Thursday, April 28, 2011

The Inception of Cover Letter Writing

Written By Monica Page

There are many verified truths in the world: the grass is green, the sky is blue, you gotta fight for your right to party, and almost no one knows how to write a proper cover letter. Either people provide the condensed history of their own personal time, or they write a raving review of their current life progress on Earth. A person with even the smallest amount of attainable common sense is able to realize that both of the above are boring and easily forgotten. Everyone knows they have to do it, they just don’t know how to do it. In that sense, a cover letter is a little bit like Inception: confusion and epic stunts wrapped together in a philosophical look at dreams. So taking advantage of post-Titanic Leonardo DiCaprio, let’s take a complex idea and add in a Christopher Nolan script to make it purely chaotic, but highly entertaining.

An elegant solution for keeping track of reality.

The first step to writing a cover letter requires no more than a heartbeat and the ability to read. All cover letters need to include your contact information and the information of the person in which you are writing to. Using those AP Language context clue skills, this is a letter, meaning that it should be formatted as such. As I stated above, this is the no-brainer section that can only be screwed up if you work to mess it up. Seriously, you need to sit down in a state of pure enlightenment, contort your body into the lotus position and dedicate the next 30 seconds to destroying one of the most basic aspects of life. Instead of me wasting valuable blog time, Google how to write a letter and figure out how to add an address line. If this section confuses you, stop and do not continue; it will only get harder from here and there’s no crying in cover letter writing.

The seed that we planted in this man's mind may change everything.

Introductions are the golden nugget when it comes being first or second on the hiring list. Screw up in the first paragraph and you might as well kiss the opportunity goodbye. This is where you provide basic information concerning what position you are applying for, why you are applying for it and information on the position you have already obtained. With that, you need to actually research what you are applying for. It's beneficial to apply to multiple positions, as long as you are fully aware of everything it entails. This is not your high school English paper; you do not need to drown the person in irrelevant details to extend the length. Just brush the surface of what needs to be conveyed and keep it as brief as possible without sounding like an idiot.

They say we only use a fraction of our brain's true potential. Now that's when we're awake. When we're asleep, we can do almost anything.

If you dedicate yourself to one thing in your cover letter, it should be the middle paragraph. Referred to as the body paragraph by grade-school graduates, this is where you expand upon and elaborate on experiences relevant to the position. This does not mean to convert resume bullet points into fleshed out paragraphs as if the person you are writing to can’t read. Cover letters provide the opportunity to go in-depth into what’s included or not included in your resume. Highlight experience that supports the fact that you are qualified and a good fit for the position. Usually in this section, it is a good idea to focus on one or two main positions and elaborate on that. If you are highly qualified and have lots of experience to include, wait it out to elaborate on in the future interview. Also, you will still be submitting your resume, so the contact person will have a vague idea of what you can off.

You mustn't be afraid to dream a little bigger, darling.

All difficult things come to an end and with a cover letter; it is up to you to end it. State that you are interested and excited about the opportunity and feel as though you and the company/person will mutually benefit from the opportunity. There is no need to re-state the above paragraph in bullet point format. The key goal is to leave on a proper note and move on with your life. Provide contact information (phone and e-mail) and state that you are interested in hearing back from them. Say thank you, sign your name, proofread, print and send out.

You mind telling your subconscious to take it easy?

There comes a time in every person’s life where they need to be told the truth. Whether by a friend, family member or pissed off cat with extended claws, the truth can be painful, but also the best thing that may happen to you. So in relation to a cover letter, if you get to page two, it’s time to shut up. A cover letter should be looked at like an elevator pitch, telling the main points in a limited amount of time. Drowning out the reader in mindless facts is boring. To be perfectly honest, not all employers will even read the cover letter. Most skim the cover letter and resume, and base their decision off the little information they obtain.

