Monday, September 22, 2014

Back in the Saddle: Re-entering the Job Market

Lately, students have been asking how to deal with gaps in their employment when they’re writing their resumes. These gaps range from stay-at-home parents to returning veterans. They tell me they’re nervous because job descriptions require 3-5 years of experience and they don’t believe they’re qualified. Well, the truth is people step in and out of jobs all the time.  I tell them that if they listed everything they did in their home-jobs or on the battlefield; they might come across as over-qualified. I advise them to consider the following:

Use a hybrid resume format, which is a blend of a skills/functional based and chronological based document.  A chronological resume is the most popular format but if there are holes in your chronology, it might be a red flag. Also, some recruiters say that a pure skills based resume that includes a job history section with no employment dates is a red flag. So, why not mix it up to give the best of both worlds? The hybrid style will start with a robust “Summary of Qualifications” at the top, followed by a “Core Competencies” section. The summary highlights your best practices, what you’re known for and what you’re most proud of as it relates to the job you’re seeking. The competencies section includes the things you know how to do (e.g. balance budgets, cost control, project management, client relations).

List any volunteer or part-time projects or jobs. This shows that you’re putting your skills to work and not just sitting home keeping your couch warm. Any hiring manager will want to see that candidates are “self-sustaining” by proactively taking initiative. Make sure that you create this section to be as “business-like” as possible. You want those who make corporate decisions to take your resume seriously.

Networking… I know! This can be a tiresome buzz word but it still is necessary. Miriam Salpeter, a job search and social media consultant for US News & World Report, strongly advises to take advantage of every kind of networking tool including in-person opportunities. She says that LinkedIn, job clubs and mixers are all “equally important for job seekers who really want to solidify relationships with the potential to earn them introductions to key decision-makers at their target companies”.

Remember, your job search may take time, trial, and error but be patient with yourself and with the process. This is still a brave new world and the rules are in constant flux. Pay attention to how interviews and phone screenings go. Assess how you think you did, celebrate your progress and make course corrections along the way. In the world of job searching, patience and persistence will be your best friends. Giddy up, y’all!

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Interviewing: Tell Me About Yourself

Most interviewers will start with a request to “Tell me about yourself.” Even though it is an easy request to anticipate, it often causes undue stress and anxiety, resulting in rambling responses that include complete life stories. With a little preparation, you can use this question to clearly articulate your strengths and accomplishments, setting a confident, positive tone for the rest of the interview.

To craft a strong response, start by carefully reviewing the job requisition, researching the employer, and asking these questions:

  1. What strengths do you have that are pertinent to the position? (3-5)
  2. What are key accomplishments that have benefitted past employers and are relevant to this position? (1-2)
  3. What personal traits (or soft skills) do you have that complement your other skills?
  4. What educational credentials enhance your employment background? (diplomas, degrees, and professional certifications)

Create a script including information from your answers.  Keep your response relatively succinct. It is surprising what can be said in just 30 to 45 seconds.  For example:

My passion is numbers. With more than five years experience in accounting, I have been recognized for completing complex accounting projects under stringent time restraints. In my current role as a fund accountant, I generated over $230,000.00 in cost savings by identifying expense reduction opportunities. I enjoy collaborating with others to understand my employer’s pain points and addressing problems head-on.  My bachelor’s degree in accounting is a strong foundation for my accounting career and I am currently on track to obtain my CPA License by this October. 

In most instances, avoid sharing personal matters or ancient work history. Instead, focus on highlighting:

  • how you can do the job
  • what you have previously accomplished 
  • how you can help the organization

Practice with your script until you feel confident, but avoid memorization. Your response should sound natural and conversational. With a thoughtful, prepared response, you are bound to make a memorable and positive impression.

For additional assistance or to schedule a mock interview, please contact WGU Career & Professional Development. We are here to help.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Using a School District's Website to Your Advantage

As you begin a job search, it is tempting to follow the “one resume fits all” approach because it is easier and saves time when you have a variety of jobs to apply for. However, mass producing your resume and sending it to every school within an hour’s drive is definitely not the way to go. The best approach to apply for any job is to individualize your resume and cover letter for each position within a school or district.  Once you have decided what schools you want to apply to, the next step is to visit the school or district website before completing your application documents. It contains information you can use to your advantage as you prepare to start your job search. The following three tips will help you analyze and extract valuable information from a school’s website that you can use to increase your interview chances.

