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Ask Dr. Tom

January 2012 Archives

During your career you often hear conflicting messages about the nature of work. Too many people today believe in myths and have excuses that prevent them from moving forward with their career plans. Knowing the truth about these common inaccuracies will help reduce your stress in terms of your long-term career development. Try to be clear and open minded when it comes to achieving success by avoiding these common misconceptions:

Myth #1: The most qualified person gets the job.

Reality: A strong resume is a very important document in the job search. As a career development rule, you build the best resume possible; one in which you are proud. Oftentimes, however, the person who lands the job is the one who makes the best impression, regardless of qualifications. A resume does not land you a job, but rather an interview. Sometimes people with weak resumes land interviews because they excel at networking, and are able to convince the interviewer that they possess the best match of qualifications, "chemistry," and personal attributes for the job. Personal attributes include persistence, enthusiasm, honesty, confidence, and most importantly, popularity. Get them to like you. Don't get overconfident if you feel you are the most qualified person, nor discouraged if you are not a direct match for the position. In the interview, you will need to prove yourself as the best candidate for the job.

Myth #2: My major or degree should be directly related to my job/career.

Reality: The notion that there are no jobs with your degree is false. For example, Carly Fiornia, the former CEO of Hewlett Packard, was a medieval studies major at Stanford University. The old rules regarding career development no longer apply. Pick a major or degree that you love, and make sure you gain relevant experience from your work experience that match your career goals.

Myth #3: A degree guarantees me a good job.

Reality: Some believe that they can go anywhere with a GPA of 4.0. Not true! Employers do look for academic success, however, many employers would rather see a GPA of 3.0 plus work experience. Remember the rule is education plus experience equals employment

Myth #4: If I take this job, I will be set for life.

Reality: People who spend a lifetime with one employer are a dying breed. In the new economy, a job change every three to five years is not considered job-hopping. In fact, demonstrated experience at several employers is an asset, while long-term employment with one firm can be a warning sign of someone afraid of risk-taking or change. Studies show that the average working American will have three to five careers and between ten to twelve jobs during their lifetime. As a result, you will need to make multiple moves to gain new skills and get ahead. Do avoid very short stints - those under one year.


Myth #5: I'm just going to start applying and I'll find something

Reality: Lack of focus is the number one reason people struggle with their job search. If you don't know what the target is it is really hard to hit it. You need to rank your top jobs in the following categories: 1) ideal/dream job, 2) realistic/backup job, and 3) safety. Your career focus should be based on careful self-assessment that takes into consideration your skills, values, interests and personality. Taking self-assessment tests like the Campbell, Myers-Briggs or the Strong are useful. Having the right direction is absolutely critical to job satisfaction.


Myth #6: My family and friends make great career advisors.

Reality: When it comes to jobs and going back to school, people close to you will have many conflicting and strong opinions about what is the best option for you. It is okay to seek a variety of views, but remember that your family and friends are biased and are not trained career counselors. You will want to have someone listen to you and advise you objectively. Ultimately, your career is your responsibility. Trying to please others, such as your friends, family or even what is valued by American Society, is a mistake that will come back to haunt you in the future. Remember: you, not anyone else, must live with your job choice.


Myth #7: I don't need a resume.
Reality:
Everyone needs a resume, even if you have a great job and don't have any intention of leaving. We live in uncertain times so continuing to build your resume is a smart career development move. Every 6 months you should review your accomplishments at work and add them to your resume. At that time, identify what the gaps are in your experience and have time to fill them in before you really need to make your next move. Your resume can also serve as a self-assessment tool to help you track what you have achieved and reflect on where you want to go next.

Myth #8: Interviewing is easy if you know how to talk.
Reality:
Many people make the mistake of over preparing their resume and cover letter, and under-preparing for the all important interview. What will you say when an employer asks you to describe your greatest weakness or give examples of your top three skills as they relate to the job? Job searching is really about marketing yourself to employers. The best way to do that is to read books on interviewing, research sample questions and answers on the Internet and set up a mock interview with a mentor.

