“I’m not sure this internship will be a good fit. Should I apply?”

Jason Bauer-Clapp Jason Bauer-Clapp, associate director of Internships & Programs, Smith College, Lazarus Center for Career Development
Twitter: @jason_bc
LinkedIn: www.linkedin.com/in/jbauerclapp

Have you met with students reluctant to apply to promising internships because they are unsure that the internship will “look good” or that they’ll be the best candidate? Students who apply only to what they perceive as sure-thing experiences can miss out on a broader set of great opportunities, while those who accept an internship by default (with few or no other opportunities for comparison) may find themselves in unsatisfying roles that turn out to have limited educational value.

It is useful to remind students that while applying for any position requires time and energy, it isn’t a commitment. Rather, it’s an indication of interest, a snapshot of the applicant’s knowledge and skills, and a request for an interview. While I wouldn’t encourage haphazardly applying to any opportunity that comes along, students who set overly stringent standards on what they will consider applying for are essentially ending conversations before they’ve begun.

To help students manage those uncertainties and feel comfortable applying to a broader range of opportunities, I regularly share the following:

Read between (and above and outside) the lines. Organizations that offer internships are increasingly skilled at crafting messages that resonate with potential applicants, and some organizations have the benefit of a long-established brand cachet among students. However, there are still times when a great internship opportunity doesn’t “read” as such in a job posting or in recruiting messages. Look beyond the few paragraphs (if that) in your school’s internship database. Review the organization’s website and consider how it presents itself to clients/constituents/users. Reflect on its mission and how it aligns with your values and interests. Speak with people familiar with the organization’s work.

The best applicant may not be the most qualified. Internships are learning and development experiences, so having little direct experience in a field isn’t necessarily a limiting factor. Show familiarity with and genuine interest in the field and the organization, share ways you’ve already engaged in related topics, use the experiences you’ve had (work, academic, internships, volunteer, extracurricular) to demonstrate your strengths and knowledge, and communicate your excitement to learn.

Make interviews mutual learning opportunities. To prepare for interviews, candidates tend to focus on developing their stories and rehearsing good answers. Preparing thoughtful questions for the interviewer may be a halfhearted afterthought, done only because the candidate “is supposed to ask questions.” Students who report having had truly great internship experiences often mention the high quality relationships they had with supervisors and staff. A person-to-person interview can give internship candidates rich insight on the people and the environment: who the student would be working with, opportunities to interact with organizational staff, and the structure of training, supervision, and evaluation.

I love it when students follow their curiosity and step outside of their comfort zones when seeking experiential education opportunities such as internships. This means moving forward when the end result is uncertain. It is wise to have questions about an internship’s potential, but when there’s a spark of genuine interest and curiosity, it’s often worth applying. Ask for that conversation: you may be surprised to find a great opportunity hidden in plain sight.

Career Development, the U.S. Job Search, and International Students: Confusion and Anxiety Regarding Networking and Building Professional Relationships (Post 3)

Ross WadeRoss Wade, assistant director of career services, Duke University Career Center
Personal blog: http://mrrosswade.wordpress.com/
LinkedIn URL: https://www.linkedin.com/in/rosswade
Twitter: @rrwade
Blogs from Ross Wade.

A couple of days ago I had a career advising session with an international student. He was very anxious and was “losing a lot of sleep” over the fact that he had graduated a month ago, had not found a job, and was worried he would not find anything in the United States by the time his optional practical training (OPT) started in the next few weeks. I had seen this student several times before, and his resume was strong, and he had substantial experience that would make him a strong candidate for various opportunities in environmental engineering. I asked him to tell me about his job search.

“I spend hours looking and applying to jobs online,” he said. “I’ve applied to over 50 jobs in the past month, and I’ve heard nothing back. I don’t understand what I’m doing wrong. Will you look at my resume again?”

I reviewed his resume again. Yep…it still looked good. I asked him if he had done any networking.

“Oh yes, I’ve used LinkedIn and the alumni database to find contacts at companies with open jobs,” he said. “I reach out to them. In my e-mails I introduce myself and ask them to refer me for the position or tell me about any other opportunities.”

