Filming on Vocation: Dean Gary Phillips

In the Filming on Vocation seriesmembers of our Wabash campus community offer their insights and advice in an interview with Career Services. We focus on their work, their professional development, and on their general advice for Wabash men. We post the interview, a synopsis, and a transcript with highlights.

Synopsis: Dean Phillips shares from his wealth of experience in higher education and more. (Did you know that he once owned a restaurant?) Watch the interview and check out our highlights to learn more about the role of Dean of the College, the skills and values necessary to promote education at Wabash, and advice for the student still searching for what to do.


Gary Phillips: My responsibility as dean is to oversee, manage, help plan, help implement, and guide the academic side of the house, the curriculum, the faculty work, that leads to student classroom experience and out of classroom experience.

GP: At Wabash, the Deans office is where many of these tasks that would be found in a different institutional setting under someone who would be working one level above me and beneath the president would be found.

GP: The task of being a Dean is really grounded in what you believe to be the mission of an institution. And the institutional purpose, we know what the mission of Wabash is. That’s what grounds everything, and it is what grounds me.

GP: I owned and ran a restaurant for three and a half years. When you flip burgers and make pizza, you have to figure out how to work with people…that experience of trying to balance the budget, have fifty five employees and make an institutional difference in the life of the community is an important factor.

GP: If I can enable my colleges to see the work that their work is better, then that’s another measure of my success.

GP: Can you help them ask the right questions? It is important to have answers, but it is even more important to have the right questions. The measure of success of somebody in my role, is can I marshal among my colleges, student, faculty and staff, the capacity to think carefully about complex issues, running an institution and living in an institution is a complex thing, not simple, and can I help articulate those questions and help those around me articulate their own questions to find a way forward.

GP: To teach in a classroom is a sober and important job. It is a life commitment, not just a way to draw to paycheck in my view.

GP: The Wabash student, who is thinking about a job in a college, or in a classroom. You start right with the most practical thing. Take a class, work with a professor, do an immersion experience, do an internship, engage an alumnus, talk with a parent. Do something concrete, practical and real that moves you from your normal zone of comfort, to a place where you are compelled to, think of, engage with and contemplate something that you hadn’t before.

James Jeffries: Lets close with maybe a big inspiration for you, do you have a particular book or a film, a model person that exemplifies a lot of the virtues you have been talking about?

GP: Yeah and its Neo in the Matrix. Why the Matrix? The Matrix is emblematic of all the things I have been talking about, that is, you got to figure out what the question is…it is the articulation of those deep driving questions that bring you to want to do something with your life that you may spend some time desiring to not have to worry about, because its not always fun to have to worry and to think. Thinking can be hard, so why would you want to do that? Well, because everything counts, and there is a lot hanging in the balance.

GP: You have to commit yourself on a day by day basis to something that is larger than yourself.


Inside the Mind of the Interviewee

By Spencer Peters ’14

Whew. Breathe in, out, in, out.  This leather feels weird on the fabric of my suit; it’s making me sweat. No. Could the sweat be showing through?

I’m wearing a nice grey suit with a white undershirt and a red tie.  I’m set. I look good.  An hour ago I slowly dressed myself in front of my bathroom mirror; choosing to tie my tie in a full double Windsor.  Was this right? Should I have gone with an Oriental knot, a half Windsor? A bow tie? Do I come across as whimsical, professional, carefree?

I’m racking my brain as I sit on the unfamiliar leather couch.  My suit pulls at the shoulders when I lean down to adjust my resume in my planner on the dark wooden table. I read the words over again and again. “John Abernathy” I say in a hushed voice as I read the bolded words in the center of the page.

I look across the room; the secretary sits with her black rimmed glasses peering down at her skilled hands that glide across the keyboard, incessantly typing.   She just types and types, oblivious to the fear coursing through my every vein.  I begin my mental tirade on her unforgiving posture and attitude when I’m summoned back to the room by the sound of her voice.

“Mr. Griffin will see you now.”

“Thank you so much,” automatically reverberates from my mouth.

She hits me with a flashing smile and I wonder if it’s a sarcastic, ‘dead man walking’ smile or one of genuine hope.  Before I can begin sorting them out in my head I grab my planner and for the first time notice how sweaty my hands are.  No. I only hope that they can dry on my twenty foot walk to the front of the desk of my possible future employer.

I find the oiled wood handle of the boss’s door, and turn very gently to stay steady.

