Bold Advice

It really isn't too often that I hear good advice from one of these career pundits/gurus, but I have to say, this one is really good and I hadn't really thought of it before.  Its all about the trap of the "Tell me a little bit about yourself" question.  The worst you can do is answer that question with a question like, "Well, what do you want to know?"  If you can't figure out what you want to tell them right out of the blocks, you obviously haven't figured out what your message is and you're probably not going to convey what you'd like on the interview.  I'll definitely use this advice from now on when I talk to students.  Thanks Ian.

March 9, 2005 in Interviews | Permalink | Comments (49) | TrackBack (24)

Career Groups

Managing your career aspirations can be very difficult if you are a college student.  Classes and extracurriculars can be a full-time  commitment, and it is not as if you could as for help from other students in your field, since they are also your competition...    right?

Perhaps not.

In many schools, the perception is that you are competing against your immediate peers for the best jobs.  However, in reality, you are no more competing against the people from your own school than you are anyone else your age across the country.  It is extremely rare that you will ever get into a situation where a company is hiring for a spot in which you are in direct competition against one of your classmates.  There are just too many jobs and too many applicants for random chance to place you up against your roommate or the kid from down the hall.  Now, perhaps you are both going for the same job, but chances are, its a matter of picking one person over the other. 

This idea that you are in direct competition often overshadows the idea that the people who share the same career interests at your school can be resources to you.  This is a missed opportunity, especially since a student's career interests may be very specific relative to the kinds of opportunities they come across everyday.  For example, a communications major might be trying to get a public relations job at a non profit organization.  Their searches may take them to all sorts of public relations career fairs, job sites, and company recruitment sessions.  Not all of the opportunities they find will be relevant to them.  All of the corporate public relations jobs they find might be great opportunities for someone else, but that information is being wasted if people aren't working together. 

Consider gathering together a small group of five or six people whose career interests are similar, but not exactly the same as your own.  Perhaps you can meet on a regular basis, like once a week or so, to work together for the greater benefit of the group.  Create an e-mail list to forward relevant jobs to the group.  The group will work extremely well when it comes to finding industry related events to attend.  Five pairs of eyes looking for industry events to attend are much more powerful than one and there's no reason why you can't all attend together. 

Your group of five could be a powerful networking tool as well.  Why not invite professionals and alumni to lunch as a group?  Five or six people for lunch is a small enough group where everyone can get their questions asked, but it also takes a lot of pressure off of each individual to keep the conversation going.   

Over time, as your career progresses, you are going to recognize that your peers are a valuable network of resources, and its important to start building these relationships now.  Life isn't a winner-take-all situation...  it should be win-win for everyone involved.  The person who sees these win-win opportunities for everyone involved is going to be a lot more successful than the person who thinks that the other guy needs to lose in order for you to win.

February 19, 2005 in Networking | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Take the Contrarian View: Be Yourself

Seth Godin has a great series of three posts on trying to get a job not by being like everyone else, but by being yourself... by being different.  This has been on my mind lately and I think he gives fantastic advice.

I think of this every time I see students from one particular local undergraduate business school "study" for their finance interviews.  It is one thing to check some background information on the company, but it is completely ridiculous to me to cram the Discounted Cashflow Model and financial ratios the night before an interview if you don't already know them.  If you are interviewing for a job that requires you to know these things like the back of your hand from day one, perhaps that might help, but, realistically, a good interviewer will be able to fish out your thin knowledge of the subject matter, and then their confidence in anything you say in the interview will walk out the door.  Isn't a better strategy just to be honest and tell it like it is?  I believe the reason why that works is simply because no one else does that.  If you don't know financial ratios, tell your interviewer, "To be honest, while I'm familiar with how ratios are used, I don't have them all memorized, mostly because they're all widely available on the internet."  But, all of these students are so obsessed with their perception of who they think they need to be to get a job, and so, since they're all dealing with the same information about the job, all act the same way.

