Don’t ruin it for everyone…

A few months shy of a year in my second post-grad employment experience and I find myself in a Paralegal Program at BU and in an internship at a community organization, all of this aside from work. Is it a sign that I am understimulated and that I should move on? Probably (at least for me I can say this). I refuse to complain most of the time because not having a break in employment while watching others get laid of and stress endlessly the possibility of just such an eventuality, is enough of a reason not to. However career track awareness and posturing is important, this come through in interviews in weird ways.

In a recent interview, 3rd round might I add, I was asked, “Why have you had such brief employment experiences in post-grad working life?”. My first reaction was to say, “Absolutely, I wouldn’t have wanted that, that is just a sign of the times.” that should be a pretty honest response from me however the question was not really about me moving around a lot or not having company loyalty either. They know I or any other candidate could probably find an elegant lie anyway. The question is actually coming from an insecure place, and might serve to tell you a lot about what is happeneing for that particular role which you are applying. A good follow up question here might be something like, ” This position sounds great to me, has loyalty been a concern in the past, I have trouble believing that.”or alternatively, “In keeping with my personal and professional integrity, I am always honest about a career transition with my employers, but I see myself here for at the very least a year and a half.” If this is really a lie, please don’t say it, I’ll explain why later down the page.

These kinds of questions are rampant despite the young professional’s standard first post grad experience holding at 1 to 2 years of experience. Employers are also weary, often as weary as job seekers, when it comes to the ole’ bait and switch that some candidates have been playing during interviews. I recently heard a story, where a friend of a friend took a job with a hefty signing bonus while he waiting on another opportunity that he very badly wanted. He happened to be a good person and when he received the “yes” from his dream job, he returned the check without batting an eye when he resigned from the new job two weeks later. These kinds of stunts are uncommon, as uncommon as the hefty signing bonuses, in my industry they might as well be mythology. However when people pull them the impact is felt, and not just by the hiring manager, but by those vying for positions in the job market. Just a thought; Lets be a team player!

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The other side?: Year one, Apartment one, Job one. Check.

I have been taking all this time to reflect one right way to pick this whole project back up, constantly wanting to say more and get on with telling the difficult story that so many 2011 graduates are just beginning to shuffle through as their fist post-grad autumn dawns on them.

Thats right its here! Your first year ever not going back to school.

Hugs all around, mine wasn’t fun. I’m glad to be on the other side of things. Well, I guess thats assuming there is another side of things…

Sitting at the desk of my new job writing grants and managing the office of a non-profit in Somerville – it is strange that its only just 2 months shy of the anniversary of my couch surfing days. It is even stranger adjusting to the fact that my first job is over and that I am back in school and getting set on a full time dual-degree program in the next year. Deep breaths all around.  It wasn’t easy to get where I am at this moment, but it was possible.

This long abandoned blog was initially meant to be an in progress translation of my hectic journey to the destination I am sitting in now. I think I began the idea itself with the assumption that I would have a resting place among the employed and renting population  – this I must warn you is not the case at all. In this economy there is really no such thing. Let me explain…

Two months ago I had to re-interview at the company I was working, re-interview for a re-organized version of my then current job. I lost out and wound up training, the albeit very lovely MLIS, who was selected over me. I wasn’t even really mad, I was disappointed.

I was also instantaneously sucking wind to find something else and saving up every last cent in case I couldn’t.

Looking for a job while still working the 9-5 is no bueno.

What got me through it all. asside from having time most people don’t have when they get laid off (a.k.a. luck) was sticking to my guns and staying true to the person I am. I ended up getting a lot of validation from co-workers to the credit of my professional attitude and integrity.

And here I am, still shuffling through.

A year later and lots of job/apartment/budgeting/peace-of-mind conversations later I have concluded/can advise the following:

1) If you can stay at home and start paying off your loans opt for this option instead of moving out on your own – do it!

2) Life is what happens when you are busy making plans.

3) Remember its not you its the economy. Stay true to who you are even in tough times. This counts double if you are the interviewer or manager.

4) Say thank you and stay in touch. Use that LinkedIn profile, but also write those thank you cards. The effort you make to reach people is worth it.

More to come, sometime this fall.

A good article on the economy – http://feministing.com/2011/09/12/appalling-wage-decreases-and-gender-gap-for-recent-college-graduates/

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A big update finally and a return to active posting…

So all these months later, having abandoned the blog for more time focusing on cover letters, running 5ks, turning 23, and sleeping on couches like a champion…I finally made it to the big city of Boston.

Hurray!

In all this time; I have lived in a terrible terrible apartment situation (this will be a post all its own and maybe two because getting out of that took long enough), had a few sketchy temporary jobs (several future post about this and how to protect yourself from what happened to me), worked thusfar for four months at a prestigious publishing firm in a less than prestigious position, made some investments in self and future, considered returning to school, and felt like a grown up…some of the time.

Lots to catch up on….more coming soon.

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The Anatomy of a Cover Letter

As I write more and more of these introductive letters I often find that I need to go back to the drawing board on occasion to remind myself of what they are and why we need them to be amazing in every way. They are not easy, it is an art of simple complexity – given the short page of space you have to explain who you are and why you should be selected for follow up – but they do not need to be so taxing to compose.

