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 There’s no shortage of untested, outdated, and just plain bad advice out there.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!”

Build a Professional Wardrobe, One Step at a Time

Got an interview coming up? Maybe you’re not quite ready to apply for jobs, but you are ready to start networking. Is there a conference in your field that students can attend and you have the opportunity to go? Any of these situations can prompt a clothing crisis, especially if you have a closet full of student clothes and utterly devoid of professional outfits. If you’re a student, you might also find yourself in a position where you need to acquire a new suit without spending a bunch of cash.

Don’t worry, it’s possible! Here are some ways to get started on a professional wardrobe without going totally broke.

Exhaust Your Free Resources First

If you’re in college, start with your career center. Many schools have something like a “career closet,” where people can donate good-condition, professional clothing for students. You might get an entire outfit, complete with shoes, from this one stop, and you might not have to pay anything for it. It doesn’t get cheaper or easier than that!

Neighborhood career centers might have similar resources. These centers are also more likely to be connected to other local charities and can refer you to any religious or non-profit organizations that might be able to help.

Spend Time, Not (Too Much) Money

Thrift stores can be goldmines for brand name, like-new clothes at cut-rate prices. They’re also hit and miss on availability of styles and sizes, so you may have to spend some time digging and make multiple trips. Check with management; they can give you important information, such as when clothing is restocked each week. If you enjoy a challenge and have some time to scavenge, you can get excellent deals on quality clothes.

Check Clearance Racks

Most department stores have racks of clearance clothing at deep discounts—sometimes as much as 75% off. Target is a great place for clearance items, too. Like thrifting, this requires time and effort, and you may come up empty handed. Finding out what day new clearance merchandise is moved to the racks can increase your chances of success.

Go Online

Too busy for thrift stores and clearance aisles? You might be able to accomplish the same thing online in less time. Web resellers such as Thred Up and Twice offer gently used clothing for way less than retail prices. You may have to pay shipping, but you can often find coupons online for bonus discounts.

Borrow Stuff

If you have a family member or friend who is the same size as you, you may be able to borrow what you need. This is a great stopgap measure if you need clothes NOW; just keep in mind that you’ll eventually want to begin investing in a wardrobe of your own.

The same basic rules apply to these clothes that apply to all professional clothing and accessories: everything should be clean, pressed, in good repair, and work appropriate.

Got a good source for professional clothes on a budget? Tell us about it in the comments!

Make the Most of Your Summer Job

A summer job is a rite of passage for many students. School’s out, you’re old enough to work (not to mention old enough to drive to work), and you could use some cash. Enter the summer job. The most obvious benefit of summer work is the money you earn. If you plan well and work hard, you can reap many benefits beyond your paycheck.

Build Your Network

You’ve probably heard the term networking in the context of career development and job searching. This summer job you’ve got is a great place to start networking, and you definitely should do so. Having a well-developed network can mean the difference between a relatively short job search and a long period of unemployment.

What’s a network? In this case, it’s anyone you know who might be able to help you professionally. Family members, friends…and former managers and colleagues. The great part is that your network connects you to their network, too, so in a sense you know people you don’t even know. And who knows—some of the people might be hiring for just the kind of work you’re looking for.

Secure Excellent References

Former managers make the best references, no doubt. Don’t discount your boss from your summer job when it’s time to list references. If you’ve done a good job and your manager is familiar with your work, they might be willing to tell future employers how great you are!

The key to this, of course, is to be great: have stellar attendance, be perfectly punctual, work hard, show initiative, prove you’re dependable. Tepid or terrible references do more harm than good.

Develop Opportunities for Future Work

When August rolls around and school starts again, you may need to leave your summer job behind to focus on your studies. If you liked the work and they liked you, you might be able to come back when you’ve got a break from schoolwork. Some businesses need holiday help, and summer will be back before you know it.

Moving away for school? If you worked for a chain or franchise, check and see if there’s one in your new town. Managers love to hire people who are already trained.

To have the best chance to be able to come back, make sure you give two weeks’ notice when you quit.

Enjoy your summer job! Save some money if you can, and set yourself up for future success.

