Category Archives: Career Resources

Maybe Your Dream Job Doesn’t Exist

…at this moment.

When I was 8, I saw old Charlie’s Angels reruns on Nick at Nite and decided I wanted to be a police officer. The Angels were confident, glamorous, and in control.

When I was 13, I decided I wanted to be an actress.  Actors had the opportunity to entertain people and tell unlimited stories, living out their days in other people’s skin, which appealed to me at an age when I wanted to be anyone but me.

When I was 17, I decided I wanted to be a fashion designer.  I wanted to create things people could love, things that would change their lives or make them feel special.

When I was 21, I read a story in Glamour magazine about Lindsay Hyde, a Harvard undergrad who founded Strong Girls, Strong Women, an organization dedicated to helping girls learn and grow through stories of strong women.  I wanted to be Lindsay Hyde.

When I was 22, a speaker came to my office to do a workshop on women’s empowerment in the workplace. I wanted to do what she did.

What do I love? What am I passionate about? What causes matter to me? Where do I want to live? Who do I want to surround myself with? What do I value? What am I good at? Who do I want to become?

I still want to be confident. And glamorous.

I still want to entertain people and tell their stories.

I still want to create. I still want to change lives and make people feel special.

I want to make something new and original like Lindsay Hyde did.

I want to empower women.

And I really freakin’ love career stuff. There’s no job description on The Bureau of Labor Statistics website for what I want to do. There’s no opening on Indeed.com.  I’m creating my own dream job everyday, by volunteering and raising my hand for new opportunities and taking risks and not being afraid to try new things.

Ten people in your office may hold the same title. A million people in the country may have the same job description as you. So it’s up to you to figure out how you want to be a firefighter, supervisor, cashier, journalist, politician, nurse… and then find a way to do it.

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Giving Back as a Professional

When I think about some of the outfits I wore to my earliest job interviews, I cringe a little on the inside. For example, the get up I wore for my first job interview–a baby pink turtleneck, sparkly flared jeans with pink on the sides and pink sneakers–oy! I was in high school at the time and didn’t start college until I was 22, so there were years where I had no real professional mentors or a university career center to seek out.

I’m grateful to have the opportunity to discuss topics like dressing appropriately for job interviews with students, but knowledge can only take one so far. Dressing professionally is not always feasible for everyone–specifically people who don’t have extra income, single parents, those on a fixed income, or students who don’t have their families’ financial support for one reason or another.

For example, my partner AJ works with LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer) whose families have sometimes withdrawn financial (not to mention emotional) support after learning of their child’s sexuality.  These are college students who are working to educate themselves and find the careers they want who face significant challenges when it comes to dressing professionally for a job or internship interview.

Additionally, there are people (often women) who are leaving violent or unhappy relationships and getting back into the job world.  Starting over is difficult no matter what, but not having the tools to do so–proper work clothing, interview skills, etc., makes it feel near impossible.

As someone who didn’t have a lot of money growing up who has had to learn important skills–like how to dress professionally, business etiquette, etc., as an adult, I ask you to consider giving back.  Do you have clothes that you no longer wear just sitting in your closet? Consider donating them.  Do you have the time to take on a student once every few months who could shadow you at work? Consider reaching out to your local college’s career center about offering job shadowing (or even internship!) opportunities.  Are you a great presenter who knows what it takes to succeed in a specific career field? Give presentations to local women’s shelters or university career centers.

Giving back doesn’t always mean donating money to a specific cause or volunteering for hours each week.  For students, new professionals, and people with low incomes, an outfit could change their outlook on life in some small way.

If you don’t know where to donate time or clothing, here are a few resources:

1. Contact your local colleges and universities’ LGBTQ and women’s centers about holding a clothing drive or simply donating some of your own pieces.

2. Contact local women’s shelters and Dress for Success centers.

3. Contact homeless shelters–in many cities there are shelters specifically for homeless men where your old suits/business casual clothes would be greatly appreciated.

4. Ask your young colleagues and interns if they’d be interested in some of your clothing.

5. Contact local university career centers and workforce readiness programs to find out if you could talk with students about your experiences or invite them to your workplace to job shadow.

6. Contact local non-profits such as food banks and soup kitchens to see how you can help.

7. Ask churches, synagogues and other houses of worship in your area if there’s anyway you can help their members professionally.

No matter who you are, or what fields you’ve worked in, you have the ability to help someone else. Meet with a student interested in your career, donate some clothes to women getting back on their feet, or come up with your own ideas of how to help.  Most of us have had some help along the way–an interested teacher or professor, a good boss or mentor, or a cool aunt who bought us our first interview outfit.  Perhaps its time to pay it forward.

