Monday, June 25, 2012

A Therapist’s Guide to Managing the Career Blues

By Thaimi Fina

As a mental health counseling student (graduating in 1 month, yay!) and a practicing therapist, people frequently turn to me for advice about a wide range of normal human experiences: How do I deal with a break up?  How do I stop myself from worrying all the time?  Why can’t I get motivated enough to reach my goals?  While I certainly don’t hold the magical answers to these complex questions, I believe there is a common set of strategies that we can all use to better cope with life’s challenges.  I will identify and explore some of these strategies as they relate to an issue that many recent UM graduates might be facing: How do I cope with the difficulty of finding a job in today’s competitive market?  In particular, I will focus on the mental health drain (or career blues, if you will) that most people experience during this challenging time.

Most of my clients who struggle with finding the motivation to accomplish their goals, report feeling like the task seems too lofty to even start.  Envisioning the ultimate task of “getting a job” can seem like an intimidating and daunting goal to pursue.  Most people become so afraid of failing at this significant task, that they avoid beginning their job search altogether (i.e. “I’ll just start next week, as soon as I finish this season of How I Met Your Mother.”)  Rather than scaring yourself into an unproductive rut, I recommend using the technique of “graded tasks.”  Break down your big goal of finding a job into smaller, more attainable ones.  For instance, rather than saying “Today, I will find a job,” say “Today, I will log onto and identify 3 jobs that interest me” or “Today I will review my resume.”  By setting goals you can realistically attain in a day, you will be more likely to actually accomplish them and be one step closer to reaching your final goal.  This technique will also help you to feel more self-confident and productive in your job search.

Next, be your own pep squad.  Therapists typically help clients set up a framework of rewards and punishments to help them shape their own behavior.  This sounds fancy, but I guarantee that it is simple enough to do yourself!  As you set your daily, small and attainable goals, decide what small reward you will give yourself for accomplishing each one.  You can also set larger rewards for greater accomplishments.  For instance, maybe if you complete your daily goal, you decide to reward yourself with a trip to the movies with friends.  Perhaps, if you complete a week’s worth of daily goals, you will reward yourself with a weekend road trip to your favorite getaway.  Be sure to set rewards that are unique to your interests and enticing enough to truly motivate you.  It might also help to inform others of your goal-and-reward system to help keep yourself accountable (i.e. this can include roommates, friends, and parents).  The process of finding a job is difficult because applicants frequently receive little to no response from employers.  This means there is hardly any external reward for your efforts.  Don’t let this lack of recognition get you down!  Be your own biggest fan and congratulate yourself for sending off that resume anyway!

This brings me to my next point: the power of your own thoughts.  Henry Ford wrote, “whether you think you can or can’t, you’re right.”  The way you think about things can turn your mind into your greatest ally or your worst enemy.  The good news is you hold all the power here.  Constantly worrying (i.e. “why haven’t I found a job already?) and using negative self-talk (i.e. “I’m not accomplished enough; why would anyone hire me?”) can induce a depressed mood and a lack of desire to do anything.  Transform those unproductive worries into proactive behaviors!  Rather than spending 10 minutes worrying about how you’ll never find a job, use those 10 minutes to call the Toppel Career Center and set up an appointment with a Career Advisor.  I guarantee that the worries will not improve your ability to find a job, but meeting with an Advisor might.  Similarly, turn those self-deprecating thoughts into positive affirmations!  “I AM accomplished enough; I have worked really hard to develop some great skills!”  From my experience working with clients, I know this is easier said than done.  So, I encourage you to use the Automatic Thought Record provided below to become more proficient at actively countering those unproductive thoughts. 

Finally, don’t go at this alone.  Build yourself a strong support system of people who love and care about you to keep you motivated every step of the way.  This network can include a parent, relative, significant other, close friend, or mentor.  Spending time with people who make you feel good can help counter some of those career blues and leave you feeling less isolated.  Also, consider joining or creating a support group for yourself and fellow peers who may also be struggling to find a job.  Here at Toppel, we hold a job search group entitled Canes Career Club, which brings UM alumni together to share tips and support with one another as they strive to find employment.  If you’re not local, round up some of your friends who may also be looking for a job or contact your local alumni association and schedule your own biweekly or monthly career club.  Being surrounded by others who are also enduring a similar challenge can help to normalize your experience and keep each other motivated and accountable.