The moral of the story is: keep it simple, keep it light, and know when it is time to shut up. Writing a cover letter is not brain science. If you have command of the English language, you can write a cover letter. If you know who you are and what you accomplished, you can convey it in a cover letter. Take a step back, breathe, and just write. Even if the first draft is longer than one page, you can always make it shorter. A cover letter is not the condensed version of Inception, not even the Cliff Notes version. Be calm and get it over with.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Jam Your Way to A Perfect Resume

Written By Thaimi Fina and Samantha Gil

Hello loyal Toppel Peers Blog followers! We are Thaimi Fina and Samantha Gil and we serve as the Toppel Career Center’s Graduate Assistants. If you’ve come in for a resume, cover letter, or personal statement critique during walk-in hours, chances are you’ve had the pleasure of meeting with us (lucky you)! When we’re not busy critiquing students’ professional documents, we enjoy our time at Toppel by jamming to old 90’s classics at our desk. Therefore, we found it thoroughly appropriate to create a blog entry linking useful resume tips to our favorite 90’s hits. So come with us as we embark on a little musical journey to the past:

Oops I did it again! – Britney Spears / Bye Bye Bye – Nsync

So, you spent hours looking on CaneZone last night and found “the one”: your dream job with the perfect company. You quickly browse through your documents, find your latest resume, and send it off in a tizzy. All done! You decide to take a quick glance at the document you just sent and… Oops! You did it again! The biggest resume error we see our students making is forgetting to proofread their document for spelling and grammar mistakes. This is a very simple step in the process but it can make all the difference between making an ideal impression and giving off the vibe that you just don’t care (so put your hands in the air!). Having a spelling or grammar error in your resume is a surefire way to make an employer dismiss your application, stand up, and bust out the classic “Bye Bye Bye” choreography we all remember so well. So do yourself a favor and stop by the Toppel Career Center to meet with one of the lovely Graduate Assistants (that’s us!) who will be happy to help you proofread your documents during walk-in hours.

I Want You Back- Nsync

Often times us GA’s are asked how to properly format certain sections of a resume. Specifically, there seems to be a lot of confusion when it comes to the Experience section as well as Honors and Activities. Well now, we can finally set the record straight. Your experience is the most important section of your resume. In this section you want to have the following:
• The name of the company or organization/ the city, state
• The title of your position within that company or organization/ the dates you worked there (Formatted as follows: beginning month year- end month year)
• A minimum of 2-3 bullets per experience detailing what you did at your job, and more importantly, the skills that you utilized and enhanced in your position
Your Honors and/or Activities section should be much more straightforward. There’s no need to use any dates or descriptions in this portion of your document; simply list the name of the company or organization, and the title of your position in that organization.

For instance, if we wanted to put our position with Toppel under Activities, we might write:
• Toppel Career Center, Graduate Assistant (and 90’s music-jammer)

Now, how do Justin, JC, Lance, Chris, and Joey fit into all of this? Well, the rationale behind not describing your honors and activities is to eliminate clutter on your resume and secure an interview so the employer can learn more about you. You want them to say “I want you back!”

How’s It Gonna Be? – Third Eye Blind / I Want It That Way – Backstreet Boys

So, you finally went to Toppel and met with a fabulous Graduate Assistant (don’t worry, I promise we’re not as full of ourselves in person) who helped you create an impeccable resume. Now you can just send that same old resume to every job posting ever listed on the internet, right? Wrong! Always tailor your resume to the specific job and company you are considering. Start by researching “how’s it gonna be?” What does a typical work day look like for someone in that position? What kinds of skills are necessary for succeeding in that job? Not sure where to find this information? Ask your employer of interest for a job description, detailing exactly what they want in an employee. By researching those skill sets, you can tailor your resume so that it provides employers with exactly what they’re looking for in an applicant. That way, when an employer approaches you singing “I want it that way” in an ever-so-melodic male quintet, you will be perfectly prepared to hand them a unique resume tailored to their specific needs. That being said, be sure to remain honest and not exaggerate your skills (see below for helpful tips from The Spice Girls about how to analyze a job description and avoid the downfalls of being a Wannabe).