The man rises and reaches out his hand.  I greet him with a strong dry handshake while I introduce myself.  Yes, 1 for 1 on the day with handshakes.

“So tell me about yourself John.”

Wow. I’ve been preparing for this question.  It’s the simplest one and most common too! I got this.

“Well I guess to start, my name is John Abernathy, I grew up in a very small town and graduated from an even smaller high school.  I’m currently enrolled at Wabash College in Crawfordsville, IN, majoring in chemistry and psychology.  I devote a lot of time to my studies and my fraternity.  I also play on the football team at Wabash College.  And now I’m here seeking a job with you.”

By the smile on his face as I finish, I can tell I’ve done my job of scratching the surface of who I am.  I’ve done the job required of the question.  I sit a little straighter in my chair and shift as to readjust in its uncomfortable seat.  I grab my provided water and sip a couple of ounces until he begins in on his next question.

“So John, what makes you the best candidate for this job.  I can see from your resume that you’ve done a lot in your three years in college.”

My three years in college. I’m a current junior.  How do I wrap those up into a coherent answer?  I started drinking in college and have had my share of beers and drunken stories? But why am I thinking about that. Focus. I’ve had significant playing time as safety on the football team, but he doesn’t care about that; he’s looking at my leadership positions.  This is mine to blow, so don’t.

“Well Mr. Griffin. In my three years I’ve had multiple leadership positions, from vice president in my fraternity to president of College Mentors for Kids, and Captain of the football team; I’ve had to supervise and put people on the same page to work efficiently.  If I can corral first grade boys fresh out of school, college athletes pushed to the brink, or fraternity guys who can’t agree on anything, I believe that I can be part of a team that wants to work together toward a common goal.  I would love being given the chance to try.”

Shaky performance but I think I stuck the landing. Now an image of Nastia Lukin runs through my head of her landing from the balance beam.

More questions like this trickle by over the course of an hour.  I pause to form my responses, sip water to calm my nerves, and constantly keep a straight back and professional posture, even if my back is on fire.

The last question comes up.

“What is your biggest strength?”

I stroke my ego in my head a bit. I can outrun anyone in my school at the 40.  I date the cutest girls out of anyone in the fraternity.  Also, I’m a beast when it comes to Call of Duty.  But that’s not what he’s after.  What is my biggest strength that would spoon feed this guy.

“Well, throughout my life, I’ve always been a very good problem solver.  And I don’t mean that in a traditional sense necessarily.  If a problem gets put in front of me, regardless of its content and difficulty, I can solve it; usually by unconventional and innovative ways.  But there has never been a work related problem that I haven’t been able to solve if I have time.  For example, I once was given two days to make a pamphlet for a networking event, complete with contact information and background on the organization.  I did this and it was a hit within the office.”

“Well that’s all I have for you John.  We’ll contact you with our decision next week.  Thank you for your time.”

“Thank you for the opportunity Mr. Griffin.  I’m looking forward to hearing from you.”

I walk out of the office with my head held high. I feel as if I could have done more to strengthen his opinion of me.  However, now it’s my turn to flash the secretary a smile and let her decide what it means.  I hug my planner to my side, button my coat, and walk into the elevator and press the ground floor button.  Smiling.



Resumes can go wrong in lots of ways. Generally, writers can misunderstand the purpose and context for the resume or they can lack the craft, the nitty-gritty details of formatting a resume and expressing themselves effectively. But there is a worse problem—at least it feels worse. Even some of the most diligent workers will procrastinate on this dread piece of writing. Once completed, job obtained, we happily eject the resume from our lives like an offending piece of trash. The hope is to never to think about it again. Call this the problem of motivation. The prospect of getting a job motivates us a little to put care into the resume. (Well, some jobs and some people.) But those who treat resume-writing as a labor of love are either inspired by an angel or a demon. Either way, they are mad.

This conception of resume-writing isn’t so much mistaken as it is incomplete. Resumes certainly have a temporary primary purpose—to get you an interview for a job. But there are at least three other values to motivate you to give the resume the attention it requires.