Myth #9: The only jobs available are in the classifieds.
Reality:
Most research shows that less than 20% of jobs are ever listed in the classifieds. If someone is looking for a job and the classifieds are their sole source of job leads, their job search will be frustrating because most ads can draw an average of 100 to 300 applicants. It's important to learn the other job search strategies that will complement your classifieds search. At least 50% of jobs are found using the most effective job search technique: networking.

Myth #10: I sent a resume and a cover letter. If they want me, they will contact me.

Reality: Given the volume of resumes that most employers receive, a recruiter will spend roughly thirty to sixty seconds reviewing your resume and cover letter. A passive approach will not work in today's job market; you will need to conduct extensive follow-up and request an interview. If you left a message and you have not heard back, you have every right to call them again. Knowing someone that works at the company and requesting assistance might help you get your resume to the top of the stack.


Myth #11: Money is the most important factor when making a decision about a job offer.

Reality: Wrong! The two most important factors are: job content and your new boss. In addition to financial incentives you should also weigh such essential factors as the relationship with co-workers, typical work week, location, organizational flexibility, and other benefits such as tuition reimbursement and vacation time. Since you will be at work more hours than you will be with your family or anything else, job satisfaction should be a high priority. In addition, many workers today are eager to forego money to achieve a better work/life balance.


Myth #12: I'll start looking for my next job when I really need to.

Reality: Wrong again. You may be happy in your job right now, but that will change. Job satisfaction always starts off in a idealize honeymoon fashion, but over time the job may become routine, boring, frustrating and meaningless. Finding the right career is one of the most difficult challenges in adulthood. It is a time-consuming process that is best done when you don't need a job; not at the last minute. When you have already passed the boiling point, starting too late can only add more anxiety to this already stressful process. It is important to know the warning signs of burnout before it happens.

Myth #13: More education means more marketability.

Reality: This is not necessarily true. The key here is that you match your educational goals to your professional goals, and then couple them with relevant experience. There are plenty of people in the world who are well educated, but lack the necessary experience. Having a "better" degree does not necessarily mean getting the job you want or getting a job that is meaningful. What is important is the right combination of education and work experience, mixed with your ability to sell your personal qualifications in an interview.

Myth #14: The company will take care of me and my career.

Reality: Perhaps true in the 1950s, but the workplace has evolved. In an age of downsizing, the rule is career self-management. Only you will be responsible for your continuing education and career development. Even if you do well for the company, there is no guarantee that the company will guarantee its own future, let alone yours! According to Business Week, the chances are one in three that you'll lose your job at least once during your working life.


Myth #15: I posted my resume to the Internet, so I should hear about a job offer soon.

Reality: The Internet will not solve all of your career problems. Using the Internet should be part of your overall job search plan, but don't be lulled into a false sense of security that it is a silver bullet. Post your resume on three to five of the best job sites and be sure to monitor it as well as checking the job listings on a regular basis. Spend no more than 5% of your time conducting an Internet job search. Again, the rule is networking beats NOTworking.

Copyright 2012, Dr. Thomas J. Denham, Careers In Transition LLC - Posted Friday, January 27, 2012

There are many types of interviews serving diverse purposes.  Knowing what to expect can help you achieve your goals.

 

1. Informational Interview

The objective of this interview is to ask for advice and learn more about a particular career field, employer or particular job.  Interviewing experts in their field is one more way to become more occupationally literate.  The knowledge that you gain here will make you a sharper and more informed.  You will also make a contact and further develop your network.

 

2. Screening or Telephone Interview

A phone interview is a very cost effective way to screen candidates.  These can last anywhere from 10 to 30 minutes.  You should prepare for it like an open book exam.  It is recommended that you have in front of you your resume, the job description, a list of references, some prepared answers to challenging questions and perhaps something about the company.  The vast majority of communication is non-verbal.  Because they can't see your body language, it is critically important to have positive and polished answers with energetic tone and inflection.  Be sure to ask what the next step is.