Even for the most competitive of candidates, trying to find a job is no easy task in today’s market.  The job search can leave you feeling disheartened and unmotivated.  Hopefully, employing these tips in your daily life will help you to improve your mental health and well-being during this challenging time.  Feel like you need more guidance?  Contact the Toppel Career Center (305-284-5451) to schedule an appointment with a Career Advisor and review your professional documents while strategizing effective job search techniques.  If you are a current student, you can also contact the UM Counseling Center (305 284-5511) to schedule an appointment and begin your journey towards regaining motivation and improving your mental health.  If you are a recent graduate, research local community mental health centers or private practices in your area for additional counseling support.  Best of luck and keep your head up, job seekers!

Thursday, June 21, 2012

My Top 5 HireACane Tips for your Job or Internship Search

By Megan Garber

1. Update your Profile (Personal, Academic, and Privacy settings)
Make sure your graduation date, major, and academic year are updated. 

2. Upload an updated resume
You can apply to many job and internship positions directly on HireACane, but your resume must be approved by the Toppel Career Center staff.  Once you upload your resume (under the Documents tab), a Toppel advisor will critique your resume and email it back to you with comments within 3-5 business days.  You may be asked to make changes and upload it again for another critique, or your resume will be approved.  If your resume has already been approved but you have made changes, you can stop by Toppel during walk-in advising to have it critiqued in person, no appointment needed.  Walk-in advising is Monday – Thursday, 2:00-4:00 pm in the summer and 10:00 am – 4:30 pm during the school year. 

3. Create a Search Agent to search for open positions
 A search agent will email you new positions on HireACane that meet your search criteria, thus making the job search process a little bit easier.  A search agent is helpful whether you are looking for local or non-local jobs or internships.  

  • Click Postings, HireACane Jobs, then click Advanced Search
  • The first option under Advanced Search Options is Search Agents.  Click the box next to “save as” and give the search agent a name.I recommend you select your major and full time, internship, or part time position.  Then hit “submit.” 
  • You will get a list of positions.  Look at the top bar and you will see “search results” is highlighted in orange.   Click on the tab called “search agents” two tabs to the left.   
  • Find the search agent you just created and click “Schedule”
  • Under enabled, click yes, then select the period.  I usually select week and then in the multiple category I enter 1 for one email per week or 2 (two emails per week.  Selecting only new results means the email you receive will only include new positions. 
4. Use the Calendar to see what events are coming up this week, this month, so you don’t miss anything. 

5. Utilize the Resources on the Home page of HireACane

Three resources I especially like are:
Optimal Resume
Optimal Resume contains resume building software and allows you to practice your interviewing skills.  If you have a webcam you can record your answers to thousands of interview questions.  You also have the option to type your interview answers into a textbox.  It’s a great way to practice and become more comfortable before the real interview.

Career Shift
Career Shift contains web-crawlers that let you search for jobs on all websites (employer job boards and job posting sites such as Career Builder).   All you need to do is enter a Keyword, your Geographic Preferences, and the type of position you are looking for (full-time, internship, contract, etc). 

Type Focus is a career assessment.  You answer questions based on your interests, and TypeFocus helps you learn about your personality and potential career interests.

Make sure you check out these online resources as well as Career Insider, GoinGlobal, and 

Monday, June 11, 2012

Don’t Buy Shoes or Pick your Career without Testing them Out

By Ali Rodriguez

If you want to buy a car, you typically do some research ahead of time. The same goes for renting an apartment, buying a new home, or taking that dream vacation. So why doesn’t everyone do a significant amount of research before committing to a career?

Research sounds boring, right? Think of it this way, research allows you to make informed decisions.  I can think of numerous occasions when alumni have come back to see me for career advising. They had this image of what a “real job” would look like after graduation. Oftentimes, the pretty picture they had painted was not realistic. They had seen their dream job on TV and pursued their college major based on a fantasy. My first piece of advice, do not decide to be an entrepreneur because “Two Broke Girls” are starting their own cupcake business and it looks cool!

When I think about research, my mind immediately jumps to networking.  We have all heard the term networking thrown around quite a bit. At times, this tends to elicit fear and intimidation. How do I get started? Who do I ask? What do I do once I get there? Pause, take a deep breath, and reboot! Networking is really about meeting new people and finding out more about their interests. And to be honest, most people love to talk about themselves, so it may be easier than you think. Networking is also a key part of your research when identifying people that you want to talk to about how your college career leads to the real world. Keep in mind that you don’t have to go at it alone. The Toppel Career Center is here to help you, and these tips will help you get the process started. My second piece of advice, visit the Toppel Career Center and utilize the fantastic advisors who are there.

