Career Doctor Helps Students Find Work, Themselves

Posted: September 12, 2011 at 1:05 am, Last Updated: September 12, 2011 at 6:37 am

By Colleen Kearney Rich

Ralph Lattanzio, a former director of global recruiting for Exxon-Mobil, leads a popular career class at Mason. Photo by Evan Cantwell

If you could enroll in a one-credit class and come out at the end with your dream job, wouldn’t you? This kind of thing happens all the time in Ralph Lattanzio’s University 400 class, College to Workplace, making it one of the best-kept secrets at Mason.

The best class I took in college,” says gainfully employed Mason alumnus David Phillips, BA History ’08. And Phillips isn’t the only former student to sing Lattanzio’s praises.

“I attended one of Ralph’s behavioral interviewing workshops, and it was really good,” says Luke Fiorio, BS Economics ’11, who is also happily employed. “He let me force-add [his class] since it was full, and that ended up being one of the better decisions I made in my job search.”

Since 2006, Mason executive in residence Lattanzio has helped more than 200 Mason students find their place in the working world. For almost 25 years, Lattanzio worked in human resources and recruiting for Mobil (later ExxonMobil) before shifting gears, unpacking his suitcase and coming to Mason. As director of global recruiting, one of his last posts at ExxonMobil, he oversaw the company’s recruiting strategies in 120 countries.

“Ralph is a truly amazing person who has discovered a passion for teaching and coaching Mason students,” says Pat Carretta, assistant vice president for University Life. Carretta directed Mason’s University Career Services for 26 years and says, “His extensive background in human resources has proven extremely valuable to the students, faculty and staff with whom he interacts.”

How does Lattanzio work his magic? The central topics that Lattanzio tackles in his course are competencies and behavioral interviewing.

“My expertise is in the selection process,” says Lattanzio, who did postgraduate work under David C. McClelland at Harvard University, where these recruiting techniques began. “ExxonMobil was the first company to use these techniques on a worldwide basis.”

While ExxonMobil was leading edge at the time it began using the techniques, Lattanzio says about 80 percent of the companies that recruit at Mason now use them. So it is important that students understand them.

“What I find in class and in workshops is that people have never heard of [behavioral interviewing] before,” he says. “If you don’t know how it works, you aren’t going to do well.”

Presenting their "elevator speech" to classmates gives students practice for interviews. Photo by Evan Cantwell

Behavioral interviewing is designed to discover if a candidate has the traits or skills needed for a job by inquiring how the person acted in specific employment-related situations in the past. Lattanzio has found that interviewing practice does indeed make almost perfect, and he has the data to prove it. In addition to his coaching, Lattanzio does research in a number of career-related topics including motives and narcissism. His research has shown that about five hours of behavioral interviewing practice makes a difference.

“Everything I teach my students is a skill that they can get better at if they practice,” he says. “If there are only two or three companies you are interested in working for, this is critical. Once students are familiar with the process, they are much more competitive for the higher-level jobs.”

What happens in University 400 stays in class, or more accurately, it doesn’t leave the University Career Services conference room, where the class is held. This is one of Lattanzio’s rules. He strives to create a comfortable environment where students can really work on these competencies.

Students in the College to Workplace class will be the first ones to tell you their least favorite thing was giving their elevator speech, or 30-second pitch, as Lattanzio calls it, to their 19 classmates. They are expected to practice on each other and refine the pitch. Then Lattanzio sends them into the crucible ― one of the university’s job fairs.

If the soon-to-be graduates don’t come back with a certain number of interview appointments or didn’t get an interview with one of the companies they were targeting, it is back to the drawing board. Lattanzio works with them one-on-one to hone their pitch until they are getting the interest they desire from potential employers.

While pitches are the least favorite thing for students, many find personality testing, such as the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator assessment, transformational.

“That’s where they begin to understand who they are and what type of environment they should look for,” he says. “You can’t imagine how many students I get who are, for example, an accounting major, but they find they hate accounting. So we work on what they can do with an accounting degree.”

He adds, “I want students to like what they are going to do because they are going to be doing it for a very long time.”

Lattanzio is also a big advocate of informational interviewing and shadowing people in certain professions for a day. The students then report back to the class how it went.

Phillips is in many ways a perfect example of how Lattanzio’s techniques work. Phillips loved history but didn’t know what to do with a history major.

“I appreciated having someone push me, and I learned how to use all the resources,” says Phillips, who now works at SAIC. “I think the class should be required because it prepares you for the real world.”

Many of the students find out about Lattanzio through word of mouth. As a result, his classes are always full. He also works with certain schools and colleges, such as the School of Management, which are looking for specific types of coaching. Lattanzio is teaching two sections of University 400 this fall; the university is offering six sections of the class altogether.

Lattanzio also maintains a Facebook page to keep in touch with his students as they progress through their careers. “When my students are successful, that’s my reward too.”

Write to mediarel at gazette@gmu.edu