 

3. Individual Interview

This is the most common type and often called a "personal interview."  It is typically a one-on-one exchange at the organizations offices.  In order to best prepare you will want to know the length of the interview which can usually range from 30 to 90 minutes.  If the interview is 30 minutes you have to be concise and have a high impact with your answers.  If it is 60 or 90 minutes you will want to go into much more depth and use specific examples to support your generalizations.

 

4. Small Group or Committee Interview

This is where you will be meeting with several decision-makers at once.  This can be an intimidating experience if you are not prepared.  It's an efficient way to interview candidates and allows for different interpretations or perceptions of the same answer.  Be sure to make eye contact with everyone, no matter who asked the question.  It's important to establish rapport with each member of the interview team.  Try to find out the names and job titles of the participants.

 

5. The Second or On-Site Interview

After your first interview, you may be asked back again for a "second date."  They like you enough that you made the first round of cuts, but they would like to know more about you before making their final decision.  Second Interviews can last either a half or full-day so it is best to check again and get an agenda.  You may be meeting with three to five individuals.  This may include a representative from Human Resources, the department head, the office staff and the department head's supervisor.  Be alert and enthusiastic at all times!  The more you know about the structure of the process, the less anxious you are going to feel and the better you will perform.  This is the last step before an offer is made.

 

6. Behavioral-Based Interview

The theory behind Critical Behavioral Interviewing (CBI) is that past performance in a similar situation is the best predictor of future performance.  CBI probes much deeper than traditional interviewing techniques.  You should prepare by thinking of specific examples that demonstrate your competence in core behaviors such as teamwork, problem-solving, communication, creativity, flexibility and organizational skills.  You will want to tell your story and structure it by stating your answers in terms of the situation, the task, what action you took, and what was the result or outcome.

 

7. Task Oriented or Testing Interview

This is a problem-solving interview where you will be given some exercises to demonstrate your creative and analytical abilities.  A company may ask you to take a short test to evaluate your technical knowledge and skills.  Sometimes a presentation to a group is necessary to determine your communication skills.  Try to relax as much as possible.

 

8. Stress Interview

During this rare type, the interviewer tries to bait you, to see how you will respond.  The objective is to find your weaknesses and test how you hold up to pressure.  Such tactics as weird silences, constant interruptions and challenging interrogation with antagonistic questions are designed to push your boundaries.  The question you have to ask yourself is: Do I want to work for a company that treats me this way even before the offer is made?  Rethink the corporate culture.

 

Copyright 2012, Dr. Thomas J. Denham, Careers In Transition LLC - Albany.com - Friday, January 13, 2012

4 Types of Resumes

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A resume is a critical component in the job search, but choosing the most appropriate format to sell your background can be a real challenge.  First, carefully analyze the job opening and then approach the process from the hiring manager's perspective to determine what style is best.

 

1. Chronological - This is the most traditional, popular and preferred style of resume writing where the education and experience are listed in reverse chronological order beginning with the most recent first.  Ideally, it should show how each job builds upon the former.  By giving a clear picture of where you have worked and what you have accomplished, the chronological resume demonstrates that you have "paid your dues" and you are ready to strategically advance to the next level of responsibility.

Advantages:

Past experience is emphasized.

- A straightforward experienced-based approach which helps recruiters make quicker decisions; often expected by employers.

- Effective if progressively moving upward in the same or similar fields with a strong, steady and stable career track record.

- Clearly follows a timeline of experience where job titles, employers and length of employment are impressive.

- Duties, responsibilities, promotions and achievements are connected, related and described with each work experience.

- Best for focused candidates looking for further advancement in the same or similar fields.

- Easiest to prepare, read and interpret by highlighting career growth, current responsibilities and educational credentials.

- Useful for those whose career objectives are aligned with their past work history.

Disadvantages:

- Causes employment gaps, frequent job changes or weak areas to stand out.