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Frequently Asked Questions Regarding Job Interviews

Readers often find The Proactive Professional by doing internet searches regarding questions they have about the job interview process.  I have compiled a list of these Frequently Asked (and Searched) Questions and answered them here:

  1. Can you wear heels higher than two inches for a job interview?
    1. You *can* but that probably doesn’t mean you should.  I suggest wearing 2-21/2 inch heels—three inches at the most—for job interviews.  I’ve participated in plenty of interviews where the candidate didn’t realize how much walking would be involved and was practically tripping in her shoes.
  2. Are capri pants professional enough for a job interview?
    1. It depends.  If you’re applying for a job in the service industry or an artistic field, capris should be fine—provided you wear them with a nice blouse and dress shoes.  If you’re applying for a position in business or a more conservative office, wear a pencil skirt or lightweight dress pants.
  3. Is it okay to wear a sleeveless dress to an interview?
    1. I suggest pairing a sleeveless dress with a nice cardigan or blazer for a job interview.  I suggest this for a couple of reasons—one, offices are often unreasonably air conditioned during the summer and you don’t want to be uncomfortable, and two, as with capri pants, more conservative/traditional fields may not approve of sleeveless clothing.  (My job interview motto is always “Better safe than sorry!”)
  4. What do I do if the interviewer says dress “comfortably, but professionally”?
    1. I suggest wearing clothing that allows you to move freely—i.e., clothing that allows you to comfortably sit, stand, bend, climb stairs, etc.—but isn’t casual.  A sleeveless dress that comes to the knees with a nice cardigan, a pencil skirt with a long sleeve blouse, dress pants with a short sleeve blouse, etc.
  5. What is the worst thing to wear to a job interview?
    1. Anything that calls attention to you in a negative way.  I am a major proponent of being who you are and celebrating yourself, but the job interview is a time to showcase your skills and experiences as a professional.  It is not the right time to highlight your clubbing make up or your fashionista wardrobe.  These are a few things I would make “non grata” for a job interview:

Halter tops, strappy sandals, heels above three inches, see through clothing, leggings worn as pants, visible bra straps, major smokey eye, bright red lipstick, more than a very light spraying of perfume, patterned tights, more than 2-3 pieces of jewelry—especially long, dangly jewelry, shorts, skirts more than an inch above the knee, blue jeans.

Let me make this clear: these rules do NOT apply to every job.  When I was 20, I applied for a position at a convenience store in a nice pair of dark blue jeans and a dressy top.  As a candidate for a graduate assistant position at a university LGBT center, I wore gray slacks and a short sleeve blouse.  For my first professional position after graduate school, I wore a navy blue Anne Klein skirt suit with nude pumps and a cream colored camisole.  These aren’t hard and fast rules for every position at every stage of your life, but they are a good foundation for dressing for job interview success.

 

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How Social Media Can Advance Your Career

Job seekers are often told to safeguard their social media accounts to insure that they aren’t viewed during the job search.  While this can be wise advice, there is another side to the story:

Using social media to ADVANCE your job search (and your career).

With the majority of professionals (and people in general) on social media sites such as Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, etc. these days, being “unsearchable” via social media may be more trouble than it is worth.  When I can’t find someone through social media, I sometimes wonder why–are they making all accounts super private because of something inappropriate? What’s going on?

While it is a great idea to “clean up” your Facebook or Twitter accounts so that potential employers don’t get a negative impression, you can also use social media to your advantage.  I use my Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest accounts to post (publicly–so that “everyone” can see) any major accomplishments, such as receiving a promotion or presenting at a conference.  I also post information about events that my office organizes or articles relevant to my field.

I work in a field that offers great work/life balance but also a good integration of professional and personal life.  Many of my colleagues are Facebook “friends” so I post appropriate personal information as well, like recently buying a home, becoming engaged last year, and birthdays of my nephews and nieces.

I’ve had many Proactive Professional readers find me on Facebook, LinkedIn, etc.  I’ve also received emails from professionals who Googled me and found my website and Facebook page.  When this occurs, I am grateful that my public Facebook reflects positive things in my life, an interest in my field, and the work I’m doing in career counseling.

Consider going beyond protecting your Facebook from colleagues, supervisors, or potential employers.  Instead, use social media to your advantage by creating a “brand” for yourself online.  Using social media proactively may convince potential employers or current supervisors that you’d be a great fit within their company–or are ready for a promotion.

