All posts by career counselor

The Networking Challenge

Being a busy and slightly shy student, I found networking to be challenging, even when given specific recommendations for people with whom to connect. Ironically, my most important networking lesson came from a woman I had avoided contacting when I was a novice networker. Although I had shied away from reaching out to her, I came into contact with her through other means: I was assigned to work with her during an internship. Not only did she teach me much about the career I was considering, but she also introduced me to people who I needed to know in my field—including one who eventually had a role in hiring me for my first professional position.

What I didn’t know as a student is that people generally like to help others, especially when you make it easy for them.

Networking is among the most effective career development and job-search techniques. Many job seekers spend their time looking at job postings and want ads, but these seldom provide a complete job description. That’s where networking can play a role: Savvy students use networking to get the full story about organizations, positions, and career-growth opportunities.

Not only can you use networking to find jobs, but the information you learn through networking can help you craft your resume appropriately and give you an edge in the interview. (Although you are likely focused on your first professional job, remember that networking is important for subsequent jobs as well.)

If you are like many students, networking to learn about career options and job/internship leads is probably toward the bottom of your list of job-search tasks. Unfortunately, it may only emerge as important when you’ve exhausted your other options and desperation-or some twist of fate-forces you to try networking.

The fact is, if you are like many students, you probably use networking skills more than you realize. For example, to choose classes, you read through the course catalog, ask friends and acquaintances for recommendations, read “student only” sites with feedback on specific courses and professors, and (hopefully) talk to your academic adviser. Your parents also might offer their thoughts. This is networking. It is a combination of research, conversation, and analysis.

Make networking part of your daily activities

You can easily make networking a part of your normal daily activities. For example, it’s likely you’re being asked by friends and relatives about your post-graduation plans. This is a networking opportunity. Share details with them about fields or positions of interest to help them think of people they know who are doing similar work. Ask them to help you connect with these people, and then, follow through. (Uncertain about your intended career path? Not sure you can offer a clear answer to questions about what you want to do after graduation? Ask your career adviser to help you refine your interests and formulate a good response.)

Make the most of your networking

Finding people to contact is just part of networking. Try these quick tips to make the most of your conversations with networking contacts:

  • Send an e-mail to introduce yourself when requesting a meeting. Explain (briefly!) what you have in common and describe what you hope to learn through your conversation. Include a date and time that you will follow up by phone to schedule your meeting time if you haven’t heard back; then, follow through! (Because so many people don’t do what they say they will, this attention to detail is sure to impress.)
  • Research the industry, organization, and person you will be meeting prior to your conversation.
  • Consider information that you are learning in classes, internships, or student organizations that might be interesting to your target contact.
  • Make a list of questions to ask; if you are starting with a sample list of questions obtained from your career center or online, customize the questions to be specific to the industry and the person you will be contacting.
  • Treat professionals with respect. Use appropriate grammar and spelling when writing messages. If you’ve scheduled a meeting, don’t cancel. Arrive 15 minutes early.
  • Whether your conversation is in person, on the phone, or via e-mail, follow up with a thank-you note to show your appreciation and improve your chances of creating a productive relationship.
  • Don’t be discouraged if some people whom you contact aren’t immediately helpful. Be patient, and continue to develop contacts. Similarly, you might encounter people who you don’t feel a positive connection toward; in those cases, be polite, send a thank-you note, and move on. None of us can predict which connections will lead to meaningful outcomes, so use care to nurture your connections. Accept networking as an investment in your future that can produce results in the present.

There are a variety of places through which to find people to talk to about your professional interests. Here are a few to get you started:

  • Social networking sites such as Facebook and LinkedIn;
  • Alumni networks and campus mentoring programs;
  • Career fairs, employer information sessions, and networking events;
  • Professional associations related to your field of interest;
  • Friends/family and their friends; and
  • Community groups.

Article written by Lisa Hinkley, Director of Career Services, at Lake Forest College.

Courtesy of the National Association of Colleges and Employers.

