The Federal Job Search

Navigating the hiring process for federal jobs can definitely be a challenge.  Join us for our upcoming workshop where Tracey Randall with NASA will assist job seekers with the USAJobs portal as well as offer answers to many frequent FAQ’s!

Federal Jobs November 2017



Social Media and the Job Search: For Better or Worse

Social media is completely changing the way people search for jobs, and it is changing the way employers make hiring decisions.  As a job seeker, it is important to understand how your social media accounts impact your job search for better or worse.

First, you must to understand is that employers look at your social media accounts. Social media provides a great deal of information about candidates so employers feel they would be putting themselves at a disadvantage by not utilizing it. Keep in mind that anything you put online never really goes away. Your social media accounts will either be an advantage or a disadvantage to your job search.

Second, it is beneficial to understand what employers are looking for when they peruse your social media accounts. In a survey managed by CareerBuilder, employers were asked why they used social networks to research candidates and employers stated that they use social media to…

  • See if the job seeker presents him or herself professionally
  • Determine if a candidate is a good fit for the company culture
  • Learn more about his or her qualifications
  • Determine whether the candidate is well-rounded
  • Find reasons not to hire the candidate

Finally, you need to understand how to use your social media accounts in a way that has a positive effect on your job search. Make sure your photos reflect you in a positive light. It is your social media account, so it is up to you to ensure that it reflects you positively. Make sure that the topics, that you post about and the language you use show the best side of you. Here is a good suggestion, write what you want to say on a piece of paper or in a note app on your phone, wait ten minutes, then go back and read it and ask yourself if it is something you want associated with you forever. Emphasize your positive attributes; don’t just use your social media account to let off steam.  Instead, use it to show how well rounded you are. Careful maintenance of your social media accounts will make all the difference in your job search.

Qualified, but not Qualified Enough

Qualified, but Not Qualified Enough

It seems like every available position nowadays has one line included on the job requirements that automatically excludes many college students: “This Many years of experienced required.”

This can be a difficult and frustrating situation to navigate. Countless college students and graduates feel well-qualified for positions in their field because they have spent a few years studying the content; however, employers often require on-the-job experience outside of education.

Here are a few tips to help when it feels like you’re qualified, but not qualified enough:

1. Deliberately Search for Entry-Level Positions. Just because they are entry-level does not mean that they are not competitive. Do research and networking even for the most “basic” job in your field.

2. Consider a Co-Op. A co-op or internship could help you gain experience in your field easier than searching for a position on your own. Check with the career services department at your school or alma mater, or even visit your local career center. Companies collaborate with these groups to hire individuals with no experience specifically for the purpose of a co-op.

3. Never Stop Learning. Read job descriptions, interview people who have the job you want, and consider testing for more certifications and attending seminars. All of these things help to boost your resume, enhance your knowledge, and help you discover skills that are in demand. The more you learn, the more you can steer your resume to validate your knowledge and expertise.


One important element to remember is that the years of experience employers “require” aren’t necessarily strict cut-offs. Companies are mainly looking for someone who can demonstrate the skills necessary to efficiently and accurately perform the job.

If you believe that abilities you’ve acquired in other settings (i.e. school, previous positions, projects, and volunteering) will allow you to do the available work accurately, then make sure those talents are listed on your resume and apply! The worst they can say is, “Please try again later.”

Welcome Freshmen!

Welcome, Freshman! Career Advice for Your First Semester in College

Calhoun Community College is bustling this week! We’ve kicked off our fall semester and welcomed thousands of students to campus, where many of them are beginning their journeys as first-time freshman. In honor of those brand-new students, here’s some career advice for our college newbies.

Get Involved

The time you spend in college affords you many chances to explore career possibilities and gain experience—don’t waste these opportunities! Talk to professors, college staff, and fellow students about careers. Attend on-campus events and workshops. Career Services at Calhoun will be hosting a fall workshop series as well as a college- and community-wide job fair. Clubs and honor societies can be awesome for both networking and volunteering. There’s something for everyone on a college campus; find your niche and get to work!

Use Your Resources

Set a goal your first semester to get familiar with the various departments on campus. Advising, financial aid, career services, the student success center, disability support services, the library, the writing and math labs…all of these resources exist to help you! Peruse your school’s website to see what’s available to you, and consider dropping by the different offices to pick up a brochure and chat with staff about how they serve students. Timesaving tip: if you don’t have an urgent need, wait until the third week of classes to stop by. Things will have settled down after the first couple of weeks, which are typically hectic in the student support world!

Have a Plan

Do you have a career goal? If so, do you have a plan to reach that goal? Now’s the time to roughly sketch out a plan for your first couple of years in college. What are your goals for this time? Maybe you would like to have an internship, or maybe you’re intent on keeping a 4.0 and joining Phi Theta Kappa. Make plans now to achieve these goals!

