Monday, March 30, 2009

Etiquette 101: Why Being Polite is Essential to Networking

This is a true story: a personal friend of mine who works at a large digital advertising agency in Chicago agreed to do me a favor and speak with some University of Chicago undergraduates who might have questions about the industry, how to get into advertising, etc, etc. This friend is not an alumnus of the University, but he wanted to help out, and as we all know, the best way to get your foot in the door at an organization is to network and set up informational interviews. A few weeks later, I saw this friend and he told me that he had been in touch with a University of Chicago student, and had found his interactions with this student unsettling - in trying to set up a time to speak with the student and answer questions about his company and his work, this student was very inflexible and demanded that my friend be available during very small windows of time on specific days of the week. When my friend suggested another time and date, this student replied that it was almost finals week and that it would be impossible to set up another time to talk.

So what's wrong with this picture?

Hopefully most readers cringed (as I did when my friend told me this story) to hear that a University of Chicago student would be so inflexible when trying to build a professional relationship. If you didn't, here's why you should have:

1. When reaching out to an alum or another professional contact (someone you met at a career fair or information session, perhaps) remember that this person is doing you a favor. It's not the other way around, and you should be as polite and as accomodating as possible.

2. Yes, we know that you are busy - you have class, homework, studying, extracurriculars, a part-time job and you'd also like to have some time to work out, go out, or just chill out. However, when you're communicating with a professional in the working world, remember that the person you are talking to likely works 40 plus hours a week, commutes for at least an hour a day, if not longer, may have children or other family obligations, as well as other personal responsibilities outside of work. In other words, you should rearrange your schedule to make it easier on the person you are networking with. This does not mean skipping class or blowing off homework - but it does mean suggesting large chunks of time when you are available, and offering to call the person or come to his or her place of work to meet. You want to make it as easy as possible for the person who is helping you, to actually be able to help you.

For some more (harsh) advice, I'm borrowing some information from the Booth School of Business (I'm also borrowing their title for this blog post). Earlier this year, the Booth student newspaper ran an article called "Etiquette 101," written by a class of 2009 Booth student. And while some of this advice is tough to swallow, it reinforces the point we're trying to make - BE POLITE.

Here's some of what the Booth article had to say - the CAPS Blog thinks this is good advice for anyone on the job or internship hunt:

1. "Introductions: When you’re asking me for help, can you not be so demanding? It’s not like I owe it to you. I’m not your mother and the last time I checked, you were the one who needed help. While my positive karma points go up with every mock interview/case practice/tips/help session I give, I’m doing you a favor. Remember that and don’t send me an e-mail like “send me your availability.” Can I? Can I really? I think hell is available…"

2. "Punctuality: If you don’t call or show up when you’re supposed to, that’s not called 'fashionably late.' When it comes to appointments, you’re just late. Tardy. Truant. Obnoxious and disrespectful of people’s time. If I wanted to sit around and do nothing, that’s my prerogative. But it is not the highlight of my day to wait for you. There are so many ways to know the time in modern days: watch, cell phone, crackberry, computer—dude, you can even ASK someone. Just be on time. Otherwise, don’t blame the person you’re meeting for giving you an attitude."

3. "Apologies: Let’s say you’re late for a reason. You have a legitimate alibi. At least say you’re sorry. I realize that many of you may not have such a word in your vocabulary, but most children learn it before they ever step onto school grounds. Go relearn it. It’s five letters that will serve you well in life. And don’t apologize while not sounding apologetic. That’s just rude because then it’s clear to me and everyone else that you’re just making excuses for yourself..."

Again, hopefully this sounds like commonsense to you. But if it doesn't, or if you think you're guilty of being rude, inflexible or demanding when you're building your network, learn these lessons now - and don't do it again.

Questions, comments or networking horror stories? Post them here.

Monday, March 23, 2009

The Importance of Cover Letters in a Down Economy

This week we continue with tips and advice for students and alumni who on the job or internship hunt during this difficult economy. One of the most challenging things about a job search is that feeling that your resume is going into a black hole somewhere - and unfortunately, you may not hear back at all from some of the organizations that you've applied to. One way to combat the gravitational force of these resume black holes is to send your resume along with a cover letter. This may seem like commonsense, but for students and recent alumni who are just getting started on the job hunt, it may not be immediately clear why a cover letter is so important. And when you're applying for five, ten, fifteen, maybe even more, positions per week, the temptation to do away with cover letters all together can be tempting. Here are some reasons not to give in to that little voice that is telling you not to write that cover letter:

An article earlier this year in the New York Times focused on the importance of cover letters. As that article points out: "'Cover letters are a graceful way to introduce yourself, to convey your personality and to impress a hiring manager with your experience and your writing skills,' said Katy Piotrowski, an author of career books and a career counselor based in Fort Collins, Colo. 'You can also tailor them to a specific company in ways that you cannot with a resume.'" It's almost impossible to fit all of your relevant skills onto your resume, and contextualize those skills for the position you are applying for - the cover letter gives you the opportunity to provide a potential employer with that context.