Tips From Employers That Are Hiring

The best job-search advice comes from the employers that are hiring. If you take the time to follow this advice, you’ll be better prepared than your competition for your application and interview.

Here are some things you can do to aid in your job-search success:

Research the Company

  • What products or services does the company produce and sell?
  • Where is it located?
  • How well did the company do last year?
  • What activities by this company have been in the news lately?

Learn something about the company with which you want to interview. Read its website and its annual report. Search for news stories mentioning the company. Use this information to customize your resume and cover letter for the position you want. Impress the interviewer by knowing something about the company.

Perfect Your Qualifications

A high GPA is important. It means you know the subject matter. However, employers are looking for people with “soft skills,” too—skills you can learn through extracurricular activities such as leading a team, taking part in a group task, or organizing a volunteer project. Employers want to find communication skills, a strong work ethic, teamwork skills, initiative, the ability to relate to co-workers and customers, problem solving skills, and analytical skills.

Get Experience

Year after year, the majority of employers taking part in a survey conducted by the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) say they prefer to hire job candidates who have pertinent experience. For college students, typically, relevant experience is gained through an internship.

In fact, an internship can be the “foot in the door” to a job with many employers: NACE surveys show that newly hired employees often come from the organization’s own internship program.

Build a Network

Whether you get the job you want—or even hear about the job opportunity you want—could easily depend on who you know.

Here’s where you will find people to build your professional network:

  • Business and professional social networking sites
  • Professional associations (online and in person)
  • Career fairs
  • Company information sessions
  • Your school’s alumni network
  • An internship or co-op program
  • A student professional organization
  • Faculty contacts
  • Employee referrals
  • Parents of friends who work in your field

Apply Online

Few employers want a paper copy of your resume in the mail. Many employers want to receive resumes and job applications through their websites.

Here are tips to keep your resume from getting lost in a company’s database of applicants:

  • Load your resume with keywords: Add job titles and specific skills—especially those that are specific to your field.
  • Use jargon and phrases specific to your field.
  • List the names of companies you’ve worked for or interned with: recruiters may look for their competitors’ names.
  • Post your resume on professional niche websites.

Make Career Services Your BFF

What is it worth to have someone who is in daily contact with potential employers show you how to write a winning cover letter, critique your resume, practice interviewing with you, connect you with people who are working in your field, and give you access to thousands of job opportunities?

Find the career center on your university or college campus today. Employers use this resource to find new hires, so shouldn’t you be there?

Say Thank You

Stand out among candidates. Send a thank-you note to each recruiter you meet at a career fair; to the employer who practices a mock interview with you; to a hiring manager who spends a few minutes interviewing you for a job; to anyone who serves as a job reference.

  • Keep your message short and confirm your interest. “Thank you for the opportunity to discuss [name of the position] at XYZ Company.”
  • Spell the recruiter’s name and title correctly.
  • Send your message immediately.

Courtesy of the National Association of Colleges and Employers.

Building Relevant Work Experience

Getting the Most From Your Internship Experience

Learning, confirming, impressing, and positioning. When you take an internship, these should be four of your goals.

Of course you want to learn as much as you can about your employer and its culture, and about the industry in which it operates. You’re looking to confirm that both the employer and the industry are good matches for you.

But you also want to impress managers and leaders to position yourself for an offer of full-time employment from the organization once you graduate.

“If you get a ‘high-quality’ internship that gives you the chance to apply what you are studying in school, it will give you the opportunity to confirm that your major is really the right direction for the start of your career,” explains Steve Canale, General Electric’s (GE) manager of global recruiting and staffing services. “An internship is a great testing ground to make sure that you are on the right path.”

Most companies hire the majority of their full-time college graduates from their pool of interns and co-ops. Canale says that 70 percent of GE’s full-time hires have interned with the company. What can you do to get the most out of your internship experience? First, you need to know what employers look for in their interns that makes them candidates for full-time positions.