On the other hand, if you find yourself goal-less, your first semester is a great time to refine your dreams and figure out what you really hope to accomplish. Once you know what you want to achieve, you can plan the steps you’ll take to get there.

Take Action

Do something! Need a job? Start applying. Struggling with your math class? Talk to your instructor, find a tutor, or visit the math lab. Bored? Take up an extracurricular activity or add a mini-mester class.

Those goals and plans you’ve set? They won’t achieve themselves. Ask yourself what one thing you could do this week to get closer to your ultimate goal, and then do that thing. Small steps over time add up to big results in the end.

Don’t Panic

College is very different from high school. Suddenly, the responsibility belongs to you and you alone, and that can feel overwhelming. Remind that you don’t have to take care of everything all at once, and remember that there’s always someone out there who can help you.

What to Do If You Get Fired

Your boss says she needs to see you. Immediately. You head to her office, and she closes the door. Her boss is there, too, and so is the head of human resources. When you sit down, you hear your boss say the words no one wants to hear: “This isn’t working out. We’re going to have to let you go.”

You just got fired.

If you’re like many people, you’re shocked, even if you knew you weren’t performing the way you needed to if you wanted to keep your job. On the other hand, maybe getting fired comes as no surprise; your manager told you clearly that if you didn’t improve, and quickly, she’d be terminating your employment. Whether you expected to be let go or not, you now find yourself needing a new job—and fast.

If you were recently fired, here are some tips to help you get back on track as soon as possible.

Tip #1: Don’t despair.

Getting fired feels bad. It’s a rejection, which is never a fun experience, and then there’s the added stress of losing income and taking a hit to your professional reputation.

You will recover from this. Let me repeat that: You WILL recover from this. Unless you got fired for something particularly egregious, like violence or theft, you’ll be able to find a job again. Many people before you have been fired and then gone on to have successful careers. I know it’s hard to believe now, but you might even be glad one day that you left this particular job behind.

Tip #2: Be very careful how and where you complain.

It’s understandable if you’re angry about getting fired, and you might be tempted to unload that anger. Don’t do it! While you can certainly talk through what happened with close friends and family, think twice before lambasting your old company or ex-boss to professional acquaintances or on social media. You want to avoid doing anything that might hurt your job search.

Research suggests that complaining about something can make you even more unhappy, so while we think venting makes us feel better, it can actually make things worse. This article from Inc. explains more. Do yourself a favor: process your feelings, but don’t get stuck in an endless cycle of venting.

Tip #3: Reflect on what happened.

Why did you get fired? Maybe your boss is a jerk and the whole situation was incredibly unfair, with you blameless. Most of the time, though, there’s a reason when someone gets fired. Maybe you didn’t have the skills this particular position required. Perhaps you weren’t a good fit for the fast-paced, deadline-oriented environment. It could be you let yourself get careless, and you made too many mistakes that cost your employer money, time, or status.

If you can be brutally honest with yourself and take responsibility for your part of the whole thing, you’ll avoid finding yourself in a similar predicament in the future. You may also be asked about the firing in interviews, and introspection is the key to formulating a satisfying answer.

Tip #4: Move on.

Take a few days if you need to and get your head right, and then jump right back out there. Look for jobs. Network. Think about retraining or continuing your education, if that’s something you want to do. Write the best resume you’ve ever written and then start applying. Dwelling on your old job won’t help you find a new one, but engaging in a well-organized job search will.

GPA: How much does it matter?

If you’re a college student or recent grad, you’ve probably heard a lot about the importance of a good GPA. Your GPA, or grade point average, is often viewed as an indicator of academic success, and a good GPA can be key in many scholastic pursuits, such as securing scholarships or getting accepted into graduate school. How much does GPA matter once you graduate from college and go out into the work world, though?

The answer to this question, like so many other career-related quandaries, is “It depends”. Let’s look at some different scenarios and see whether your 2.0 will torpedo your chances or your straight-A 4.0 means you’re a shoe-in.

In some fields, GPA matters a lot.

Academia. Medicine. Big Law. If you plan to go into one of these fields, you should be paying attention to your GPA because it matters. One thing college professors, doctors, and lawyers have in common is they earned another degree beyond their Bachelor’s. Grad schools and professional programs have admissions requirements that can be very strict, and they almost always consider your grade point average. Many employers in these fields will check your transcripts, too, so keep that GPA up as high as you can get it.

In some fields, your GPA matters a lot less.

