Career Services

Lebanon Valley College

Be Informed: Talk to Others

Who do you know?

As you’ve likely been told, networking is a must. Not only does it strengthen your relationships and help you build connections, but it also helps to build your knowledge base of the working world.

The more people you meet, the more understanding you will have of various industries, job functions, companies, geographic locations, etc. But it’s not just the quantity of people you meet, it’s the quality of your time spent talking with them! So what’s the secret? Show interest in others by asking prompting questions, demonstrate that you’re listening by asking follow-up questions, and keep your chat conversational (as opposed to an interrogation!).

Networking comes in all forms – informational interviews, alumni networking events (or other events), or professional associations, to name a few. A good resource to help you get started is our webshop: Building a Stronger Network: Tips for Informational Interviews and an Introduction to Career Connections.

As you go into the Thanksgiving break, try to talk with at least one person about their career. It can be a brand new contact, or someone at your dinner table with whom you haven’t yet ventured into this topic. Regardless, do your best to spend most of the conversation talking about them – you never know how it may influence your career planning later!

~Gwen Miller, associate director, career development

Your Preferences: Finding your Fit

What do you want?

Aside from articulating your strengths and crafting stories that let your experiences shine, there’s another area that shouldn’t be overlooked in your career planning. It’s not just about what employers are seeking, it’s also about what you want and need to succeed.

A job search is all about fit and match. You can say the perfect things to get yourself hired, but if you aren’t being true to yourself, it may not be very long before your find yourself applying elsewhere. Take some time to think about your work preferences:

  • What type of working environment are you looking for?
  • Under what management style do you best thrive?
  • Do you prefer working in teams or independently?
  • Would you be ok if you only see your boss once a week?
  • What kind of challenges excite you?
  • What are some of your personal values and how do they fit in with your professional endeavors?
  • How does a position fit within your long term personal and professional goals?

Although you may not have a professional point of reference to analyze, think about instances (in the classroom, on the field, as a leader, in an internship, etc) where you have felt supported, and at your best. What were some of the factors contributing to that? Perhaps seeking similar factors in a work environment would keep you engaged.

Before you start crossing possibilities off your list, however, keep in mind: you may not find your “ideal” right away, you also are a contributing factor in your work environment, there will be an adjustment period no matter what, and sometimes it’s best to get out of your comfort zone entirely. Don’t get so caught up in finding a match for all of your preferences that you miss out on the perfect career fit for right now.

~Gwen Miller, associate director, career development

Your Experiences: To include or not to include

What have you done?

Your classroom accomplishments and co-curriculars provide great examples from which to build your story bank; don’t forget about your work experiences too! This can include paid or unpaid internships, research, freelance work, summer jobs, part-time or full-time career-related or unrelated work, etc.

We frequently get questions from students about whether they should include work experience on a resume if it’s not directly relevant to the industry in which they are applying. Although I would love to offer the perfect answer, the truth of the matter is: it depends!

It depends on the experience itself, the length of time, the skills developed, and what else is on your resume. If you have substantial work experience that is related to your chosen field, then you may feel okay about leaving that summer job between high school and college off. If you gained valuable skills and were able to grow as a professional, however, you may want to include it, being sure to focus on the strengths developed as opposed to the tasks completed (although that should be the case regardless!). If it’s an experience that has given you plenty of situations to pull from when telling stories in an interview, you definitely want to have it on there. On the other hand, if you’ve worked a slew of odd jobs over the years and have a lot of information to highlight, you might be able to condense your work history section and/or leave off some of the earliest jobs.

Ultimately, it’s your call what goes onto your resume, as it is your document, meant to be a snapshot of what you bring to the table. But, before you decide to delete , consider the following:

The experience you have is the experience you ultimately have to sell.

Don’t discount the value of something just because it’s not immediately obvious to you. You never know what’s going to leave an impression!

~Gwen Miller, associate director, career development

Tell your Story: Market your Co-Curriculars

What have you done?

In addition to your coursework and professional activities, your college experience is likely comprised of involvement in co-curriculars. Clubs, athletics, study abroad, leadership roles, and community service are all great examples that are not only fun and rewarding, but potentially impressive to future employers or graduate schools.

Start by listing your co-curricular activities, including time frame and level of participation. Are you in a leadership role in an organization? An active member? Captain of your team? Going into your second year as a resident assistant?  Next, think about skills that are in demand and ways in which you can demonstrate those skills with examples from your involvement.

