Career Resources

Thursday, August 11, 2016

The Face Lighting Up Career Assessment

Quite often students make appointments with me to try to figure out what they want to do for a career. Or sometimes this topic comes up during appointments for other career topics. Typically, I listen to the student express his or her thoughts and ideas, ask some clarifying questions and give them my insights about the particular career field they are thinking of entering.

When I have these kinds of meetings with students, I also closely observe their expressions and body language because those two things often tell me more about what a student is truly feeling, as opposed to what they might be saying. I call this “The Face Lighting Up” career assessment.

Recently, I met with a new MBA student who had previously held several different business positions in Iran. She had held positions in human resources, marketing and sales. I asked her to tell me about each of these positions and what she liked or didn’t like about them. The first time she mentioned her marketing role, she started beaming and was smiling profusely! We continued the conversation, and I didn’t observe her beaming about any other job. Every time we came back to the marketing role, her face would light up again! So there was her answer. She ultimately decided to specialize in international marketing since she had a lot of global experience.

This student didn’t need to take any formal career assessment, because her face said it all. Don’t get me wrong, there are many wonderful career assessments out there, and many students need them in order to make a wise and informed decision about their career choice. But some don’t, as my story indicates.

Here’s another story. I was recently working with a junior who was concentrating in marketing. She knew she wanted a marketing internship but wasn’t quite sure what she wanted to do in the marketing field. She wasn’t too engaged in the conversation and seemed a little confused about what to do. Then, all of a sudden, she said, “Well, I really like the music industry.” And that is when her face lit up! I explained to her that she could look for a marketing internship in the music industry and proceeded to do a Google search to show her the possibilities. She was very excited to see all of the terrific marketing internships in the music industry.

So if you’re confused about what you want to do for a career, try to listen to your gut and what it is telling you. When you read job descriptions, which ones resonate with you? Which ones seem like something that would be fun and interesting to do? Or alternatively, which ones make you feel uneasy and a little sick to your stomach? Pay attention to those feelings. Don’t try to force yourself to like a position because you think it’s what you’re supposed to do or what your friends are doing. Choose something that is right for YOU!

A skilled career counselor will be able to help you with this discernment process and will be able to objectively observe which things make you light up and which ones don’t as part of the overall career exploration and assessment process. Often, job seekers overlook this critical step in their career planning. But it’s one that shouldn’t be overlooked if you want to find a career that is fulfilling and makes you happy. After all, you’re going to be at work for a large portion of your day so you might as well be doing something that makes you light up each and every day.

Monday, July 11, 2016

"He said WHAT on his interview?" How to avoid being that guy.

Recruiters I know who interview lots of people as part of their job will sometimes share stories of the ridiculous things that people said or did on their interviews (anonymously, of course!). We often shake our heads in disbelief and question, “How could they have possibly done something like that!”
You definitely don’t want to be that guy (or girl)! 
The way you avoid being that guy or girl is to conduct a mock, or practice interview, with a career coach or counselor. This way you can get your dumb mistakes out of the way before the real interview and get feedback about them before they become grist for recruiters’ water cooler banter. Believe me, everyone makes mistakes on interviews at some point in their lives, often unknowingly. You don’t know what you don’t know, but your career counselor does, so make sure to tap into his or her interviewing wisdom.

Because we’re nearing the end of the academic year, I’ve been conducting a lot of mock interviews with students who are looking to land their first job out of college. I applaud these students for realizing the importance of preparing for their interviews and soliciting feedback so that they can ace the real interview. For the benefit of helping my readers, I’m sharing three of their stories below.

I was conducting a mock interview recently with a student who had a real interview coming up for a tax position with PricewaterhouseCoopers. “So tell me, what’s your greatest weakness,” I asked her. “Well,” she said, “I have a real weakness for chocolate and can never resist having some no matter how hard I try.” The minute she said “chocolate,” I cringed. Up until this point she had been doing a fantastic job and was answering all of the questions extremely well. For this question, however, her answer was inappropriate, and I explained to her that she should give an example of a professional weakness and then explain what she was doing in order to improve upon it. We then brainstormed examples to use. Here’s some advice from my From College to Career blog regarding how to effectively answer the dreaded weakness question. I am happy to report that I got an email yesterday from this student stating that she got the job!