When deciding on a major/career path, there are so many options, it may seem overwhelming. We all know there is great information online for researching potential careers, including the Occupational Outlook Handbook and O-Net. While this important, I believe that nothing can compare to actually talking to people who are happy and successful in their respective careers.  You can do this informally at networking events, but also during an informational interview. This gives you the opportunity to talk to a professional in a field of interest, and is a great way to find out more about what you may like in a job or career. It is also a good time to evaluate a specific company. Take a look at our handout for Informational Interviews. It includes questions how to prepare, questions you can ask, and how to follow up.

You are still struggling with whom to conduct an informational interview with, right? If you are shy, start with a family member or friend of the family to practice. Maybe it has been always been your dream to be an attorney. Set up an informational interview with someone you know, so you are not too anxious. Once you get one under your belt, you will be a pro! As I mentioned, Toppel staff can help you identify contacts, but you can also utilize an outstanding resource we have on called Career Shift. This search engine allows you to search for contacts based on industry, location, and company size. It also had a feature that allows you to search for UM alumni. I know that if I get a call from a student from my alma mater, the first thing I want to do is help them. I have never said to no to someone who wants to connect! You are students and we want to help mold you into wonderful professionals.

My third, and last piece of advice, is to take what you have gleaned from these professionals to learn more about yourself and the career you want to have. Informational interviews can help you when evaluating internship opportunities.  They may give you an idea of the type of work settings that are comfortable for you, especially if you visit the professional on-site. Do you like an office setting? Do you like to travel to visit clients? By learning more about others, you learn more about yourself and that is why informational interviews are your gateway to success. Happy interviewing!

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

A Photographer’s Perspective to a Successful Job Search

By Edward Cruz

Prior to looking through the viewfinder of a camera, a photographer needs to make a few decisions on what they are shooting. For instance, what is the purpose of the photograph? Is it to evoke an emotion, share a scene, or focus on a specific subject of interest? When preparing for an event shoot, other items that need to be considered include the client’s needs, the venue layout, and inventory of equipment needed to capture the event. As an aspiring photographer and a full-time career advisor, I have observed many similarities between shooting an event and gearing up for a job search. Let me explain.

One of the most common emotions many photographers face when starting out is their worth. Many times, the question that has run through my own mind is, Is my work up to par? or Is my equipment good enough to start out as a ‘professional photographer’? Well, in many cases we soon realize the equipment only enhances what we already have within. Having an eye for pictures is a tough skill to teach, many times a person either has it or they don’t. Learning the technical aspects of photography can assist someone in taking the camera off the auto mode. However, after that is accomplished, the creativity or skill required to take a great picture is not found in the equipment used. It is found within the person behind the lens. It comes from an interest, a passion, a curiosity to see the world differently and to express that view through the pictures taken.

As a job seeker, the common themes are similar. The questions that are raised include:
Is my resume good enough?
Are my skills top-notch?
Do I have enough experience to be marketable?

Before attending an event shoot, there are a few steps that photographers must take to ensure a quality product and experience for the client. In a similar fashion, a job seeker, recent graduate or not, should take similar steps to ensure a successful transition or career search. First, conduct an inventory of equipment; secondly, meet with the client; thirdly, conduct a walkthrough of the venue.

Inventory of Equipment

Prior to working an event, a photographer must conduct an inventory of their equipment and be aware of the type of event. One must understand the layout, the event schedule, the subject, and the purpose of the event to capture the best pictures possible. As such, a job seeker should take time out to conduct an inventory of their own equipment or skills that make them unique and standout from the crowd. Just as photographers need to analyze their own work, interests, and the passion that fuels their creativity, a job seeker must determine where their interests lie, what fuels their passion, and provides them with meaning. Unfortunately, there is not a standard response that encompasses every person. Therefore, one of the first things necessary for any job seeker is to understand who they are, what have they accomplished, and what they enjoy. I provided a few questions that can assist in this first step.