If you want to be just like everyone else, then act like everyone else, but I don't think that's a good strategy for 99% of the population... especially since no one is actually that "everyone else" person.  It is all some contrived ideal of what a good candidate is and may not be the truth of who the best worker would be.

One good example is a student that I know that was interviewing for an extracurricular financial mentoring program.  She was trying to cram for the interview and pretend she knew a lot more finance than she did, so I just told her to be herself.  There was no way she was going to convince anyone she knew that much finance, so why try?  Instead, I told her to talk about why you were there and focus on your enthusiasm for learning.  Well, one of the interviewers picked out one of the extracurriculars on her resume--a philosophy club she belonged to for some time-- and asked her about that.  Well, she could talk philosophy with the best of them because this was a serious interest of hers.  That wound up taking up most of the interview.  Because she was discussing something she had an honest interest in, she sounded intelligent and insightful.  After her interview was done, the people interviewer her decided that she would make an interesting addition to the program, much more so than the incremental benefit that would be gained from adding another future Goldman investment banker.  You could not have even predicted that philosophy would have been the way to go on this interview.

The point is, just be yourself and follow your interest.  Don't worry about your conception of what it takes to get hired.  Because so few people actually feel comfortable being themselves on an interview, and stray from who they think they need to be to get the job, being yourself might actually get you farther than you imagined.  The downside is that you might not get a job that you weren't a fit for anyway.  Is that such a bad thing?  If you need to be "x" to enjoy a job and you don't act like "x", and you don't get hired, its a gift.  I'm glad there is an experienced professional out there that agrees.  Seth's post should give you a little more confidence that you can go quite far by being unique, and that actually might be your best strategy for success!

February 7, 2005 in Career Philosophy | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Online Internship Searches

L., a female junior from St. John's University writes...

"BESIDES MONSTERTRAK IS THERE ANY OTHER WEBSITE THAT I CAN POST MY RESUME?... ONCE I SEND MY RESUME, WHAT WOULD BE THE RIGHT STEPS TO FOLLOW UP ON THE PROCESS?...SHOULD I EMAIL MY RESUME WHEN THEY ASK ME TO AND JUST LEAVE IT AT THAT OR SHOULD I MAKE MORE OF AN EFFORT TO SHOW THEM HOW INTERESTED I AM?"

L.'s questions are indicative of the kind of empty feeling online job searches give students.  A few clicks and you're done... and then you're forced to just wait by your inbox for days on end hoping for the best.  It all feels so disconnected from the actual job.  How do you really know your resumes are going anywhere?  Is there anyone on the other end actually reading these things?  If an electronic resume falls in the forest, does it make a sound?

Online job searches are a necessarily evil, mostly because they don't take too long, and while they're a longshot, they're still probably the way that most students find positions.  And no, there are definately other sites to post resumes on besides Monstertrak.  You can post on Monster, Hotjobs, and Careerbuilder,  among others.   Still, here is my issue with these sites, even though you should have your resume on them:

1)  Companies pay extra to search the resumes like a database, in addition to what they pay for just posting jobs.  So, if I'm a company with a job opening, and your online resume is a perfect match, Monster won't necessarily put two and two together unless that company is paying for an additional service.   So, its still incombent on you to search out the jobs you want and apply to them.

2)  Many jobs, especially for students, never get posted to general career sites.   Most of the larger firms run their own career pages, so you need to indentify all of the places you would like to work and find out how their application process works.  Make yourself a list of all of the companies you could potentially work for and go to each one of their websites individually.  Small firms also don't necessarily get featured on the big job search sites.  Some of those postings online can get very expensive and it just makes much more sense for those people to tap into their immediate network or local schools.

