References Available upon Request?

Think back to the last job application you submitted. Did you have to list references? Some employers, as part of the hiring process, ask for references up front, while some wait until later stages of interviewing. Almost all of them ask for references eventually. Choosing your references carefully and preparing them in advance gives you the best chance at getting a stellar recommendation.

Who should you ask to be a reference? I’ve seen novice job seekers list friends, significant others, and family members as references, not knowing that employers almost always prefer to speak with former or current managers. It can be difficult to come up with three references, particularly if you’re just starting out. Regardless of your level of experience, you need to leave mom off of the list.

The ideal choice for a reference is always a previous manager with whom you got along well. They’ll be able to speak to the things hiring managers care about: the quality of your work, what it’s like to manage you, your work ethic, and any traits or quirks that might only become apparent after you’ve been on the job for a while. When hiring, employers want to speak with several people who know your work well. The magic number seems to be three, although some will ask for more references or, less often, for fewer. It’s a good idea to keep in contact with people who can serve as references for you. LinkedIn can be a great option for keeping up with your professional network.

If you don’t have three former bosses (or your former bosses won’t give you a good recommendation–more on that in a minute), don’t give up! Think of other people who will be able to comment objectively on your work. Have you volunteered anywhere? A supervisor from a volunteer gig might make a good reference. If you’re a college student, you’ll get more mileage out of using a professor as a reference than, say, your boyfriend. A coworker’s opinion will likely carry more weight than anything a friend might say about you.

You will also want to make sure that any managers you list will give you a great reference, not a tepid or–even worse–a terrible one. This is one of many reasons that it’s important to have a good working relationship with your boss, but if for some reason you didn’t, leave them off the reference list. Prospective employers may contact them anyway, but at least you’ll know you did your best to offer references who will speak highly of you.

How should you prepare your references? First, let them know that you’ll be listing them. This gives them an opportunity to either think of what they’ll say about you or to let you know if they don’t feel comfortable acting as a reference. It is also basic courtesy, which is never a bad thing. If you’re getting ready to start applying for jobs for the first time, send each potential reference an email or give them a quick call to let them know you’d like to list them. If you’re reactivating a job search with references who’ve previously agreed to recommend you, a heads up to make those people aware is a good idea.

As you continue in your career, be thinking a step or two ahead. How you behave in one job may directly affect your ability to get another job, and you should conduct yourself accordingly. Perform to a high standard, maintain open communication with your boss, ensure you’re a team player, stay professional, give at least two weeks notice when you leave–in short, be the kind of person you would want to manage if YOU were the boss. The best way to secure excellent references for the future is to be excellent at your current job.

Excelling at Interviewing (When You Don’t Have Much Experience)

Interviewing is a nerve-wracking endeavor for many of us. The stakes are high and it’s easy to feel like you’re under intense scrutiny because, well, you are. You have a limited amount of time to make a great impression and convey why exactly you’d be an excellent hire. If you mess up, you may not get another chance.

There’s good news, though: interviewing is a skill that you can learn. While there probably are people out there who are naturally great at interviewing, most of us could benefit from honing our skills. Here’s how to do that.

The best way to get better at interviewing is to interview! Practice does lead to improvement. It isn’t enough to just go on dozens of interviews hoping to get better, though. That’s a waste of time. When you do interview, take time afterwards to debrief, either by yourself or with someone you trust to understand the interviewing process. Jot down the questions you were asked; interview questions tend to follow patterns. Focus on any questions that tripped you up and work on improving your answers for next time.

If you know someone who regularly interviews people, see if they’ll talk through what it’s like to interview job candidates. You might get some insight into the process, and you can also ask them questions you have about interviewing.

Don’t want to gamble away a potential job opportunity by using the interview as practice? I don’t blame you! Consider seeking out a mock interview. Your career services center might offer them; we do here at Calhoun. That acquaintance you spoke with about the interviewing process? They might be willing to ask a few short questions and give you feedback. Finally, you could ask a friend or relative–just make sure they know what they’re doing. It can be helpful to video the mock interview. Sometimes you catch things you wouldn’t otherwise have noticed if you watch it later.

You may always be a little nervous about interviewing. I know I am. By putting some effort into preparing for your interview, you’ll both feel better and give a better performance when that excellent job is on the line. Take heart–it really does get easier.