Make sure that how you're viewed on social media is in alignment with who you are and how you want others to see you.

Make sure that how you’re viewed on social media is in alignment with who you are and how you want others to see you.

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Are You Making this MAJOR Job Search Mistake?

I work with a lot of great applicants who constantly submit resumes online, but are not getting interviews.  When this happens, I often ask, “Do you know what ATS is? Are you submitting ATS friendly resumes?”

Do you know what an ATS is? If the answer is yes, then congratulations! When you apply for a position online, your resume and application materials are probably getting through to a hiring manager.

If the answer is no, there’s still hope! This post will explain what an ATS is and why it’s SO important during your job search.

ATS stands for Applicant Tracking System.  It is computer software that helps hiring managers, recruiters, and other Human Resources personnel sort through job candidates to find the best fit for their company.  Unfortunately, job seekers who are unfamiliar with ATS often submit their standard resumes online–often resulting in them being tossed out of the candidate pool.

So, how do you make YOUR resume ATS friendly? With these quick tips:

1. Do not create your resume using a template! Using a template you found on Microsoft Word may get your resume thrown out before any of the other tips can be utilized.  Though unseen by us, templates are often filled with characters that don’t jive well with ATS software.

2. Use keywords.  Go over the job description with a fine tooth comb and insert keywords from the description anywhere you can (and anywhere that makes sense!).  If the hiring managers are looking for candidates who have Java coding experience, are team players, and have 3 years’ experience, make sure to put your Java coding experience under a header such as “Skills” and create an objective statement in which you write something like “I am a team player with five years experience in the computer programming industry.”  Keywords are the language used in the job description and will be what an ATS is looking for when searching resumes.

3. Watch your formatting.  Often, I tell my students to create more “grown up” resumes by using terms like “Professional Experience” and “Community Involvement” instead of “Employment History” and “Volunteer Work.”  I believe this advice still holds up when handing out resumes at career fairs or job interviews.  For ATS purposes, however, use simple headings such as “Work Experience” and “Education.”  ATS software is designed to seek out keywords that are important to the position and look for simpler headings.  When submitting resumes online, use simple formatting with standard fonts such as Times New Roman.  Also, avoid using tables, charts, graphs or anything other than standard bullet points.

4. Always assume your resume is being reviewed by ATS software.  How will you know if a human being is going through resumes instead of ATS software? You won’t.  If you are submitting your resume online, it is always best to assume that your resume has to make it through ATS software before being seen by an actual person.

5. Simplify, simplify, simplify.  Make your resume as easy to find as possible by saving it under a name such as “FirstName_LastName_JobTitle” instead of “Jill’s Res.”  Additionally, save your resume as a .doc instead of a .pdf.  .Docs are easily read by ATS software, whereas .pdf’s are often more difficult.

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A few easy resume tweaks may mean the difference between getting an interview or having your resume tossed in the (cyber) trash.

 

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Once Upon a Timesheet…

Over the holidays, my fiance and I began watching ABC’s “Once Upon a Time.”  We’ve only made it into a few episodes of Season 2, but the main premise of the show is that all of the citizens of this modern day town are actually fairy tale characters who have been cursed and have forgotten who they really are.  Of course, I related it to career stuff– I recently began a new position as a career counselor at my grad school alma mater and have been thinking a lot about what kind of career person I am–and what kind I want to be.  As we watched “Once Upon a Time,” I thought of who the characters are right now and how they’re working to figure out who they’re meant to be.  Here are some brief descriptions of the characters–which one(s) describes you as a professional?

Snow White: Snow would’ve probably spent her whole life as a relatively placid person if the Evil Queen didn’t constantly try to take everything from her.  In terms of careers, I’d probably dub Snow White a “reactive professional.” She’s not here to make waves, but if provoked, she’ll do what’s necessary to protect the people and things she loves.

Little Red Riding Hood: Red, as she’s more commonly known on the show, has an odd little quirk: during full moons, she turns into a wolf.  Initially, Red saw this as a weakness.  She did everything possible to bury the wolf inside of her (so to speak) and to keep her true nature a secret.  As the show goes on, we see Red embracing what she once thought of as a weakness and using it to help others.

The Dwarfs: The dwarfs work all day in the mines, a task they were literally created to do.  They’re not trying to change the world; instead, they understand that their work fulfills a need and are content with this.