I hear this all of the time. In my experience many international students feel very uncomfortable networking for various reasons:

1. They lack confidence in their English language skills;

2. The job search in their home country does not necessitate “networking”—in fact employers may reach out to them to offer positions;

3. They are unaware of resources to use to find alumni or networking leads;

4. They don’t understand the nuts and bolts of networking, and that it is a long-term process with the goal of developing relationships that later lead to jobs. (And this isn’t just an issue with international students; it is an issue for ALL students.)

In order to motivate international students to start networking early (and not view networking as a last-minute, short-term thing), I try to reframe what networking is to them. I tell them that networking is about learning and serving through creating and sustaining professional relationships. I also use a bank analogy that seems to resonate with them. I tell them, “Networking is like creating a bank account, you must make deposits before you can make a withdrawal. Bank accounts, like professional relationships, grow with time and investment.”

Instead of “networking” I use the phrase “information gathering” with students, highlighting how to begin a professional relationship by learning from someone else (e.g., alumni, professionals) via informational interviews. I talk with them about asking the interviewee questions that will create future opportunities to serve them (i.e., sending the interviewee relevant articles or updates on how their feedback has helped).

Now…I know most of you reading this post are, like, “Duh…Ross. I already understand what networking is. Give me some tips I can use!”

I hear ya! Check out some ideas I’ve tried with some success below.

Networking Workshop Activity:

Have students search for a company of interest via an alumni database or LinkedIn, read about the company, find alumni working there, and create a list of questions (not only about the company, but the contact as well) to ask at an informational interview. Then pair the students up, and have them critique each other’s questions.

Next, bring everyone back into a large group and debrief and review some of the questions. Use prompts like: Which questions are the best? Are the questions open-ended, allowing the interviewee to provide plenty of information in her/his response? What questions best create space to serve the interviewee later?

After the question activity, have the students (individually) draft their own informational interview e-mail request. Ask them to pair up and share and critique. Next, bring everyone back into a large group to discuss.

Finally, ask students to create a basic timeline (by month), of when and how to follow up. This will be a very loose timeline as they don’t have an actual “real person” to create the timeline for at this point.

Students will leave feeling more confident now that they have tools, and an action plan to begin networking. I’ve also found adding a small panel of senior international students, that have successfully networked before, answer questions and serve as facilitators during discussions is very helpful (and proves that networking works!).

 Employer Relations Program Idea:

In my experience, most international students really dislike the “cattle call” style career fairs. They don’t feel comfortable with small talk, and feel that talking about themeselves is actually bragging. Overall they feel like they don’t get a chance to really show employers their skills in a meaningful and authentic way. In an effort to help international students connect with employers better (and with incredible support from my manager and colleagues), I tried a different type of employer engagement program, based on the good old science fair (yep—I went old skool, y’all!).

I targeted electrical and computer engineering (ECE) students, and sent them an e-mail about an opportunity to share their most exciting class projects with employers. Students had to sign up, send an abstract about their project, send their resume or LinkedIn URL, and show up the day of the event ready (with their project or poster) to engage with employers and talk about their work.

I also facilitated a networking lunch with the students, employers, faculty, and staff. I scheduled the event, the “Electrical and Computer Engineering Showcase”, the day before the spring career fair to maximize employer attendance. I sent a personal invite to ECE employers (those that had already registered for the career fair AND local companies) to attend this event at no charge to them, and told them to feel free to bring along any alumni working at their company.

The employers loved the idea, and many signed up to attend. The day of the event employers visited every student table to talk about the student projects. I collected feedback from the employers on the students’ conversational skills and projects and asked if, based on the students’ projects, if they’d ever consider hiring one of these new grads (and more than 70 percent said they would!). The employers and students both really enjoyed the event. One student said, “I really had a chance to shine today. We are doing this again next year, right?!”

Share your ideas and strategies for helping international students better understand networking.

This is part three of a series. Don’t miss parts one and two.

Top 10 Reasons to Attend NACE14

Chaim Shapiro

Chaim Shapiro
Website: http://chaimshapiro.com/
Twitter: @chaimshapiro
LinkedIn: www.linkedin.com/in/chaimshapiro

Excitement is in the air!  NACE14 is just a couple of weeks away.  If you are going to attend only one conference this year, THIS IS THE ONE.

