Career Resources

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Find the greatest fans of your life

Both of my daughters are in the performing arts and very often the lyrics, "I'll be the greatest fan of your life," popped into my head as I proudly watched them perform in high school plays. Little did I know that this same feeling would carry over to the students I counsel. I delight in their joys over getting their dream internship or job and I share in their sadness when things don't quite work out the way they had hoped. And so, I have become another one of their fans, in addition to their parents, coaches, teachers, relatives, etc.

Seek out the greatest fans of your life. Some people call them mentors. Studies have shown that people who have mentors are ultimately more successful in their careers. By developing relationships with mentors, you will be creating a life-long support network of people who care about you and want to see you succeed. They will be there to cheer you on and to tell you you can do it even when you think you can't.

For many students, their parents are their proudest fans but aren't as readily accessible when they move away to college. So look to your professors, coaches and career counselors as potential mentors. Is there someone you just seem to hit it off with? Also, your school's alumni network is a great source for potential mentors. Most alums are eager and excited to give back to their school and current students in the form of a mentoring role.

By developing and fostering relationships with your greatest fans, you'll inevitably become the greatest star of their lives!

Friday, December 18, 2009

How to make the most of your winter break

I'm sure you're all looking forward to a well-deserved break from studying for finals and writing all those papers, reports and projects. But after the holiday festivities have died down a bit, you might want to consider a doing a few simple things that will put you in a better position to embark upon your internship or job search next spring.

1. Create a profile on LinkedIn, invite people into your network and join professional groups there.
2. Conduct informational interviews with professionals in your field. Winter break is a great time to do this because you don't have the pressure of homework and exams to deal with.
3. Write your resume or update one that you already have. Have it reviewed by a career counselor at your school when you go back.
4. Search for internships or jobs on sites such as and to get a feel for what kinds of positions are out there and what kinds of skills they are looking for. Are there any skills you need to work on?
5. Write a cover letter for a real internship or job and have it reviewed by your career counselor when you go back to school.
6. Relax and have some fun!

Monday, December 14, 2009

From friending on Facebook to networking on LinkedIn

Virtually every college student has a Facebook page and has lots of online friends with whom to socially network. However, not so many students have a LinkedIn profile and a solid network of connections. If you're not on LinkedIn yet, you should be, especially if you're looking for a job or internship. LinkedIn is the professional equivalent of Facebook, providing lots of opportunities to network with people in your field. Over 50 million people are on LinkedIn, and that number keeps rapidly growing. According to a recent poll from Jump Start Social Media, 75%of hiring managers use LinkedIn to research credentials of job candidates so if you're not on there yet, you should be!

Once you establish your LinkedIn profile page, you can start inviting people into your network such as fellow students, former teachers, current professors, supervisors, and counselors at your career center. The more people you add to your network, the greater you will increase your chances of being able to directly connect to someone or be introduced to someone via your connections.

Under the "advanced people" search you can search for alums from your college who are working in your dream company and then reach out to them for informational interviews. Students are always amazed at how cool this feature is. I was giving a presentation to the freshmen a few weeks ago and asked for someone to name their "dream company." One student said "Anheuser Busch." With a quick search on LinkedIn, we found someone who was an MBA student at the same university who had worked at Anheuser Busch! It couldn't be any easier for this student to network with someone who was taking classes in the same building as him.

But even if your connection isn't right in your school, you can still set up an informational interview at the person's office or over the phone. One great thing about conducting an informational interview at the person's office is that it gets you in the building where you can witness the corporate culture firsthand, which will greatly reduce your anxiety level if you are invited back there for a real interview. Conducting informational interviews is great practice for developing and polishing your communication and in-person networking skills.

So, the next time you log into Facebook to update your status or check your friends' statuses, think about creating your LinkedIn profile page. Once you do, then remember to check it as much as you do your Facebook page...well maybe not quite so often!

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Seniors: Do you have your list of reach, match and safety companies?

