Wednesday, November 19, 2014

The Neglected Job Search Tool

By Marian Li, Toppel Peer Advisor

There are first interviews, second interviews, phone interviews, lunch interviews, and group interviews; you’d think employers covered all their bases since all of the above have purposes and best practices. And then there’s the forgotten interview of the job searching process: the informational one. Informational interviews are underutilized. People, especially college students, are unaware of the opportunities that are presented before them. The title of “student” shields one from the judging, probing stares of an employer when they search for an ulterior motive. As a student, employers gladly take one under their wing and treat the interview as a learning opportunity.

So first off, what is an information interview? An informational interview is a one-on-one conversation with someone who has a job you might like, who works within an industry you might want to enter, or who is employed by a specific company that you're interested in learning about. These interviews are excellent options for plotting a career path or focusing your aspirations. Because they're preliminary in nature, informational interviews are also useful for someone who knows what type of job they want but is still at the beginning of his or her search. It’s also a good way to practice your interview skills without conducting a formal job interview. And it's always good way to network into an organization.
Sounds helpful, right? Then how do you conduct an informational interview? For some people, the hurdle of an informational interview isn't understanding its purpose, but going about arranging one. After all, if you're at this early stage, you probably have limited means of approaching industry-specific contacts. Those in the know say the first and easiest solution to this problem is to speak with people within your inner circle. Friends, family members, and LinkedIn connections might know of appropriate sources. See if you can contact a suggested person through email, telephone, mail or otherwise to try to arrange a meeting. Veer away from contacting human resources employees, since their standard answer will be to send a resume, and keep in mind that a company executive might have limited time for face-to-face meetings. You're best option would be to find someone within the role you're hoping to fill, or one-step above that, who is close to a hiring manager.

Now what to do? It would be a shame to ace all the initial steps only to botch everything on interview day. To start on the right foot, Crawford recommends dressing the way you would for a formal job interview. This might mean a dark suit and tie for a corporate office, or some slacks and a button-down shirt for a more-casual workplace. She also advises you bring copies of your resume, a generic cover letter, any work portfolio you have, and some spare business cards. Be prepared to ask questions about a typical work day, the corporate culture, the management style, and industry trends. And cue up responses on your personal career plans, your experience, and your skills. Above all, keep in mind that your goal is to come away with more information—not a job offer.

What do you do after the interview? Take a breath and give yourself a pat on the back if you've made it all the way through successfully setting up and conducting an informational interview. But also know that how you follow up is just as important as how you behaved in the interview itself. And you should always follow up—even if you're disinterested in pursuing the lead any further. If an interviewer doesn't hear back from someone they gave an informational interview, they would feel used. If you're not interested in the company or the field, you should still send a quick thank you. An email will suffice, but if you are interested, then your tone and the frequency of your follow up will change.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Applying to a Non-Profit Successfully

By Kelly Martin, Toppel Peer Advisor

This summer I was an intern at a non-profit organization—the New England Aquarium—and while they couldn’t give me a paycheck for my work, the experience I gained there is more valuable to me than any amount of money ever could be. However, to make up for the fact that they couldn’t compensate us in the form of money, the intern coordinators provided us with a few professional development lunches throughout the summer. A lot of what we learned were things that I had already learned from working at Toppel (we know our stuff!), but some of the things I learned were more specific to the non-profit sector.

I recently connected on LinkedIn with the NEAq Intern Alumni Network and a few of the intern coordinators, and this article from the Harvard Business Review was posted the other day:

The article as a whole provides a lot of good advice on writing a cover letter, so it’s definitely worth the read if you’re starting to write one for a job or internship application. But what sticks out the most to me are the two case studies provided at the end of the article. Both address how important it is to go the extra mile and show your enthusiasm and passion for the company.

To me, this is the epitome of what I learned from the New England Aquarium. In the non-profit world, people aren’t doing what they do for the paycheck they receive, but because they are extremely passionate about their work. So anyone who they’re going to consider hiring to join their team has to share that passion as well. Beyond your past experiences and qualifications, having a strong knowledge of the field and the work that the organization has done, as well as a genuine desire to contribute to that work, will put you ahead of the pack of applicants.

Personally, I usually have a hard time conveying my passion genuinely in writing; there’s a fine line between sounding genuine and sounding fake. But I think this article also provides good insight on how to express that passion in a cover letter. By doing your research and putting thought into the position, you can show that you really care about the organization and what you can contribute to it. As case study #1 says,“she’d done her research and ‘listed some things she would do or already had done that would help us address those needs.’” And you can’t go wrong giving specific examples of how you’ve followed the organization's work—in case study #2 the applicant listed various exhibitions and events of the organization she was applying to that she had attended. In both cases, the applicants had gone the extra mile to express their genuine interest in the position, and clearly expressed their passion for the organization as a whole. And in both cases, the applicants eventually got the job they wanted.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Is Your Resume Helping or Hurting You with the Job Search?

By Kiernan King, Toppel Peer Advisor

It can be overwhelming applying to what seems like thousands of jobs and going on a thousand more interviews and getting the same answer every time: “no.” 

It’s very frustrating doing the best you can and not receiving the answer you want to hear which can lead you to believe that it must be the employer’s fault, not your own. In reality, the disconnect may not be from the reader, but in the reading. 

Review your resume, specifically the experience section and the bullet points that describe each internship or job. Read through it quickly and from the perspective of a future employer – does it pass the five second test? 

Often times you’ll run into the problem of having previous or current job positions listed as job descriptions detailing what you were hired to do. When I went through a practice interview and resume critique, I was told that if an employer reads my bullets points and can find the same description on hundreds of other résumés, than it needs to be edited.

In other words, employers do not care what you were hired to do, but rather what value you added to that company because it’ll give them an indication of what you can do for them. Companies want people that have transferable skills and value to bring to them, not just someone who shows up at work. 

 In the Toppel Career Center’s resume guide, there is a formula we use for accomplishment statements: What I did + Skills I used = Results I got.

More specifically, the “what you did” part of the formula is the starting point for your bullet statement and describes the task at hand. If you only indicate what you did, you’re not giving the reader a comprehensive understanding of what you accomplished. 

“Skills I used” is the most important part of the formula. For example, skills can include oral/written communication, customer service, and proficiency with computer programs. Providing information about skills is also particularly important if you are applying to positions and lack relevant experience. 

Finally, “Results I got” is effective if the results are concrete, measurable or describe the goal of your actions. For example, results can include an increase in sales percentage or improved customer service. 

Each accomplishment statement should start with an action verb! Having trouble thinking of some creative verbs to use? Try these on for size: implemented, delegated, collaborated, synthesized, extracted, substantiated, programmed, integrated, streamlined, forecasted, generated, and mentored among more! 

Remember, your resume is your story. Tell it in a way that they understand and can see you in that new position!