Thursday, August 28, 2008

Keeping Your Career Options Open with Transferable Skills

In case you haven't been reading the paper, watching television or surfing the internet for the past several months, we have some news for you: the economy is tough right now, and whether you're a student thinking about internship options, a recent graduate looking for a full-time position, or an alum who has been out of school for a few years now, the job market is tight. Regardless of your industry of choice or your major, finding positions to apply for, and then getting your foot in the door, is challenging, especially when everyone seems to be talking about economic doom and gloom.

But wait! Before you despair completely, we have some good news - despite the news reports about the increasing unemployment rate, there are jobs out there that are promising. One of the keys to finding a position is to be open minded about where your skills can take you - and considering career paths that you may not have thought about before. A recent article in TimeOut Chicago talks about re-tooling your career - and while some of the positions they suggest might not be up your alley, the advice they are offering is solid: Just because you can't find an internship or full-time position in your ideal career field doesn't mean that your skills won't translate to another, equally promising, job. (The article also quotes the University's own Michael Jogerst, the director of career services at the School of Social Service Administration.)

Just one example that TimeOut Chicago gives is journalism careers. If you've been thinking about becoming a journalist your whole life, or even just your entire academic career, it may come as a blow to you that journalism jobs are very competitive and that traditional newspaper reporting and editing is beginning to decline, as on-line media outlets become more and more prominent. The good news is that all of those skills that you developed as a strong writer and journalist can be applied to a variety of other jobs. A few alternative career paths that the articles suggests include:
1. In-house magazines- These are the kinds of publications that major corporations create to facilitate internal and external communications (think MOTONOW, the online newsletter from Motorola). If you're ever read the University of Chicago's Alumni Magazine, then you know that that publication has reporters and editors working on it, day in and day out. That's just one example of an in-house magazine that requires the same skill set as some of the larger, more widely distributed magazines and newspapers.
2. University work - Academic institutions need instructors and editors for university presses. Take it from me (I work at CAPS after all!) - there are plenty of opportunities for writing - including articles, press releases and this blog post - in academic positions. The low-key summer dress code helps too.
3. Spokesperson - TimeOut Chicago quotes Jogerst as saying, "You could be a spokesperson in politics, sports, city or state departments, or for the police department." All of those positions are going to require someone who can write well and think in their feet - just like the news reporter that you always wanted to be.

If journalism is where your interest lies, you should call CAPS at (773) 702 - 7040 and make an appointment with Kathy Anderson, the program director for the new Chicago Careers in Journalism (CCIJ) Program. CCIJ offers workshops throughout the academic year about journalism careers (both print and electronic), networking opportunities with alumni journalists, and one-on-one advising to help you pursue the journalism or journalism-related jobs that you're most interested in.

Not interested in journalism and wondering why you're still reading? The idea of transferable skills applies to a wide range of other careers as well. Do you have experience working in retail? As TimeOut Chicago points out, any type of customer service or sales experience could benefit you the hospitality industry, as an event planner or even working in college admissions. Have you always dreamed of working in a Wall Street investment firm? The same quantitative and analytical skills that make someone like you a strong candidate at the better known banks will also make you a strong candidate at smaller start-up firms or local banks - the key is to keep an open mind and keep your options open.

If you have questions about how to turn the skills that you have into a internship or full-time job, schedule an appointment with CAPS by calling (773) 702 - 7040 - or post them here.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Frequently Asked Chicago Career Connection Questions

Hopefully by now you’ve had a chance to explore Chicago Career Connection, CAPS’ new on-line internship, job search and on-campus recruiting platform, which replaced InterviewTRAK and UChicagoTRAK this June. If you haven’t heard, the decision to move to Chicago Career Connection (which you’ll sometimes see abbreviated as C3), was made after CAPS held several focus groups with undergraduate and graduate students about what you want to get out of an on-line tool like this. The new system is streamlined and user friendly, and we’re excited for students to come back to campus and start using it.