Other tips from the NYT include:

- Your cover letter should be short — generally no longer than three or four paragraphs.
- In your first paragraph, explain why you are writing — it may be that you are answering an ad, that you were referred to the company through networking, or that you learned that the company is expanding...
- In the middle paragraphs, explain why you are a good candidate, and show that you are knowledgeable about the company. Then convey a clear story about your career, and highlight specific past achievements...
- A cover letter with typos, misspellings and poor sentence structure may take you out of the running for a job. If you cannot afford to pay someone to review your cover letter and resume, enlist a friend or a family member with good language skills to do it instead.

For more information about writing cover letters, check out the CAPS "How to Write a Compelling Cover Letter" webcast or the newly revised and redesigned CAPS Handout on cover letter writing. Still not sure what to write? Call CAPS at (773) 702 - 7040 and schedule an appointment to go over your cover letter with a CAPS career counselor.

Questions, suggestions or other thoughts? Post them here.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Tips for WBEZ Followers - and Anyone Else Looking for a Job

The WBEZ Chicago Public Radio blog "Hard Working" recently featured advice from CAPS' staff member Marthe Druska for students and alumni conducting job and internship searches in this tough economic climate. Click here to view the original blog post. Read below for the tips that Marthe provided to WBEZ readers:

1. How has the recession affected the demand for your services, both by soon-to-be grads and alumni?

The economic climate is certainly at the forefront of everyone’s minds, especially for students about to graduate. We’ve seen an increase in the number of alumni who have contacted our office, both recent alumni who are 1 to 5 years out of school and more experienced alumni. These are individuals who have either been laid off, are concerned about being laid off, or are considering a career transition. Student demand for our services has remained strong as students are thinking about summer plans and planning for internships.

2. What are the biggest obstacles facing your students and how can they overcome them?

The obvious answer is the economy, and the fact that fewer organizations are hiring. We’re advising both graduating students and alumni to start early and to be open minded. Students who may have been determined to go into a particular industry, or even to work at a specific organization, really need to widen their search. In addition, more than ever, networking is such an important career search tool right now. Companies are still hiring, but the more connections students can make with alumni and other professionals in their fields of interest, the better. We’re really encouraging students to reach out to alumni, and to go on information interviews. Even if there isn’t a position open at this time, it never hurts to learn more about an organization and express your interest in working there.

The other piece of important advice is not to get discouraged. This can be difficult when it seems as if there aren’t many jobs available right now. Being organized is very important: keep a spreadsheet of the positions that you’ve applied to, the people that you’ve met with, and the follow up that you’ve done with each organization.

3. What are the 3 most important pieces of advice you give to imminent grads looking for jobs?

1. Expand the areas that you are looking at. Especially for students at the University of Chicago, where a liberal arts education is so important, they have strong, transferable skills. So consider fields or lesser known organizations that you may not have planned to apply to. Education and healthcare are two areas that are doing well right now, despite the economy. And even in hard hit areas like financial services, there are smaller, boutique firms that are hiring.

2. Make sure you have a targeted resume and cover letter. For every position that you apply for, the resume and cover letter that you submit should reflect that you’ve read the job description carefully and researched the organization. Sending a generic resume or a generic cover letter to an organization is one of the fastest ways to remove yourself from consideration. It’s also important to relate the experience that you already have back to the position you are applying for. It’s not enough to state in your cover letter what you’ve accomplished in previous positions - you also have to explain why those skills are relevant to the position you are applying for. Imagine that you tell a potential employer about a skill set you already possess. Now imagine that employer asks, “So what? What can that do for me?” Try to answer those questions in your cover letter.

2b. It goes without saying, NO TYPOS in your resume or cover letter. Have a friend, roommate, partner, someone read your materials to make sure you’re not missing any grammatical or spelling errors.

3. Follow up. Following up includes sending a thank you email or note AND checking back in if you don’t hear from an organization or individual. You don’t want to be pushy (calling or emailing every day is not acceptable) but you also want to stay on people’s radars. I can’t tell you the number of times that I’ve heard from a student “I submitted my resume, but then I never heard anything back.” But that student never called to follow up and emphasize his or her interest in the position.

