All posts by career counselor

Benefits Count

As you look for your first job, you’re probably not thinking about becoming ill, retiring, or looking for tax breaks. However, you should consider benefits to be an important part of your compensation package. According to the most recent survey of new college graduates, the top benefits desired by new hires include medical insurance and such “core” financial benefits as salary increases, tuition reimbursement, and a 401 (k) company match. Benefits that deliver more immediate satisfaction, such as family-friendly benefits, more than two weeks of vacation, and flextime are increasingly important. A good benefits package can add as much as 30 percent to your overall compensation and may make a huge difference in your work/life quality! Here is information about some commonly offered benefits:

Health insurance

This is an important benefit for three financial reasons:

  1. Even if you have to pay for all or part of the coverage, it’s cheaper to get insurance through an employer at group rates than to purchase it on your own.
  2. Health insurance is comparable to nontaxable income—providing health insurance could cost your employer upwards of $4,000 per year per employee—and you don’t pay tax on it. If you were to purchase health insurance, it might take more than $5,000 per year out of your pocket—after taxes.
  3. The third advantage, of course, is, if you get sick or have a surfing (or horseback riding or bungee-jumping) accident, your medical treatment is paid for (in part or in full, depending on your policy).

Annual salary increases

More money? Of course that’s a good thing. In recent years, some employers have frozen salaries—not given any raises—or given minimal, 1.4 percent raises. According to Aon Hewitt’s annual U.S. Salary Increase Survey, average salary increases over the past couple of years ranged up to about 4 percent. If you earn $44,500, a 4 percent raise will increase your income by $1,777.

Tuition Reimbursement

One way to get ahead in your career is to continue learning—keep up with the latest trends in your profession. In this case, your employer pays all or a portion of your tuition costs for classes related to the business of the company. In some cases, employers reimburse for nonbusiness-related classes and for supplies such as books.

401(k) plan

A 401(k) is a retirement plan that allows you to put a percentage of your gross (pre-tax) income into a trust fund or other qualified investment fund. In many cases, employers will match your contribution up to a certain percentage—this is “free” money that can add to your overall compensation package. Why is this important to you since retirement is still 30 or 40 years away? According to The Motley Fool, a multimedia financial-services company, someone saving $5,000 a year beginning at age 25 will have $787,176 at age 65 (assuming an 11 percent annual return on savings). Waiting until age 35 cuts your investment earnings in half, to a total of $364,615. Wait until age 45 to start your retirement fund and you’ll have only $168,887—not much to live on in retirement. Typically, you can direct your contributions and the matching funds into investments offered through your employer. And your 401(k) is portable—you can take it with you if you change jobs.

Flex spending account

Also known as flexible benefits and Section 125 plans, these plans let you put aside money (via a deduction from each pay) before taxes to cover various types of costs such as payment of health insurance and life insurance premiums, and vision care, dental care, or child- or dependent-care costs. By using money held out before taxes, you’ll spend pre-tax dollars on necessities and you’ll show less earned income on your federal tax return—so you will pay a lower percentage of your income in taxes.

Family-friendly benefits

Do you have to have a family to collect these benefits? Absolutely not! Family-friendly benefits can mean a lot of things.

  • Flextime allows you to vary your workday start and stop times, within limits.
  • Paid time off (PTO) deposits your paid-time off (e.g., vacation, holiday, sick, and personal days) into one bank from which you withdraw days, which you allocate as you wish. This means you could wind up with more than two weeks of vacation.
  • Telecommuting allows you to work from home or at an alternative work site for part of the week, checking in with the main office via telephone and computer. Some employers provide the office equipment for home use; in other cases, you cover the costs associated with telecommuting.

Courtesy of the National Association of Colleges and Employers.

What Interviewers Want to Know

During an interview, potential employers want to gather information to gauge whether you, the position, and the organization are a good fit.

Here are some generic questions—and examples of specific questions—an employer may ask in an interview. Use these as a guide to your preparation.