Like any new program, we’re still working out the fine print, so we hope you’ll bear with us as we roll out the new system and acclimate employers and organizations to using it as well. We’ve already received lots of great feedback about the system, and we’ve noticed that there are some questions that keep reoccurring. Below are our answers and advice for some of the most frequently asked Chicago Career Connection questions.

Q: How do I log into Chicago Career Connection?
A: If you’re a current undergraduate or graduate student, or a post-doc, you can log in from the CAPS home page at using your CNET ID and password. If you don’t have a CNET ID (or you can’t remember it), visit for more information about gaining access to the system. If you aren’t able to locate your CNET or need help logging in, contact Lucy Gee or Shoshannah Cohen for assistance.

Q: How can I update my personal information in Chicago Career Connection? (Personal information includes your student ID numbers, your current and permanent addresses, and your phone numbers.)
A: We pull in student information through the Registrar's office/Gargoyle. So you'll need to make the change there, and then it will be reflected in our next pull of data. (We pull information every Monday morning, so if you make a change this week, it will show up first thing Monday.)

Q: I’ve been searching for jobs and internships, but haven’t been able to find many postings. Where should I be looking?
A: As our organizations and recruiting partners move over to using Chicago Career Connection, more and more positions will appear there. While there are fewer jobs listed now than there were in UChicagoTRAK, this number is going to increase throughout the academic year. If you can’t find what you’re looking for in the Chicago Career Connection Jobs section, you should also check out the section, which has internships and full-time positions from a wide range of organizations. If you still can’t find what you’re looking for, call CAPS at (773) 702 – 7040 and schedule an appointment to talk about the types of positions you’re interested in. More information about job searching in Chicago Career Connection can also be found here.

Q: Do I still need to be activated to use Chicago Career Connection?
A: With the old system, students were activated by coming into CAPS and having their resumes reviewed. This allowed students to apply for on-campus recruiting positions, and for College-sponsored opportunities like the Jeff Metcalf Fellows Program and the Alumni Board of Governors Externships. If you’ve already been activated (i.e. met with a CAPS staff member, had your resume reviewed and signed an activation form) then you are all set, and you don’t need to get re-activated. However, if you’ve never been activated before, you do still need to come into CAPS for a resume review. You can do that during walk-ins (Undergrads, M-F, 11am – 2:30pm [during the academic year], Grad Students, M,T, R 2 – 3:30pm) or during a scheduled appointment.

Post additional questions, comments and feedback about Chicago Career Connection here.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Liberal Arts Degree + Pre-Professional Programs = Earning Potential

By now you've probably seen the article at that ranks the University of Chicago second among mid-western colleges and universities in terms of median starting salaries. According to the article, the average University of Chicago graduate can expect to make about $50,000 a year when he or she first graduates and over $110,000 mid-way through his or her career. With the cost of higher education rising quickly, looking at the outcomes of a school's graduates is becoming increasingly important, especially when high school students and their parents are deciding where to spend the next four years.

It's clear that the foundation that a liberal arts degree provides University of Chicago students is crucial to the success that our alumni find. What students might be struggling with, however, is how to choose between a great liberal arts education, and the more targeted programs that are found at other institutions (and one question that comes up often when meeting with prospective students and their parents is "Will my student be able to get a job with XX degree?"). The XX can stand for anything - art history, philosophy, economics, physics, math...

The answer, in short, is yes. In fact, when picking a major, students should be choosing something that they like, and that they do well at (in other words, don't decide to be an economics major just because the program is well known and well respected. Decide to be an economics major because you enjoy studying economics). One thing that recruiters say over and over again is that in most cases it doesn't matter what a student has majored in, as long as he or she can think on his or her feet and learn quickly. That's why places like Google look to hire just as many English and History Majors, as they do people with backgrounds in IT.