The Evil Queen: The Queen would probably consider herself a misunderstood individual–she didn’t set out to hurt anyone in the beginning, but was wrapped up in blaming others for what has went wrong in her life, and eventually became evil.  The Evil Queen considers herself a victim of other people and of circumstances, so she works to take down or control everyone around her.

Rumpelstiltskin: Everything Rumpel does or orchestrates is to achieve one goal.  He is so focused on achieving his goal that he does not care who he hurts or what pieces of himself he loses in the process.

Emma Swan: Emma, the daughter of Snow White and Prince Charming, has run away her entire life, never becoming too involved with anyone or any cause.  However, she is the only person who can break the curse.  She sees what is wrong and what needs to be fixed and is willing to fight to make things better for everyone.

During our careers, we will probably play all of these roles.  We believe we’ve been wronged by someone or something and forget our own role within the situation.  We don’t want to really commit to a career path until we find something we can’t walk away from.  We become too focused on achieving something and stop considering how it impacts those around us.  We feel guilty for not being brain surgeons, forgetting that hospitals need nurses and custodians and x-ray technicians to keep everything going, too.  I think that the most important thing we can do is figure out who we are and embrace it–embrace what makes us different, acknowledge our mistakes, understand who we want to become professionally.

Here’s the funny thing about fairy tale characters–they’re often painted as either the hero or the villain with no room for shades of gray.  I’ve definitely had bosses and co-workers who seemed more Evil Queen than Cinderella.  But my “Evil Queen” might be someone else’s mentor.  I’ve worked with students who have told me that I’ve changed their life (or at least their career)–definitely an Emma moment.  And I’ve had students who have looked at me blankly and I was certain I didn’t help at all–so perhaps I was Dopey to them? The most important thing is to figure out what role you want to play in your career and your life–even if you never achieve happily ever after with your goals, there’s always tomorrow…

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Should You Follow Your Passion?

Yesterday, I was watching the TV show “Dexter” and reading an article on passion versus contentment.  I realized that I’ve read a lot of articles, books, and blog posts about finding and pursuing your passion in the last couple of years.  Self-help books at Barnes and Noble and on Amazon are filled with such titles as “Do What You Love and the Money Will Follow.” There are plenty of articles and blogs that tell us to “follow our passion” and “live a life of bliss.”

But the truth is–doing what you love does not always mean the money will follow.  Take Dexter Morgan–Dexter seems pretty okay with his job as a blood spatter analyst in a homicide department.  But his real passion (obsession? pathology?) is hunting down bad guys and murdering them.  Dexter is passionate about being a serial killer.  And his passion ain’t cheap.  Dexter spends a large amount of money on prepping for his, um…hobby, and taking care of the clean up (literally).  Although Dexter does, in fact, pursue his passion, he does not get any money, health benefits, or even recognition for doing so.

The point? Sometimes a passion doesn’t always lead to a career.  And pursuing said passion does not always mean the money will follow.  If you love kids, for example, you may occasionally daydream about pulling an Angelina and having or adopting ten of them.  But that probably doesn’t make sense for your life in terms of money, free time, or your (or your partner’s!) sanity.  It’s wonderful to be passionate about a cause, a hobby, or even a career field.  But letting that passion take over your life can quickly lead to burnout.  I think it’s more important to find something you enjoy, are content doing, and that fits in with the life you want to lead.

I recently talked with an old friend who is trying to decide between two career fields that are somewhat similar, but also quite different–nursing and social work.  During our discussion, we talked about why she is drawn to each field and how being a nurse or social worker would impact her entire life.  While it’s incredibly important to care about, and even love, what you do for a living, it’s also important to remember how your career will impact the rest of your life.

Some questions you may want to ask include:

  • Will this career provide me with a comfortable salary?
  • Does this career align with my values?
  • Would I be good at this job? (i.e., do I have the necessary skills or the ability to acquire those skills?)
  • What is the general culture of this career? (Liberal, conservative, intellectual, easy going, etc.)
  • Do I want a job that is routine and structured or flexible and varied?
  • If I pursue this field, how will it affect my family or the family I want to have in the future?

Choosing and pursuing a career path takes a lot of thought and some level of certainty.  You might adore taking pictures and be drawn to the field of magazine photography, but if you have little desire to spend years working your way up the ladder or traveling the country (or world) then perhaps photography can be a fun hobby for you.  If that is the case, figure out why you’re drawn to magazine photography–is it for the notoriety? the money top photographers make? the opportunity to meet celebrities? the ability to express yourself artistically?  Then try to find related careers that better align with your values, interests, personality, and long term life and career goals.

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July 18, 2013 · 11:15 am