Wannabe- Spice Girls

Yo, I’ll tell you what we want, what we really really want….we want you to tell the truth! No matter what position you are applying for, it is important to only list things on your resume that are truthful and accurate. For instance, if you put that you are proficient in Microsoft Excel, don’t be surprised if on your first day on the job they ask you to create tons of charts and develop complicated formulas. For all you know they may have hired you because no one else in the office really knew how to use Excel. This often concerns a lot of students because they feel like they need to make everything “sound good.” In actuality, you probably have a lot more to offer to an employer than you realize. Think about the transferrable skills you’ve gained through your experiences with part-time jobs, internships, and involvement with student organizations. Some of these skills might be communication, time management, organization, leadership, customer service, the ability to work in teams… the list can go on and on. So instead of lying about the skills you don’t have to make yourself seem like a better candidate, elaborate on the skills that you do have and tell them how strong of a candidate you really are. No one wants to hire a “wannabe.”

Helpful hint: Reference the job posting that you are applying for while writing your resume. The skills that company is looking for in an employee should stick out to you. For example, a job posting may read “An ideal candidate will be a senior with demonstrated skills in effective written and oral communication, initiative, focus, organization, and the ability to work with diverse populations. Once you’ve identified these key buzz words, you can better incorporate them into your resume.

Bugaboo- Destiny’s Child

One of the worst things you can do after you send your resume to an employer is continuously bother them to see if they’ve received it. If you consistently call, fax, page, e-mail, and snail mail them asking about the status of your application, there’s a good chance you may be annoying them enough to not seriously consider you. Don’t make them “want to throw their pager out the window, tell MCI (or Verizon for that matter, because I’m fairly certain they bought out MCI) to cut the phone pole”, or even worse, “make them break their lease so they can move!” Waiting two weeks to send a follow up e-mail or phone call is an appropriate amount of time for you to still seem eager about the position, but not like a total pest, or “bugaboo.”

Welcome to Miami – Will Smith

“Welcome to Miami, Bienvenido a Miami.” Capable of understanding both parts of Will’s obnoxiously catchy lyric? Then, that’s a skill worth noting in your resume! Employers greatly value applicants who have some proficiency in another language. But just look at Will; you don’t have to be fluent to throw in some Spanish here and there. Feel free to list things such as “Basic Knowledge of Spanish” or “Conversational Spanish” to give employers an accurate idea of how well-versed you may be in another language.

So now that you’ve revisited these 90’s classics (and spent far too much time reminiscing and watching their YouTube videos), you’re well on your way to creating a fantastic resume! Keep in mind that these are just a few of the many tips to consider while drafting your resume. Stop by the Toppel Career Center for an individualized walk-in resume critique to learn how to take your resume from fantastic to Pretty Fly.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

My First Weeks at Toppel

Written By Jesse Cortes

Needing a job... and more money, I applied and interviewed for a few work-study positions on campus. I called around different departments, but most of the positions had already been filled. I found out about the Peer Advisor position at the Toppel Career Center through student employment (and with the help of Priyanka ;) and it grabbed my interest, so I applied. A few days later we set up an interview and I eventually got the position.

My first few weeks have been quite fun and interesting. It is a laid-back work environment, and the flexible hours allow me to work around my school schedule, which is great. Everyone in the office is nice and they have been very helpful training me for the position. On top of having enjoyable co-workers, there is ALWAYS food being brought into our office, which is another plus.

Working at Toppel has been and will continue to be a great experience. I am learning professional skills and making great contacts along the way. Two weeks ago, we held our annual Student & Alumni Career Symposium. I attended the hospitality session, which was led by a very knowledgeable panel and I was able to network and make great contacts throughout the event. I also have redone my resume and uploaded it to CaneZone and now feel as if I could present it with confidence to anyone. Through the different training sessions, mock interviews and various events that we run, I don’t think I could have landed a better work-study position.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Born This Way: Join the Glee Club!