That is probably easy to say when I am taking a break to write something else, however there is a lot of information out there as to how to write a convincing one.

Here is a recipe in the most basic form:

1.Sender’s Address: Begin with your current address. You do not need to include your name in this heading.

2. Date: This should be the date that you are writing the letter.

3. (Potential) Employer’s Address: Do not assume that a person uses the title “Mrs.” Always include the person’s title. If you don’t have the address, look it up on the company’s website.

4. Greeting: Refer to the reader by his/her last name. Use a colon after the greeting, not a comma.

5. PARAGRAPH 1: Answer – “Why am I writing?”

  • Identify the position and the company, as well as possibly the department or campaign/project that the position is located within.
  • Indicate specifically how you learned about the position.
  • Why are you interested in this job? How do you match with it?
  • Introduce basic information about yourself that explains why you would be the best candidate for the position.
  • Also, if you are not writing about a specific position, include as much of the above information as possible. (Why are you interested in this job? How do you match with it?)

6. Paragraph 2: Answers “Who am I, and Why should you hire me?”

  • Relate your skills, experiences, and qualities that would benefit you in the position.
  • Highlight one or two of your strongest qualifications AND explain how they relate to the needs of the employer.
  • Explain why you are interested in the employer and the position.

7. Paragraph 3: Answers “What is my next step?”

  • Refer the reader to your enclosed resume (and other documents).
  • Reiterate your strong interest in the position/organization.
  • Specify how you intend to follow up.

8. Closing: Close with the word “Sincerely.”

9. Handwritten & typed signatures: Handwrite your signature when you send a hard copy of a cover letter. Press enter twice, and type your name.

Looking at the way that a letter flows overall once you have completed the first draft is helpful, watch yourself for jumping around through your experiences out of chronological order, this will get confusing and get your letter impatiently discarded.

Flowery language and long sentences should be avoided or kept to a minimum. Watch out for spelling and punctuation errors, they will hands-down defeat the purpose of suggesting that you are detail oriented or organized.

Another thing to watch for is the consistency of information that you give in your resume with information that you discuss in your cover letter, if you state that you have gained office management skills from your position as a research assistant, be sure that you mention these skills under that title in your description of your position rather then the amount of research you did etc.

Always take time before sending out your CL, and don’t kill yourself over realizing mistakes from past drafts – simply correct them and move on. Good luck writing!

 

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To call or not to call, that is the question…

On the personal side, I have had an internship turned job in Hartford since September with a political candidate running for mid-term election. I have enjoyed the motivation it has provided me to get up in the morning, be out of the house, to converse, and be with other young people looking for or interested in the same things as myself. But the knowledge that I will soon be loafing around at home sans my minimum wage paycheck is scary…so I am pushing myself to be more engaged in applying for “real” positions. As I return to the voracious fight for a job with all the more gusto – I want, of course hone my skills – and in so doing I want to visit a discussion of the controversial risk of the follow up call.

After a few days or a week after sending in an application, our eyes tend to wander to check the e-mail inbox over and over longing for a response. Hoping that we are an attractive enough hire among the myriad of applicants, attractive enough to earn that illusive call back. Heck even hearing a thanks but no thanks is rare at times. But should we dare to call them first?

There is a mixed review on this strategy all around. I personally have heard of more success with doing so rather then not but its not something I would suggest doing with every position. However, if I really want a position I simply can’t help myself from calling and demonstrating my interest.

A few suggestions about this practice —

Don’t call more then once and if at all possible talk to a person rather then leaving a message – the point is to make an impression on a person in real time otherwise, you’ll probably just get deleted.

Make a script to ease your nerves. Also be warmed up to talk on the phone before you call – don’t make this call a cold call unless you are very outgoing or good on the telephone in general. Have something in front of you but don’t be afraid to stray from it. (By something in front of you I mean an introduction appropriate for an over the phone conversation with a hiring manager, complete with the exact job title and description that you used to create your application)

DO NOT suggest that you are calling to schedule an interview. A recruiter will not see this as you being a “go-getter”, you will rather, seem like a jerk. Say perhaps that you would love to have the opportunity to speak more about your interest in the position etc.

A pen and paper is also something good to have to make notes in the chance that the conversation delves into an offer for an interview. You never know what someone will say that they will later want you to remember.

Happy hunting!

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Surviving the Interview Process

Once you hear that great news – get the invitation to come in for an interview after a follow up with that job you know you want to jump on – its time to start studying. This is because you should already be well aware that some of the questions are typical – ex: “What do your know about our company”? and “Why do you want to work here?”

Because you know this is coming you should be super prepared. Preparation is the best first impression. Knowing as much as possible about the company’s performance, future plans, even its clients can make your interview more interactive, prove you are more prepared even to interview (suggesting your redeemable nature in general).

Googling the company as well as reading up on the website and how this information relates to the position you are applying to – is a great way to start. Don’t walk into the interview without doing this – you will look unprepared and then it won’t matter that you got an interview you will be wasting your time, to be blunt.