Generic Questions Specific Examples
What do you know about the organization?
  • What do you think a typical day is like here?
  • What sparked your interest in [this organization]?
  • Do you have any suggestions for how we can make our organization better?
  • What made you decide to apply for this job?
What do I need to know about your personal traits or characteristics?
  • What is your strongest attribute?
  • What is your greatest weakness?
  • What personality traits make you suitable for this position?
  • If someone said one word to describe you, what would that word be?
How do you work with others?
  • Would you rather be micro- or macro-managed?
  • Tell us about your best and worst boss.
  • What is your ideal work environment? That is, what type of boss/co-workers would you like to work with?
What skills do you have relevant to this position?
  • What work experience have you had that is relevant to this position?
  • Tell us about any specialized training or certifications you have.
  • What skills do you think you need to add to your repertoire?
  • How will you get those skills? I know about your college and work background, but what else have you done that would aid us if we were to hire you for this position?
What are your personal goals?
  • Why do you want us to hire you?
  • What is your dream job? How would this position help you get there?
  • What is your seven-year career plan?
  • Do you have plans for graduate school?
How much do you know about your specialized area?
  • What are your strongest points with [two specific skills that the job requires]?
  • What are the most important traits of a person in your field?
How have you handled specific situations? (Behavioral questions)
  • Can you tell me about a time when you effected a change?
  • Give me an example of a situation that didn’t work out well.
  • What have you done that you are most proud of?
  • Tell us about a time when you took a unique approach to solving a problem.

Adapted from “The Job Interview,” an article by Susan M. Katz in the NACE Journal.
Courtesy of the National Association of Colleges and Employers.

Interview Etiquette

First impressions do count. Your resume earned you a job interview. Now, business etiquette will add some polish to your presentation.

Etiquette—good manners—is based on the idea that certain social behaviors put people at ease and make interaction pleasant. Here are seven rules for interview etiquette:

  1. Be on time.
    Or arrive 5 minutes early. Being late says you’re disorganized and not very good at time management. Drive the route to the organization the day before your interview so that you know exactly how long the commute will take.
  2. Turn off your cell phone.
    And leave it in your car. You don’t want to be distracted as you offer your expertise to an employer, and an employer doesn’t need to know your ringtone sounds like Beethoven’s Symphony #5.
  3. Respect those already employed.
    It doesn’t matter whether you’re interviewing to be an entry-level employee or the next CEO of an organization. Be polite to everyone you meet, including the receptionist. You never know who may be asked, “So, what did you think of this candidate?”
  4. Dress like you mean it.
    Dress in business attire, even if you’re interviewing in a business-casual office. Suits for men; suits or dresses for women. Go easy on the aftershave or perfume—better yet, don’t wear fragrance at all just in case someone you are about to meet has allergies. Go light on the jewelry—earrings, a watch, and nothing else. No T-shirts, tank tops, or flip flops.
  5. Be handy with your handshake.
    Hand out. Clasp the extended hand firmly, but gently. Pump once. Release.

    A flimsy handshake feels like dead fish and is unimpressive. A bone-crunching grasp may crush your potential boss’ tennis swing and your chance of getting a job.

    Practice ahead of time with a friend.

  6. Have a presence.
    Speak well, make eye contact, sit up straight.

    Use your interviewer’s name (in moderation), enough to show you’re awake and attentive, but not so much as to annoy the hiring manager. Looking the hiring manager in the eye as you talk shows you’re confident and engaged in the conversation. Don’t stare—that’s rude and creepy. Sit up straight. Slouching or sliding down in the chair makes you look tired, and no one wants to hire someone who is tired before they’ve started the job.

  7. Say thank you. Twice.
    The first thank you—at the end of the interview, the last few seconds before you leave the office (and while you’re shaking hands for the second time)—may come naturally. “Thank you for your time. I look forward to hearing from you,” shows you appreciate that someone has taken the time to talk to you and consider you for the job.

    Say thank you by e-mail to each person who interviewed you immediately after you get back to your home. Spell everyone’s name correctly and use their correct titles (find the information on the organization’s website).

    A thank-you note does several things:

    • It says you appreciated the time your potential boss spent with you.
    • It suggests you’ll follow up on important things (like the boss’ business).
    • It’s a great time to reiterate (very briefly) how your qualifications are a good match and how interested you are in getting the job.

Good luck with the interview!

Courtesy of the National Association of Colleges and Employers.

Four Steps to Career Fair Networking

Career Fair Prep

  • Perfect your resume.
  • Get your professional dress ready (typically business casual or business dress).
  • Practice introducing yourself.
  • Find out which employers are attending.
  • Research the employers you want to meet with.
  • Prepare specific and general questions.

