Career Services

Lebanon Valley College

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

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

Interviews: Make a Positive Impression

Nearly every year someone conducts a survey among employers about memorable interviewing blunders.  I laugh.  How ridiculous! No one would “attempt to secretly record the interview” or “check Facebook during the interview.”  But, indeed, these were two of fifteen most memorable interview mistakes that surfaced in a recent online survey conducted by Harris Interactive© on behalf of CareerBuilder.

Surely none of “our” students would pull such a stunt.

And yet, I am convinced that more often than not interviewees are not aware of the less-than-stellar impressions they make on employers. For example, half of the employers responding to this survey reported these top five common interview mistakes:

  • Appearing disinterested – 55 percent
  • Dressing inappropriately – 53 percent
  • Appearing arrogant – 53 percent
  • Talking negatively about current or previous employers – 50 percent
  • Answering a cell phone or texting during the interview – 49 percent

And, how about these top two body language mistakes?

  • Failure to make eye contact – 70 percent
  • Failure to smile – 44 percent

Generally it only takes a few seconds to make an impression. You may know that, but you may underestimate how quickly interviewers determine if you are a good fit and match for their organization.  I assure you it does not take the entire length of the interview.  Therefore, know what employers want and deliver.

A great place to start would be to take a look at this Press Room post (1.16.2014) on Careerbuilder.com and determine what communication skills, body language, and etiquette you need to improve upon. Then, concentrate on telling your story of successes and accomplishments that speak to the needs and mission of the employer with whom you are interviewing.  And by all means, don’t forget to prepare thoughtful questions that demonstrate you have researched the organization and want to be part of their team.

Here are a few other action steps you can take to ensure you will make a good impression and have the attention of an employer throughout your interview.

Knowing the basics is important.  And, practice makes you better.

Sharon Givler, director, career services

Make the Choice to Read Job Choices

Among many traits that employers look for in ideal candidates, resourcefulness and an inquisitive approach to problem-solving are right up there.  Learning about the latest trends and resources, as well as staying current on the competition, are important to many organizations for success.  Students should take a similar approach to career planning and the internship/job search!

Each month, the Career Services Blog will spotlight a few of the tools and tips that we believe are valuable.  This month, I’m encouraging you to get acquainted with the digital Job Choices magazine, accessible on the Resources for Students page of the Career Services website.

Why? Because you can be assured that these online magazines, compiled and distributed by the National Association of Colleges and Employers, contain oodles of relevant articles and information for your job or internship search.  Published annually, each magazine – Job Choices and Job Choices, Diversity Edition – covers information from rights and responsibilities of job seekers, to social media, to graduate school or first years on the job.  Take a look at the contents page of the Job Choices edition:

Job Choices picture

 

If that doesn’t inspire you to take a look, maybe the opportunity to win $500 by taking a Reader Poll will (details on page 5 of the magazine).  Two LVC students have won within the past several years…maybe your resourcefulness will also be rewarded!

*Note: Even if you don’t win the $500, can we agree that resourcefulness for resourcefulness’s sake is generally a reward in and of itself?  I think so!

~Gwen Miller, associate director, career services

On-Line Video Interviewing

In this technology-rich era, it’s no surprise that many companies are incorporating it into their hiring practices through the use of on-line video interviewing.  On-line video interviewing may take the place of telephone screening, or could be used throughout the first round(s) of interviewing. Why?  Because it is convenient and can save the company time and money if initial interviews are conducted on-line versus bringing candidates on site.

On-line video interviews may be through SKYPE or other similar applications, in which candidates and interviewers are both “live,” or company’s may use technology that allows an interviewer to pre-record questions that candidates may respond to within a designated time period.  Either way, video interviewing requires preparation and practice if you want to present yourself as well as you would in person.

The CareerSpots video – On-Line Video Interviews – suggests the following tips:

  • Do a test call with friends or family.
  • Check for technical problems ahead of time
  • Dress as though you are conducting a face-to-face interview
  • Make sure your space is tidy and clutter free with nothing distracting in the background
  • Eliminate interruptions by informing others that you will be conducting an interview
  • Plug your computer in so your battery doesn’t die during the interview
  • Check lighting to ensure interviewers will see you clearly
  • Frame your shot – make sure the camera focuses on your face
  • Look directly into the camera lens – it’s the same as making eye contact
  • Be enthusiastic!

Most importantly, practice, practice, practice!

Researching Companies – the most important activity of job searching

Spring often means that many students are engaged in an active search for jobs or internships.  Identifying companies of interest is certainly the first step, but what comes next?  Your resume, along with your cover letter or presence/conversation at a career fair, is your opportunity to illustrate how you would be a good fit for a position or organization.  That means that you should be purposefully highlighting skills, abilities, and attributes that are relevant to the employer.

Figuring out what is relevant is the behind-the-scenes preparation before your resume is created, your cover letter is drafted, and your interview responses are practiced.  By researching the organization and industry of interest, you will be able to tailor your job search materials and create a strong personal brand that advocates for why you should be considered as a candidate.

According to the Digital Job Choices Magazine, available through the Career Services website, “Researching employers is perhaps the single-most important activity you will undertake in your job search.  The information you uncover can help you:

  • Discover organizations that are a good match for you,
  • Identify the organization’s goals and needs,
  • Tailor your resume and cover letters to highlight your skills and experiences that match the employer’s needs,
  • Know what questions to ask employers,
  • Demonstrate your interest in and enthusiasm for the organization,
  • Answer interview questions with confidence, and
  • Make an informed employment decision.”

Click HERE for this 4 page article that advises where to begin, offers research resources, information you should be looking for, and websites to delve into specific industries.  Don’t skip this step!  The more effort you put in, the more confident you will feel when making a positive impression on potential employers.

Behavioral Based Interviewing

Generally speaking, you are not likely to have made it to the interviewing process of your job search if the organization meeting with you didn’t believe you could do their job.  They still want to hear you speak about your skills and job knowledge, but if they didn’t think you had the basics, you wouldn’t even be there.

Although this is reassuring in some ways, it also puts the pressure on you to perform well during that interview by articulating your strengths, offering examples of your past behaviors, and providing relevant information that reinforces your fit with that company.  Many employers utilize the Behavioral Based method of interviewing, meaning they ask questions that require you to tell stories (give examples) about how you responded in past experiences in order to gain an understanding about how you might behave in future work situations.  The CareerSpots video – Behavioral Interviewing – gives an excellent introduction to this interview technique as well as examples of questions, good responses, and attributes they’re listening for.

How prepared do you think you are for a behavioral interview situation?

Time and again, we hear that communication is one of the top skills that employers and graduate schools seek.  You may truly be the perfect fit, but if you can’t articulate your strengths and experiences well, you may be passed over.  Good communication takes reflection, practice, and an understanding of what employers/schools are seeking.