Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Post Grad: Dress To Impress

Honestly, one of the most difficult things to deal with as a post grad can be clothes. You're used to being in college, wearing sweatpants at every opportunity or having a uniform at a part-time gig. Now you've entered the real world of interviews, "real jobs", and meeting professional business people. You've got nothing to wear and no money to spend on a fancy new wardrobe!

Here are some tips on getting the most out of your dollar when buying business and professional clothes and still look like a trendy twenty something college grad.

1. If you don't have any business clothes, start with the basics. Guys: buy at least one pair of dress pants, a few neutral dress shirts, a suit jacket, nice shoes and some ties. Chances are you already own some of these things! Girls: buy at least one pair of dress pants, a dress skirt, a blazer, a few nice blouses or dress shirts, and close-toed shoes. Starting with neutral staples is the best way to go because you can mix and match with anything!

2. Shop at places with discounts. Try your local Salvation Army. You might find a lot of duds at places like these, but you never know. You may just find a perfect pair of nice pants for cheap. Skip the expensive places at the mall like Banana Republic for now and try more inexpensive places to find interview ready clothes at H&M, Forever 21, Platos Closet, JC Penney, Sears, TJ Maxx, Marshals, etc.

3. I always, always suggest trying on clothes, but if you're positive of your sizes, try online shopping. Or, try it on in the store and see if you can find it cheaper online. A lot of places online offer cheaper versions, free shipping, or additional discounts that could save you lots of money.

4. Guys and gals, when you have your staple wardrobe, now is the time to accessorize. Guys: find funky ties you like or fun (just keep it professional) dress shirts to go under your suit jacket. Girls: accessories are where you really shine. Bring out your personality with jewelry, cute shoes, headbands, beautiful blouses, belts, and more (just keep it classy, not kitschy....remember it is an interview or new job!). You can find a lot of accessories for cheap (especially at the stores listed above plus Claires and For Love 21).

5. Lastly, just remember because you have to dress professionally for a new job or interviews doesn't mean you have to lose your personality. You can still look trendy, cute, handsome or whatever look you're going for and still dress to impress your potential employer.

Five Things you Communicate with your Professional Image

An image can be defined as the opinion or concept of someone as an expert that is held by the public. Your image can be compared to your reputation and how you are perceived by others. As both a job seeker and an employee, your professional image is critical to success.

Studies have shown that 93% of how we communicate with the world is non-verbal. Only 7% of our interaction with people comes from the words out of our mouths! When you meet someone for the first time, you get 7 to 10 seconds to make a first impression. In those first few seconds, you don’t get to say much, so most of this first impression is based on a combination of professional image and non-verbal communication. Here are five things you can convey with your image.

Self-esteem. Right or wrong, people perceive that how you take care of yourself on the outside is a reflection of how you feel about yourself. In an interview, confidence is equal to competence in the interviewers’ eyes. Therefore, you must project an aura of confidence and self-assuredness with your image.

Organizational Skills / Attention to Detail. Remember you are managing the impression you make through the details of your image. If you have paid no attention to the details or organization of your grooming and clothing (mismatched socks, unpolished shoes, dirty fingernails, or chipped nail polish, etc.), then it appears you will not pay attention to details or may be unorganized in your work habits. If you look sloppy, it is assumed that you will do sloppy work.

Sound Judgment. If you wear clothes that are too tight, too informal or formal, too provocative, or just plain unprofessional, you demonstrate a lack of judgment. The employer correlates this lack of professionalism in your image into your inability to fit into their environment. Show you can make good decisions by erring on the side of conservative professionalism in your clothing and grooming habits.

Creativity. If you are in a field where creativity and innovation are an important part of your job, then it is important to demonstrate this with your professional image. However, don’t go overboard. Try a simple statement of your uniqueness with a small splash of color on your tie, a scarf, or a unique piece of small jewelry such as a pin or ring.

Reliability. Fair or not, right or wrong, you must keep in mind that people will view your image every day to determine your intelligence, level of education, social class, and yes even your reliability. From the big picture to the small details, your image should convey that you are solid and that people can count on you.