  1. Data – Most schools will include the previous year’s performance data on their website. As an applicant, you should look for the grade issued by the state, along with the current results of the state standardized testing. If it’s not listed on the website, you can find this information on your state’s Department of Education website. Select an area where the school did well (perhaps their reading scores increased) and an area of deficit (maybe their mathematics scores dropped) and incorporate that data into your cover letter. Be sure to compliment the school on what they have done well and then demonstrate how hiring YOU can help them overcome their current challenges and achieve success for next year. 
  2. School Improvement or Mission Statements – Every school will have a mission statement or school improvement plan on their website which drives next year’s performance goals.  Investigate these goals and incorporate them into your resume and cover letter. If possible include performance metrics in your documents to show your experiences or successes in these areas. A school will find great value in you as an applicant if you can demonstrate student performance growth in their areas of need.
  3. Networking – Often times it is difficult for teachers to network within a school unless they have the benefit of substitute teaching at that school. One alternative is to find the “Staff Directory” on the website and isolate other faculty members who can assist you. Look for the “Department Chairperson”, “Curriculum Leader” or “Team Lead” for the grade/subject you want to teach.  These team leads are the next best thing to meeting with the principal. They know their departmental needs, budgets and open faculty positions. Contact them via e-mail or phone and request to schedule a “job shadow” day or an after school meeting. Use this time to ask them questions about the school, any teacher questions you have and if they think there is anticipated growth in their departments. Leave a copy of your resume with them and express your interest in future openings. Be sure to follow up with a thank you note within 24 hours. If you’ve made a positive impression and a position opens up, the lead can approach the principal with your name and contact information. Remember, you will need to be fingerprint cleared to job shadow a teacher during the day. If you don’t have clearance, set up an after school meeting instead.

Once you have used the above tips and created your resume and cover letter, don’t forget to send it to WGU’s Career & Professional Development Center for review.  We’re happy to provide suggestions and feedback for making your application documents the best they can be.  Visit to schedule an appointment with one of our Career & Professional Development Specialists.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

5 Tips on What to Do When You Don't Have Experience

  1. Research. Don’t send generic resumes. They’re boring and they probably don’t make you sound very interested in that specific job. Resumes and cover letters must be tailored to the job you’re applying to otherwise it’s like nailing your resume to a tree hoping someone finds it…and reads it! Pick only a few companies you really want to work for, and focus your energies on them. What is their mission? What is their branding and marketing strategy (it shows you’re paying attention to the details). Use their own website and the “About Us” link as well as to find out more about the company.
  2. Give it away. Volunteerism can be a great way to gain valuable work experience. If possible, try to find volunteer opportunities within your field but even if you can’t many employers will see volunteerism as a worth-while activity. It shows an altruistic spirit and an example of a positive work ethic. In addition to seeking out volunteer opportunities to help supplement your skills and experience, these opportunities can also be a place-holder on your resume if it shows a gap of a year or more. You would simply add the volunteer experience as though it were one of your regular jobs. Some applications include a section for job-related volunteer experience while other applications provide an “Additional Information” section where you can list your volunteer activities. You can also include the Volunteer Coordinator as one of your references. This person would be the same as your supervisor. Check out the section Volunteering on our website for more ideas. 
  3. Write a well-crafted cover letter for your resume. This is more conversational than a resume so it needs to be well-written: grammar, spelling, sentence structure, etc. The cover letter should be no more than 3 brief paragraphs. First paragraph explains HOW you found the job and that you’ve done some research. Second paragraph should state that you have the skills that match the posted job description. These should be in bullet points, easy to read, one-liners only, and no more than 4 points. The third paragraph is basically inviting the company to invite you to an interview closing the letter with a “thank you for your consideration” and your signature. 
  4. Follow the rules then break them. Follow the HR/Application Rules (complete the online application, submit your resume, cover letter, etc.). But then contact the department you’re applying for to introduce yourself. They may still say that you have to apply via their website. Let them know that you did but you want to express that you REALLY want to work for them and that you’re excited for this opportunity to hopefully interview. Don’t come across as desperate—just excited and assertive to compete for this position. Be bold (but not pushy), what do you have to lose?
  5. Make sure you send your resume and cover letter to the WGU Career & Professional Development Center for a critique and review the calendar of events for webinars and job clubs to obtain additional advice and tips.