What to Bring

  • Business cards
  • Padfolio, notepaper, and pen
  • 10-15 resumes (depending on fair size)

During the Fair

  • Walk around to meet employers alone—you might have friends at the fair who you check in with, but don’t travel as a posse.
  • Limit your give-away item collecting.
  • Introduce yourself with a smile, a handshake (if recruiter offers a hand), and a few relevant details about yourself, your education/experience, and/or interest in the employer.
  • Speak slowly and confidently.
  • Be strategic—talk to your top three employers first, others if you have time.
  • Take quick breaks between rounds of visits to freshen up and take a breather.
  • Don’t dominate recruiters, be mindful of other students waiting in line.
  • Ask about opportunities and next steps if there are specific openings.
  • Wait for cues from recruiter regarding resumes—some will be collecting them, others might direct you to follow up by e-mail, or apply online.
  • Get the appropriate contact information and/or ask for a business card.
  • Thank recruiters after speaking with them.
  • Take notes as soon as you walk away from a table.

After the Fair

  • Take a few minutes immediately after fair to sort through your notes and make a list of follow-up items.
  • Follow up and thank recruiters of particular interest. (You don’t have to follow up with everyone.)
  • Follow up with online applications, or by sending a resume and cover letter to the appropriate contact.
  • Reach out via e-mail or by telephone to reps who were not at fair, but who work with your level of education/field.
  • Set up informational interviews with individuals at companies/organizations of particular interest to you, and with alumni in these organizations.
  • Check in with your career office with specific questions.

Article written by Kathy Douglas, Associate Director Career Development Office, Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies.

Courtesy of the National Association of Colleges and Employers.

Relevant Work Experience a Key for Job-Search Success

We know that recruiters looking for candidates to hire for their organizations want college graduates who are a proper fit for their culture and industry. But, without being hired full time, how can you demonstrate that you can perform at a high level on the job?

The best way to impress potential employers during your job search is to gain and highlight relevant work experience.

Nearly all of the employers taking part in the National Association of Colleges and Employers’ (NACE) Job Outlook 2015 survey said they prefer to hire job candidates who have work experience. Relevant work experience is preferred by almost 75 percent of employers. On the other side, fewer than 5 percent of employers said experience didn’t factor into their decision when hiring new college graduates. Six in 10 employers say they prefer work experience gained through an internship or co-op experience.

For college students, relevant experience is typically gained through internships. In fact, an internship can be your way to get your “foot in the door” to a job with many employers.

Simply put, employers are looking for evidence that you can do the job; the internship provides you with that evidence. Be sure to visit the career services office for guidance on internships that can support your career goals.

Courtesy of the National Association of Colleges and Employers.

FREE ONLINE JOB SEARCH TOOL FOR NOVA STUDENTS

Looking for a job?  Trying to find an internship?  Whether you are near a computer or on the go, a great place to begin your search is by accessing College Central Network (CCN) – NOVA’s online job board system.

The following are some benefits of using the system.

  • Search for jobs and other opportunities posted exclusively to NOVA.  Take a look at many local positions available now.
  • Search for jobs on CCN’s Jobs Central® national job board.  The job board contains over 500,000 opportunities from unique sources.
  • Check out CCN’s Intern Central® national internship board to search for internships.
  • Build a new resume with the Resume Builder feature.
  • Upload your resume and make it searchable to employers.
  • Check out over 1,000 career articles written by industry professionals.
  • View career videos and listen to over 25 career advice podcasts on topics including resume basics,  interviewing, and personal branding.
  • Browse and sign-up for upcoming workshops, programs, and events at NOVA and in the surrounding area.

Don’t delay – follow the steps below to begin using the system.

  1. Access College Central Network
  2. Select Students
  3. Follow on screen instructions

Contact Career and Experiential Learning Services if you are unable to access the system.

Are Your Career Plans in FOCUS?

As you plan your schedule for your next term/semester, prepare to transfer, or get ready to begin a new job take a moment to focus on your career development.  Are you attending NOVA to pursue a certificate or degree, but unsure about what career options might be available to you? Have you decided on a major, but have difficulty answering the question – “What can I do with a major in _____? Do you need to fine tune your skills or add to your skill set in preparation for a career change? Learn more about career options by utilizing FOCUS 2, an online interactive self-guided career and education planning system that can help you:

  • Select a program/major based on your interests and aspirations
  •  Discover occupations matching your personal preferences and attributes
  • Map out your career plans, present and future
  • Make informed career decisions

FOCUS 2 is free for NOVA students.   Learn more about and access the system at NOVA’s Career Services website.