  • What are my interests; what am I passionate about?
    • What interests you most in life? 
      •  Favorite hobbies
      • A Particular subject matter 
      •  Lights fire within 
      •  Gives meaning/satisfaction 
  •   What are my values?
    •   Non-negotiable (regardless of pay, location, job title, etc.)
    • Family traditions/background and upbringing
  • What skills/strengths would I most like to use? 
    •  Skills you find yourself using over and over again – they may reveal what you do well and enjoy doing 
    • Recall an accomplishment and determine the skills used during the achievement 
    • When possible, do not forget to quantify your results
 As mentioned previously, event photographers need to answer a few questions prior to an event. However, some of these questions cannot be answered on their own. Therefore the next step can be extremely important if a photographer is to be successful at their next event. Remember, there is not a cookie cutter way to conduct a job search and there is not a set way to shoot every event. This brings us to our next step, meet with the client. 

Meet with Client

It is extremely important for a photographer to conduct a meeting or multiple meetings, if necessary, with their client to fully understand what the client’s needs are, what they expect, and what they would like to be captured within the photos taken. For example, when shooting weddings, the details of the day are important like the decorations used, the bridal party’s dresses and tuxedos, the rings, and most importantly the bride’s dress. Other items to consider would be the family and friends in attendance. Knowing which people are important to the bride and groom to include in photos can ensure they receive a product they’ll be happy with. When a client is happy, through word of mouth, a photographer receives more business and clients, and the cycle continues. This step is a major piece that some individuals do not consider or tend to overlook. The importance of understanding what you are trying to accomplish at an event that is being photographed or conducting a job search is extremely important. Before we can get to the end result, we have to remember without a roadmap it could be difficult to go from point A to point B. It is vital to prepare and to network to ensure success.

Like a photographer, a job seeker should be using meetings, specifically informational interview meetings, to make a great first impression on a person who has the ability to hire them or refer them on to another client. When setting up an informational interview, be prepared to ask the right questions to get the information needed to be more prepared and to make a better decision in a future search. Please be patient with this process, in most cases, the results will not be instant.

Additionally, remember this is a networking opportunity. So the first impression is extremely important to continue the relationship past the initial meeting. The question most commonly asked during my advising meetings is, How should I prepare for an informational interview meeting or an upcoming interview? My response, besides becoming more self-aware (discussed in the previous section), is take the necessary time to research the company (discussed further in the next section Conduct a Walkthrough); understand its mission/vision and how it fits in with your own values or outlook on life. Next, learn as much as possible about the services/products provided or sold, the competitors, and the organization’s most recent accomplishments and/or shortcomings. As you determine who you should first reach out to, remember to first utilize your already established network or connect with fellow ‘Canes through resources such as LinkedIn. The goal of these meetings is to learn more about the unwritten stories or experiences of individuals that most likely will not be available through a company website or other promotional materials.  

Here are sample questions you can use on your next informational interview or in-person networking encounter:
  • What are tasks/duties performed during a typical day/week/month?
  • What type of degrees, courses, internships should be completed to be a competitive candidate upon graduation?
  • What are the keywords or buzz terms I should include in my resume or cover letter when applying in this field?
  • What skills/characteristics are important to have or acquire?
  • Who else would you recommend I speak to?
Conduct a Walkthrough of the Venue 

Prior to any event or meeting, it is recommended for a photographer to conduct a walkthrough of the venue to be the most prepared to succeed. Once a walkthrough is completed the photographer and staff are more familiar with the lighting and layout prior to arrival on the event date. The walkthrough allows the photographer to anticipate any possible challenges ahead of time, resulting in less distractions and more freedom to be creative the day of the event.

It is the responsibility of the job seeker to conduct similar research, either in the field or online. Today, there are a variety of resources to assist candidates with their research on an organization, industry, or position. Students and recent graduates should take advantage of the Toppel Career Center’s HireACane website by logging into their account (scroll to the bottom of the page and click the green Go button). Once you login to HireACane, you will have access to a variety of online resources paid for by the Toppel Career Center. Take advantage of these resources to find job postings and to conduct company and industry research. By utilizing these resources you will be better prepared and have a sharper focus of what you would like to accomplish within your search. Also, do not forget to take advantage of a mock interview prior to experiencing the real thing. During this simulation interview, one of the Toppel advisors will ask you questions tailored to a specific organization, job or industry of your choice. To schedule a mock interview, you must first attend an interviewing skills workshop at the Center. 

Just like the advantage a photographer gains by preparing ahead of time for an event shoot or client meeting, a job seeker will gain a similar advantage through preparation. They will become more confident, relaxed, and better able to share their experience with another person during an interview or informational interview meeting. As a result, they will leave a lasting positive impression on people they meet.