First and foremost, employers see potential in you, says Julie Cunningham, president of The Cunningham Group. Potential, Cunningham explains, is indicated by your:

  • Ability to learn quickly (not just the job tasks, but the informal rules of the organization)
  • Perseverance when confronted with obstacles
  • Ability to work independently and finish tasks
  • Ability to work as part of a team
  • Technical skills related to the job

 

“Lastly,” she continues, “don’t underestimate how much social poise and good manners count.”

Burke Walls, Intel’s intern program manager, agrees, adding that a positive attitude during your internship is a key indicator of on-the-job success.

“Many times, students come into an internship ready for their dream job,” Walls says.

“However, in some cases, that dream job may be several steps away from the original internship. Even if this is the situation you’re in, you need to perform at a high level. Managers want to see you take care of your assignments, understand your deliverables, and use your skills and the resources available to you to get the job done. Be humble and appreciate the work others have done to make you successful.”

In this competitive job market, it’s important to keep in mind that the overarching goal of an internship is to get a full-time job offer, Canale says. “Realize that, like school, you are in a competitive environment and that your actions, attitude, and deliverables are being ‘graded,’ ” he adds. “With this in mind, look for ways to differentiate yourself.”

To make your mark, take advantage of the opportunities your employer makes available to you, says Shannon Atkison, Vanguard’s intern program manager. An example is speaking or presenting in front of senior leaders.

“Treat this like a final exam and prepare as much as you can,” Atkison says. “And be creative with your projects. Every project has the opportunity to turn into something robust and value-added given the right amount of time and creativity you put into it. These opportunities are like auditions and represent an incredible chance for you to set yourself apart.”

Incorporating these strategies will help you meet your internship goals in pursuit of the ultimate prize: a full-time job offer.

Courtesy of the National Association of Colleges and Employers.

Free Online Internship & Job Search Tool for NOVA Students

Trying to find an internship?  Looking for a job?  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.

Free Career Planning Tool for NOVA Students

Did you know all NOVA students, staff, and faculty have free access to 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

View a Getting Started with FOCUS 2 handout.

Follow the steps below to begin using FOCUS 2.

  1. Visit NOVA’s Career Services website
  2. Select FOCUS 2
  3. Click FOCUS 2 button
  4. Click REGISTER button
  5. Enter “NOVA” for the access code
  6. Enter your NOVA student e-mail address in the e-mail box
  7. Provide requested information
  8. Check box to acknowledge terms and conditions of system
  9. Click CONTINUE button

Contact Christy Jensen (chjensen@nvcc.edu) if you have any problems accessing the system or to schedule a career advising appointment.

10 Tips for Top-Notch References

“References available upon request” is a statement that can make or break your job offer. Here are 10 tips for assembling a successful reference list.

  1. Ask, don’t assume. Ask your references for permission to use their names. Confirm the following:
    • Do the people you include as references actually want to give you a reference?
    • Does their schedule permit time to discuss your qualifications?
    • Most importantly, what kind of reference will they be? When it comes to references, neutral is the same as negative, so ask your contacts to be honest: Can the people you ask give you a positive recommendation?
  2. Let the professionals do the job. Potential supervisors are not interested in hearing friends or relatives talk about how nice you are. They want confirmation for their main objective: Are you going to deliver the duties of the job? Good reference sources include previous supervisors, co-workers, professors, or advisers. Think outside the box: If you voluntarily coordinated an organization’s fund-raising effort, the organization’s supervisor could be a great reference. It doesn’t matter that you weren’t paid.
  3. Avoid name dropping. A reference’s name or job title is insignificant compared to the information he or she will provide regarding your strengths and weaknesses. CEO may be a loftier title than supervisor; however, who can better attest to your abilities on a daily basis?
  4. Provide references with the appropriate tools. Give each reference a copy of your resume, so he or she has a complete picture of your background. Provide a description of the job to which you are applying. Knowing the duties and responsibilities ahead of time will prepare references for questions they may be asked and help them relate your experience to the potential job.
  5. Alert references to potential phone calls. Contact your references and tell them to anticipate a phone call or e-mail. Tell them the name of the company, and the position for which you interviewed. If you know the name of the person who will check your references, offer that information, too.
  6. Keep your references informed. Were you offered the job? If so, did you accept? When will you start?
  7. Thank your references. When you accept a job offer, take the time to write each of your references a thank-you note. They have played a valuable part in your receiving an offer.
  8. Keep in touch. Don’t end contact with your references. Send an e-mail, call or meet them for lunch on occasion. You never know when if and when you may need to call upon them to be references in the future.
  9. Update your list. Just like resumes become outdated, so do reference lists. As your career builds, keep your reference list up-to-date.
  10. Return the favor. Your references may have been the deciding factor in your job offer. When you are asked to be a reference, say yes.