We’ve discussed the S.T.A.R. method for crafting career stories, so let’s focus on how to better market co-curriculars, specifically in a resume. We encourage students to bulk up their resume’s bullet points to best highlight accomplishments, as opposed to tasks. Saying “led meetings,” “helped freshmen transition to college,” or “ran drills and practices” may show what you’ve done, but it doesn’t say anything about your ability to do them effectively.  Follow these steps to better highlight your strengths:

  • STEP 1 – Skill: What did you get out of performing this duty?
  • STEP 2 – Structure: Put this result into a statement. I learned……
  • STEP 3 – Verb: Replace “I learned” by starting the new statement with an action verb.
  • STEP 4 – Clarify: Go back to original duty and ask who, what, where, when, why, how

As an example, if your original bullet point says “helped students transition to college,” a revised (and bulked up) one might become:

  • Step 1: Leadership skills
  • Step 2: I learned leadership skills while helping students transition to college
  • Step 3: Strengthened leadership skills while helping students transition to college
  • Step 4: Strengthened leadership skills by facilitating small group sessions and organizing activities to familiarize six incoming freshmen to college life.

The second option is a much more substantive example of your experiences and can be tailored to highlight many different strengths.  Following the steps can also help you in planning out career stories or drafting cover letters and essays that incorporate your involvement. Bottom line, co-curriculars are a big part of the college experience.  Be sure you are marketing them effectively!

~ Gwen Miller, associate director, career development

Tell your Story: Classroom Accomplishments

What have you done?

For many new college grads, your education is one of the highest qualifications you offer to a potential internship or full-time employer, or to a graduate school program. Your time in the classroom and/or working on class projects is one of the primary ways in which you are developing skills for your next step. When crafting stories to illustrate leadership, decision making, communication, etc, don’t forget about how you:

  1. critically analyzed a company’s business model to determine growth potential
  2. led your group through a semester-long project by helping to break up and delegate tasks
  3. enhanced your skills in data analysis and deductive reasoning by participating in a research project
  4. showed your knack for written communication by taking responsibility for editing your group’s paper into a document with one style
  5. handled criticism and learned from a mistake by actively seeking feedback on an assignment that was not up to par

The variety of examples are vast, assuming you incorporate them into your repertoire of stories. But in all of them, notice that the emphasis is on the accomplishment you achieved, more so than the task you completed. In other words, you’re not simply explaining the parameters of an assignment when telling your story; you’re detailing your individual contribution, focusing on the strengths that you demonstrated, and emphasizing the learning that took place.

Don’t forget, too, that significant classroom projects can be included on your resume, if they are relevant to a position to which you are applying or they help to demonstrate your capabilities within a graduate program. Consider including a section titled something like “Coursework & Projects” or “Research”. Or incorporate your accomplishments into a cover letter. How you shed light on your classroom achievements will vary, depending on your situation, but chances are good that those achievements are just as impressive as those earned through experience or involvement.

~Gwen Miller, associate director, career development

Build your Story Bank: Learn How to Tell Your Story

You now know what employers are seeking in new hires – many graduate schools and professional programs have similar ideas of what constitutes success. So how do you show that you’re a top-notch candidate?

Demonstrating your strengths and aptitudes requires more than just saying “I am good at…” A successful candidate provides examples and tells stories that prove they’re as good as they say (or that they have the potential to be!).

The difficulty with storytelling is that each event is often comprised of numerous and entwined details. It can cause a narrative to come out more as a series of tangents, leaving the audience wondering if you’ll ever get to the point. Thus, you need to really hone in on the elements that are most impactful and necessary to achieving the purpose of the story. Thoughtful and well-crafted stories show that you have prepared, are aware of your abilities, and are able to clearly articulate experiences and strengths.

A great technique to help you tell a story is the S.T.A.R. method:

10.15.2014 post picture - STAR method

Learn to tell many short stories about your accomplishments and contributions in the classroom, at your internship, on the soccer field, in your volunteer project, etc. These examples help demonstrate how you are likely to conduct yourself in the future. The next several blog posts will focus on forming stories based on multiple aspects of your life to give an interviewer an in-depth look into your abilities.

~ Gwen Miller, associate director, career development

Build your Story Bank: What Employers Want

What have you done?

In the September 24th post, Show Confidence: Know your Strengths, I mentioned the importance of knowing your audience to help guide which strengths you highlight. A similar thought process can be applied when crafting stories to talk about your experiences. What experiences and accomplishments are most enlightening for the person with whom you are speaking?

Before you build up a story bank of experiences geared toward your specific interests, take a step back to identify common skills and abilities that many employers or graduate schools seek. According to the National Association of Colleges and Employers, respondents to the Job Outlook 2014, Spring Update survey indicate that the following are rated highest in what employers seek in new college hires:

10.8.2014 post picture - what employers want

These are transferable, liberal arts skills that are not specific to an industry. Before you go any further, think about experiences that may “showcase” your skills in some of the above areas.

