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 There’s no shortage of untested, outdated, and just plain bad advice out there.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