Everything You Ever Wanted to Know about Co-op (But Didn’t Know You Needed to Ask)

What is co-op?

Co-op is short for cooperative learning—it’s a program that combines college credit and work experience. Here at Calhoun Community College, students are offered the opportunity to pursue, with the help of Career Services, employment directly related to their degree plan.

Why should I do that?

Lots of reasons!

  • You’ll earn money. Most co-op positions are paid well above minimum wage, and college works hard to ensure that pay rates for co-op employees are competitive.
  • You’ll gain experience. All work experience is valuable, but co-op experience is special. Having a job in your field of study gives you great chances to build accomplishments that will make your resume that much more appealing to future employers.
  • You’ll learn a lot. Co-op students have mentors at their companies who help them learn. You’ll gain hands-on experience in your discipline, but moreover, you’ll receive coaching on critical soft skills such as attitude, work ethic, communication, and professionalism.

What about benefits like health insurance?

Co-op is by its nature a temporary employment arrangement (although many co-ops work multiple semesters with a single company), and as such, benefits like insurance or a retirement plan are not offered.

Do I get to choose the company, or do they choose me?

It’s a little of both. Co-op applicants have the option to list companies they would like to work for or leave their options open and consider all opportunities that come along. As with any job, applicants are able to turn down positions if they don’t feel like the job is good match for them.

The companies engage in their typical hiring processes and select the applicants that they deem the best fit.

Okay, sign me up. How do I apply?

You’ll find lots of information here: www.calhoun.edu/coop. There’s a FAQs page, a guide to minimum requirements, contact info, and the co-op application.

I see you need a resume to apply. I think my resume focuses on the wrong things/hasn’t been updated since high school/might be terrible. Will a bad resume affect my chances of getting a co-op?

Yes, an outdated, ineffective, poorly proofed, or otherwise lackluster resume can definitely hinder your co-op chances. Co-op employers are the same as any other hiring managers; they want to see polished, professional applications.

Can someone help me with my resume, then?

We can! Make a resume review appointment with us by visiting www.calhoun.edu/careerappt. We’ll give you honest feedback and suggestions to improve your resume.

What if I’m not sure? Is there someone I can talk to who can answer my questions?

Yes! Please contact Career Services at 256-306-2993 or careerservices@calhoun.edu. We’d be happy to answer any questions you have!

I don’t go to Calhoun Community College. Can I still participate in the co-op program?

Our co-op program is only for currently enrolled, degree seeking students. If you are enrolled elsewhere, it’s a great idea to pursue co-op with your home institution. Check and see if they have a co-op program!

I’m an employer and I think I’d like to hire a co-op. Where can I find out more about this program?

Excellent! We always welcome new employer partners, and we work to your schedule to the best of our ability. No need to wait for the start of a new semester to hire a co-op. Please fill out our co-op inquiry form for employers and our office will contact you with more information.

If you think co-op is the right fit for you and you’re ready to join, you can apply here: Calhoun Community College Co-op Application.

Questions to Ask Employers at a Job Fair

Stumped on how to start a conversation at a job fair? Shy or awkward when talking to strangers? Just not sure where to begin? Here are some questions you might consider asking as you network with participating employers.

  1. Can you tell me more about the positions you’re hiring for today?
  2. How would you describe the culture at your company?
  3. What’s the best thing about working for XYZ?
  4. How long have you been with XYZ?
  5. What majors do you frequently hire?
  6. What would you say the most important skills are for ABC position?
  7. How does your company define success?
  8. What’s the best way to apply?
  9. Is there anything particular I should know about your company or the hiring process before I apply?
  10. Would you like a copy of my resume?

Keep in mind that interactions at job fairs tend to be brief, so don’t expect you’ll be able to ask all of these questions. Be mindful of the recruiters’ verbal cues and body language, and be ready to wrap up quickly if they seem ready to move on (or if a line starts forming behind you!). If there’s no crowd, you might be able to have a more in-depth discussion.

You should be ready to answer questions, too! At a minimum, be prepared to talk about what kind of job you’re looking for and what experience and skills you have that qualify you for employment.

Good luck!

Welcome to Your First Job Fair!

