MSWord 2007.” If you have the latest version of the software, it would be good to save the attachment in an earlier version so the recipient will be able to open it. To be extra safe, you can copy and paste the resume into the email after the letter in addition to attaching it.


If you use boilerplate copy and recombine sections for a new email, be sure there is nothing in the copied material that shows it was written for another application – for example, the name of a company.  It is important to include specific references to the place you are applying, so in your boilerplate source document use colored highlighting to alert you to things you will need to change.


Finally, to avoid sending your email accidentally before you have proofread and edited it, do not fill in in the “To: line” until the very end.