David Letterman may be retiring but I decided to salute him with a “Top 10 Reasons to Attend NACE14”

10) See if your jeans can make more noise than the band as you dance the night away at the “Diamonds and Denims” celebration.

9) Everything is bigger in Texas—NACE14 is the biggest networking opportunity of the year.

8) Find out for yourself if the Alamo has a basement.

7) Learning is NOT just for college students.  Attend GREAT workshops (including mine on LinkedIn bit.ly/1aoFf3X .)

6) The powerful “keynotes” are not about your ability to sing “Deep in the Heart of Texas”

5) The Expo is so much more than an old mediocre MLB baseball team.

4) Adapt great programs from the “Great Ideas Showcase” and convince your boss that you are a genius.

3) Wake up to the “Early Show with Dan Black” and see if I can get him to laugh.

2) Solve the perplexing NACE14 mystery clues as featured on Twitter.

1) Find out if Dan Black will REALLY wear a ten-gallon cowboy hat.

Feed Your Career at NACE14

Cindy Billington

Cindy Billington, Associate Director, MBA Career Education Graduate Business Career Services, Texas A&M University
Twitter: @cindybillington
LinkedIn: www.linkedin.com/in/cindybillington

It is that time of year!  Once again, we are less than a month away from the NACE Conference & Expo, and this year it will be held in beautiful San Antonio, TX.  I look forward to this conference every year as an opportunity to reconnect with and meet new colleagues and friends.

Each year, I find myself returning from the conference recharged and ready for an innovative and successful year of career coaching at Texas A&M.  If you have not registered to attend this “can’t miss” professional development opportunity, I urge you to visit naceweb.org immediately.  If you are like me, then your career is probably begging you for some nourishment.  Don’t ever neglect your career nourishment folks.

For those of you who have already registered, don’t wait until you arrive in San Antonio to prepare.  I recommend following these steps in order to make the most out of #NACE14:

1. Begin your networking ahead of time.

2.  Plan your schedule.

  • NACE has implemented a new tool called NACE14 Itinerary Builder.  Where have you been all of my life?  This tool has allowed me create a tailored agenda just for me.  I love things that are made just for me.  I feel special, don’t you?
  • Research the keynote presenters.  If you are like me, you buy every book available. Be familiar with who is speaking ahead of the conference and reach out to say hello. Welcome any and all guests to our “FAMILY REUNION.”

3.  Brush on your networking skills.

  • One of my favorite books on networking is Never Eat Alone by Keith Ferrazzi.  Keith actually spoke at a NACE conference a few years ago.  I urge you to never break bread alone at a conference.  Eat breakfast, lunch, and dinner with someone else attending the conference.  Great friendships are made over coffee.  I promise.

4.  Follow up after the event.

  • As you travel away from San Antonio, don’t let your experience become a distant memory.  Return to your office and immediate send thank-you notes to speakers NACE staff and president, and the amazing #NACE14 co-chairs.  Pull out those business cards you received and connect with those folks on LinkedIn or Twitter.

5.  Implement what you learned.

  • Be very careful not to let your conference notes get dusty.  We all have a tendency to return to work after a conference and immediately jump back into old habits and the surge of e-mail.
  • Host a lunch and share what you learned with your office mates.  Ignite energy in those who work with you based on what you learned.
  • Start a conversation on the NACE LinkedIn Group page to keep those relationships and ideas growing.

I cannot wait to meet all of you at #NACE14.  Register today and get ready for a great time in San Anton.  And don’t forget to pack your proper attire for the Diamonds and Denim Celebration on Tuesday evening.

Career Development, the U.S. Job Search, and International Students

Ross WadeRoss Wade, assistant director of career services, Duke Engineering/Professional Master’s Programs
Personal blog: http://mrrosswade.wordpress.com/
LinkedIn URL: https://www.linkedin.com/in/rosswade
Twitter: @rrwade

This past year I’ve had the opportunity to work with a lot of international students—in fact, about 70 percent of my students are international. The master’s program they pursue is only two to three semesters long, and for many of them, peak recruiting season starts two weeks after they enter the United States.