Another time recently, I was conducting a mock interview with an international student who was preparing for a real interview for a supply chain position with an American firm. I asked him why he wanted to pursue a career in supply chain and he said, “I want to learn everything about supply chain that I can in America and take my knowledge back home to help my country.” While the student’s response was true and admirable, it would not be the response that an employer would want to hear and probably would have jeopardized his getting an offer. Why? When companies hire an employee, they invest a lot of time, energy and resources in the hiring and training process, and they want a return on their investment. So they’re obviously going to frown upon a candidate who says he plans to go back home because this wouldn’t be a good investment on their part. Instead, I advised this student to talk about how he wanted to build a career with the company and the ways that he could contribute to the company’s growth and success. While he may in fact go home in a few years, he doesn’t need to share that on the interview.

My last mock interview example is of a student who, whenever I would ask him a question, would detail his failures before getting to his successes. He had an upcoming interview with a company he had interviewed with before. When I asked him, “So tell me about yourself,” he began by saying how he had gotten rejected by the company last year because he did a poor job on his interview. While that may have been the case, I suggested instead that he focus on the positive by saying how excited he was to be interviewing with them again, that he felt confident he was now a good candidate and to tell them about his recent accomplishments. Later, when I asked him about a current position on his resume, he again began to outline how he didn’t get the job the first time around. Some people may think that these are great examples of persistence and perseverance, but after a while, the pattern of hearing about his failures was establishing a negative impression. Instead, I recommended he focus on sharing only his successes. I saw this student a few days after his interview, and he thinks it went very well.

In general, I advise students to always stay positive during an interview and to avoid saying anything negative. I also tell them that an interview is not a confessional, which I wrote about in my personal blog, From College to Career. Sometimes students starting out in their careers feel that they need to reveal all during an interview. Again, conducting a mock interview is a way to avoid spilling your guts on the real interview.If you were scheduled to perform in a concert, a play, or a key athletic game, what would you do? Practice, of course. You certainly wouldn’t want to wing it. The same should be true of your interviews since there's a job at stake. Most college career centers offer mock interviews as part of their services. Make sure to take advantage of them!

Monday, February 8, 2016

Which Comes First: The Internship or the Experience?

Most students these days understand the importance of doing internships in order to complement their academic studies, to discover what the real world is like in their given career field and to make themselves more competitive candidates upon graduation. In fact, the title of the career center where I work at UMass Boston includes the word “Internships” (Office of Career Services & Internships) because we want to remind and impress upon students that internships are vital in terms of rounding out their college experience.

Very often when students come in to meet with me to discuss how to get an internship, they express some real concern about their ability to get one due to their lack of experience in their career field. At this point I reassure them that employers aren’t looking for experience when hiring an intern because the nature of an internship is to learn about a career field. In fact, the Merriam-Webster dictionary’s definition of an intern is “a student or recent graduate who works for a period of time at a job in order to get experience.” So you see, experience isn’t a requirement to get an internship.

Well then, what are employers looking for when they hire an intern? As I always point out to my students, employers are looking for a set of transferrable skills that are relevant to the internship. The skills that they are seeking are often posted in the job description under a section entitled “Qualifications” or “Requirements,” and they typically are listed in order of significance. According to the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE), the top skills sought by employers in 2016 are as follows:

Most students have developed these skills through part-time jobs, volunteer and community service experience, leadership roles and their academic studies. When writing their resume and cover letters, they should make sure to highlight the skills that the employer is seeking, not necessarily the skills they think are best or strongest. For example, a student may speak another language but if it’s not required for the internship, there’s no need to mention it in the cover letter, but it can go on the resume.

Another common question that students often ask me is, “How many internships should I apply to?” I used to give them a ballpark number like 25, but then I realized there is no magic number. So now I say, “Just keep applying to as many as possible until you get one.” Quite often students will apply to a few companies, perhaps their dream companies, and then wait for the calls to come in. With this approach, they’re wasting valuable time that could have been spent searching for and applying to more internships. The saying, “It ain’t over until it’s over,” definitely applies to the internship search. I advise students to set up email alerts on the popular internship sites which will generate daily emails with internship matches so they don’t even have to think about it.

So the answer to the question posed in the title of this blog is “the internship.” By doing one or more internships during the course of your college career, you’ll be gaining valuable experience in your career field to build your resume and become a more marketable candidate when you’re looking for your first entry-level position. That is when employers are looking for experience, which you will have gained through your internships.