Register to participate in the Focus on Your Career Planning webinar scheduled for this Thursday,  April 6, from 12:15 pm – 1:00 pm.  This 45 minute webinar will introduce students to FOCUS 2 and provide an overview of the career planning process.

Need some help?  Have a question?  Contact Christy Jensen, ELI Career Counselor, at chjensen@nvcc.edu.

Exciting Opportunities Available…Four Tips to Make a Good Match

There is a lot of talk these days about what students want in an employer. So many companies use the same terms, phrases, and descriptions—they start to sound the same. Here are four recommendations to help you stay focused on what is most important to you when looking for the right employer.

Know your values. Companies will talk about their values, purpose, vision, mission, and corporate culture. They spend a great deal of time defining those in such a way that it can mean very little personally to many people.

To know if what a company is saying fits who you are, you need to know what’s important to you. Figure out who you truly are and if the values of the potential employer match who you are. If they don’t match, don’t expect to find happiness or success there.

Network. Talk to people you respect and admire about how they were able to get where they are. They may have learned something that helped them get where they are. Ask questions. Listen to what they say before you try to figure out how you can apply their experiences to your life. People like to be heard and networking allows someone else to do the talking. This is where you’ll find more doors open for you.

Expand your focus. The big companies are great and provide a lot of opportunity. They hire many people every year and have great processes and structure in place. But don’t be afraid to look at smaller companies as well. Get to know the people you can work for. Interview them. In many cases, when you look at smaller companies, the people handling the interviewing are the people you will work for and with each day. There are many great opportunities outside the biggest name organizations. Explore those. They may be as good as or better than the big name companies.

Interview them. The difference in many entry-level job interviews versus an experienced interview is that most entry-level interviewees forget one key element of the process: it’s a dual interview. It’s the dating phase of employment.

You should be asking many questions. Don’t expect the interviewer to know what’s important to you. It’s your job to ask questions to test how the company will fit what you want while the employer tests you for what they want. Don’t leave it up to them to show you why they are great. Dig in to learn why they are good for you.

You wouldn’t date someone only by their resume or bio. You’d ask questions about what they like doing outside of what they are studying. Where they came from. What their family is like. What they want to be doing someday. How they spend their weekends. It’s the same thing in interviewing.

Employers expect you to ask those questions. Ask them. When you ask good questions, it sets you apart from other candidates for the job.

Article written by Tom Borgerding, President/CEO of the Campus Media Group, founded in 2002.

Courtesy of the National Association of Colleges and Employers.

How to Sell Yourself at the Career Fair

A career fair is a great place to gather information about potential employers and make contacts that can lead to your first job. Here’s some advice on how to make the most of your time.

5 Things to Take to the Career Fair

 

  1. Information about the organizations attending. Gather information as you would for a job interview on organizations you’re interested in talking to. To maximize the brief time you have with each employer, you need to know how your skills and interests match their needs. And don’t just concentrate on the “big names.” There are often great opportunities with smaller companies or those with which you are not familiar.
  2. A 30-second “sales pitch.” Share basic information about yourself and your career interests like this: “Hello, I’m Carrie Jones. I’m a senior here at Wonderful University and I’m majoring in English. I’m very interested in a marketing career. As you can see on my resume, I just completed an internship in the Marketing Division of the ABC Company in Peoria. I’ve taken some courses in business marketing. I’m very interested in talking with you about marketing opportunities with your organization.”
  3. Copies of your resume (10 – 15, depending on the size of the event). Be sure it represents your knowledge, skills, and abilities effectively. It needs to look professional—easy to read format on plain white or cream colored paper—and be free of typos. If you are looking at several career options, you may want to have two or more targeted resumes with different career objectives!
  4. A smile, a strong handshake, and a positive attitude. First impressions are important. Approach an employer, smile, and offer your hand when you introduce yourself.
  5. Energy! Career fairs require you to be on your feet moving from table to table for an hour or so. Each time you meet someone, be at your best!

