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: 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 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 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!)

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!