I clearly remember those angst-ridden days of helping my daughters with their college applications and anxiously awaiting the arrival of those admissions decision letters. I even went so far as to track down every mail truck in our home town one day because I knew my daughter's decision letter was in the mail! The college application process has become a rite of passage and, given the large demographic pool of candidates over the last few years versus the number of acceptances at universities, this process has become an extremely stressful one where students are applying to at least ten colleges. As most high school seniors know, their list of schools should contain a well-balanced mix of reach, match and safety schools.

However, I have noticed that many college seniors do not take this same approach when applying for jobs. Some want the big name companies and only the big name companies. I think this is partly due a strong sense of competitiveness or because it's easy to apply just to the corporate brands that quickly come to mind. Students often fail to realize that there are many, many other great companies that have full-time job postings that would be an excellent starting point in their careers. I think that some students are still stuck in the college application mode, i.e., if they don't get into their dream company after graduation, then they are doomed for life. Yes, going to college is a one-time event that can never be changed so it is critical that students put so much effort into getting accepted into the right one for them. However, getting a job is not a one-time event. Your first job out of college is only one in a series of many. The average person will have 15 jobs over the course of a lifetime and will switch careers about five times. Certainly, students need to strive for their dream jobs but they should also temper those dreams with a dose of reality and apply to companies that are more match or safety companies.

Students need to also remember that it’s not so much about the name of the company you work at but what you will be doing at that company. There are some really awesome jobs at the mid-size and smaller companies which offer new graduates the opportunity to learn, grow and explore more than they might in a larger company where their jobs may have a more narrowly defined focus.

By taking a more well-balanced approach to the job search, students may be pleasantly surprised by the opportunities at companies they hadn't even considered and will greatly increase their chances of landing a terrific job after graduation.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Ask not what the company can do for you...

I often am reminded of President John F. Kennedy's famous inaugural words whenever I am counseling a student about how to frame their cover letter or interview answers, "My fellow Americans, ask not what your country can do for you -- ask what can you do for your country." Similarly, when writing a cover letter or planning your interview answers, the focus should not be on what the company can do for you, but what you can do for the company.

Don't use words like, "I am hoping to learn more about," or "I am excited to work at your company because you are well known in the industry." Who is benefiting here? Certainly not the company. Remember, you are trying to sell yourself to the company. Why should they hire you? What's in it for them? Hiring companies are making a tremendous investment in whomever they hire, whether it's for an internship or full-time position.

So, when writing your cover letter or thinking about your interview answers, approach it from the perspective of what can you offer to the company. What are the skills and qualifications that you possess that can help them grow their business, increase their ROI, solve a problem, develop their market, or enhance their corporate image? By focusing on how you can benefit the company, you will be practicing the penultimate marketing principle: to design and deliver a product that meets your customer's, i.e, hiring company's needs.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

How to stand out from the crowd

Many times students will ask me how they can stand out from the crowd with regard to their resumes or during the interview process. Some of them will come in with their own ideas such as using a colored font on pastel colored resume paper. Or others will want to dress differently from the standard norm for the position. My response to these students is that, yes, they will stand out, but for the wrong reasons. Certainly, you want employers to notice you, but not in a way that gets you negative attention.

So how DO you stand out? With regard to your resume, make sure you utilize every inch of that 8 1/2" by 11" sheet of paper to your best advantage. Think of it as an advertisement of your skills and qualifications. How can you best use that space to target the position and entice the employer to want to buy your product? Make every word count and make sure everything on your resume is supporting your case as to why you are a good candidate for the position. The most successful students are the ones who are constantly tweaking their resume until they get it just right and adjusting it for each position.

And how do you stand out during the interview? By being as prepared as you can! Write down your answers to the standard interview questions and remember the key bullet points that you want to say during the interview. But don't memorize them word for word! Interviewers can easily tell when students have memorized every word of their answers because they sound like monologues, and the student's true personality doesn't show through because he/she is so worried about "getting their lines right."