 

5 Things Not to Do at the Career Fair

 

  1. Don’t “wing it” with employers. Do your homework! Research the companies just as you would for an interview. Focus on why you want to work for the organization and what you can do for them.
  2. Don’t cruise the booths with a group of friends. Interact with the recruiters on your own. Make your own positive impression!
  3. Don’t carry your backpack, large purse, or other paraphernalia with you. Carry your resume in a professional-looking portfolio or a small briefcase. It will keep your resume neat and handy, and gives you a place to file business cards of recruiters that you meet. Stow your coat, backpack, or other gear in a coatroom.
  4. Don’t come dressed casually. A career fair is a professional activity—perhaps your first contact with a future employer.
  5. Don’t come during the last half hour of the event. Many employers come a long distance to attend the fair and may need to leave early. If you come late, you may miss the organizations you wanted to contact!

 

5 Things to Take Home From the Career Fair

 

  1. Business cards from the recruiters you have met. Use the cards to write follow-up notes to those organizations in which you are most interested.
  2. Notes about contacts you made. Write down important details about particular organizations, including names of people who may not have had business cards. Take a few minutes after you leave each table to jot down these notes!
  3. Information about organizations you have contacted. Most recruiters will have information for you to pick up, including company brochures, computer diskettes or CD’s, position descriptions, and other data. You won’t have time to deal with these at the fair!
  4. A better sense of your career options. If you have used the event correctly, you will have made contact with several organizations that hire people with your skills and interests. In thinking about their needs and your background, evaluate whether each company might be a match for you.
  5. Self-confidence in interacting with employer representatives. A career fair gives you the opportunity to practice your interview skills in a less formidable environment than a formal interview. Use this experience to practice talking about what you have done, what you know, and what your interests are.

 

Courtesy of the National Association of Colleges and Employers.

Locating and Applying for Internships

An internship allows you to test your career objectives, helps you identify your talents, and directs you toward an appropriate career, while helping you acquire essential practical and professional skills you need in the business world. It also lets you see how well you fit into a specific company’s culture. But finding an internship takes some preparation. Before setting out to find an internship, ask yourself these questions:

  • Where do I want to do an internship? My hometown? Out-of-state?
  • What type of work would I like to do? In what field?
  • What type of organization would I like to do an internship for?
  • What do I want to gain from an internship? What specific skills or experiences do I want to acquire?

Locating opportunities

After you’ve answered these questions, you’re ready to start searching for internships. Here are some suggestions for locating internship opportunities:

  • Check out College Central Network (CCN) – NOVA’s online internship and job database for students.   Through the database you can learn about internship opportunities with local companies as well as connect to a national internship board.  Did you know it may be possible to earn college credit for an internship?   Visit this website to learn more.
  • Attend job fairs. Employers often use fairs to identify students for internships as well as for full-time employment.  View the “Upcoming Events and Programs” and the “Announcements” sections of CCN to learn about upcoming, local job fairs.
  • Network. Talk with friends, family, co-workers, supervisors, instructors, administrators, and professionals in your field of study, and let them know you are searching for an internship.

Applying for an internship

Each employer has its own application process. Does the company want you to apply online? What is the deadline? What will the employer need from you to make your application complete? Start the process early. Here are a few tips to get you started:

  • Create your resume.
  • Write a cover letter, if required.
  • Utilize the resume builder and Job Search Kit in CCN to create your resume and cover letter.
  • Work with a NOVA career counselor to discuss internship opportunities, have your resume and cover letter critiqued, and discuss tips and strategies for getting the most out of an internship.

Choosing an internship

Your final task is to select the internship opportunity that is the best match for you. Review your goals for doing an internship and choose the opportunity that best meets those goals. An internship offers many benefits, including:

  • Valuable experience. Many employers want to hire people who have experience and can step into the job and be productive right from the start.
  • Information. An internship will help you make contacts, get ideas, and learn about the field.
  • Practical application. You will have the chance to apply theories learned in the classroom to a real-world setting. When you return to the classroom after your internship, you will better understand the many nuances of business operations that relate to the theories you study.
  • In many cases, an internship can lead to a job offer.

Original article by Amy Marie Charland and Mary Ann Lawson. Modified by Christy Jensen. Courtesy of the National Association of Colleges and Employers.