3)  Only applying to jobs that you see posted is like letting the CEO of Monster.com just pick your career for you.  You should be identifiying ahead of time what areas you have an interest in, and trying to work your way into those companies, through networking.  What if every online job one day was for window cleaners.  Would you just throw up your hands and say, "Well, I guess I'll be a winder cleaner then."  What if you were afraid of heights (like me)?  Of course not.  Let's say you wanted to be an architect.  In addition to searching all of these job sites, try a Google search for "best architects" or "largest architectural firms".  You're bound to come up with a few names that didn't necessarily show up in your job search.  Go to those company websites and send introduction letters asking for informational interviews.  This is the first step in a long, careful networking process, and often it seems less immediately effective than one-click resume drops, but it will definately prove itself out over time.

As for follow-ups, when you are resume dropping, potentially one of thousands of resumes, I'm sorry to say that praying is often the best follow up.  Don't call or e-mail again if it says not to do that, and definately don't randomly show up at the offices of the recruiter.  No, hopefully your resume will speak for itself and you'll have a chance to convince them of your enthusiasm at the interview.  That's why job searching through networking is so much better, because your first encounter with someone is enthusiastic and personal and they can't help but pass you up the ladder.   Getting face to face with a professional, even one who may not exactly be looking for help right away, is the most effective way to job search over time.

January 25, 2005 in Jobs and Internships | Permalink | Comments (38) | TrackBack (0)

Winter Break Tune-up - Networking Day

Once school starts up again, the demands of classes, clubs, sports, and friends will quickly fill your schedule, leaving little time for amorphous tasks like “networking”—something you know you would like to do but always put on the back burner.  Therefore, why not take advantage of free time you have at home before you go back, especially considering that while you’re home January, all of the people you’d like to network with are back in their offices hard at work.  Pick out a day in the last week that you are home and block it out as a “networking day.”  If you are lucky enough to live within commuting distance of a location that you are likely to work in, perhaps you could schedule a day of in person appointments to meet with people in your industry for informational interviews.  Otherwise, phone calls are an adequate substitute.

Between now and then, try and get in touch with as many people as you can and let them know about your “networking day” project and whether or not you would like to schedule an in person meeting or a phone interview.  If you haven’t made any contacts yet in your field of interest, there are a few places to start.  Definitely e-mail all of the faculty members in the department that you are majoring in.  They will probably be checking their e-mail over the break, perhaps still marking term papers from last semester or answering questions about grades.  This is a good time to contact them because it will be away from the flood of students that usually show up at their office when classes are in session.  Ask these faculty members if they could recommend some people in the field that you should talk to for career advice.  If you have never taken this particular faculty member, don’t discount their ability to give you helpful advice as well, and feel free to ask them the same questions you would ask a professional in the field.  In addition to advice, see if you can get them to help you identify what questions you should be asking yourself to help find your way in your field of interest, and questions you should be asking others.

Besides faculty members, as we said before, professional societies are great places to get good contacts.  Also, I’ve found that journalists coving particular fields, especially those online, are often great contacts.  Many of them either post their e-mail addresses or allow you to send them questions, and since they often depend on others to take time out for interviews, I find they are usually willing to do the same if asked politely.  Plus, they make a living out of being very connected to the newsmakers in their field, so they can often be a good source of introductions as well.

Given a few weeks, you shouldn’t have a problem setting up at least four or five phone calls or meetings.  If nothing else, think of it as an experiment in networking.  Spend a day trying it out and honing your skills.  You may think of a really good question on the third interview that gets valuable advice out of the fourth or fifth people you talk to.  You’ll soon learn what style you are most comfortable with.  Do you like to list your questions or would you rather make it into a free flowing conversation?  How long an introduction should you give?  Have you perfected your introduction into a well formed two minute elevator speech?  By giving this a try, you’ll gain a lot of insight into how networking works and how far it can take you. 

January 2, 2005 in Winter Break Tune-up | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Winter Break Tune-up: New Years Goal Setting

As the end of 2004 approaches, many have started coming up with a list of New Years resolutions. Resolutions vary from deciding to  join a gym to trying to read more, what that they really boil down to is just an exercise in goal setting.   New Years can be an excellent time for students to set out some goals for the reminder of the school year.  I've loosely outlined what students in each year might want to add to their list...