If you’ve never been to a job fair before, you may not know how to prepare or what to expect. Large-scale hiring events can be intimidating: they’re big, busy, and loud. You might feel like a face in a crowd—job fairs can attract hundreds of hopeful applicants. Happily, they can also be fun, exciting, and productive, especially if you spend some time preparing for the experience. Read on for suggestions on how to do just that.

Research the Job Fair

Just as you would research a company before you applied for a job, you’ll want to do as much research about the job fair as you can.  Figure out the basics, like where it is, what time it starts, and how you’ll get there. Will you have to pay, either for the job fair itself or for incidentals like parking? Is the fair designed for general job seekers or a more specific population? What companies are planning to attend? You may not be able to answer all of these questions, but the more you find out beforehand, the better your job fair experience is likely to be.

Plan to Go Early

If possible, try to arrive during the first half of the job fair. It’s even better if you can be there as close to the start time as possible. It will likely be more crowded if you go early, but if you arrive later, employers might be tired, out of materials, or ready to go. If you can’t get there early, it’s still a good idea to go!

Choose Appropriate Attire

Job fairs are more casual environments than interviews, but you should still dress as though you were interviewing. You want the company reps to remember you as polished and professional, not as “that one person that was wearing sweatpants.” Sometimes companies will even interview on the spot, so go in prepared for that possibility.

Have a Plan of Action

If you found out ahead of time what companies will be in attendance, it’s a great idea to make a top-10 list to ensure you visit the employers with whom you’d be the most interested to work. Can’t find out who’ll be there? Spend the first few minutes walking through the venue, taking note of who’s there. Then you can go back and talk to your key prospects. If you have time afterwards, you can visit more tables—you never know who might have a great opportunity for you.

Stay Positive

Job seeking is hard, and job fairs are no exception. It will still benefit you to maintain an optimistic outlook. Be open to opportunities, and try not to be discouraged. Always, always be polite and professional. This is your first impression—make it a good one.

Things to Do at a Job Fair (in Addition to Finding a Job)

When you’re searching for a job, it’s a good idea to take advantage of any opportunities that come your way. Job fairs can be a great way to meet lots of companies at once and hear what jobs they’re looking to fill. You may even be able to get your resume into the hands of a hiring manager. That’s not all you can do, though! Read on for six other things you can do at a job fair.

  1. Check out who’s hiring.

Companies often pay money to attend job fairs, and they do so because they have a business need they’re looking to meet. Chances are very, very good that if a company paid for a booth at a job fair, they’re probably looking to hire. It’s quite likely participating companies have multiple hiring needs. One of the most valuable things a job seeker can acquire from a job fair is a list of participating companies; once you have that list, you can regularly check the companies’ websites for job postings.

  1. Get a feel for company culture.

If you’ve had more than a job or two, you probably know that different companies can have wildly different cultures. You can spot some of these differences at a job fair. The folks representing the companies at these events are current employees, and if you want, you can ask them what the culture is like where they work.

  1. Look at what everyone is wearing.

Don’t just pay attention to your fellow job seekers, although that can be educational as well. Check out what the employees from different companies have chosen to wear. This can give you insight into office dress code, which in some cases is a reflection of company culture (see point #2 above). An important note: if you’re invited for an interview, you should still wear interview-appropriate attire. Just because you see company t-shirts at a job fair doesn’t mean you should sport something that casual at an interview.

  1. Practice professionalism.

Introduce yourself. Shake some hands. Try out your elevator speech. A job fair gives you many opportunities in a lower-stakes environment to practice being your best professional self.

  1. See what’s in demand.

What industries are hiring? What job titles are you seeing repeatedly? What key skills do the company reps say they’re seeking? Each company is different, but if you start to see pattern in industries, titles, and skills, you can bet that the stuff you see a lot is in demand right now.

  1. Find training opportunities.

Employers account for the majority of presenters at job fairs, but you’ll sometimes see colleges as well. If you find you’re lacking an in-demand skill or a lot of the jobs you want require a degree you don’t have, you might find what you need from one of the college tables.

(You’re invited to our Spring 2017 Job Fair! Please join us!)