Some Experience Required: How to Get a Job When You’ve Never Had a Job

Starting out as a first-time job seeker can be daunting. You need a job, but in order to get a job, you need experience. In order to get experience, you have to have had a job. New college graduates, especially those who didn’t work while they were in school, sometimes wind up feeling stuck with an impossible conundrum. How do you get experience when you need experience to get experience?

There are some ways to start building a work history, even if you have limited or even no work experience thus far. Take heart. If it were truly impossible to get a job when you haven’t had one before, no one would ever break into the workforce.

The first thing to do is consider what related experience you have that demonstrates your skills, abilities, and work ethic. While not exactly a substitute for having had a job, things like coursework, school projects, and extracurricular endeavors can show an employer that you might have what it takes to succeed if given a chance. Choose the most relevant experiences to include. If the job you’re applying for is in an office setting, your computer classes may help show you’ve got the skills for the job. For customer service positions, extracurricular activities with a focus on helping others might be enough to get your resume noticed.

Next, think about signing up to volunteer. It can be frustrating to need to work for free when you really want to work for money, but volunteering can be an investment that pays off when it comes to writing a resume. If you can find a cause you care about, you can then seek out organizations that will let you volunteer. While you’re contributing to a worthy cause, you’ll also be gaining skills and experiences. Longer-term volunteering looks better on a resume than short stints do, as it gives a potential employer a better picture of who you are as an employee. It will also likely lead to a better reference.

Finally, make sure you’re targeting the right kinds of jobs. Some employment opportunities require a solid work history, but other jobs and fields are more welcoming to the inexperienced job seeker. There’s a reason a lot of people work retail or food service for their first job. Internships place more weight on academic accomplishments, and cooperative learning programs can give you a way to work for companies that might not otherwise consider you. While jobs like these might not be your ultimate career goal, they can be important stepping-stones as you gain experience, develop skills, and build a work history.

Starting out as a new job seeker can be daunting, but please don’t be discouraged. If you’re taking full advantage of the opportunities that come your way, it gets easier to write a resume and apply for jobs. Eventually, you’ll look at the experience required in a job description and think, “I’ve got all of that.”

Don’t give up!

A Love Letter to NOT Loving Your Job

It’s the middle of February, which means Valentine’s Day is upon us. Whether you celebrate Valentine’s Day or not, you’ve probably noticed the proliferation of pink and red briefly taking over the world (or at least the candy aisles). Since the focus of the holiday is supposed to be love, let’s talk about whether or not you need to love your job.

Well, you definitely don’t want to hate your job. If you’re working full-time, the better part of your waking workday hours are spent with colleagues, doing whatever job it is you do. If the work you do makes you miserable, that’s a surefire way to spend your days stressed and unhappy. Not good.

As a career advisor, though, I see a lot of people looking for work they love—work they feel excited about, work that makes them happy, work that doesn’t feel like work. “I want to love my job.” Sometimes the person I’m advising is trying to figure out how to start a career, and sometime they are trying to change careers after a decade or more in the workforce. My advice is always the same when someone tells me they want a job they love:

You need to like your job. You don’t need to love it.

It’s fine and totally, completely normal to want a job where you’re happy. A job you feel excited and passionate to do. A job where time passes enjoyably. The trouble starts when you want those things always. There’s a big difference between wanting to do work that excites you and wanting to do work where you’re never, ever, not for one single second bored. There’s a difference in wanting to do work that makes you happy and wanting to like—or love!—every little thing you have to do.

Wanting to love your job can set up some pretty unrealistic expectations and create dissatisfaction in an otherwise workable employment situation. No job is perfect. If you start looking for a new job every time you have to do something boring, you’ll run out of jobs to apply for quickly. Every job has a routine, and no matter how exciting everything is at first, eventually something you have to do will start to seem less appealing. There’s value in learning to be happy in a not-quite-perfect situation.

Am I saying you should stay in a job where you’re miserable? Absolutely not! My advice is to aim for a job that you like 80% of the time, and to make sure that the other 20% of the time is tolerable for you. You may not jump up Monday morning thinking, “Thank goodness the weekend is over! I get to go back to work!” But you don’t need to dread your job, either. Set reasonable expectations, and if your job is meeting your needs and not making you want to run screaming for the hills, you’re in a pretty good situation. When you do decide to move up or move on, you’ll be less likely to be bitterly disappointed when you find out your new job isn’t quite perfect, either.