Freshmen:  Congratulations on your first semester.  By now you've learned how to get along with your roommate (hopefully) and you're honing your college study skills.  Your goals at this point should involve getting more involved on campus--finding ways to explore your interests.  Make it a point to visit your school's student activities office to find out about student clubs.  Get a few contacts--students to talk to who run clubs you may have participated in high school or that you're curious about.  Many times, career interests and development for a student all start by an interest fueled by participation in a student club.   

Sophomores:  With a year and a half under your belt, your schooling is quickly moving along... probably quicker than you expect.  You might not have any experience on your resume yet, so you should look for ways to start building that up.  Sophomores often have to be somewhat creative in how they get their first big break.  Your goal should be to explore your network to figure out what opportunities it can lead you to.  Start getting on the phone and e-mail to people you know--family members, sports coaches, older students, alumni, and try to make new contacts as well.    While ideally they might be able to help you out with some experience for the summer, don't discount their ability to help you look in the right places for opportunities.  Ask them how they figured out what they wanted to do and how they go their first breaks.  Tell them about your experiences so far and your interests and enlist them to help get the word out that you're looking for some new challenges.

Juniors:
  While many business majors already know what they might be doing over the summer, many other students will need to hit the ground running when they return to school to compete for summer internships.  A great summer internship should be your goal, and the ways to get there are a thorough search of the opportunities in your field and a lot of preparation.  Don't just search for the internships that recruit specifically at your school.  Reach out to companies and organizations that you have an interest in through the internet (searching corporate homepages and blogs as well) to find out what you can do for them as a student.  To prepare your resume to send out, make sure you show it to at least three different people, namely your career counselor, someone specifically in your field of interest and someone with great editing skills who can proofread it.

Seniors:  We all know what the goals are for seniors, but problem is, too many seniors think the goal is to "get a job" versus "get the right job."  Seniors should evaluate what they are looking for in a first job and work hard at trying to get what is right for them--the best opportunity as opposed to the first opportunity.  Make a list over the break of things that are important you in your first job and make your goal to seek out exactly the kind of position you want.  Then work hard to pursue that ideal position as hard as you can.  Don't settle for the first thing that comes up, because while it may seem stressful not to have  a job yet, it will be even more stressful a year from now if you settled on something that doesn't make you happy.

December 29, 2004 in Winter Break Tune-up | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Winter Break Career Tune-up #1

To paraphrase Bon Jovi…

“Whoaaaa… We’re halfway there…”

So your winter semester is done and your finals are out of the way.  You are home with your family, logging on to the web to check to see whether or not your English Composition grade has been posted yet.  Unfortunately, checking grades will be the most intellectually challenging thing you will do all break, just ahead of figuring out the return policy at your local department store.

It would be incredibly beneficial for you to spend even a small amount of time working on some career preparation before the next semester starts.  Even if you could only fit a few minutes in between reconnecting with high school friends and leveling your carefully constructed gingerbread house.  So, over the next few weeks, I’ll be posting on things you might try working on over winter break. 

Today’s Winter Career Tune-up: Connect with a relevant professional association. 

Professional associations are the pot of gold at the end of the networking rainbow.  These groups of practitioners in the same industry come together to share best practices, create opportunities, and work on career development.  For students, they represent a great opportunity to access a number of very experienced people in a career that they might potentially consider.  In fact, many professional associations have programs specifically for students.

Finding these sites are as easy as a Google search.  For example, psychology students might try searching “psychology professional association.”  That would get them a link to www.apa.org, the site for the American Psychological Association.  Not only do they have a lot of industry content, but they even have a separate section just for students.  In fact, they’re offering two research positions for undergraduates right now. 

Professional associations often sponsor conferences and lectures that would be of great educational value to students.  Some of them might be offered at reduced rates to students, and if they’re not, you could always write a “poor college kid beg letter” to try and get in. 

If you’re not sure exactly how to connect to a professional society that you’ve found, just write them a letter.  Find an e-mail address on the site and introduce yourself as a student interesed in learning more about this career field.  A group that is dedicated to promoting their industry, like a professional organization, is sure to help you out.  Be sure to indicate that you would love the opportunity to speak with some professionals in the field. 