Your next step is to determine the qualities most sought in your industry. Professional journals, industry specific associations, networking contacts, or websites such as www.myplan.com are rich with inside knowledge. Match experiences and craft stories that pertain to these abilities.

Finally, look into a specific company’s culture, mission, and needs. You can often determine what experiences will resonate with a particular company based on the language of their “About Us” page or their job postings.

This is a multi-level analysis to determine skills and match experiences that will most directly resonate in a particular situation. Plus, it helps you to build quite an arsenal of stories to have on hand that depict your skills and abilities through your experiences.

~Gwen Miller, associate director, career development

Think Ahead: Planning your Career Goals

Who are you?

Setting career goals can be very difficult, whether you are a first or second year student trying to plan for classes, internships, or responses to parent inquiries, or a junior or senior hoping to define success for yourself and set a path to reach it.

Crafting and articulating a plan can feel so final, so specific. Many students may not like the feeling of being pigeonholed into a career field, opting instead to see what opportunities are out there that sound most appealing at the time. However, your spur-of-the-moment approach may not cut it when a registration or application deadline is looming or you are talking with prospective employers, graduate school admission representatives, or concerned parents.

Unfortunately, there is no easy answer, nor can someone else set goals for you. Thus, a few words of advice: start by reflecting on your interests, values, preferences, and strengths. Be sure to seek input from others who know you well and begin brainstorming where you might thrive. This involves quite a bit of research, exploration, and self-evaluation, but you’ll feel much more confident in your decisions if they are based on knowledge and thoughtful reflection.

Looking for a few resources to get you started?

Also remember: setting career goals does not mean you are planning out the next 45 years of your life; it simply means you are being intentional about your career movements as you see them now.

Show Confidence: Know your Strengths

Who are you?

Ever heard the question “what’s your greatest strength?” It seems simple…sort of, unless you find yourself answering with “well this one…no wait, that one is my greatest!” We all have many strengths, many of which we (hopefully) consider great. Otherwise our contributions to the world would be a bit limited, eh? Instead, think of describing your greatest strength as those that are most relevant to the person(s) with whom you are speaking.

Talking to the person who may be your next boss? Highlight the strengths that contribute most heavily to the specific job/department/company. Conversing with potential co-workers? Hit on your strengths that illustrate your ability to adapt and fit in with the team. Talking with an HR recruiter? Perhaps focus on those that demonstrate your commitment to the industry and company.

Sounds fairly simple…but only if you know what your strengths are to begin with! This is where a fun little activity called the 6-word memoir comes in. Think about and write down 6 characteristics that you would use to describe yourself professionally. What might you want someone to know about you? What do you think describes you at your core? NOTE: these can be personality-based, knowledge-based, and/or transferable skill based.

Once you have your list, take a hard look at them.

  • Can you say them better? Is there other terminology that is more descriptive or more fitting for your intended industry?
  • Do you really mean them? Sometimes it’s easy to write down the obvious choices. But that’s way too…well…obvious! You are unique. Try to describe yourself as such.
  • Can you prove them? Come up with 3-5 stories that support what you’ve identified. Not only does that help to clarify your strengths, but it helps develop a story bank to pull from later in an interview situation.

This is a never-ending process, as your strengths grow and develop throughout your life. Word to the wise, don’t shrug off this important step by saying “I don’t like to brag about myself.” If you don’t talk about your strengths, who will?

Get to the Root of it: Why did you pick your major?

Who are you?

This appears to be a deceptively simple question, right? Surely you are aware of the reasons why you are pursuing your chosen field of study. But have you developed a concrete, roll-off-the-tip-of-your-tongue response that expresses your enthusiasm for your field and generates interest? Probably not.

Here are two exercises:

  1. Think of the ignition point that started you on your path to declare your chosen major. Was it an event? (you shadowed a person who described his/her major and made it sound amazing – you happened upon a description of a career that you can identify with a corresponding major – you took a class and realized you “fit” in that department immediately – etc…) Is it a result of a personal influencer? Is it related to your career ambition? Is it a result of being undecided and then stumbling into your choice? Identify what the point was, and then craft a story to tell it.
  2. Next, reflect on what has caused you to stay in the field! What interests you the most? What skills have you developed as a result? How does it tie into your career goals from here?

Doing the above will give you something more substantive to say than a simple “I chose accounting because I like numbers” or “I chose business because I want to work in a business” or “I’m an education major because I like to working with children” The examples are endless…and boring, right?! Don’t be boring. Explain why you chose your major in a way that makes someone think you’re actually proud of the choice and excited for your future.

~Gwen Miller, associate director, career development