Keara Kotten, #UMSocial Intern and Michigan Ross junior, joins Erica Colaianne, #UMSocial Public Engagement Communications Manager, to discuss navigating the recruitment process at U-M. 



Where did you begin when preparing for your job search? Was it building a resume? Was it trying to figure out what areas interest you? What was step one?


Keara: At first I felt very overwhelmed because there are a lot of potential career paths you can go into coming out of Michigan; the opportunities are endless. So one of the first things I did was get to know someone at the career center. In Ross, we have the Career Development Office [CDO] and I went in and met with a career coach. And I told her, “I don’t know what I want to do at all.” I’ll be honest, I’m still not entirely sure what I want to do, and that’s fine. But I met with her and I tried to determine what my current interests were, and how they could align with a job role.


“Role” not in any career path per se, but rather what characteristics would I value in a job. I took some assessments, such as the Myers Briggs Indicator and the Career Leader Assessment. Some things I found out were: I really like to work with teams, see how my work impacts people firsthand, and be creative. Then I started to look into what particular job path would encompass all of those characteristics in a way that I thought I could thrive.


You mentioned the CDO. Were there any other resources that have helped you throughout this process?


Keara: Yes, definitely. I would say the peer resources have been super helpful. I’ve done a lot of peer resume edits and those are great. There are some through the University Career Center [UCC]; you can sign up and get your resume edited. Looking at your own resume, you have all of these experiences that you’re super passionate about and you know how to talk about them, but it’s about distilling down those really big, impactful experiences into tiny little bullet points. And that’s so hard, especially when it’s something that you’re excited about. Having someone else provide an outside perspective, to pull out certain aspects and say, “Oh, this is really cool–emphasize this” or “Make sure you show the end result of your experience in this area.” That was really helpful.


Through the CDO, something else that was helpful was making recurring appointments with the same advisor. Once I was able to develop a relationship with her, she was able to better personalize her recommendations to me. 


Another thing is to look at the calendar of events that Michigan has to offer and go to the career fairs. I recruited last winter, so the events were still in person. But I would say, go to them if you have the availability and talk to recruiters. First of all, it gets you exposure. They’ll ask you to do that elevator pitch that everyone dreads, but you have to do it. It’ll get you more comfortable talking about yourself, which is something I definitely struggled with at the beginning. Second, the career fairs help you see what you’re excited about. Talk to a bunch of people and see which job opportunities or internship roles excite you, and then reach out to those recruiters. 


Did you learn any tips or tricks or any advice that you could share about making your resume stand out?


Keara: Your resume is very individualized and also specific to the role that you’re applying for. That’s tip number one: specialize your resume to the role that you’re applying for. We all have a plethora of really incredible, impressive experiences. But don’t send the same resume for different roles. Talk about the specific experiences that you’ve had that will help you in that role. That will make it stand out. The recruiters really do want to know how your past experiences will help you in the specific job that you’re applying to.


It’s also very important to emphasize the end result of the work that you’ve done. Sometimes it can be hard to quantify that, and that’s okay. You don’t need to have a number proving your impact at the end of every bullet point, but do include some type of tangible results. And if it’s an ongoing project, you can say that. That shows that not only were you able to start this thing, but ultimately it was an impactful endeavor, and that you were able to learn something from it. 


Finally, put some cool stuff in your “additional” section. That’s the place where people get to know a little bit about you and connect on more than just a work level. So include your favorite book or a hobby that you love. Yes, a resume is definitely the place where you want to show that you are qualified, but at the same time, you want to be somebody who is personable to work with. 


Throughout your process of recruiting and interviewing, what were some things that you did or experiences that you had really helped prepare you? 


Keara: That’s a really good question. So, I think the biggest thing that I’ve learned throughout my own recruiting process is the importance of putting myself out there. There hasn’t been an opportunity that’s just fallen into my lap, it’s been about asking for those things. Actually, for the role I have now as a #UMSocial intern, I met my boss, Nikki Sunstrum, at a conference she spoke at last year. And I just remember thinking, “Wow, she’s great. I would love to work with her.” So I went up to her after she spoke, introduced myself, and asked her about the work that she did. I was really inspired by it. So then I just asked her, “Do you have any internship opportunities?” She said yes. We continued talking and ultimately that’s how I got this job.