Practice saying your answers out loud with roommates and friends or in front of the mirror. The more you say them, the more at ease you will be and the more confident you will be in delivering them. Conduct mock interviews with counselors at your career center who will give your constructive criticism for perfecting your interview technique. Most of all, let your personality shine through! Sure, interviewers are looking for candidates with product knowledge but are also looking for someone who they would enjoy working with, who would be a good addition to the team. One way to start your interview on a good note is to say something in the "Tell me about yourself" answer that you are passionate or confident about. By doing this, your enthusiasm will naturally come through, which is a wonderful way to start off the interview and set the tone for the remainder of the interview.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Don't let your cover letter be an after-thought

Most people spend lots of time perfecting their resume and tweaking it until they get it just right. However, many people do not take the same approach with regard to cover letters. In their haste to apply for a really great position, some people quickly write a cover letter, or copy and paste sections from other cover letters, because they want to be one of the first applicants to apply or simply because they don't feel like taking the time to write a good cover letter. It is often haphazardly thrown together as an after-thought.

Employers can easily see the difference between a cover letter that is quickly thrown together and one in which the applicant has put a lot of effort. Rapidly-fired covered letters will more likely have errors in spelling, punctuation and formatting. It may be evident that the writer has taken a mass marketing approach to applying for jobs. And just as quickly as they have been churned out, they will quickly be tossed into the "no" pile.

Writing a good cover letter does take time and it does require thought and, yes, it does involve some work. But the payoff is well worth it. If you have only one page to sell yourself to an employer, you need to utilize that space to your best advantage. The small investment of time and toil that it takes to write an effective cover letter could be the thing that separates you from the competition, that makes you stand out in the crowd.

Be enthusiastic and positive in your cover letter at all times. Clearly demonstrate to the employer how your qualifications match the needs and requirements for the position. I like to call it "connecting the dots." You need to make the connection between your resume and the job posting and not leave it up to the employer to try and figure it out.

By taking the time to write a tailored, targeted cover letter for each and every job, you will increase your chances of landing the interview and wouldn't that be time well spent?

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Make your interests interesting!

Sometimes students balk at the idea of putting an "Interests" section on their resumes. Their reasons are twofold: 1) they say it takes up valuable space that could be used more effectively and 2) they feel that it's just fluff and not necessary. I always give them my twofold answer that 1) one of your interests might be a mutual interest of the interviewer so you can establish an immediate connection and 2) they show the employer that you are a well-rounded person beyond your academics and work experience.

I love to hear stories from students about how their interests helped them get a job. One of my favorite stories is about the student who had put, "Reading Harvard Business Review," as one of his interests. He went to an internship fair in which interviewing was done on the spot and ended up getting interviewed and hired for an internship guessed it...the Harvard Business Review!

When writing your interests section, live by the rule that less is more. Don't provide a laundry list of activities thinking that the more you do, the better you'll be perceived because you'll look like a superior multi-tasker. You will not impress anyone by having ten interests with no specific ones that stand out. It's much better to list a few really interesting interests rather than a list such as "running, traveling, reading, cooking, fashion, movies." Who isn't interested in these things?

It's much better to put, "Backpacking on my own through Eastern European countries" or listing the countries you have traveled to. One of my students who has been successful in the advertising world tells me that her list of countries is always a great talking point in her interviews. Instead of saying "reading," be more specific by saying something like, "reading autobiographies of people who made a difference in the world." Instead of saying, "running," say, "avid runner who has competed in several 10K races and mini triathlons.”

Can you see how the more descriptive statements are much more interesting to read and provide the interviewer with a much clearer picture of who you are? They also will spark the curiosity of your interviewer to want to know more about them. And what better way to start an interview than talking about a hobby or activity that you're passionate about? The gleam in your eyes and excitement in your voice will give you the confidence boost you need and set the tone for the remainder of the interview.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Listen to what people say about you

I distinctly remember the day in senior year when Diane Pagnani told me that I was voted the "Most Sympathetic" one in the class. I was crushed by this very uncool label. Secretly, I wanted to be voted "Most Popular" or "Prettiest" (even though I knew I wasn't either of these). However, the "Most Sympathetic" label proved to be an extremely accurate and fortuitous description of who I would become. For the last nine years I have been "being sympathetic" to thousands of students whenever I provide academic or career counseling to them.