  1. Self-understanding—Yes, this sounds hokey. But writing the resume provides a great opportunity and a challenge to really understand and adequately express what your experience so far amounts to. If you mine your experience effectively for details and genuine accomplishments, you can see how valuable and employable you really are. It also helps isolate shortcomings, which can help steer your goals for further professional development.
  2. A tool for communication—The process of concisely expressing your experience helps hone your communication skills far beyond the written resume. You will need to be able to talk comfortably about yourself and what you do in many different contexts in work and life, and the place to develop the words to do this on the resume. Both the content and the skills for writing the content will transfer in unpredictable ways to other parts of your life, so do the job right on the resume so you don’t have to fret about the rest.
  3. A secondary purpose—Beyond getting you the interview, the resume-format is useful for a lot of other purposes. It’s a more versatile piece of writing than you might think. One great tactic is to write a forward-looking resume to express your goals for a new job. What do you want your resume to look like in a year or five years? Write that resume with all the attention and detail you can, then start checking off the boxes. You can also use the resume-format to assess your personal, rather than professional, profile—use it for personal, and not just professional, self-development.

These might just seem like parlor tricks for combating the ennui of facing the resume. But try them out, and you might just find yourself, not exactly enjoying, but at least valuing the work you put into it. With abundant motivation, you’re much more likely to get all the nitty-gritty parts right. And, by the way, that will help you get a job.


Internships: Don’t get lost in the black hole

Guest-blogger Nathan Parcells, CMO and Founder of InternMatch, shares some advice on navigating this internship season.

How to apply to online internships and avoid getting lost in the Black Hole

“A black hole is a region of space-time from which it is impossible to escape.”

-Stephen Hawkins

Black holes in space consist of collapsed stars where neither sound nor light can escape.  In the job world, the term black hole is used, for when applicants send countless resumes to employers and hear nothing in response.

Few things are more frustrating than spending hours crafting and customizing an internship application, only to submit it, and hear nothing back. This problem exists for a number of reasons but the fact is that fewer than 5% of employers follow-up with every applicant they receive and even fewer communicate the real reasons about why they made the choice they did.

While it might seem easy to blame companies for not doing a better job of responding, the reality is that most HR managers receive hundreds of applications every week and are over worked reviewing them – so it’s up to you to stand out. By understanding a bit more about how the online application process works, you can figure out how to navigate this abyss and make sure you emerge on the other side with your ideal internship.

Where do all the resumes go?

As you can probably guess, applications for internships rarely follow the same path.  Some employers ask you to apply directly to their email inbox. Others ask for you to apply using a job website like Taleo or InternMatch so that they can save the applications in a database online and share them with other employees in the office.

Depending on the size of the employer and how they are accepting applications you need to think up the best strategy to make sure you don’t get overlooked when it comes to decision time. For example, if you’re given a contact name or email address, do some research on the individual and customize your application materials to them personally in addition to the role for which you are applying.

Building a better rocket ship.

The other important skill to develop when applying to internships online is to learn how to make your application stand out.

Here are 5 tips to help:

1.) Follow-Up!

The biggest piece of advice we can recommend to avoid getting ignored is to follow-up consistently with an employer after you submit an app. This is an art not a science, but most students are way too hesitant to follow-up with employers even if just to ask what their time frame is on responding or to remind them that you have applied and are excited to get the internship.  For best practices see our guide on how to follow-up with employers.

2.) Remove all typos from your resume.

Another reason you may not hear back from employers is because they tossed out your resume at first sight. Even if you have one typo on your resume, it shows an employer a lack of professionalism and attention to detail. In fact almost 50% of employers stop reading a resume if they see just one typo! So double check your resume with a resume template and guide for extra help.

3.) Be unique.

As an employer who has hired many students I can safely say, my job is a lot easier when a particular student breaks the mold by standing out. Don’t just spam employers with a standard cover letter, take the extra hour to write something. If the employer has a twitter account tweet at them about how excited you are. If they are coming to your school for a career fair, go and introduce yourself to the recruiting staff and start building a relationship. Your hard work will pay off when it comes to decision time.

4.) Don’t use scammy websites to apply for positions!

Top job boards like your Career Center website, Indeed, or InternMatch work hard to make sure every position that is online is up to date and is a high quality position.  If you are finding positions by doing a Google search or on Craigslist, you can find some great opportunities but as a rule of thumb the further you go from trusted sites the more likely you are to be applying to a position that has either already closed or doesn’t exist altogether.

5.) Don’t get discouraged.

Last but not least don’t get discouraged. A lot of employers are getting overwhelmed with applications in the current down economy, so even if you are over qualified for a position you simply might not hear back. If you keep at it and keep improving your application skills such as following-up, being unique, and using top job boards, you are going to start getting interviews and eventually find a position you’re excited about.