Career Services

Lebanon Valley College

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

Graduate School and the Lifestyle Changes You Are Likely to Encounter (part 2)

Last week, the Blog covered what you need to know before applying to graduate school. Tara Kuther, Ph.D says, “your choice of graduate program is a difficult but very important decision that will shape your career and many parts of your life, both during and after graduation.”  She has quite a bit of advice that addresses the importance of attending to your personal life when making the decision for a specific graduate school.  For example:

  • Where will you live? Does the institution offer subsidized or off-campus housing?
  • Is working off-campus permitted?
  • Are students permitted to work on multiple research projects with multiple faculty?
  • Do you know anyone nearby?
  • How far will you be from home?

In addition, there are lifestyle changes that you are likely to encounter that may be unexpected.  The differences between undergraduate school and graduate school are considerable.  Greater autonomy and less structure is one of the bigger changes you can expect.  An Idealist.org post reminds grad school hopefuls that “there’s a general expectation that grad students will be mature self-starters who can navigate the ins and outs of the program, from administrative tasks to academic pursuits. Depending on your program, this may mean making a lot more decisions about course choices and how to structure your studies than you ever did at the undergraduate level.”

Among other changes will be the age and experience of your fellow students,  campus life or the lack of it, time commitments, employment needs, financial readiness, and personal/social life. A discussion of these topics is addressed at two different places on Idealist.org.  See the following:

Finally, last fall (October 2nd to be exact), a Career Services Blog post addressed four common questions surrounding the decision to pursue graduate school and the application process?

  • Should I attend? Now or later?
  • Can I switch fields and go to graduate school in a different area?
  • What do graduate schools want?
  • What do I need to know about letters of recommendation?

Perhaps you will want to re-read that blog post today, as well as our other posts on Graduate School topics.

~Sharon Givler, director, career services

What You Need to Know Before Applying to Graduate School (part 1)

Are you considering entering graduate school within the next two years? Can you name the twelve things you should know about a graduate program before applying?

According to Tara Kuther, Ph.D., a regular contributor on the topic of graduate school planning and preparation for About.com, if you don’t pay attention to these twelve items you may end up frustrated and disappointed.

  1. Program Emphasis – know what kind of training can you expect from each program you are considering; if it isn’t stated explicitly, faculty research interests and the research labs within the department offer important clues as to what you can expect.
  2. Program Philosophy – know the difference between theory-oriented graduate programs and applied research programs.
  3. Curriculum and Coursework – look at the courses that will be part of the program; do they look interesting to you?  Can you see the connection between them and the kind of training you are seeking?
  4. Capstone Requirements – know the dissertation requirements/expectations.
  5. Accreditation – check for both university and program accreditation by relevant governing bodies; discipline-level accreditation is also common in applied fields.
  6. Price – consider whether or not you are able to carry the expense of this investment.
  7. Sources of Financial Aid – research the types of aid available, including funding for research and teaching assistantships.
  8. Faculty – consider the work and research of more than one faculty member when making your choice of graduate school.
  9. Facilities – take a look at the labs and equipment; ask yourself if the program and university’s resources can help you achieve the goals you have for your research/study.
  10. Ranking – compare/contrast the universities you are considering; ranking is one way to do that.
  11. Selectivity – consider your chances of being accepted, especially if the university is highly selective.
  12. Location – know what is offered beyond the university in the location where you will be living for a few years.

You really should follow Dr. Kuther’s advice on About.com.  Her point, and mine too for that matter, is that while you want to choose a graduate school with the best academic program leading to the most promising career options, you also want to consider a location where you will be content and happy.  Next week’s blog will cover what Dr. Kuther has to say on the importance of considering your personal life when choosing the right graduate program.

~Sharon Givler, director, career services

Where are You in Your Career Planning?

When it comes to your job or internship search, your approach, your goals, your networking, your applications, etc. will be tailored to you and your chosen industry.

Three pieces of advice that apply to everyone, however, is to stay positive, keep going, and be open-minded!  Job searching takes persistence and a willingness to explore.  It also, of course, takes time!  Give yourself plenty of time to learn about opportunities and tailor each application. Several CareerSpots videos address the importance of Being OPEN to Opportunities, Making Career Fairs Counts, Starting Early, and more.

Additionally, think about the following:

  • What do you know about yourself? Can you clearly state your goals, strengths, and preferences in a work environment? Are you able to explain your accomplishments from your college involvement, work activities, internships, or volunteerism as they relate to the working world?
  • What do you know about employers? Have you identified industries of interest, companies within those industries, and potential positions that appeal to you? Have you organized your search activities to help you track when you apply, when you should follow up, and the status of each position? Is your job search public? Meaning, have you spoken with your family, friends, faculty, past employers, mentors, etc. to help you brainstorm and learn about opportunities?
  • Are your materials and interviewing techniques up to par? Have you had your resume reviewed, learned about effective cover letters and other correspondence, and practiced interviewing techniques?

Clearly there is a lot that goes into the job and internship search, and the same is true for those interested in graduate school.  As such, I would add be prepared to the three pieces of advice mentioned earlier! Utilize Career Services’ Resources for Students to get started and include us in your search activities!