Written By: Priyanka Surio

Lalalala! Oh can’t you hear the Birds and Bees humming, the smell of spring and summer meshing together, and the blare of Sue’s horn! Nationals are coming up and you have to figure out what you are going to do before someone else takes your place and potentially your title.

As part of the new popular culture phenomenon Glee, people have come to identify with one of the various competing singing groups on the show. Now it is Your Turn to figure out if you are part of the Glee club, a Warbler, or just have that competitive streak in you like Sue and her gang. With all these options and countless people trying to influence your choice, this can turn into a real West Side Story but I Dare you to Move and take action to figure out On ”Your” Own where your passion lies.

How is this going to lend any insight into the workforce, graduate school and life in general? Well for some reason, the American culture is all about classifying people into categories. Exhibit A: The Glee Club.

So what are you? Are you a cutthroat, competitive, Dynamite Sue, a team player Warbler, or a creative spirit pursuing New Directions? Each persona fits in a different category and in your potential career field it is important to merge both your interests with your career so that you find something you truly love to do.

Confused about where to Find Yourself? Looking to the Stars will give you just about as much insight as standing on your head upside down waiting for the answer to fall out in front of you. But not to fear, I hear there’s a New Kid on the Block, Toppel Career Center, that can help lay out the options you have for your future calling in life.

And then a Hero comes along with the strength to carry on..

The Strong test is a comprehensive online career assessment taken at the Toppel Career Center for $10 and an automatic advising appointment with our renown advisors.

TypeFocus is another online assessment that can be accessed via the main Canezone page and is absolutely free for students to take. You can also schedule an appointment to discuss the results with advisors. The results of TypeFocus, center on defining your personality type and broad areas of possible interest.

Welcome to the Old School Paper Based Self Directed Search (SDS) Assessment that will still give you in depth specific results on a potential career field. I knew I wanted to be a doctor but Cardiologist, wow; this test took my interests to a whole new sublevel. This is also free for students along with a follow up appointment as requested.

Looking for a new direction

I am the Dancing Queen/King….Are you the creative artsy individual looking for a new direction, a new adventure to tackle; then it behooves you to explore the majors of Creative Writing, Foreign Language, or Music. Being an interior decorator, graphic designer, animator, or musician would play to your talents.

Want to win the prize? Then Enterprise

Mamma Mia!
You are ready to make a statement and get all the attention you can muster with your competitive edge. Majors in Business, Entrepreneurship, Management and Marketing are a perfect suit for you. You will be happiest as an office manager, lawyer, judge, or politician.

Working together to make the world better

Heal the World and Make it a Better Place. Your ideal work environment incorporates people into the equation. You love working with others and are the type of person who would thrive in International Relations, Education, or Psychology. Your preferred career field is a social worker, nurse, teacher, or counselor.

Let’s Get it Started
…Visit our website HireaCane and click on the students tab. Look under the Getting Started Tab, what to do with my major and you will unlock Pandora’s Box to a plethora of avenues available for each major.

Regardless of which category you fall under, you were Born this Way and it is time to embrace your interests and match them up with a potential major and career field that you know you can enjoy. All is “Glee” in Love and War, so be prepared to stay tuned to the show and arm yourself with further opportunities in your career field that will grant you both experience and exposure, minus the Paparazzi.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Employment, Mafioso Style

Written By Monica Page

Before we even begin one thing should be made clear: the differentiation between “gangster” and “gangsta.” This post is not about the life and times of 50 Cent or any other rapper with “thug life” tatted on their chest. What we are talking about here is an all-American institution. The movie roles that guarantee Oscars and the life choices that guarantee jail time for tax evasion, not murders or crime. This is the livelihood of Scorsese, the original famous Italians before Jersey Shore made “Guido” a household line. This is the Mafioso guide to employment.