Just think about it for a second…these students get off a plane, in a foreign country, with varying English language skill levels, have no idea how the U.S. job-search works, many have not found a place to live and are unsure of their transportation options, and quite a few are under tremendous stress to succeed academically and find a good job in the United States to assist their family financially back in their home country. Imagine the pressure and anxiety of these students—yikes!

Now, this is of course is a generalization…not all international students face these circumstances, and sure there is that excitement of being in a foreign country and having new experiences…but many international students are faced with some overwhelming tasks—especially finding a job in the United States.

Verbal and non-verbal communication issues can often be a source of stress. Many international students are taught English in a very academic way, so they can pass the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL). Practicing English conversationally may not have been a part of their learning experience; this can cause problems in career counseling/advising sessions, programs, and presentations. Non-verbal communication and poor comprehension of workshop materials and career advising information can also be an issue.

Tips:

  • Lose the slang and U.S. pop culture references. This was very difficult for me, and really raised my awareness to how much I used both of these as tools to explain things and be entertaining (I thought my jokes were hilarious! Not to my international students…I got nothing but blank stares. OUCH!). Speak a little slower than you normally would and be very clear in your language, using basic and universal terms.
  • Sometimes students will nod and state they understand your point or instruction. It is helpful to ask them to explain it back to you, as many students may not have understood you, but out of respect did not want to interrupt or ask you to repeat.
  • Professional interviews can be difficult for some international students as they may have low confidence in their English language skills, feel uncomfortable talking about accomplishments, find it difficult to give direct and concise answers, etc. Consider partnering with your institution’s English as a Second Language (ESL) program or international student center to do a mock interview program. Facilitate a workshop on U.S. interviewing skills, and then have students partner up and practice answering questions as an exercise (and practice their handshake!). Students can come to your career center for a formal mock interview and get individualized feedback. Another tip…some international students think a “mock interview” means when they come they will literally be mocked; consider using the phrase “practice interview.” I’ve also found explaining the U.S. interview process, from greeting to closing, is very helpful to international students as in other cultures it can be very different.
  • Like me, you were probably taught not to add too much text to PowerPoint slides. When presenting to international students, it is a GREAT idea to use more text on slides, as, if they have trouble understanding you, they can read the slide as a “communication back-up.” It is also helpful to make slides available prior to your presentation so international students can read through and prepare beforehand.
  • When working with international students one-on-one, I typically open an e-mail to them and type in resources, explanations, and next steps to send after an appointment.
  • Watch for non-verbal communication. I noticed that many of my Chinese students, during practice interviews, sat on the edge of their chairs. Finally, after months of seeing this, I asked why. My student’s answer was simple, “To show you respect.” I had no idea. Instead of nodding up and down, some of my Indian students shake their heads from side to side to non-verbally agree with me or show that they understand; discussing with them how some American employers may not be able to understand if they are indicating yes or no will be help the student be more clear in interview and networking situations.

I’ve learned it is okay to observe behavior and ask about it—my international students are always happy (and often excited) to explain.

Resources

  • The National Career Development Association has a great resource list for working with international students.
  • Channel C, a YouTube profile created by Chinese students at the University of Wisconsin – Madison, carries videos about their college experiences and issues in the United States.
  • “Kiss, Bow, or Shake Hands” by Wayne A. Conaway is a wonderful book on international business etiquette and protocol.
  • Visit your institution’s visa services office, to get a tutorial/workshop on the Curricular Practical Training (CPT) and Optional Practical Training (OPT) process —most of the time it is explained very well on their website. You don’t have to become an expert on this topic, but should know the basics and be able to communicate it clearly (and also be able to share how international students can make an appointment with the visa services office).

 What tips or resources do you have from your experiences working with international students? Let’s get a conversation started, y’all!

This is the first in a series from Ross Wade on working with international students.

Using Facebook to Easily Connect Students and Employers

Smedstad-Headshot

Shannon Smedstad, Employer Branding & HR Social Media, Geico
Twitter: @shannonsmedstad
LinkedIn: www.linkedin.com/in/shannonsmedstad

Before we jump into the meat of this post, I’ve got a few initial questions for you …

EMPLOYERS: Does your company have a career-related Facebook page?

CAREER CENTERS: Do you have a Facebook page?

BOTH: Could you be doing more with your page?

If you answered “yes” to two out of three of these questions, please keep reading.