3b. Say thank you. Always. You’d be surprised how many people don’t send thank you notes after an interview. It doesn’t guarantee that you’ll get the job, but it does make you stand out from the pack.

4. How has the recession affected the level of on-campus recruitment and recruiters’ interest in your students?

We haven’t really heard that recruiters would prefer to hire alumni, as opposed to graduating seniors. We have seen a decrease in the number of organizations who came to campus for full-time recruiting this past fall. We’ve seen a slight decrease in the number of organizations who attended our fall and winter career fairs this year, but that was very slight—for the most part those numbers have remained strong. However, at the same time we’re still seeing quite a bit of interest in internship recruiting. We currently have over 250 Jeff Metcalf Fellows Internships available to our students—these are paid, substantive summer internship opportunities exclusive to University of Chicago undergraduates—so while it’s been challenging, we have still seen some growth.

5. For the coming school year, how does CAPS plan to continue helping students through this difficult time?

Our mission continues to be to connect undergraduates, graduate students and recent alumni to opportunities in a wide range of fields—this has not changed. At the same time, we do want to provide as much support as possible to both students and alumni during this difficult time. On the undergraduate side, we are developing new programming for this spring that will address looking for positions in a difficult economy, and strategies for seeking out those “hidden” positions in this job market. On the graduate side, there is a similar series of workshops planned for this spring, for students both interested in continuing in academia, and for those who are looking to enter the post-academic job market. To read more about the undergraduate programming, you can go here; for upcoming graduate student programming, you can visit here. And for alumni who are entering the job market, we are continuing to work with our colleagues in Alumni Relations and Development to provide both one-on-one advising and programming for individuals with more experience. This includes offering more appointments for more experienced alumni, and developing regional networking events for alumni across the country who are seeking job resources.

Questions, comments or suggestions? Post them here.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

8 Tips for Gaining a Competitive Edge in a Competitive Job Market

Last month the University's Chicago Alumni Club organized an event for alumni who are currently seeking employment during this difficult economy. The event featured a panel of alumni and non-alumni speakers discussing their experiences of both being laid off and helping others seek employment. One of the panelists, Russ Jones, of First Transitions, Inc. provided the following information, which we're borrowing for today's blog post:

Looking for a New Position in a Difficult Economy

The media has frightened employers, employees, job seekers and investors to a level not seen since the early ‘80s. The picture painted is bleak. In many cases, if we were aware of the rest of the story, we would be concerned, but not engaged in the full blown panic we see, hear and experience in the marketplace each day. Each day we seem to get a fresh dose of the doom and gloom of our economy as we read the print and broadcast news headlines concerning the reductions in force of thousands of employees by organizations across the country. These reports frighten many people who take the news at face value.
Let’s take a closer look. In many cases what the media fails to explain is that a job force reduction of, say, 30,000, doesn’t mean that 30,000 people are losing their jobs the next day. Certainly, some of the affected employees will lose their jobs immediately, but many others will accept early retirement or severance packages with generous payouts. Still more job cuts will come from attrition or not filling currently open positions. The headcount will dissipate over the course of perhaps several years, not immediately. In many cases, these large headcount announcements are made to make shareholders content with the actions taken. With the profit pressure placed on CEOs, announcing a large scale workforce reduction appeases stockholders and Boards of Directors and is a quick way to show potential savings of millions of dollars.
So, the next time you hear or read about a large scale reduction in force, read the fine print and realize how many are affected immediately versus the number announced. Recognizing, however, that those at the helms of organizations are also reading these headlines, they too have a bit of fear about the future instilled in them. There is a higher rate of unemployment than there has been in several years. Market conditions dictate that finding a new position is more difficult than it has been in several years. After all, there are more individuals pursuing fewer positions.
The question then becomes, “How do I give myself a competitive advantage in such a competitive job market?” Here are 8 factors that can give you the edge.
1) ATTITUDE is the single most important attribute in finding a new position. Organizations have no interest in hiring individuals that don’t think positively about themselves, their abilities or the company with whom they are interviewing. Attitude is your best friend or your worst enemy and you have control over your outlook and how you choose to see the world.
2) Take inventory, know what you have to sell and how will you add value to an organization. Take the time to consider your skills, abilities, interests and accomplishments. Write them down and think through what employers want in the positions that you will seek. Determine how you will bring across your personality, values and marketable skills to the interview—whether in person or on the telephone.
3) Consider the possibilities. Think about how your skills can be marketed to a variety of employers. Your training, education, and work experience have prepared you for a variety of options. Career assessment inventories can help you uncover some of these possibilities. Community colleges can provide inexpensive or free access to these assessment tools.
4) Be realistic. Finding a new position takes time. Be patient, allocate time to work on your search every day and don’t spend too much time researching positions on the internet. After all, only 4% of job seekers are successful in finding new positions online.
5) Do your homework. Make sure that you are knowledgeable about the organizations and individuals that you contact. Google, LinkedIn, Zoom Info, association websites, company websites, etc. provide information about organizations and people. Taking the time to be knowledgeable can give you the edge.
6) You can’t network enough. It may be all we hear about, but in today’s market, more than 70% of job seekers’ success comes from networking. Networking is about seeking advice, information, ideas, referrals and coaching while being able to discuss your interests without asking for a job. Good dialogue will create opportunities. Make a list of friends, co-workers, past co-workers, family members, professional contacts, etc. and develop a game plan for contacting and staying in touch. Join job clubs, attend business and professional meetings and seek out your alumni. Don’t forget your network once you have landed.
7) Rely on your friends. Ask a trusted professional friend or friends to be your support and confidante during this process. We all need “cheerleaders” in our lives to maintain our spirits.
8) Be relentless. Though a job search can be painfully difficult, as there is far more rejection than acceptance, we must remain focused on the task at hand. Each day have goals regarding contacts, expanding our network and gaining face to face interviews. After all, each new interaction has the possibility of leading to the position that you are seeking.
Strategies for finding a new position in a down economy are no different than times when our economy is robust. Securing a new position in any economy is competitive. Our current economy, where there are more applicants for fewer positions, requires us to be more competitive. There is a smaller margin for error. As a result, we must plan and strategize, prepare, make a stronger effort and execute each aspect of our search in order to gain a competitive edge over other job seekers.