"As far back as I could remember I've always wanted to be a gangster." – Goodfellas

It shouldn’t take a blog post to realize that people perform better when they are doing things they are interested in. If you really want to enter a certain career field, then do it. Of course there will be road blocks and issues in the way before you can actually get there, but the stepping stones will give you the skills to allow you to succeed in your chosen path. Even if you spend time “hovering” around the “career of wonders,” do jobs and activities that can be translated into beneficial work experience that can be tapped into when you fully commit to a career.

“Only don't tell me you're innocent. Because it insults my intelligence and makes me very angry.” – The Godfather

There is a little thing now called a background check. It’s the same as the threats you receive on the first day of school about how there are heavier repercussions for plagiarism than for smacking someone. Don’t lie on your resume. Don’t lie about your past arrests. Don’t even tell a little white lie to outperform your overachieving competitor. This does not mean that you should provide your entire biography to your future employer with every fact about you, but that if they ask a question you should answer it truthfully. This extends to when you actually have the job and screw up something. Don’t try to white it out of your professional career. Just move on.

“Listen to me very carefully. There are three ways of doing things around here: the right way, the wrong way, and the way that *I* do it. You understand?” - Casino

Some people are a little thick when it comes to understanding the English language. If you are hired as an employee that means that you work under someone. To elaborate, you are not the boss. Do not do things the way you feel they should be done just because it is your way. It may be possible that your way is more productive, economical and just generally better than the current practices of the company. The correct thing to do is to make suggestions to your employer concerning workflow and the way things are done. On that end, don’t make changes that have not been authorized. Even if you are given a small congratulatory gesture, you probably highly pissed someone off in the process. Don’t walk alone in dark alleys if you feel the need to professionally embarrass someone.

“I make him an offer he don' refuse. Don' worry. “ – The Godfather II

If you are applying to multiple jobs and receive multiple offers, pick the one you want. Just because an offer may seem irresistible does not mean it is the best fit for you. Being paid more for doing something you generally hate will do nothing but give you a fat bank account and high blood pressure. An offer can be refused when taking into account personal obligations and your own wellbeing. No one wants to be 50 years old complaining in a cubicle. Do something meaningful with your life.

“You can't be half a gangster, Nucky. Not anymore.” – Boardwalk Empire

If you truly want to be successful, fully focus on a goal. It is possible to have many interests and jobs, but one of them needs to be the main goal. Yes it is possible to have a main job and little ventures on the side, but it is just that: a main job plus extras. If something doesn’t look like it will expand into a worthwhile opportunity, perhaps you should put more energy into those that have the potential to grow. This does not mean to tap into the Force and put all your life energy into one specific task like Yoda. Have fun, explore your opportunities, but keep some sense of a goal.

“You wanna play rough? Okay. Say hello to my little friend!” – Scarface

Yes, I am aware Scarface is as far away from the Italian mafia as you can get, but you know what? This is a blog post from the University of Miami and if you thought you were getting through it without at least one Scarface reference, you obviously have never experienced real life. So you know what, you’re going to take this Scarface reference, use it, and you’re going to like it. You are going to write it on a post-it note and it will become your life mantra that you chant every night before bed. Now, back to our regularly scheduled program:

If an employer does not respect you, don’t stay there. Even though we are in a bad economy does not mean that you should lose your sanity and self-respect for a few extra dollars. Look into opportunities that provide motivation and happiness in general. For those who can’t leave their job for whatever reason, confront the people making your life miserable (just not in a back alley or in areas where office supplies become weapons). There is no reason to be depressed in a situation where you will spend most of your waking hours. Outline your grievances and ways things can change to make employment more tolerable. Keep it short, consistent, and non-threatening.

To put it in a nutshell: do what you like, stay in your own lane, and don’t get suckered into things you have no interest in. Life is too short to be depressed and bored. Have fun and be successful, but don’t become anyone’s lapdog in the process. There are a million ways to have employment that is enjoyable, but the above way allows for small mental reminders in the form of Michael Corleone telling you to get your act together and do something with your life.