Prepare answers to commonly asked questions as exampled above. Doing so will help you analyze and frame your background and qualifications for the position.

Don’t shy away from the tough questions, but take your time in formulating an answer that works well to create the impression you want – always consider why the question is being asked. Nothing is gained by shorting your opportunity to answer well, simply think carefully and thoroughly. Recognize the toughness of the question and also focus on remaining organized with your answer – this reflects organized thoughts and abilities (which you have probably suggested you have)

Be friendly and have questions of your own, including benefits and when you can expect to hear a response. Be personable, but remain composed and polite in your demeanor – don’t confuse being personable with being overly casual.

Be on time at the location early. Overall, preparation and intention is your acts will speak for themselves but also for your sake – don’t get hung up too much on just one interview. Good luck!

 

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Dressing The Part

Though I don’t have a lot of money right now to invest in clothing that passes the test for “interview ready’. So, when I do buy something I try to make it an investment that will go the distance. Clothing makes an impression and should likewise match what job you are applying for – some places may be looking for you to be more formal, while others may leave room for you to express yourself, however this isn’t something that you can sense in advance.

My Uncle once joked that interviewers will look at you so hard for a first impression of you that they will see the dirt under your finger nails and the gum under your shoes. I’d like to think no one looks that close – but again it depends on what you are applying for – that said simple guidelines are a good place to start.

Because you can't go naked...

Ladies:

Sometimes I think men have it easier, suits seem easy, similar to a uniform. Lady’s suits are okay, but not all jobs require that level of formality everyday. So what do you do?

- Advice I have heard, “keep you style simple and classic”, my interpretation to this is keep embellishments to the minimum. Now on my part, having grown up on a steady diet of Law & Order – women like Angie Harmon as ADA Abbie Carmichael, Jill Hennessy as ADA Claire Kincaid, and Carey Lowell as ADA Jamie Ross imprinted me with the image of the professional women that I one day wanted to become (all dark haired, thin, and white, might I add). They all looked simple -a dark suit, limited jewelry, understated colors, and above all else — simple.

In retrospect a look this simple is almost so androgynous that they looked more like the men around them, not that that is a bad thing. However, when room for self-expression and femininity is personally important there are ways to include such things without straying too far outside the lines of appropriate or the levels of formality expected with interview attire and later in the work place itself.

I will personally go so far only as to add the detail of jewelry, sometimes this can become a conversation piece, but also breaks up the monotony of formal wear. Such is an example where the personal touch will make you memorable, don’t go overboard though, you could be remembered for the wrong reason. The interview is not the place for making a fashion statement or too be too jingly.

Too much is just too much.

Dressing For Success Tips:

ALWAYS:

  1. Dress in a simple and classic manner – the more conservative the better.
  2. Select clothing appropriate for the job you are applying for.
  3. Wear simple shoes with closed toes and heels.
  4. Wear neutral or skin colored tights when wearing a skirt (not to be confused with leggings!)

NEVER:

  1. Wear anything sexy for an interview, a.k.a hemline at the knee and strictly no cleavage or see through clothing.
  2. Wear knits.
  3. Wear anything distracting to the interview, jingling jewelry or strong perfume.
  4. Wear highly stylized clothes.
  5. Wear brightly colored fabrics or bold colors (browns, tans, whites, grays, charcoals, blues, deep maroons, and of course black work best)

Gents:

As I said above, sometimes I think men have it easier, suits seem easy but they can also go very wrong if they aren’t tailored properly, cared for, or paired well with ties and shirts.

When it comes to suits they should be single breasted and traditional – they should remain plain with no fancy trims, stitchings, or buttons. Solids or pinstripes in wool or wool polyester blends. Don’t interview in a sport coat they are too informal. The right shirt is plain and solid in color, not see through or too shiny. Ties should be matched to the shirt with great care, and when worn not be so long that they go past your waist line. Figure out how to tie a tie. Bow-ties are not a good idea, unless you want to take a particular risk. Wear dark socks – there is nothing more blaring then a flash of white between dark shoes and dark pants.

How to tie a tie: http://www.premiumpromotions.nl/overig-stropdas.html

For more advice on fit and style, as I cannot recommend based on experience I refer you to: http://www.thetransitionalmale.com/65style

For everyone:

No matter what you gender or style a few good things to keep in mind is all clothing should appear wrinkle free, lint free, clean and well fit. If you are planning on investing in a good suit or suit dress, get it tailored to your frame. Lint can be solved with a lint roller stowed in a car or a purse, something else to keep on hand is a tide stick. On the issue of wrinkles, irons are scary things for me as I have a recurring fear that if I am not careful I will burn my clothing.

I suggest investing in a steamer they are safe for nearly all fabrics and again, they will not char your clothing! While you get ready for the in person impressions, stay calm. Remember deodorant that day (for the stress) and just in case clean under your nails.

I have to credit Sweats to Suits of the Wheaton College Filene Center for Academic Advising and Career Services for much of the material on the particulars under men’s suits and lady’s (Never and Always)

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