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17.5: Get Your Career Off on the Right Track

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  • Mark this section of the text with a permanent bookmark because you are going to want to refer back to it many times during the remainder of your college career. Yes, we are going to give you a road map to find, keep, and advance in that job that is perfect for you.

    Think Positively

    To be successful in life and in a career, you need to be positive. Positive thinking is making a conscious effort to think with an optimistic attitude and to anticipate positive outcomes. Positive behavior means purposely acting with energy and enthusiasm. When you think and behave positively, you guide your mind toward your goals and generate matching mental and physical energy.

    Positive thinking and behavior are often deciding factors in landing top jobs: your first job, a promotion, a change of jobs—whatever career step you are targeting. That’s because the subconscious is literal; it accepts what you regard as fact. Follow these steps to form the habit of positive thinking and to boost your success:

    1. Deliberately motivate yourself every day. Think of yourself as successful, and expect positive outcomes for everything you attempt.
    2. Project energy and enthusiasm. Employers hire people who project positive energy and enthusiasm. Develop the habit of speaking, moving, and acting with these qualities.
    3. Practice this positive-expectation mindset until it becomes a habit. Applicants who project enthusiasm and positive behavior generate a positive chemistry that rubs off. Hiring decisions are influenced largely by this positive energy. The habit will help you reach your peak potential.
    4. Dwell on past successes. Focusing on past successes to remind yourself of your abilities helps in attaining goals. For example, no one is ever born knowing how to ride a bicycle or how to use a computer software program. Through training, practice, and trial and error, you master new abilities. During the trial-and-error phases of development, remind yourself of past successes; look at mistakes as part of the natural learning curve. Continue until you achieve the result you want, and remind yourself that you have succeeded in the past and can do so again. You fail only when you quit trying!11
    A photo shows the large, extremely smooth and reflective bean shaped sculpture. The city skyline reflects in the bean's surface.

    Exhibit 17.5 Aligning one’s lifestyle interests with one’s career trajectory is essential to long-term career satisfaction. If the idea of working in a big city captivates the imagination, it can become a guide to the types of jobs to pursue. If one is motivated to work with people or animals, then charity organizations or zoos might be a good place to look. What jobs do you visualize yourself doing, and how can that vision guide your career search? (Credit: Rich Bowen/ Flickr/ Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0))

    Take a Good Look at Yourself

    Once you’ve developed a positive, “can do” attitude, the next step is to better understand yourself. Ask yourself two basic questions: “Who am I?” and “What can I do?”

    Who Am I? This question is the start of self-assessment, examining your likes and dislikes and basic values. You may want to ask yourself the following questions:

    • Do I want to help society?
    • Do I want to help make the world a better place?
    • Do I want to help other people directly?
    • Is it important for me to be seen as part of a big corporation? Or do I prefer to be part of a smaller organization?
    • Do I prefer working indoors or outdoors?
    • Do I like to meet new people, or do I want to work alone?

    Are you assertive? Assess your assertiveness by taking the quiz in Table 17.7.

    What Can I Do? After determining what your values are, take the second step in career planning by asking, “What can I do?” This question is the start of skill assessment, evaluating your key abilities and characteristics for dealing successfully with problems, tasks, and interactions with other people. Many skills—for instance, the ability to speak clearly and strongly—are valuable in many occupations.

    Be sure to consider the work experience you already have, including part-time jobs while going to school, summer jobs, volunteer jobs, and internships. These jobs teach you skills and make you more attractive to potential employers. It’s never too early or too late to take a part-time job in your chosen field. For instance, someone with an interest in accounting would do well to try a part-time job with a CPA (certified public accountant) firm.

    Fun Self-Test—How Assertive Are You?
    Rate your level of agreement with the following statements using the scale below:
    Strongly Agree Agree Neither Agree nor Disagree Disagree Strongly Disagree
    1. I don’t easily agree to work for others.
    2. There are some people who make jokes about the way I communicate and put me down repeatedly.
    3. I speak up without fear of what others will think of me.
    4. I rarely have to repeat my thoughts to make people understand.
    5. I sound like I am asking a question when I am making a statement.
    6. I’m more reluctant to speak up on the job than in other situations.
    7. I can always think of something to say when faced with rude remarks.
    8. I tend to suffer in silence when unfairly criticized or insulted.
    9. I tend to respond aggressively when criticized unfairly.
    10. People don’t listen when I am speaking.
    11. If I say “no,” I feel guilty.
    12. When I have a conflict with someone, the results seem to always go their way.
    13. When I speak, people listen.12
    See the scoring guidelines at the end of this chapter to obtain your score.