Certifiably Skilled: Increase Your Skill Base Through Professional Certifications

"Prove it."

Two words that separate those who can walk the talk from those that just talk. You can testify up and down that you can use the concatenate function in Excel or are an excellent medical assistant, but it doesn't mean anything until the rubber meets the road and you prove it. In today's job market successful candidates are the ones who invest in their careers. Putting yourself through school is an obvious investment, but so is refining your skills as they directly pertain to the functions of your field. This is where certifications come in. Obtaining certifications add value to you as a potential employee by demonstrating you know basic and advanced skills. Here are three reasons why certifications are a great idea:

Boost your skills: You may think that you are proficient at, say, Microsoft Office, but are you a master in the eyes of Microsoft? This can only be done by taking their Microsoft Office Specialist Certification program! Companies such as Microsoft, Apple, Adobe, and many others have created certification curriculums to provide a structured means of mastering their products. This isn't to say that there aren't uncertified gurus out there, but the "thumbs up" directly from the company who created the product is a boost of confidence to employers that you know what you're doing.

Credentialize: In some fields, obtaining a certification is a way of gaining credentials. Medical assistants and massage therapists, for example, get letters to put after their names once they complete their certifications. The credentialing could be a part of a licensure requirement directed by the state to be able to work in that field, or it could just be a demonstration of advanced skills. Regardless, those extra letters could translate into extra opportunities whether you are in the job market or currently working.

Market yourself: Taking a certification exam is no easy feat; it requires acquired knowledge and discipline to study for the exam. With a certification you are not only demonstrating proficient skills, you are showing your dedication and commitment to your field and your personal growth as well as fortitude, sacrifice, and goal-accomplishment. You would be remiss if you didn't market these qualities of character to an interviewee or your supervisor as you discuss future career opportunities. Don't let this one slip by!

Never fear if the technology-heavy certification examples above have you feeling out of the certification loop; there are certification opportunities available in nearly every field, whether or not it requires a computer. Do some internet investigating and invest in your future through a certification.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Be Professional When Turning Down a Job Offer

The interview process is complete, and your qualifications and experience are exactly what the hiring manager is looking for. A job offer is extended. But there’s one problem; you’ve decided it is not the right job for you. How do you graciously and professionally turn down the offer and still keep the door open—even just a crack—to future opportunities in case circumstances change.

Carefully Consider Your Decision

Before declining a job offer, make sure you have all the information you need to make an informed decision. Carefully weigh the pros and cons and consider all aspects of the offer. Maybe even discuss the matter with someone whose opinion you value. If you decide to decline based largely on one aspect of the offer, have you thought about whether this point might be negotiable? Remember, once you decline an offer, there is no backtracking.

Declining Professionally

Once you’ve concluded that you need to decline a job offer, do so with the utmost professionalism. Reply promptly—first by phone and then by mailing a formal written communication. Both notifications can be brief but should include the following:

· A gracious thank you to the appropriate company contact(s)

· An acknowledgement that you’ve given the offer careful consideration

· Your decision to decline the offer and, optionally, your reason(s) for declining

There is no right or wrong answer about providing a specific reason for declining the offer. In some cases it may be better to simply state that you’ve decided the job is not the best fit. If you wish to provide a specific reason, don’t share details that could be construed as insulting or could cause company representatives to feel defensive. For example, don’t say you didn’t like the manager or people you would be working with or that you’ve accepted a better offer that is providing a higher salary and/or better benefits.

Always remember, the goal when declining any job offer is to do so in a way that enables you to maintain a professional reputation.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Resources for Conducting Pre-interview Research

In an earlier blog post, I discussed the importance of conducting pre-interview research and the details you should be sure to learn before you go for an interview. Here are some key resources that you can use to gather this essential information.

The company website. This is the first stop on your research trip. Look for their “about us” tab to learn the company history, their mission statement, their goals, and corporate philosophy. However, don’t stop there. Make sure you are familiar with every aspect of their website and the features it offers.