How can we help you?

Did you know that Calhoun Community College has our very own Department of Career Services and Cooperative Learning? We do, and we’re here to help you!

If you’re a Calhoun student, alumnus, or prospective enrollee, we offer a number of free services to help you on your college and career path.

Our staff offers the following services:

  • Career advising (help with choosing a major; deciding between a few career options; and general help for clients who have no idea what they want to do)
  • Job search help (resume and cover letter review; interview prep; suggestions for where to look for jobs; and more)
  • Co-op (from inquiry to application to placement, we’re your go-to for Calhoun’s cooperative learning experience)
  • hireCalhoun (an online job portal just for Calhoun students and alums)

If it’s career related, we can probably help you!

There are a few things we don’t do. We won’t rewrite your resume for you, although we’ll give you lots of tips so you may revise it yourself. And, we can’t guarantee you’ll get a job, because employers make those decisions; however, we’ll help you keep looking!

Remember, we’re a free service. There’s no cost to you. So make an appointment to come see us, and let Career Services and Cooperative Education help you!

You can schedule an appointment online. Click here: Career Services Appointment.

Interested in a summer internship? Now is a great time to start looking.

It’s been cold here in North Alabama, and with classes for the spring semester just barely underway, summer is probably not the first thing on most students’ minds. If you’re planning to apply for summer internships, though, it’s time to start gearing up.

With many summer internships starting in May, the hiring and selection season for some of the most coveted positions has already begun and may even be closing soon. So don’t procrastinate! Start researching opportunities and compiling a great application package to give yourself the best chance at the internship experience you want.

Some tips:

  • Refresh your resume. Make sure it’s updated, free of typos, and tailored to the kind of position for which you’re looking.
  • Get the details. When you find an internship that interests you, do some investigating. Is it paid or unpaid? When does it start and end? Where is it located? If the job isn’t quite right for you, keep looking!
  • Make sure you’re a match. It probably isn’t worth it to apply for internships you aren’t qualified for, so ensure you’re a good fit before you start the application process. You also want the internship to benefit you, so it pays to check that the company and position meet your selection criteria, as well.
  • Follow the directions. All of them. Apply where, when, and how they want you to. Submit all required documents, and double-check the format. If the company requests a .pdf, don’t send a .doc file. If they ask for official transcripts, don’t send unofficial copies. Show them you pay attention to details and follow directions well.
  • Get help! If you know someone who does a lot of hiring, ask them if they’ll look over your resume. Does your school have a trustworthy career center? Might be time for a visit. Have a good relationship with an English or communications professor? Maybe they’ll workshop your cover letter with you. Use your resources and don’t be afraid to call in a favor or two.

An internship can boost an entry-level resume, give you valuable work experience, and be a great vehicle for networking in your field. Take advantage of these opportunities if you can.


Your New Year’s Career Resolution

It’s a new year! Happy 2017, everybody. If you’re a job seeker, you might be facing the year with renewed vigor after a joyous holiday break. Or you might be discouraged, staring down another year of “And just where do I go from here?” Already employed? Maybe you started the year grateful to have the job you have. Or maybe you’re dreading another 365 days of the same old thing. Whatever your situation, you can take advantage of January to get your year off to a good start.

If you make one career resolution this year, make it this one:

Change something that isn’t working.

We all have things we wish were different. Better. We’d love a new job. A promotion. A chance to use that one skill we have that doesn’t get much of a workout at work. And we’d all like more money.

You’ve heard the saying “If nothing changes, then nothing changes?” If you don’t take some sort of action with regard to your career, chances are pretty good that January 2018 will look a whole lot like January 2017.

So if you aren’t getting job interviews, maybe your resume needs some minor tweaks (or some major revising). If you’re interviewing regularly but the job offers never materialize, your interviewing skills might need a tune up.

Are you miserable at work? You’ve got some choices. You can start a job search. You can try to change your current situation. Or maybe you want to focus on what you really do like about your job and make peace with the aspects that bother you.

Underpaid? Have you asked for a raise? Did you make your case by illustrating the value you bring to your boss, your clients, your company? Have you done your research into salaries for similar positions in the area?

If everything at work is going well for you, congratulations! That’s really great. But if it’s not, these early days of a brand new year might just be a great time to reflect on what’s happening, decide what could be better, and take action to change it. Just one thing.

Changing one thing might just change everything.