I’m not saying you can flunk out of school and still become an engineer; however, you aren’t likely to lose out on an engineering career just because you graduated with a 3.3 instead of a 3.7. Depending on factors such as work history and interview skills, an accountant with straight B’s may be just as competitive as a candidate with straight A’s is. Don’t slack off, though! Doing the best you can is still important when it comes to competing for opportunities like internships, where they’re still likely to check your grades.

Consider the Side Effects.

Your GPA may have an indirect impact on your job search, as well. Professors tend to fondly remember their best students, the ones who worked hard, engaged in class, and (you guessed it) made good grades. Sometimes, that glowing instructor recommendation can be what gives you the edge in a job search or grad school application. Good news, though: your instructor’s view of you has a lot to do with how hard you work, not just how well you did on the final exam. You may not get an A for effort, but that doesn’t mean your effort won’t be rewarded.

Know that you can overcome mistakes.

Already messed up your GPA? Thinking it’s too late for you? Well, it’s not. Many successful people have less than perfect grade point averages. If you’ve failed a class or even a whole semester, all is not lost. I would encourage you to investigate all the options your college offers, such as grade forgiveness if you repeat and pass a failed class. Even without wiping the slate clean, doing well in enough classes will help bring that GPA back up; that’s the beauty of averages. For most fields, your work experience will eventually matter a lot more than your college GPA ever did. So hang in there!

The takeaways? Know how GPA works in your particular discipline, do your absolute best, and don’t let a setback become failure. You got this!

What Can You Learn from a Career Assessment?

Maybe you took my advice from the last blog post, and you saw a career advisor. If you did, were you given the option of taking a career assessment? If so, you might be wondering just what a career assessment can do for you.

A career assessment is a tool that helps you match specific aspects of your personality with careers. Sometimes the assessment results will suggest specific careers or jobs, like electrical engineering or law enforcement. Sometimes the results will be more general and will suggest, for example, jobs where you do hands-on work. The best assessments are validated, which means experts have determined that the assessment is consistent, reliable, and effective. Check with your career advisor if you have questions about assessment validity, or if you’re striking out on your own, consult the source of the assessment to determine how it was validated.

A good career assessment can give you a leg up in your career decision process. At the very least, the assessment can serve as a jumping-in point for career research. Tests such as these might reveal possibilities you haven’t yet considered. Taking a career assessment can also provide assurance that the career path you are pursuing is, indeed, the right one.

No matter how good an assessment tool is, there are some things it won’t be able to do. A good assessment will not make a career decision for you, and if a test does suggest that there’s one right career for you, you should view it with skepticism and suspicion. Career assessment results are also only as good as the information put in on the front end, which means that if you have no clue about what you like to do, or what you’re good at, or what interests you, then the test won’t be able to tell you much. If I just described you, you are probably better off doing some research or speaking with a career advisor before you take the assessment.

A career assessment isn’t a crystal ball, but a good one can provide insight you didn’t have before you took it. Keep in mind that a career journey is unique to the individual career seeker, and one size does not fit all. If you find one career assessment unhelpful, move on to another one! If assessments aren’t your thing, pursue other avenues of career discovery.

If you’re a present or former Calhoun Community College student, you can find the assessment we offer here:

How to Work with a Career Advisor

Feeling a little lost, career-wise? You’re not alone. While some people seem like they were born knowing what career they want to pursue and are able to make it happen for themselves in a way that seems effortless; in truth, most of us struggle with a career decision at one time or another. Many job seekers work through their career issues alone, but others turn to professionals for support and information.

If you’re thinking of working with a career professional, such as a career advisor, here are three tips to make the most of that experience.

Figure out where you can get services.

Are you a college student? Your career center is a good place to start. At Calhoun Community College, that’s us! We offer career advising, resume reviews, mock interviews, and job search assistance. Many colleges have similar services—check it out, because if your college has a career center, it’s probably free to you.

Not in college? A state- or city-run career center might be available to help you. Like college career centers, these public career centers are usually free to their clients and offer help with many aspects of the job search process.

There are career advisors who charge for the services—I recommend exhausting your free resources before spending money.

Make sure you’re getting good advice.

There are a lot of people out there giving career advice, and I hate to say it, but not all of that advice is good. Maybe you have a college career advisor who’s telling you to put an objective on your resume because a book published in 1992 says you need one. Perhaps your grandfather is just sure you can get a job by showing up at a business and sitting in the lobby day after day to show “initiative.” There’s no shortage of untested, outdated, and just plain bad advice out there.

How can you tell if the advice you’re getting is bad? If you haven’t spent a lot of time in the hiring world, it can be tough to know. Don’t be afraid to check your advisor’s credentials: have they done a lot of hiring? Where do they get the information they’re giving you? This applies to both professional advisors and your friends and family. Always verify the source’s sources.  If you have a mentor in the professional world—someone who hires people regularly—you can check with them and see what they think. As a bonus, mentors sometimes give great career advice themselves.

