Looking Back: The Time I Wished I Hadn’t Wasted

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When I was in college, I thought I knew it all. Then again, maybe most of us have a false sense of confidence at that time in our lives. I thought that I was going to be ahead of the game because I was working full-time while obtaining my bachelor’s degree. Not only was I making enough money to have financial independence, but I was also allowing myself to get some real-world experience so I would be a more attractive candidate than the others who only had their diploma. Oh yeah, I had it all figured out back then… but I was wrong.

Having a full-time job was definitely great but it didn’t help me get where I needed to be. When I was going to college, no one told me about the importance of honing in on a specific job function to ensure a smooth transition into my field upon graduation. I mean, surely having experience as an administrative assistant would be transferable to a role in human resources, right? After applying to jobs and interviewing, I learned that this was a big no.

I remember sitting in an interview for an entry-level HR assistant role and the recruiter asked me about my HR experience. “Um, well, I have my bachelor’s that focused on HR and I took plenty of classes that were HR related.” I thought that was a decent answer. After all, this was an entry-level position that would take recent grads. Needless to say, I didn’t get the job.

I called my brother that night to complain about the fact that no one would hire me for HR jobs. I just couldn’t understand how entry-level positions would say they were open to zero years of experience, but then would reject candidates for not having experience. Was this some sort of sick trick? How could anyone expect me to get experience if no one would give me a chance? “Why don’t you do an internship?” my brother asked me. At that point, I had absolutely no time to squeeze in an internship on top of a job. Also, I was living on my own, states away from home, and couldn’t afford to quit my job (and income) to take a non-paid internship.

I wished I knew what the hiring criteria was before I graduated school and before I made the move out of my parent’s house. I wished I would have taken advantage of my live-at-home situation to help me properly get relevant experience in my field while I had the time and option to do it. Instead, I wasted time thinking I was “growing up” faster and gaining “professional experience”, when in reality I was only gaining experience that wouldn’t actually get me where I needed to go. I eventually landed a job in HR down the line but I often wonder if I would have been further along in my career if I didn’t waste that time in college.

If you are in college, please take note of my career blunder and don’t waste your time. If you have a career focus, make sure you take the time to learn about the hiring criteria before you get to the point where you need to start applying. Learn what employers look for in candidates and take the time to somehow build those skills before you need to actually get a full-time job. You’ll be glad that you put in the extra effort during college, trust me.

For internship advice, check out YouTern – great resource.

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Prepare for the Interview Battlefield

 

Over the weekend, a friend of mine reached out to me because she was seeking some advice on how to properly prepare for the interview process. She had been out of the job seeking world for a few years now so the current concept of interview loops seemed foreign to her. Even though I studied human resources, talent acquisition, and have been in the field for a few years, I also struggled with this when I was searching for work a year ago. I thought I would have had the knowledge to beat the odds but I soon realized that whatever plan I had initially used during interviews was severely flawed. I began to feel like being a job seeker was like walking into a battlefield with the awareness that everyone is betting against you. It’s tough and winging it these days isn’t going to cut it.

You may never really be able to fully prepare for your job interviews, but it would be unwise to think that you can’t prepare yourself at all. The best thing I did for myself when I was getting ready for a phone interview was prepare organized notes that I could review while speaking to the recruiter. This helped me greatly so I suggested that my friend should get ready the same way I did:

  • Compare your skills/experience to the job description: the recruiter is trying to find out how much of a fit you are for the job role. Look at the job description requirements and duties and briefly write down your own experiences in a way that flows nicely against the description. Many people get caught up in unnecessary details or verbiage when the recruiter asks them about their experience. This can help you get straight to the point and make it easy for them to see that your skills will transfer well to this role.
  • Write down examples: a lot of the time, recruiters will ask you behavioral questions relevant to the job. This is a way to see how you would potentially handle realistic situations that may happen in the day-to-day. Having solid examples, details about the actions you took, and the result will be a great way to show the recruiter that you can handle any curveballs thrown at you.
  • Be ready for the tough questions: of course, you may not have been able to handle every curveball gracefully throughout your career. If a recruiter asks you about a time that you failed or about a weakness, make sure you have an example. More importantly, make sure you show them what you learned from this experience.
  • Don’t forget your accomplishments: there are times where you may have gone above and beyond in your company or you may have even accomplished things outside of your job scope. Sometimes, candidates mix this in when they’re explaining their work experience and this can throw off the recruiter. Having these examples separate can make sure the recruiter will see that you have relevant experience but also that you have the initiative and drive to do more when you have the bandwidth.
  • Have 2-5 great questions: recruiters love it when candidates ask solid questions. However, make sure you have thoughtful questions. Nothing is more irritating than getting asked a question that could have been easily answered if you read the job description. To really wow the recruiter, do some digging and take the time to research. Go beyond their company website and even look into news about them, their blog, or press releases.
  • Keep it organized: having notes is great but make sure you keep it organized. This can allow you to refer to them quickly so you don’t miss a beat in your response.

I loved having notes. Honestly, I’m not all that great thinking on my toes. If I’m taken off-guard, I’ll end up talking in circles. If I take the time to think it through, my nerves of taking too long to answer will force me to respond before I can even think of a good reply. I’ve heard this happening to plenty of people, which is why I strongly suggest taking the time to have these notes prepared. Having this ready may even help reduce some of your stress and interviewing jitters which can allow you to display confidence.