    Table17.7

    In addition to examining your job-related skills, you should also look at your leisure activities. Some possible questions: Am I good at golf? Do I enjoy sailing? Tennis? Racquetball? In some businesses, transactions are made during leisure hours. In that case, being able to play a skillful, or at least adequate, game of golf or tennis may be an asset.

    It’s hard to like your job if you don’t like the field that you’re in. Most career counselors agree that finding work you’re passionate about is one of the critical factors behind career success. That’s why so many career counselors love all those diagnostic tools that measure your personality traits, skill levels, professional interests, and job potential.

    The internet is virtually exploding with tests and assessments that you can take. Try, for example, http://www.self-directed-search.com. This test is based on the theory that people and work environments can be classified into six basic types: realistic, investigative, artistic, social, enterprising, and conventional. The test determines which three types best describe you, and it suggests occupations that could be a good match. The Keirsey Character Sorter (http://www.keirsey.com) is a first cousin of Myers-Briggs. It sorts people into four temperaments: idealists, rationals, artisans, and guardians. Like Myers-Briggs, it not only places you in an overall category, but it also offers a more detailed evaluation of your personality traits. To find a bunch of tests in one place, use a search engine and search “online personality tests.”

    Understand What Employers Want

    Employers want to hire people who will make their businesses more successful. The most desirable employees have the specific skills, transferable career competencies, work values, and personal qualities necessary to be successful in the employers’ organizations. The more clearly you convey your skills as they relate to your job target, the greater your chance of landing your ideal job.13

    Job-Specific Skills. Employers seek job-specific skills (skills and technical abilities that relate specifically to a particular job). Two examples of job-specific skills are using specialized tools and equipment and using a custom-designed software program.

    Transferable Skills and Attitudes. Change is a constant in today’s business world. Strong transferable career skills are the keys to success in managing your career through change. The most influential skills and attitudes are the abilities to:

    • Work well with people.
    • Plan and manage multiple tasks.
    • Maintain a positive attitude.
    • Show enthusiasm.

    Employers need workers who have transferable career competencies—basic skills and attitudes that are important for all types of work. These skills make you highly marketable because they’re needed for a wide variety of jobs and can be transferred from one task, job, or workplace to another. Examples include these:

    • Planning skills
    • Research skills
    • Communication skills
    • Human relations and interpersonal skills
    • Critical thinking skills
    • Management skills
    • Project management skills

    Take, for example, a construction supervisor and an accountant. Both must work well with others, manage time and specific tasks, solve problems, read, and communicate effectively—all transferable competencies. They both must be competent in these areas even though framing a house and balancing a set of financial information (the job-specific skill for each field, respectively) are not related. In every occupation, transferable competencies are as important as technical expertise and job-specific skills.

    Find Your First Professional Job

    The next step is landing the job that fits your skills and desires. You need to consider not only a general type of work but also your lifestyle and leisure goals. If you like to be outdoors most of the time, you might be very unhappy spending eight hours a day in an office. Someone who likes living in small towns may dislike working at the headquarters of a big corporation in Los Angeles, New York City, or Chicago. But make sure that your geographic preferences are realistic. Some parts of the country will experience much greater growth in jobs than others in the coming years.

    According to recent research by Glassdoor, the online job listings and career site, the top 10 best cities for jobs in 2017 are:

    1. Pittsburgh, PA
    2. Indianapolis, IN
    3. Kansas City, MO
    4. Raleigh-Durham, NC
    5. St. Louis, MO
    6. Memphis, TN
    7. Columbus, OH
    8. Cincinnati, OH
    9. Cleveland, OH
    10. Louisville, KY14

    You might start answering the question “What will I do?” by studying the Occupational Outlook Handbook, published every two years by the U.S. Department of Labor (https://www.bls.gov/ooh). The most recent Handbook edition projects job opportunities by industry through the year 2026. The Handbook is divided into 25 occupational clusters describing 325 job profiles (with a section on military careers). Among the clusters are education, sales and marketing, transportation, health, and social services. Each job description tells about the nature of the work, working conditions, required training, other qualifications, chances for advancement, employment outlook, earnings, related occupations, and sources of more information. Another good source of job information is the website for the National Association of Colleges and Employers (http://www.naceweb.org). If you are a member of a minority group, you might want to check out https://www.blackcareernetwork.com or http://www.saludos.com.

    Use the Internet to Find a Job

    Today, most job searches are done online. Rarely do job seekers use “snail mail” to send a résumé to a potential employer. Therefore, you need to do your homework when it comes to creating a résumé and posting it to various websites, as well as sending it electronically to a specific company’s careers web page.