Another benefit to being connected with a professional society as a student might include a scholarship.  Many professional organizations sponsor scholarships for students in the field and it is worth checking out.

December 17, 2004 in Networking, Winter Break Tune-up | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

The Power of Directed Spray and Pray

As many of you know (because that's how you found this) I was featured in a Newsday article last Sunday. The story of how this actually came about was an exercise in what I call "Directed Spray and Pray." 

A while ago, I was trying to market a book project that I had been working on for college freshmen.  Without any connections to literary agents or publishers, I just tried contacted anyone whose job was somehow close to the subject matter of the book.  That included career counseling professionals in colleges, HR professionals.... anyone I could think of besides, of course, literary agents and publishers.  That included a few columnists that wrote career columns in newspapers. 

What was I expecting to come out of this?  I really didn't know at the time, but that's the point.  How many times do you hesitate to contact someone because you can't answer the question of "What are they going to do for me?"  Many times, what someone can do for you isn't apparent upfront, and its worth just making as many connections as you can without worrying about exactly where they will lead. 

What resulted from my e-mail to Patricia Kitchen at Newsday had very little to do with my book.  We had a larger conversation about things I was working on, and that included this blog.  That led to a conversation about blogs in general, which lead to the article.  The article, in turn, got me a speaking appearance at the Learning Annex, because one of the program directors there had read it and thought that it blogs as a career tool would make a good subject for a class.  I have to sign the contract, but don't worry, I'll be sure to post the details when they are finalized. 

In the meantime, the traffic to this site has tripled and I've picked up lots of new subscribers.  (I've added a Feedburner RSS feed, by the way...) 

I could have very easily decided not to e-mail this columnist.  In all honesty, without an actually book to show her, what did I think she might have done for me?  Certainly, I never could have predicted all of this.  But that's the point.  Sometimes, circulating what your up to, even to people who are somehow related to what you are doing, but you're not sure what they can do for you, can achieve great results over time.  When in doubt, pass on your message, whether it be school accomplishments, great internships, or just about anything else that shows how great an asset you can be.  You never know who is listening and who they might be connected to.

December 9, 2004 in Networking | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (1)

The Occupational Adventure (sm): 7 suggestions for building positive attitudes

Link: The Occupational Adventure (sm): 7 suggestions for building positive attitudes.

Curt Rosengren has created an excellent list of suggestions to students for building positive attitudes:

- In every class, look for positive people to associate with.

- In every lecture, look for one more interesting idea.

- In every chapter, find one more concept important to you.

- With every friend, explain a new idea you've just learned.

- With every teacher, ask a question.

- With yourself, keep a list of your goals, positive thoughts and actions.

- Remember, you are what you think, you feel what you want.

Curt has an interesting site with a great message.  I can't vouch for the services he provides, but the content on his site has a great message about making your career reflective of who you are as a person.

December 8, 2004 in Career Philosophy | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Real Lawyers :: Have Blogs :

Link: Real Lawyers :: Have Blogs :.

Kevin over at lexBlog has a a great listing of blogging lawyers and industry information related to getting that profession online and blogging.  While lexBlog is a service that helps get lawyers and law firms set up with a blog, they have also assembled an extensive list of folks who, if you are a student thinking about law or law school, you should probably be reading about.  Some of the sites on the lefthand sidebar include blogs about Communications Law, Asbestos Law, and International Trade Law.  There's even a Yale Law professor and a public defender listed on the site. 

Reading these blogs, and others like them, will help you decide what areas of the field interest you, because it gives you a unique window to practicing professionals.  If you really get interested in someone's posts, feel free to intelligently comment on what you are reading about.  Some of these firms may represent job opportunities at some point, but try to establish a repore with them first before you go content spamming every law blog in the country with your hat in your head asking for employment. 

December 7, 2004 in Great Resources | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)