Questions, comments or suggestions? Post them here.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Upcoming Academic and Post-Academic Programming at CAPS

CAPS Graduate Services staff seeks to support graduate students at every stage of their professional development, regardless of their program or goals. We will continue to work closely with graduate divisional and Divinity School deans and deans of students, program directors and coordinators of the MA programs and faculty; University partners such as the Center for Teaching and Learning, Office of Graduate Affairs, and the Office of Multicultural Student Affairs; and our counterparts at peer institutions to address graduate student, post-doc, and alumni needs.

In addition to department specific programming, here is a taste of what is coming up for grads and post-docs this spring:

Career Exploration
Career Exploration Seminars for MAs (Session 1 begins April 6, Session 2 begins in May)
Career Exploration Seminars PhDs and Postdocs (begins April 28) 5 week seminars include self-assessment of skills, interests, and values, methods for crafting a resume and cover letter, and interview preparation. Registration begins March 16- Call 773-702-7040.

Academic Job Market

May 20
Your First Year as a Professor is an annual event that is part of our yearlong Navigating the Academic Job Market Series, and is an opportunity for PhD students to hear more about life as a new faculty member. Topics include balancing research and teaching, how to be a good colleague, and working towards tenure

May/June (TBD)

Academic Networking, is a workshop featuring faculty and advanced doctoral student speakers on the topic of networking at academic conferences and making a good impression on campus visits. Following the presentations, students will participate in general networking exercises in a cocktail reception setting.

Faculty Forum on the Economy and Academic Jobs is a Spring Quarter forum for faculty from across the divisions and Divinity School to address how the current economic climate is affecting the academic job market and to offer advice for students planning on entering the market during the 2009-2010 job cycle.

Diversity in Academe (co-sponsored by Office of Multicultural Student Affairs)

Post-Academic Job Market

March 13
Science Career Forum, a career fair for graduate students and postdoctoral fellows in the sciences, will also include a panel on Diverse Careers in the Sciences where PhD scientists will talk about their transitions to post-academic paths that took advantage of their graduate training.

April 13
PhDs Careers in Consulting is a panel of PhDs working at McKinsey and Boston Consulting Group.

May 14
Demystifying Post-Academic Careers will feature graduate alumni who have pursued careers outside of academia.

We continue our work with a member of the Employer Development team, Dillan Siegler, in doing targeted outreach to employers on opening new job and internship opportunities to graduate students. We’d also like to encourage graduate students to make use of all CAPS resources, including Career Fairs, industry-specific programming, employer information sessions, one-on-one counseling, and our myriad web resources. If you are looking for answers, why not email? Grad staff members are available for your area of study:
Heather Sevener—Biological and Physical Sciences,
Lesley Lundeen—Humanities and Divinity School,
Johanna Schoss—Social Sciences,

Ideas, suggestions or questions about graduate student programming at CAPS? Post them here.