    Let’s start with the résumé. There are thousands of job-related sites and millions of résumés on the internet. To break through the clutter, you must start with a great résumé—a written description of your education, work experience, personal data, and interests. There are plenty of online resources that can provide you with tips and actual templates to use when creating your résumé. For example, CollegeGrad (https://collegegrad.com) provides more than 100 preformatted templates for over 30 college majors on its website that you can use to tailor your résumé and highlight your specific skills and talents.15 Of course, there are many other sources for creating a résumé, including the actual websites of most online job-listing services.

    Once you have created an electronic résumé, you have several options when it comes to your job search. First, you can target specific companies where you would like to work. Then go to their corporate websites and look for a careers page on the website. For example, Google has an extensive careers section on its website that provides detailed information on how to apply to become a “Googler,” along with a section on what the company’s interview process entails and how Google makes hiring decisions.16

    You can also try posting your résumé on the top 10 most popular job websites. They are so large that they are worth checking out first. They tend to have more jobs listed, represent more companies, and have larger résumé databases, which attract even more companies.17

    The Multimedia Résumé

    If you are going to become a computer programmer, web developer, graphics designer, artist, sculptor, singer, dancer, actor, model, animator, cartoonist, or anyone who would benefit by the photographs, graphics, animation, sound, color, or movement inherent in a multimedia résumé, then this résumé is for you. For most people, however, a multimedia résumé and personal home page on the internet aren’t necessary. Most internet service providers and commercial online services provide some space on their sites for subscriber home pages.18

    Getting Your Electronic Résumé into the Short Pile

    Applicant tracking systems (ATSs) screen for keywords, which either reject your résumé or move it on to the short list. Your task is to use keywords that will produce as many “hits” as possible. Keywords tend to be more of the noun or noun phrase type (Total Quality Management, Walmart, Sales Manager) as opposed to power action verbs often found in traditional résumés (developed, coordinated, organized). Every occupation and career field has its own jargon, acronyms, and buzzwords. There are also general keywords that apply to transferable skills important in many jobs, such as teamwork, writing, and planning.

    Use these tips for adding effective keywords to your résumé:

    • The best source of keywords is the actual job listing, which is likely to contain many, if not all, of the keywords that an employer will use to search the résumé database.
    • Include plenty of keyword nouns and noun phrases throughout your résumé. If you have a “Summary of Qualifications” section at the beginning of your résumé, try not to repeat verbatim the contents of this section.
    • If you are applying for technical positions, you can list your skills, separating each noun or phrase by a comma.
    • In some fields, a simple list of skills does not sufficiently describe the job seeker’s background. Where appropriate, include accomplishments, as well, but be sure to include enough keywords to satisfy the ATS searches.19

    There are several ways to determine what keywords are appropriate for your industry and job.

    • Look through recent job postings online. Certain words will reappear consistently. Those are your “key” words.
    • Make sure your résumé contains the keywords and concepts used in the particular job listing you are applying to.
    • Talk to people in the career field you are targeting, and ask them what keywords are appropriate to the positions you are applying to.
    • Research specific company websites that appeal to you in terms of getting a job with that specific organization, and review the “About Us” section. Try to use some of the key words the company uses to describe its corporate environment as part of your résumé descriptions.20
    • Visit professional association websites, and read the content carefully. Many of these are loaded with industry-related jargon that may be appropriate for your résumé.

    If you are still in college, try to get at least one internship in the career field you’re targeting. Even if your internship lasts only a few weeks, you will significantly increase your keyword count to build a resume, not to mention gain valuable experience that will get the attention of hiring professionals.21

    I’ve Landed a Job Interview

    If some of the companies you contacted want to speak with you, your résumé achieved its goal of getting you a job interview. Look at the interview as a chance to describe your knowledge and skills and interpret them in terms of the employer’s specific needs. To make this kind of presentation, you need to do some research on the company. A great place to start is the company’s own corporate website.

    As you do your information search, you should build your knowledge in these three areas:

    1. General Information about the Occupational Field. Learn about the current and predicted industry trends, general educational requirements, job descriptions, growth outlook, and salary ranges in the industry.
    2. Information about Prospective Employers. Learn whether the organization is publicly or privately owned. Verify company names, addresses, products, or services (current and predicted, as well as trends); history; culture; reputation; performance; divisions and subsidiaries; locations (U.S. and global); predicted growth indicators; number of employees; company philosophies and procedures; predicted job openings; salary ranges; and listings of managers of your targeted department within the organization. Also learn about the competitors and customers.
    3. Information about Specific Jobs. Obtain job descriptions; identify the required education and experience; and determine prevalent working conditions, salary, and fringe benefits.