Gwen Miller, associate director, career services

 

Exploration, Part 2: Focusing your Efforts

Last week, I introduced the career planning model geared toward freshmen and sophomore students in Exploration, Part 1: Drawing Connections.  In the early stages of career planning, you often find yourself exploring a broad array of interests and corresponding careers.  You hopefully begin to see patterns, enabling you to hone in more specifically on a few possible career paths.  But you still may be unsure of how to actually get yourself from point A –> having identified possibilities…to point B -> transitioning to your first post-graduate opportunity.

Now it’s time to dig deeper in your exploration.  Investigate these paths more fully and be intentional about gaining experience that will set you up for more promising employment or graduate school leads.  In the second phase of our office’s career planning model, students are encouraged to utilize resources & activities to help you:

Career Planning Model 2

As you work through the resources and exercises, I cannot emphasize enough the importance of understanding what employers and graduate schools are looking for.  When constructing your documents (resumes, cover letters, graduate school essays, LinkedIn profiles, etc) and preparing to talk with hiring or admissions professionals (informational interviews, networking events, interviews, etc), you’ll be expected to articulate what you can contribute to their organization/program.  The only way to do that successfully is to know what they value and how you fit into their bigger picture!

First, gain a broad understanding of the world of work by researching the expectations of employers.  Use this information as motivation to begin developing certain skills, or as affirmation that you are on the right track.  Then, delve into what specific industries look for and expect; read industry journals and explore professional associations of potential career fields.  This will give you greater knowledge of expectations while also helping to clarify further whether or not it is a field you want to continue pursuing.  From there, begin identifying specific companies or programs and research their criteria and preferred qualifications of successful candidates.  By working through these tiers of exploration and investigation, you’ll be more fully prepared and confident as you make your transition into employment or grad school.

You may be overwhelmed with all of the information in these career planning models, and that’s ok!  The key is to break things down into manageable pieces so that you can fully explore your options and feel confident in the decisions you make regarding your career planning.  For a real-life example of a student who has put many of these suggestions into practice, tune in next week to read Jocelyn Davis’ post on exploring careers through job shadowing.

Gwen Miller, associate director of career services

What about Graduate School?

This week’s post is in response to a few common questions surrounding the decision to pursue graduate school and the application process that students will want to consider.

Should I attend? Now or later?

That depends. If you are thinking of attending graduate school because you don’t know what else to do, because you are avoiding the job search, or you are generally unsure of your career goals, then you probably are not pursuing an advanced degree for the right reasons.

In college, the major you pursue offers a broad introduction to a field of study.  In graduate school you will specialize and narrow your focus for study and research.  Thus, the study of biology becomes the study of plant sciences, neurobiology, bioethics, physiology, animal science, etc; the study of psychology becomes the study of child & human development; clinical psychology, organizational psychology, applied behavior analysis, or psychoanalysis; the study of English becomes the study of writing, linguistics, literature, or humanities.  Not knowing the specialization you are seeking may be a good indication you are not ready to begin graduate study.

While many LVC graduates express appreciation for the way in which their undergraduate education prepared them for the rigors of graduate school, make no mistake. The level of academic commitment, not to mention the expense, is considerable. Whether you begin graduate school immediately after college or wait several years is a personal decision. Research indicates that up to half of grad students are over age 30, so taking time off is not unusual. The important thing is to be ready for the challenges and commitments a graduate program brings.

Can I switch fields and go to graduate school in a different area?

Absolutely!  But be prepared to demonstrate how your interests, preparation, career goals, experiences, and skills make you a good candidate. Graduate schools, just like employers, are looking for candidates that are the right fit, so spend some time getting to know the programs and schools that interest you.  In your application, essay, and interview make the connections between your experiences and the goals of the program/school.

What do graduate schools want?

Graduate schools want to enhance the reputation of their school and program. Therefore, they want students that will finish the program, excel in their studies, and have the capacity to become important researchers and leaders in their field.

I won’t pretend to know what every admissions committee wants. But I can say that GPA, scores on graduate entrance exams, recommendation letters, and your personal statement are universally important.  Tara Kuther, Ph.D. does an excellent job of sharing how and why these criteria play such an important part in admission decisions. Read about it in the Graduate School section of About.com.

What do I need to know about letters of recommendation?

An effective recommendation letter is written by persons who can discuss your skills and abilities, personal characteristics, and leadership strengths. These individuals also will need to evaluate your present academic performance and potential to succeed in the field and in the program to which you are applying.

First, be sure the persons you ask to write these letters are willing to write a positive letter that supports your candidacy. And, when I say “ask” I mean “ask in person.” This is not the time to send a quick e-mail!  Rather, make an appointment to discuss your graduate school plans; don’t wait to the last minute, and be certain to provide them with materials that will enable them to write an informed letter. This includes items such as your transcript, essay, resume, and research abstracts.  You also might want to include honors or awards you’ve received, relevant work and/or volunteer experience, and a description of your professional goals.

Finally…

…a word about graduate school entrance exams. Kaplan Test Prep & Admissions does an excellent job preparing students for exams such as the GRE, MCAT, LSAT, GMAT, etc.  Find out about the FREE online practice test dates/times and register for them HERE.

More information on graduate school planning can be found on the Resources for Students page of the Career Services website. Also, the articles written by Tara Kuther, Ph.D., found in the About.com Guide to Graduate School are worth perusing and reading.

Sharon Givler, director, career services