Why not just ask? You never know. 

And I do want to emphasize that while doors can totally open for you the more you put yourself out there, things don’t always work out the way that you hope or plan. Recruiting for clubs at Michigan can honestly be just as competitive as recruiting for an internship or job outside of Michigan. And I learned this one the hard way. I have a consulting internship this summer, and one of the things I wanted to do to prepare for that was joining a consulting club at Michigan. And that recruiting process was hard. I remember trying really hard to mold my past experiences into something that would be impressive for them, but being a sophomore, it was hard, not having too much experience before that.


I applied to four clubs, went through a bunch of interview processes, and I did not get into a single consulting club, not one. And that was tough. It was really tough to not let that take away from my self-worth. But ultimately I think it was a really impactful learning experience for me. I had to accept that, yes, I didn’t get into these clubs, but that didn’t change any of the experiences I had in the past. Maybe it just wasn’t the right fit or maybe it just wasn’t the right time. 


And what I did from that experience was I actually reached back out to a few of the clubs, and I asked them: “What could I have done better? Was there anything missing or was there something else you were looking for?” They sent me some feedback, some things to work on. I really did appreciate that because I was able to learn so much more, I think, from not getting into those clubs than what would have happened if I did. I had to learn how to take that feedback and then I had to grow from it. Listening to the advice they gave, I brought that into my next interviews, as I was recruiting for summer consulting internships. Without that feedback, there would have been no way I would have got the internship that I did. [Keara is an incoming Management Consulting Intern at PwC, Manhattan Office].


While things did not work out the way that I had hoped or planned, perhaps they worked out even better than I could have expected. But there was no way I would’ve known that from the onset. So another thing I took away from this was accepting how things turned out, then using everything as a learning experience. This whole process, I don’t think that there’s any way to have a bad outcome if you can learn from what happened.


Is there anything else you want to make sure that your fellow Michigan students know or resources that they can access? 


Keara: I have a few pieces of advice that really helped me and that I would like to share in closing. I think the first is that “thank you” emails are everything. It never ever hurts to send a “thank you” email, and be sure to make it personalized. That has been one of the biggest opportunities for connection that I’ve taken advantage of. Reach out to them, thank them for coming, relate it back to the reason why they were there, and how it personally resonated with you. And don’t be afraid to ask for a conversation from it. Ask to schedule a Zoom call or a phone call, and then develop that relationship. 


The second thing is to not be afraid to show your personality during an interview or a conversation. It’s definitely important to keep it professional, but at the end of the day, these people are trying to determine if they would enjoy working with you. Our work world is shifting so much to more teamwork and collaboration, and we spend a lot of time working. So if somebody is going to hire you, they want to make sure that you’re going to be personable and just an overall good person to work with. 


If it’s not the best fit, that’s okay. Learning what you don’t like is just as valuable as learning what you do like. Keeping that open mindset will make no opportunity a bad opportunity to pursue. 


Third, don’t take things so seriously. Recruiting is stressful. It is hard, it really is. It’s almost like a full-time job in and of itself, which is crazy. Just do the best that you can, be yourself, and take hold of the opportunities that you feel you can really flourish in and be your full self. It’s okay to say yes to things, it’s okay to say no to things.

At the end of the day, if you are yourself throughout that whole interview/recruiting process, you will find yourself in a place where you feel like you fit and belong, and that you can make a real contribution.

“Finally, make sure to take care of yourself throughout the process. Being well rested, taking care of your mental health, taking breaks for yourself, and doing things that you enjoy are super important because it’s easy to get burned out. And if you’re burnt out, your light and your passion won’t come across the way that you want [them] to. So have fun with it, take things as lightly as you can, and know that you are valuable in whatever role you’re going into.”