-   Does not allow the opportunity to emphasize skill sets.

Not good for those trying to change career fields.

- Work dates divulges the candidate's age more quickly.

- May give the impression that you are "over-qualified."

 

2. Functional/Skills-Based - This type of resume groups a variety of experiences around skill categories (i.e. Administrative, Communication, Customer Service, Financial, Human Resources, Management, Organizational, Sales, Teamwork, Technical, etc.).  These headings come first followed by bullets with an action verb that details your responsibilities and accomplishments.  Next, a category called "Employment," lists work history in reverse chronological order without outlining the duties.  It a resume that's hard to design.

Advantages:

Future potential is emphasized while downplaying a lack of direct related experience.

A transferrable skills-based approach which draws attention to core competencies and results.

- Useful when past education and experience is diverse and not exactly related, linear, continuous or progressive.

- Good for career changers, stay-at-home parents, ex-offenders, the disabled or those re-entering the job market.

Helps conceal age or spotty work record.

- Enables the job searcher to cover education or credentials that are limited, interrupted or irrelevant.

- Best for candidates with past experience that has been coursework, freelance, volunteer, consulting or temporary in nature.

- Flexibility to reorder skill clusters to better match the requirements of each specific job opening.

- Useful if there is no obvious connection between the current job and the current career objective.

Disadvantages:

- Often suspicious and confusing to employers creating a red flag that the candidate is trying to hide something.

Can be a struggle for employers trying to make the connection between skills and the places where they were developed.

- May not be acceptable for some online resume posting sites.

- Not good for traditional fields that expect chronological format (i.e. teaching, accounting, politics, etc.).

- Difficult to show a candidate's job progression clearly.

 

3. Combination/Blend - This format uses the strongest elements of both the chronological and functional styles.  It can focus the reader's attention on one to three skills sets while also detailing education, experience and accomplishments.  It satisfies the employers need to know job titles, employer names and dates.  It is appropriate for anyone desiring a job change in a related career field or to strategically promote their top marketable skills.  It is becoming an increasingly more acceptable style, but does require more preparation time and creativity.

 

4. Business Card - One way for a candidate to stand out is to have a business card that features the most important points from the resume.  This calling card contains contact information, objective, key work and educational experiences with a section on the back for handwritten notes.  By making the resume completely portable, it can be used at any opportunity or networking event.  With this type, you may find yourself naturally distributing more resumes than with the other styles.  This format requires a great deal of creativity and effort to do it right.

 

Putting a resume together for some can be a daunting task and a real struggle.  Strong opinions vary widely on which type works the best.  Talk to a professional about your background and particular circumstances.  They can help you more objectively decide which format is going market you successfully.  Remember, the goal of the resume is to generate interviews; the purpose of the interview is to land a job offer.  If your current resume is producing few, if any, interviews, then consider having your resume professionally critiqued or change the style or format. 

 

© Copyright, Dr. Thomas J. Denham, Careers In Transition LLC - Posted Friday, January 6, 2012


Dr. Thomas J. Denham

Dr. Tom Denham is the founder of Careers In Transition LLC, a private practice which focuses on career counseling for individuals and consulting services for institutional clients. Dr. Tom has over twenty years of career services experience at Siena and Union Colleges as well as Harvard, St. Lawrence and Boston Universities.

Dr. Tom founded Northeast Public Radio's award winning talk show, The Career Forum and speaks extensively on career management issues. He earned his bachelors from St. Lawrence University, his masters from Boston University and his doctorate from Nova Southeastern University.

He has climbed over 180 mountains including the Adirondack 46, Oregon's Mt. Hood and The Grand Teton. In 2009, he survived a huge crevasse fall on Mt. Rainier by ice climbing his way out. Tom lives where he grew up in Albany where he would rather be ice and rock climbing and raising his 11 year old daughter, Rachel.

Dr. Tom Denham has been a professional career counselor for over 20 years. He helps people explore their options with career testing, make job changes and write resumes and prepare for interviews.

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