Hoovers Online and CorporateInformation. (http://www.hoovers.com/ and http://www.corporateinformation.com/) These sites are basically information gathering sites on companies of all sizes where you can learn financials, management structure, names of senior staff members, competitors, and much more. There are parts of the sites that require you to pay for access, however many libraries offer free access to these sites.

U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. (http://www.sec.gov/) If the company is publicly held you can access their stockholders’ report on this website. Evaluate the company’s prospectus, look at their financials, and learn their mission statement from the reports posted here.

Online news articles. Always conduct a search on http://www.google.com/ to find if there have been any recent articles or news items written about the company’s current events and developments. Another valuable resource is Google News (http://news.google.com/). This specialized search engine focuses on news, journals, and blog websites and you can search by company name.

Information exchange forums. Don’t forget to check sites such as http://www.glassdoor.com/ and www.indeed.com/forum. These are sites where current and former employees can post information about the company. These are often where people go to air their grievances, but even the complaints of a disgruntled employee can offer valuable insight into a company’s problems or needs. These sites may also be a source of information for your interview preparation. They often include the types of interviews and even interview questions other candidates have faced.

Your network. Don’t forget to check with friends, family, and colleagues – they could very well be your most valuable resource for insider information. Use http://www.linkedin.com/ to find people you may know or that know someone within your network and can provide you with pre-interview knowledge.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Do Your Homework. Four Questions You Should Answer in Your Pre-interview Research

Once you get the call for an interview, your work has just begun. It is now time to dig into your research of the company and learn some critical facts. This research will demonstrate that you are interested in the company and that you are prepared. However, more importantly you will gain important information that will directly contribute to your success in the interview.

Basic Company Facts
You must be well-versed in the company’s history as well as the current state of the industry they operate within. Become an expert in their products or services. Gather as much information on their beginnings, their leadership team, and their culture.

Keep in mind, companies hire for two reasons: to fill a need or to solve a problem. Evaluating their SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats) will help you find out WHY they are looking to fill this position. Think of yourself as more than a job candidate. You are the potential solution to their problem or the one that can fulfill their need. However, in order to demonstrate that you can do these things, you must first discover their existence.

Don’t just research the company, but also find out as much as you can about their key competitors in the industry and what they are doing. Discover what challenges the company may be facing, but also what their competitors within the industry are facing – and what they are doing about it.

Current Events
Read all the industry information about the company. What are the current trends? What do analysts think about the company’s future? What does the future hold for the company? Are there any recent or upcoming product or service launches or market expansions?

Now that you know what to look for, check back later in the week for the resources of where to find the information.

Waxing Strategic: Creating a Plan to Guide Your Career

When a company (or work unit in a company) engages in strategic planning it does so to get focused on a goal or set of goals that will positively impact its function/operation. A desired outcome is agreed upon and an analysis is performed in order to figure out the best way to achieve that outcome. Strategic planning isn't exclusive to multinational corporations; individuals can perform one as well. Have you been struggling with reaching an outcome related to your career, be it getting a job at a company you admire, moving up in the company where you work, or changing career fields altogether? A strategic plan could bring you focus, break down your actions into manageable steps, and give you a clear picture of what success will look like for you.

Outcome: The first step in creating a strategic plan is determining what you want. You may be thinking "I don't know what I want!" which is fine! In fact, you could even create a strategic plan around "finding out what I want." Regardless, a strategic plan cannot function without some kind of outcome or end result. Don't be picky and don't make choosing your topic painful. Ask yourself this question: "what do I want to get out of my career that I am not getting right now?" This will help you get focused on a topic that serves you right now; it's okay for things to change in the future.

SWOT analysis: A SWOT analysis is a process commonly used in business to examine Strengths and Weaknesses (internal considerations) as well as Opportunites and Threats (external considerations) as they relate to what your outcome is. Creating one-which you can do by drawing four boxes on a piece of paper-helps you get specific about your situation and think critically about what you have (and don't have) going for you. There is a fantastic template for creating a SWOT analysis here that will help you get one created quickly. Again, think action; don't let your head fill with the "yeah, but..." thoughts that keep you from action! Be critical, but stay positive and focused on your outcome.