Finally, CAPS and the College know that making the most of a liberal arts degree is important to you, and that's why the past few years have resulted in the Chicago Careers in...Programs. These are programs that supplement the liberal arts curriculum at the University of Chicago - so you get the best of both worlds - and provide targeted workshops and mentoring.

Chicago Careers in Business, Chicago Careers in Law, Chicago Careers in Health Professions and Chicago Careers in Journalism all give students the resources they need to excel in these fields, without sacrificing the intellectual debate and growth that takes place in a core class that might be largely theoretical.

For more information about any of these programs, call CAPS at (773) 702 - 7040 and ask to meet with the program director. Or, post your questions here.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Informational Interviewing: Networking's Evil Twin

Last week we talked about networking, why it can be challenging, and why it's necessary when you're looking for a job or internship. Today we meet networking's evil twin: informational interviewing.

As if interviewing for actual positions wasn't nerve-wracking enough, informational interviewing is the interviewing that you go through when there may not even be a position for you to be offered. But as painful as this sounds, informational interviewing is just an important as networking when it comes to exploring career fields and applying for jobs or internships.

So why do it?
Here are a few reasons why informational interviews are important:
1. Informational interviews are an opportunity for YOU to ask questions, gather information about a career field or organization, learn about job options and career paths, and make contact with people who can help identify opportunities in their fields.
2. Informational interviews help you practice for the interviews that you'll have for future positions. What better place to stumble a little over your words than in a conversation where an internship or job isn't on the line? Sure, you want to be prepared for the informational interview, but it's an opportunity to improve your interviewing skills, without worrying that a "wrong" answer might lessen your changes of receiving an offer.
3. Informational interviews get your foot in the door. Pretend you do an informational interview at company X, but company X isn't hiring. You learn more about the work that this company does, and you gain insight into the culture of the organization. 6 months later you're looking for opportunities on Chicago Career Connection when you see your dream internship posted at company X. The first thing you should do is email the person at company X who conducted your informational interview and let him or her know that you're hoping to apply for their internship. Already, you have a leg up on the competition, because you know someone inside company X and you know what their organization is all about - and you've expressed your interest in that company months ago, so they will know that you really want to work there.

How do you do it?
Start by writing an email requesting an informational interview. If you're writing to someone who you've met in the past (perhaps someone you met through networking!), introduce yourself and remind the person of where you met and when.

If you're contacting someone who you haven't met before (perhaps someone who you found on the Alumni Careers Network), introduce yourself and explain where you got their contact information. Then express your intent to gather information only.

In both cases, indicate why you want to interview your contact, and add a sentence or two about your own background and goals. Finally, request to do an informational interview over the phone –about 20 minutes in length. Be sure to accommodate the interviewee’s schedule.

Also check out career exploration websites like, which does the work for you and provides in-depth informational interviews with professionals in a variety of fields.

REMEMBER: Informational interviews are NOT job or internship interviews. You shouldn't be asking the person who you speak with for a position, but you should be learning more about the organization and expressing your interest in working there.

For more tips on information interviewing, check out this CAPS' Handout. To schedule a practice interview before you begin informational interviewing, call CAPS at (773) 702 - 7040.

More questions about informational interviewing? Post them here.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Internship Post Mortem

This is the time of year when people start saying things like "Can you believe it's almost Labor Day?" and "Wow, the summer really flew by this year." The end of summer is usually bemoaned by pretty much everyone, as students prepare to head back to class and the lazy days of summer start to come to an end. There's still plenty of time between now and the beginning of fall quarter at the University of Chicago, but for many students, their summer internships may only have a few weeks left to go. Whether you're in the home stretch, or if you're working right up until the day before classes start up again, here are a few tips for leaving your internship and making it work for you even after your hard work is over.