Most people know that Facebook is good for sharing photos and status updates. But, what if we could use Facebook as a virtual career fair platform? How exactly would that work?

facebook_logoThe Magic of Facebook for College Recruiting

You can access Facebook from anywhere: desktop, phone, dorm room, or in-between classes. You can chat with an individual or group. You can share information and link to jobs. Some recruiters already use Facebook to connect with job-seeking students.

As the manager of a corporate career page on Facebook, I have now successfully led three virtual career fairs … right on Facebook!

  • June 2013: More than 230 people engaged with recruiters over a two-day virtual career fair. Hires were made!
  • November 2013: We took a more targeted approach and attracted 75 students to our page during a one-day fair. It cost us less than $50.
  • April 2014: Co-hosted a virtual career fair with a collegiate honor society and grew our followers by 3 percent in one day and organic reach was the highest it’s been year-to-date. It’s still too early to know if we’ve made any hires—my fingers are crossed!

Advice and Lessons Learned

When it comes to social media, you have to be willing to take some calculated risks and try new things. Social platforms are designed for real time communication; we just have to be creative in our thinking to create opportunities to do just that.

To me, these Facebook career fairs fall into the low risk/low cost/potential high reward category. It’s all about the planning, promotion, human resources, and execution of the plan, not how much it costs. Here are some of my top tips for anyone interested in hosting your own virtual event:

  • Determine your audience and whether you have any existing partners that will work through this idea with you.
  • Give yourself plenty of time to create a targeted, multi-channel promotional plan.
  • Visual imagery is important in attracting talent and sharing details of the event.
  • Schedule a pre-fair call with the recruiters to talk through what to expect and how you might want to handle certain requests or situations.
  • Make sure that your page (booth) is properly manned during the allotted career fair time, and for a day or two after (questions continue to trickle in).
  • Measure results using Facebook Insights, ATS data, and feedback from the entire team to determine whether the event was successful and worth doing again.

Since our most recent event, we’ve had two student organizations reach out with interest to our team. When you can bring people, technology, and opportunities together for the greater good … it’s a beautiful thing. Thanks, Facebook.

Career Coaching Notes: Dream Job Activity

Rayna AndersonRayna A. Anderson, Career Adviser at Elon University
Twitter: @Rayna_Anderson
LinkedIn: www.LinkedIn.com/in/RaynaA
Blog: RaynaAnderson.wordpress.com

Sometimes, students are clueless on where they should begin their job or internship search. They may not be able to think past the obvious words associated with their course of study, like: finance, psychology, or business. So before they begin to look for opportunities based on these broad terms, I require them to have a bit of fun with the search.

First, based on the student’s expressed interests, assessment results, or current major, I have them conduct an ordinary search using a major job board. I don’t give them any special instructions, other than to look for a position that they could not realistically apply for right away; they simply need to find a job that really excites them. Once they have found their “dream job” posting, we use it as a motivational tool and guide for what jobs or internships they may actually qualify for.

Dream Job for Career Planning/Motivation:

For this portion of the exercise, the “education” or “experience” sections of the dream job description will be most helpful. This information gives the student insight into what skills or credentials they might be lacking, and in enough time for them to start acquiring them. By conducting a gap analysis, they can identify some differences between what they have to offer and what the employer is looking for. The dream job posting is a tangible reminder that with the right planning, they could someday have a position like this.

Student Self-Assessment:

  1. Am I on the right academic path to someday qualify for this job?
  2. What experience can I get now to better prepare me?

Dream Job as a Search Guide

Based on the “job duties “or “skills” sections of the dream job posting, the student should highlight words that they are naturally drawn to. This might include keywords such as: “patient,” “direct,” “counsel,” “analyze,” “create,” or “research”. Now, the student is ready to combine some of these specific words with broader terms to find internships or entry-level jobs that they actually qualify for.

Student Self-Assessment:

  1. Which of these job duties am I most excited to perform?
  2. Are their entry-level jobs that include some of these same skills and responsibilities?

By having the student first find a dream job posting, they are able to identify their instinctive interests and where they’d want to be in a few years. This way, even if they fall short of securing this type of position, they are further along than they would have been if they’d never began planning their education and professional development based on their ideal job!

Read more from Rayna Anderson!