But did I pay attention to what Diane said about me in senior year? No! Luckily, however, serendipity came into play and I ended up doing exactly what I was meant to do. close attention to what others say about you! Others can often see us much better than we see ourselves. Think about your own life and the things people say you're good at, or what adjectives they use to describe you. What do teachers, coaches, friends and relatives say about you? Do you see any consistent patterns, any words that come up over and over? Listen to them. By listening to people's objective opinions (people other than your mother!), you could discover clues regarding which career to pursue.

So, what were you voted in high school? Could it hold the key to your future? Both of my daughters were voted "Class Clown" (how did THAT happen?), and they're both pursuing acting careers. I guess they listened to what others said about them!

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Would you buy this cover letter?

If you saw an ad for a car that stated, "Doesn't get good gas mileage, but has a built-in GPS," would you want to buy it? Or would you go to a restaurant that was advertised as, "Our food isn't that great, but our service is super!" Probably not. However, this is exactly what some people do when they write a cover letter. If they are applying for a job and don't have one of the qualifications mentioned in the job posting, they will say something like, "Although I don't have any finance experience, I have taken courses in Financial Statement Analysis and Investments and Corporate Finance.” The recruiter or hiring manager already knows that you don’t have any finance experience from reading your resume so there is no need to point it out again.

What these statements do is set a negative tone and impression in the reader's mind. Once that tone is set, it may be difficult for the reader to hear the subsequent positive things about you. My rule of thumb is to never say what you don't have in a cover letter but only say what you do have. Is this lying? Of course not! If you state all of the qualities and attributes that you do have but omit what you don't have, you’re not lying at all. The reader may be able to figure out that you don't possess the missing qualities that you don’t mention, but at least you haven't created a negative tone for your letter or created a doubt in the hiring manager’s mind. Plus, you could "wow" the reader so much with all of your wonderful qualifications, that they don't care that you don't have one particular qualification. Remember, employers write job descriptions which describe their ideal candidate but are more often than not willing to hire someone who possesses some or most of the desired qualifications.

So how might you rewrite the statement above? “I have taken courses in Financial Statement Analysis and Investments and Corporate Finance as part of my business degree and am eager to apply what I’ve learned as a Financial Analyst Intern at your firm.” Can you see how much more positive this statement sounds than the one above? This is the kind of statement that will convince the reader to “buy your cover letter” and call you in for an interview.

What did you want to be when you grew up?

When I was younger, I wanted to be a teacher when I grew up. Partly this was due to the fact that I wasn't aware of that many careers and partly because I loved being at school! What did I love about being in school exactly? I loved learning; I loved the structured environment; I loved the positive affirmation I received from teachers; I loved the rhythm of the academic year. Although I wanted to pursue a teaching degree, many people dissuaded me from doing that because, at the time, the demand for teachers was low.

Think about what you wanted to be when you grew up. Was it to be a rock star? A firefighter? A professional sports figure? A nurse? Maybe you are still pursuing that dream, or maybe you're not. If not, think about why you wanted to pursue your dream career. What was it about the career that excited you? Once you have identified what factors intrigued you about this career, think about how you can find those factors in other jobs. For example, if you wanted to be a rock star, perhaps you were dreaming of being famous. Well maybe you can be famous in your own circles. Perhaps you can become an expert in your given field and gain notoriety with that.

If you wanted to be a nurse but later realized that you get queasy at the sight of blood, think about what attracted you to the nursing profession. Do you like being in medical environments? If so, perhaps you can pursue another career in a medical environment. Do you like the aspect of helping people? If so, you can search for other kinds of "helping professions" that don't require drawing blood on a daily basis.

It turns out that I ended up becoming a teacher after a very circuitous career path. I love being in the academic environment comprised of students, classrooms, libraries and learning! So, don't abandon you dream career just yet. Either go for it or find an alternate dream career where you can do the things you love to do and still pursue your passion.