    Interview Like a Pro

    An interview tends to have three parts: icebreaking (about five minutes), in which the interviewer tries to put the applicant at ease; questioning (directly or indirectly) by the interviewer; and questioning by the applicant. Almost every recruiter you meet will be trying to rate you in 5 to 10 areas. The questions will be designed to assess your skills and personality.

    Many firms start with a screening interview, a rather short interview (about 30 minutes) to decide whether to invite you back for a second interview. Sometimes screening interviews can take place online via Skype, FaceTime, or some other form of videoconferencing. Only about 20 percent of job applicants are invited back. The second interview is usually a half day or a day of meetings set up by the human resource department with managers in different departments. After the meetings, someone from the human resource department will discuss other application materials with you and tell you when a letter of acceptance or rejection is likely to be sent. (The wait may be weeks or even months.) Many applicants send follow-up letters in the meantime to show they are still interested in the firm.

    For the interview, you should dress conservatively. Plan to arrive about 10 to 15 minutes ahead of time. Try to relax. Smile and make eye contact with (but do not stare at) the interviewer. Body language is an important communicator. The placement of your hands and feet and your overall posture say a good deal about you. Here are some other tips for interviewing like a pro:

    1. Concentrate on being likable. As simplistic as it seems, research proves that one of the most essential goals in successful interviewing is to be liked by the interviewer. Interviewers want to hire pleasant people others will like working with on a daily basis. Pay attention to the following areas to project that you are highly likable:
      • Be friendly, courteous, and enthusiastic.
      • Speak positively.
      • Smile.
      • Use positive body language.
      • Make certain your appearance is appropriate.
      • Make eye contact when you speak.
    2. Project an air of confidence and pride. Act as though you want and deserve the job, not as though you are desperate.
    3. Demonstrate enthusiasm. The applicant’s level of enthusiasm often influences employers as much as any other interviewing factor. The applicant who demonstrates little enthusiasm for a job will never be selected for the position.
    4. Demonstrate knowledge of and interest in the employer. “I really want this job” is not convincing enough. Explain why you want the position and how the position fits your career plans. You can cite opportunities that may be unique to a firm or emphasize your skills and education that are highly relevant to the position.
    5. State your name and the position you’re seeking. When you enter the interviewer’s office, begin with a friendly greeting and state the position you’re interviewing for: “Hello, Ms. Levine, I’m Bella Reyna. I’m here to interview for the accounting position.” If someone has already introduced you to the interviewer, simply say, “Good morning, Ms. Levine.” Identifying the position is important because interviewers often interview for many different positions.
    6. Focus on how you fit the job. Near the beginning of your interview, as soon as it seems appropriate, ask a question similar to this: “Could you describe the scope of the job and tell me what capabilities are most important in filling the position?” The interviewer’s response will help you focus on emphasizing your qualifications that best match the needs of the employer.
    7. Speak correctly. Grammatical errors can cost applicants the job. Use correct grammar, word choice, and a businesslike vocabulary, not an informal, chatty one. Avoid slang. When under stress, people often use pet phrases (such as you know) too often. This is highly annoying and projects immaturity and insecurity. Don’t use just or only. “I just worked as a waiter.” Don’t say “I guess.” Avoid the word probably because it suggests unnecessary doubt. Ask a friend or family member to help you identify any speech weaknesses you have. Begin eliminating these speech habits now.

    Also, you should avoid the following “disqualifiers” at all costs. Any one of these blunders could cost you your dream job:

    1. Don’t sit down until the interviewer invites you to; waiting is courteous.
    2. Don’t bring anyone else to the interview; it makes you look immature and insecure.
    3. Don’t smoke or bring a beverage with you.
    4. Don’t put anything on or read anything on the interviewer’s desk; it’s considered an invasion of personal space.
    5. Don’t chew gum or have anything else in your mouth; this projects immaturity.
    6. If you are invited to a business meal, don’t order alcohol. When ordering, choose food that’s easy to eat while carrying on a conversation.
    7. Don’t offer a limp handshake; it projects weakness. Use a firm handshake.22

    Select the Right Job for You

    Hard work and a little luck may pay off with multiple job offers. Your happy dilemma is deciding which one is best for you. Start by considering the “FACTS”:

    • Fit: Do the job and the employer fit your skills, interests, and lifestyle?
    • Advancement and growth: Will you have the chance to develop your talents and move up within the organization?
    • Compensation: Is the employer offering a competitive salary and benefits package?
    • Training: Will the employer provide you with the tools needed to be successful on the job?
    • Site: Is the job location a good match for your lifestyle and your budget?