SMART goals: Many people have heard of SMART goals (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Reaching, and Timely) and you can read more about them at this Daily Leap blog post. SMART goals are a great compliment to a SWOT analysis, helping you take your analysis in the latter and create something actionable with the former. Again, don't focus on making "perfect" goals; there is no such thing as a perfect goal! The only question to ask yourself here is "will this goal lead me to my outcome?" If it does, then go with it!

Anyone who has ever had dreams for their career but hasn't been able to act on those dreams would benefit from creating a strong, resonant strategic plan. Even if you don't think it will work, try it anyway (you have nothing to lose and MUCH to gain!). Challenge yourself to create your reality, not just live it!

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Hobbies That Look Great On a Post Grad Resume

Just graduated college and having trouble finding a job? Sitting at home doing nothing most of your time? It is time to find you something to do besides being discouraged by the constant job hunt! Here are a few hobbies or activities you can do with your free time that you can also add to your resume. Having extra activities that relate to the career you want can only be a bonus. Use this time to increase your chances of landing that perfect gig!

1. Volunteer. Pick a cause and devote your free time after job hunting to it. Bonus points if it relates to your major. For example, if you're an English major hoping to teach kids, volunteer to read to local school kids. If you got your business degree, help out a small non-profit organization in any way you can. These volunteering activities show character and initiative.

2. Take a class. This doesn't mean you have to go back to school. Find classes at a local community center that has something to do with your passion. Interested in an IT job? Take some computer classes to give you a leg up. Want to be a chef? Take a class on how to bake fancy cupcakes if you've never learned that before. These classes are usually short and cheap and can be something to do that shows you love learning and take charge.

Only put hobbies that really matter to an employer on your resume. I wouldn't list all the things you do such as: hanging out with friends, hiking, going online... etc. It will just make your resume unnecessarily long and your potential employer won't care. Only put hobbies that stand out or include ones that pertain to the job or where you received some type of award or outstanding achievement.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Dealing with an Incompetent Co-Worker

Whether you’re a long-time employee or a student who has participated in group assignments, chances are you’ve experienced the frustration and maybe even detrimental effects of working with someone who is incompetent. In many workplace situations, your performance and success can be directly linked to that of a co-worker. So when incompetency rears its ugly head—perhaps in the form of substandard work or missed deadlines—the results can lead to stress and a bigger workload. While every situation is different and there is no one-size-fits-all solution for dealing with incompetence, the following advice may help.

First, Go to the Source

Initially, the fair and professional approach involves trying to resolve the problem directly with the co-worker whose incompetency is a concern. Keep an open mind and approach him/her with honesty and the goal of solving the issue in a way that benefits all parties concerned, including the organization. Keep the conversation fact-based. Cite examples of how certain actions or a lack of action have impacted the project and/or your ability to complete your work successfully. Keep your emotions in check; never be demeaning or disrespectful to your co-worker(s).

Give your co-worker an opportunity to share his/her perspective, and remember, you may not be aware of all the factors influencing your co-worker’s actions. For example, other responsibilities may have produced an unrealistic workload that is preventing your co-worker from putting forth his/her best effort.

By going to your co-worker first, you create a more positive environment for resolving issues and you increase your chances of keeping the working relationship intact.

If Necessary, Engage Your Manager

If the problem remains even after you’ve tried to resolve the issue directly with your co-worker and allowed ample time to let positive change occur, the next step is to engage your manager for guidance. Now, it is even more important that you keep the conversation focused on facts and concrete examples rather than opinions and personality traits. Only mention those things that are jeopardizing the success of the project and your ability to do your best work. Conduct the conversation in private and extend any productive suggestions you might have. Be mindful that you don’t want to come across as whining, tooting your own horn, or having trouble getting along with others.