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Interns Should be More Than Your Coffee Lackey

Many years ago, interns used to be called “apprentices.” In these roles, the mentor would teach the apprentice how to do the job, provide details about the industry, and give a realistic expectations. The mentor took time to add value to the individual they were teaching and, as a result, allowed the individual to gain skills and knowledge to perform well once they were ready to start their career. In present day, interns are joked to be the “coffee lackey” or the “errand runner” for the company they’re “working” at. Sadly, these terms came about because some companies have delegated these tasks to the individuals who initially came there to learn. But how is getting a coffee order right going to help anyone?

As a support system and mentor for some of my interns, I often have a weekly call with them to discuss some of the things they’re learning from the team/department they’re interning in. I’ll attempt to answer any questions, build a support system, and offer some guidance. Of course, I’m always intrigued to hear about their previous interning experiences compared to their current ones and also to hear about their dislikes and likes from each experience. Needless to say, it shocked me when I heard that there are plenty of times when these interns literally were delegated the bare minimum. They’d tell me that these situations didn’t allow them to learn anything useful and that they felt like they wasted their time. More importantly, their experience at the company made them want to rule it out as a potential employer down the line.

What bothers me about this situation is the fact that we’re not doing anything or anyone justice if we aren’t utilizing our interns the best that we can. These interns come to companies in hopes to get a realistic view of what the world of work really is like. They came to put their school studies to practice and build their skills in ways that textbooks and classrooms can’t provide. They’re making a conscious effort to build their resumes so they are an attractive candidate once they’re ready for full-time work. They came to your company because they potentially wanted to build a relationship so you could consider them once you had a relevantjob opening. And how are they repaid for their effort? By having companies waste their time and make them feel expendable.

Here comes the irony: I often hear recruiters and hiring managers complain that there isn’t enough good talent for their entry-level positions. The reason for this is because some companies have turned internships into an opportunity to have someone do the unfavorable tasks that they don’t want to do rather than actually mentoring them. This could be an opportunity to allow them to reach their potential. As a company that has internship programs, it’s your responsibility to help build the talent for the future workforce. If you want great employees coming out of college, then it’s imperative for you to help them build their skills at a time where they are eager and inspired to learn.

Interns come to companies with natural motivation, desire to learn, drive, and ambition. They’re hopeful for their future and are looking up to their mentors to guide them in the right direction. Essentially, mentors of the internship programs are the ones who are helping shape our upcoming workforce. What are you doing to help contribute?

If this topic interests you, be sure to join in or listen to the #InternPro radio show.

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Are You Making the Most of Your College Years?

After listening to the #InternPro radio show the other evening, I couldn’t help but wonder if there were any college students taking notes. During this show, different Talent Acquisition Specialist and University Recruiters were able to provide some wonderful details in regard to internship and entry-level recruitment. Some of the tips and information were slightly surprising but honestly made sense. Being that I currently recruit for entry-level positions, I could confirm that I run into these issues regularly. More often than not, I hope that college students are taking the time to research the job markets that they will be entering soon. Also, I hope they are able to determine the things they need to do to make themselves an attractive candidate upon graduation.

It’s time to get real about your professional future:

  • College degrees are not enough: in some specialized instances, it may be. However, the college degree has become so common that it does not make a candidate special anymore. Think of it as if it were the high school diploma a few years back- a large amount of people have it. You need to be strategic and determine the best way to build soft skills, in and out of school.
  • Even entry level positions want some sort of experience: maybe your GPA is looking mighty fine but do you have any real world experience? It doesn’t necessarily have to be job related (even though that would be ideal), but recruiters are looking to see if you took initiative to build skills during college.
  • Don’t think you don’t have time: I get it, college class loads can be daunting to the point where you don’t believe that you have time to take on anything else. Maybe that’s true but getting a job isn’t the only way you can gain attractive experience. Join clubs, networking events, fraternities/sororities, volunteer, or intern. This can not only help you build skills but it could potentially help you network with people who will aid in your job search down the line.
  • Stop templating your resume format: I know that writing resumes from scratch is tough but using common key words and formatting will not do you any favors. Don’t use the common words to describe yourself on your resume, or if you do, make sure you have something to show so you can back it up (such as a portfolio).
  • Put your social media skills to good use: we all know how you’re an expert at social media but casually socializing on it isn’t its only function. Take time to build social media profiles that are professional and use it to build your personal brand. This can help you gain momentum before you’re ready to start your job search.
  • Don’t wait until the last minute: getting a job is really hard. It is time consuming, the interview process can be long, and you need to be strategic. Don’t wait until 2 weeks before graduation to look for job. Job searches can sometimes take several months (unfortunately, that seems to be more common than not these days), so make sure you start early so you aren’t left scrambling around graduation time.
  • Do your research: no one likes a job hopper and most candidates fall into that category because they are unhappy with the employer that they selected. To avoid making a bad choice or to avoid getting into a job-hopper scenario, make sure you take the time to research companies, their cultures, and so on. This can help you find out if it’s a good option and fit for you.

College is apparently some of the best years of your life but don’t let your fun and socializing stop you from keeping your eye on the prize. You need to make sure that everything you do during those years are going to help you when you are ready to enter in the workforce, so keep these tips in mind.

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