    A great way to evaluate a new location is through Homefair (http://www.homefair.com). This site offers tools to help you calculate the cost of moving, the cost of living, and the quality of life in various places. The Moving Calculator helps you figure out how much it will cost to ship your worldly possessions to a particular city. The Relocation Crime Lab compares crime rates in various locations. The City Snapshots feature compares demographic, economic, and climate information for two cities of your choosing. The Salary Calculator computes cost-of-living differences between hundreds of U.S. and international cities and tells you how much you’d need to make in your new city to maintain your current standard of living.

    Start Your New Job

    No time is more crucial, and possibly nerve-racking, than the first few months at a new job. During this breaking-in period, the employer decides whether a new employee is valuable enough to keep and, if so, in what capacity. Sometimes the employee’s whole future with the company rides on the efforts of the first few weeks or months. Most firms offer some sort of formal orientation. But generally speaking, they expect employees to learn quickly—and often on their own. You will be expected to become familiar with the firm’s goals; its organization, including your place in the company; and basic personnel policies, such as coffee breaks, overtime, and parking.

    Here are a few tips on making your first job rewarding and productive:

    • Listen and learn: When you first walk into your new job, let your eyes and ears take everything in. Do people refer to one another by first names, or is the company more formal? How do people dress? Do the people you work with drop into one another’s open offices for informal chats about business matters? Or have you entered a “memo mill,” where anything of substance is put on email and talks with other employees are scheduled through their administrative assistants? Size up where the power lies. Who seems to most often assume a leadership role? Who is the person others turn to for advice? Why has that person achieved that position? What traits have made this person a “political leader”? Don’t be misled by what others say, but also don’t dismiss their evaluations. Make your own judgments based on what you see and hear. Effective listening skills help you learn your new job responsibilities quickly. Take the quiz in Table 17.8 to see if you are a good listener.
    • Do unto others: Be nice. Nice people are usually the last to be fired and among the first to be promoted. Don’t be pleasant only with those who can help you in the company. Be nice to everyone. You never know who can help you or give you information that will turn out to be useful. Genuinely nice people make routine job assignments, and especially pressure-filled ones, more pleasant. And people who are dealt with pleasantly usually respond in kind.
    • Don’t start out as a maverick: If every new employee tried to change tried-and-true methods to suit his or her whims, the firm would quickly be in chaos. Individual needs must take a back seat to established procedures. Devote yourself to getting things done within the system. Every manager realizes that it takes time for a new person to adjust. But the faster you start accomplishing things, the faster the boss will decide that you were the right person to hire.
    • Find a great mentor: The leading cause of career unhappiness is working for a bad boss. Good jobs can easily be ruined by supervisors who hold you back. In contrast, your career will soar (and you will smile every day) when you have a great mentor helping you along the way. If you find a job with a super mentor, jump at the chance to take it.
    Fun Self-Test—Are You a Good Listener?
    Rate your level of agreement with the statements below using the following scale:
    Strongly Agree Agree Neither Agree nor Disagree Disagree Strongly Disagree
    1. A person who takes time to ask for clarification about something that might be unclear is not a good listener.
    2. While listening, I am distracted by the sounds around me.
    3. I try to not only understand what is being said but also analyze the strength of any ideas that are being presented.
    4. I ask questions, make observations, or give opinion when necessary for clarifications.
    5. While I am listening, I avoid eye contact but am polite.
    6. I am tempted to judge a person whether or not he or she is a good speaker.
    7. I feel more comfortable when someone talks to me about a topic that I find interesting.
    8. I always jot down key phrases/points that strike me as important points of concern that require a response.
    9. My listening style varies from the speaker’s style of communication.
    10. A good listener requires a good speaker.23
    See the scoring guidelines at the end of this chapter to obtain your score.

    Table17.8

    Moving Up

    Once you have been on the job for a while, you will want to get ahead and be promoted. Table 17.9 offers several suggestions for improving your chances of promotion. The first item might seem a bit strange, yet it’s there for a practical reason. If you don’t really like what you do, you won’t be committed enough to compete with those who do. The passionate people are the ones who go the extra mile, do the extra work, and come up with fresh out-of-the-box ideas.

    So there you have it. Remember: it’s never too early to begin planning your career—the future is now.

    How to Move Up
    • Love what you do, which entails first figuring out who you are.
    • Never stop learning about new technologies and new skills that will help you build a successful career.
    • Try to get international experience even if it is only a short stint overseas.
    • Create new business opportunities—they could lead to a promotion.
    • Be really terrific at what you’re doing now, this week, this month.

    Table17.9