Figure out what you hope to accomplish–and what is possible.

Plenty of career advisees come in with only a vague idea of what kind of help they want, and plenty more have unrealistic expectations of what’s possible in an hour-long appointment.

For the former, the key is to get clear on what you’d like to know. Do you need help figuring out what’s in demand for the local market? Maybe you want to take a career assessment and learn how to research careers related to your interests. An advisor can help you with either of those things, but only if you are able to express that’s what you need.

For the latter, it’s important to know that career planning is a long-term—often lifelong—process! You probably will not walk into a career center with no idea of what your interests are and walk out with a 10-year plan. Progress on career goals is usually incremental and requires planning and patience. Expect to put in some work, both in figuring out what you want (self-assessment) and in determining what’s available (career research). Career planning isn’t necessarily easy. It’s worth it, though!


Your cover letter could be so much better.

Let’s talk about your cover letter.

You ARE writing a cover letter when you apply to a job, yes? Yes. Okay, good.

But are you writing the best, most effective cover letters you possibly could? My guess is that the answer to that question is no. Now I say this having never read your cover letters, and maybe yours are amazing. I’ve read lots of cover letters, though, and most of them are lackluster. Let’s make sure the next cover letter you write is better than average.

First, cover letter basics. Like any professional correspondence you send, your cover letter should be proofread and completely error free. If grammar and spelling aren’t your strong suits, enlist the help of someone who has those things mastered.

You should customize each cover letter you send; sometimes, this means you’ll need to write an entirely new cover letter. An effective cover letter speaks to the job to which you’re applying, and it’s hard to do that with a one-size-fits all approach.

Of course, what you write should be true. No embellishing or fabricating of information allowed.

Once you’ve gotten the basics down, you can start working to write effective, compelling cover letters.

Use your own voice. Most cover letters sound canned. Get rid of “To whom it may concern” and “I believe my education and work experience make me an excellent candidate for this position.” Too many people write some version of this, and it ends up sounding like a template that you copied from the internet. Be yourself!

Avoid merely summarizing your resume. Many cover letters contain a sentence that begins “As you can see from my resume…” Yes. Whoever is reading your cover letter can, in fact, probably also see your resume. They will read your resume. They do not need you to tell them what’s on your resume. You might want to highlight some of your accomplishments and provide additional context or information about something on your resume, but it’s a wasted opportunity to reiterate what you’ve already said elsewhere.

Be willing to talk about what makes you great. Would you be good at the job? Why? That’s the question your cover letter needs to answer. Don’t be afraid to tell your future employer how and why you’d do great work for them. Trust me, they want to hear about it!

Expect to work hard at writing good cover letters. Devote some time to the task. While writing, like almost anything, does get easier with time and practice, it still requires effort. If you want to write cover letters that impress hiring managers, you have to put in the work.



“Tell Me about Yourself.”

If I had to place a bet on the first question your interviewer will ask you, this would be it. “Tell me about yourself!” Seems like it should be easy, right? Who knows more about you than, well, you? This simple question often flusters interviewees, though, and some people struggle to answer it well. Fortunately, with practice and preparation, you should be able to respond to “Tell me about yourself!” with ease and then smoothly transition to the rest of the interview.

First, you need to understand what the interviewer is asking—and what they’re not asking. I’ve had people start their answer to this question with “Well, I was born in…” or “I’m 19 years old..” That’s not what the hiring manager wants to know! They aren’t asking for The Entire History of You, and they don’t want irrelevant information that will have no impact on whether or not they hire you.

So what do interviewers want to know? It might help to rephrase the question in your head. Instead of “Tell me about yourself,” think of it as “Tell me about your professional self.” This will steer you away from details that are too personal or largely irrelevant and toward information that your interviewer is looking for.

Even after reframing, you’ll have more success if you practice how you’ll answer. You don’t need to memorize a script, but you should mentally sketch out the beginning, main points, and conclusion. Brevity is key here: good answers to this particular question last between 30 seconds and a minute or so. Know when to stop! You don’t have to fill all available air space with words.

What exactly should you talk about? For students or recent grads, a brief description of what path you’re taking in school is a good place to start. You can then (again, briefly!) summarize your work experience. What do you specialize in? What has the focus of your work been? End by telling them why you were excited to apply to this particular job.

Don’t be thrown if your interviewer doesn’t ask this question; not all of them do. It’s common enough, however, that you want to be prepared so that you can avoid an awkward beginning to an important conversation.

As you move forward in your career, your answer to this question will evolve. I hope that it will also get a lot easier to answer. You’ll know what employers are looking for, and you’ll have built a professional background you’re excited to talk about. Until then, practice! You can master the art of “Tell me about yourself!”