Article written by Kelli Robinson.  Courtesy of the National Association of Colleges and Employers.

25 Short, Sweet Tips for Success as a Summer Intern

While it seems like just yesterday (okay, so more like 13 years ago) I was an intern at Neiman Marcus in Las Vegas, the lessons I learned and experiences I had a during that pivotal time in my college and professional career are crystal clear. Here are some tips that will help make your internship a success:

  1. Set goals. Having personal and professional goals can help you make the most of your summer, stay on track, and know if you have achieved what you set out to do.
  2. Ask questions. An internship is a learning process and you may need to seek clarification along the way.
  3. Participate in all intern and company activities that you are invited to. It’s a great way to meet fellow interns and people at the company who are investing their time in your experience.
  4. Share your ideas. People want to know what you think, so speak up!
  5. If you finish your work, ask for more. By taking initiative, you may end up with an awesome project or learning experience.
  6. Pack your lunch. You’ll save money and calories. It’s absolutely fine to join your colleagues and treat yourself to lunch every once in a while, but you will thank yourself at the end of the summer if you don’t blow your paychecks on takeout sushi.
  7. Dress for the job you want, not the one you have. Always be sure to follow the dress code. Make sure your clothes are clean, neat, and pressed
  8. Get a good night’s rest. If you’re used to going to bed at 2 a.m., the sound of the alarm at 6 a.m. is going to be a rude awakening (literally and figuratively). No one at your workplace will care if you’re tired, so don’t look or act tired.
  9. Consider your internship a three-month interview. This is your opportunity to make the most of each day with the potential of getting a job offer at the end.
  10. Ask people if you can be of help to them. You might think you don’t have a lot to offer, but perhaps one of your colleagues has a child that is considering your university and would love to hear your perspective.
  11. Explore the city…and the food. If you’re in Cleveland, don’t miss the West Side Market and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. St. Louis is famous for fried ravioli. In Houston, be sure to try the BBQ.
  12. Exercise. Take a brisk walk, ride a bike, run, do yoga! Do whatever you like, just get moving!
  13. Drink water. That’s what the water coolers are for! Eight 8-ounce glasses day is what’s recommended, but if that sounds like a lot, just start with a couple glasses a day. It also helps to get a water bottle that you really like.
  14. If you make a mistake, acknowledge it, find a way to fix it, and move on. Don’t make excuses.
  15. Connect with alumni from your school. Use your university’s alumni club. Tap into the LinkedIn Find Alumni tool.
  16. Check in regularly with your parents, family members, and friends and let them know how your internship is going….they will appreciate it.
  17. Say please. It’s amazing how many people will be willing to help you if you ask nicely.
  18. Follow all computer rules and lock your computer when you step away from your desk. Also, if your company has a social media policy, refrain from posting on Facebook during work hours.
  19. Ask for feedback. Some supervisors will be good at giving you positive and constructive feedback, while others may be less forthcoming. If they know it’s important to you, they may be more likely to give it.
  20. Avoid office gossip. If someone talks about others to you, they are probably talking about you to others.
  21. Pay attention to your experiences, reflect on them, and jot down a few notes. Your worst on-the-job experience may someday be your best interview story. The trick is remembering all the details.
  22. Wear sunscreen. Seriously
  23. Be present and enjoy the experience!
  24. Keep in touch. Don’t wait until you need something to e-mail your former supervisor. Send an e-mail every once in a while to check in and let them know how you’re doing.
  25. Thank people and let them know how they impacted your life and career. A handwritten note is a very nice touch.