*Be clear about your last day of work. If you haven't already, be sure to talk about your supervisor about when your last day will be. This doesn't mean letting the organization know that tomorrow (or worse, today) is your final day in the office. Whenever possible, give your supervisor at least two weeks notice, so that you can wrap up any projects that you're working on and transition your other day-to-day work to employees who will be staying on.
*Ask for an evaluation. Many internship programs have an evaluation period built in, but even if yours doesn't, ask your supervisor to spend 30 minutes with you, going over your accomplishments from the summer, and areas in which you can improve. Take any constructive criticism seriously - internships are a chance to learn a great deal about the workplace, so if your supervisor is telling you how to improve, make an effort to address those areas.
*Ask for a recommendation. Depending on how your evaluation goes you should plan to ask your supervisor to serve as a professional reference in the future. As long as the majority of what your supervisor has to say about your work is positive, ask him or her if you can add his or her name to your list of references. When you apply for future positions (both internship and full-time) you'll want to have a list (3 - 4 people) of individuals who can vouch for you, and let a potential employer know that you're hard-working and reliable. NOTE: Be sure you actually ASK your supervisor to be a reference, and receive an affirmative answer, before you put him or her down as a reference. Even if you think you have a good relationship, you want to give your supervisor fair warning if he or she will need to speak on your behalf in the future.
*Collect business cards. Take some time to speak with the other full-time staff in your organization who you've worked with, and ask them if you can keep in touch with them in the future. Even if you didn't report into these staff members, you never know when one of those individuals will find themselves in the position to make hiring decisions - or may move over to another organization where you might like to work. The same is true for fellow interns. Collect emails of other students you've worked with this summer and keep in touch. Those interns could be your colleagues in the next few years, and you want to maintain communication with them.

For more tips about how to finish up your internship and make the most of it, schedule an appointment with CAPS by calling (773) 702 - 7040.

Questions or suggestions for finishing up in style? Post them here.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Networking = Necessary Pain

Networking. Also known as schmoozing, chit-chatting, making matter what you call it, for many students (and non-students) it's intimidating. And even worse, it's necessary when it comes to an internship or job search.

What is networking?
Networking is "building relationships based on trust."
(Black Enterprise Guide to Building your Career)

Schmoozing is "noticing people, connecting with them, keeping in touch with them – and benefiting from relationships with them … connecting with people in a mutually productive and pleasurable way."
(Vault Guide to Schmoozing)

Networking is "a reciprocal process that is mutually beneficial, where we share leads, ideas, and information [that] enhances our personal and professional lives and involves follow-up behaviors that create ongoing connections." (How to Work a Room)

And why, you ask, do I have to do this? Why do I have to put myself through the pain of approaching complete strangers, making awkward conversation with them, and then promising to follow up for more awkward conversation in the future?

Many, many jobs are never found on job lists. Even in the case of a posted job listing, it will be to your advantage to know people in the organization – if nothing else, this will make you a better-prepared candidate. Furthermore, networking has many advantages that can pay off for you in the long-term. Networking/schmoozing is a critical tool in your "career tool chest."

Ok, so if you have to do it, then you should learn to do it well. And the good news is that networking, like many things in life, is something that can be learned, practiced and perfected.

Here are a few tips to help you get started:
1. Check out the CAPS' Networking Handout. It features more advice and discussion about networking and how to start building your network (hint: don't be afraid to ask your parents, your parents' friends, or your friends' parents for help).
2. Consider this advice from author and blogger Lindsey Pollack: "Over the years I’ve developed a plan to take the guess work out of follow-up. It’s super simple and works every time. When I meet someone I’d like to connect with again, I simply say, 'I’ve really enjoyed meeting you, and I’d like to keep in touch. What’s the best method to reach you?'" As Pollack explains, this tactic gives the person you're speaking with the opportunity to provide a phone number or email address - or to politely tell you that they're too busy to be a part of your network right now.
3. Make an appointment with a CAPS' staff member or practice interviewer by calling (773) 702-704o. Let the person that you meet with know that you'd like to start building your career network - and you need some help starting out.

Do you have a networking horror story or victory tale? Post the best and worst of your networking outcomes here.