Article written by Sarah Steenrod, Director of Undergraduate Career Consultation and Programs, in the Fisher College of Business at The Ohio State University.

Courtesy of the National Association of Colleges and Employers.

What to Do If You Don’t Have a Job at Graduation

Keep going! Be persistent in your job search. Get up every day as if you’re going to work, and spend time identifying and researching employers. Contact employers and schedule appointments. Make your job search your job!

Register. Sign up on job-search engines. Stay current and active on business networks like LinkedIn or social media sites like Facebook where you can find company profiles.

Work your network. Contact alumni in your field. Remind your contacts that you’re still looking for a job. Make new contacts by joining professional groups in your area.

Call on the career center. Even though you’ve graduated, your college’s career center is ready to help. Use all the online resources the career center offers.

Take a temp job. Temporary work will give you a way to pay your bills, and will help build the skills and experience that employers want. Plus, temp work will give you more contacts for your network, and may lead to a full-time job. Some organizations use temp positions as a stepping stone into full-time employment.

Get your foot in the door. Some employers offer internships to recent graduates. You may find part-time positions at a company for which you want to work. This could be effective, especially in an organization that hires from within. If you do a great job, you become an excellent candidate for a full-time position.

Look for ways to build new skills. Volunteer opportunities, like temp work, will open your network to new people and new opportunities. It can also help you develop new skills that will make you a more appealing job candidate.
Courtesy of the National Association of Colleges and Employers.

How to Handle a Salary Request

When an employer requests a salary history, many job seekers find themselves at a loss. You don’t want to price yourself out of a job, but you don’t want the employer to offer less than the going rate for the position.

So what’s the right answer?

  • Don’t include salary history on your resume.
  • Handle the request at the end of your cover letter. First, highlight your skills, experience, and interest in the position—information that is far more important to your consideration as a candidate.
  • Respond to the question positively without giving a specific amount. (Example: “I’m earning in the mid-30s.”)
  • Say “salary is negotiable.”
  • If you know the market value for the position and for someone with your skills and background, give a $3,000-$5,000 range.
  • Be prepared to respond to this question in an interview. Carry a list of your positions in reverse chronological order, including the name of the company, your title, a synopsis of your duties, and, lastly, a general compensation amount (e.g. mid-30s).
  • Don’t lie about your salary history. Employers may verify salary history through reference checks.

Salary requests are difficult for all job searchers to handle, not just new college grads. The key is to shift the focus, politely but firmly, from what you made in the past to competitive compensation for the position you want.

Courtesy of the National Association of Colleges and Employers.

Conducting the Successful Phone Interview

A potential employer may want to do a preliminary interview by phone. If you’re prepared for the call, you can impress the interviewer.

Here are some tips:

  1. Turn off distractions. Take your phone into in a quiet room.
  2. Have all your tools in one place:
    • Resume
    • Pen and paper to jot the interviewer(s) name(s) down immediately and to take notes during the interview
    • Company research (with relevant information highlighted)
    • Questions to ask about the company and position
    • A loosely written outline of points to make or items to cover as you talk about the position
    • A glass of water
  3. Dress the part for the interview. Experts say if you’re dressed in a professional manner, you’ll speak that way.
  4. If an employer calls and wants to do the interview right away (instead of setting up an appointment), excuse yourself politely and offer to call back in five minutes. This will give you time to make the psychological switch from whatever you are doing to your professional demeanor.
  5. Stand up to talk. Your position affects the quality of your voice. If you are sitting down or relaxing, you don’t project the same readiness and intensity as when you stand up.
  6. Talk only when necessary. Since you lack the visual cues of body language to assess whether you’ve said enough, mark the end of your response with a question, such as “Would you like more details of my experience as an intern with XYZ Company?”
  7. Let the employer end the interview. Then you should say “Thank you for your time,” and reiterate your interest in the position.
  8. Write a thank-you note to anyone who participated in the phone interview.

Courtesy of the National Association of Colleges and Employers.