Wednesday, October 21, 2009

How to Think Yourself Into a Job

by Laurel Mylonas-Orwig

Chances are that at some point you’ve encountered a promise that sounded too good to be true. Marketing campaigns promising things like “you’ll lose 10 pounds overnight!” are usually at the top of my “To avoid” list, since I’m pretty sure the only ways to lose 10 pounds overnight involve stomach flu or the amputation of a major extremity. That said, don’t fear, wary job seeker: new research proves that you really can think yourself to job search success.

Here’s the deal. Researchers at the University of Missouri studied the efforts of 327 job seekers between the ages of 20 and 40. The goal of the study was to identify how personality traits—specifically positive thinking, extraversion and conscientiousness—influenced the job search process. Researchers conducted three surveys over the course of eight months, collecting data on demographics; personality; emotions; planning and goal setting; job search results; and job offers. What the study revealed is both groundbreaking and commonsense: it turns out that developing a plan at the beginning of a job search, sticking with that plan, and maintaining a positive outlook are all key to success.

Since we at UChicago are especially interested in theories, let’s break down this one a little bit further. According to the study, conscientiousness and extraversion are both important qualities. Job seekers with these traits engaged in more metacognitive activities, like setting goals, assessing their own skills, and keeping a record of their job search progress. These activities, in turn, led to a higher number of resume submissions and first round interviews.

Researchers also noted that conscientious job seekers had another edge: they conducted higher quality job searches and followed up with employers more effectively. When I was little, my grandmother went to great lengths to remind me that after-Christmas thank you notes are important. The same is true for after-interview thank you notes! Never waste an opportunity to make a good impression.

The final piece of the puzzle, according to the study, is the ability to think positively. The study questionnaires revealed that extraverted job seekers reported feeling positive throughout the job search process. Researchers also discovered that optimistic job seekers were more likely to score follow-up interviews, and thus received a higher percentage of job offers than other applicants.

At this point, you’re probably feeling pretty good if you consider yourself a conscientious, extraverted person. If you struggle with the whole job search process, however, don’t feel dejected: you don’t have to change your personality to get a job. What you can do is utilize the same set of behaviors that proved beneficial in the study. The first step is to set goals, and the second step is to make a plan. As you might have guessed, this being the CAPS blog and all, CAPS counselors are a great resource if you need help with these steps! We can assist you with determining realistic goals, figuring out where to start your search, and making an easy-to-follow plan.

Finally, it’s important to monitor your job search progress. If six months have passed and you haven’t achieved the goals you wanted to, be honest with yourself about it. Sit down and assess your goals and your accomplishments, and make a new plan. As Professor Daniel Turban, chair of the Department of Management and the lead researcher on the study noted, “Some of these recommendations seem like they are commonsense, but they are just not that common. People don’t have strategies, they don’t assess their plans, and they don’t think about their strategies and reflect on whether [they are] working or how to make them work better. They just don’t do it." By making sure that you do take these steps, and keeping a positive attitude, you can beat the odds and up your chances of job search success.

Source: Effects of Conscientiousness and Extraversion on New Labor Market Entrants’ Job Search: The Mediating Role of Metacognitive Activities and Positive Emotions.

What steps have you taken to make your job search successful? Please share your tips and leave your comments below!

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

The Real CAPS, Part 2

by Laurel Mylonas-Orwig

Last week, I discussed three of the myths about CAPS: The Crystal Ball (we can't tell you what your future holds), The Box of Jobs and Basket of Internships (sadly, getting a job is not that easy) and The Secret Map to Success (everyone's path will vary). This week I’ll discuss the top three myths about CAPS, as well as some more information about the real resources that we have to offer, which are way better than a crystal ball.

3. The Incantation of Employability

Like the Secret Map to Success, this myth is related to the idea that one visit to CAPS is all it takes to find a job. While the CAPS staff is here to help in any way that we can, there is no incantation of employability to magically make you the ideal candidate. And yes, it often takes more than one visit to CAPS, and a fair amount of leg work, to reach your employment goals. The truth is, becoming competitive in the job market requires knowledge and skills that must be developed over time. As you go through college, and then enter the work world, this knowledge will become more substantial and more useful. When you're look for ways to build this knowledge after college, remember that CAPS isn’t just for undergrads. Our services can be used by alumni, too. Basically, we’re here for you forever.

2. The Unchanging Temple of CAPS

True story: My first two years as an undergrad here, I refused to visit CAPS. Why? Because I wasn’t interested in business or finance, and from everything I’d heard, those were the only industries CAPS was useful for getting into. As it turns out, this was another myth I’d fallen for. While there are a good deal of employers who recruit for positions in business and finance, CAPS also caters to students looking for careers in the nonprofit sector, the arts, law, journalism, teaching…you get the idea. In fact, CAPS has staff members specifically focused on bringing in employers outside of business and finance. These folks have worked in their industries, so they know how to make connections that will help students. The truth is, CAPS is not an unchanging, unresponsive organization that only exists for a narrow student population. We are here to help all students explore their career interests, regardless of what those interests are. We are also creating new ways to connect with students—services like Live Chat and same-day appointments—so that we’re working with your schedule, instead of asking you to work around ours.

1. The Magic U of C Feather

Okay, allow me a moment of school pride: the U of C is a pretty great academic institution. Whenever people ask me where I went to college, I puff out my chest (just a little) and smile like a mom whose kid just scored the winning goal. That said, here’s a reality check: just because you went to an outstanding school doesn’t mean that doors will magically open for you. In fact, as anyone who’s had to explain the difference between U of C and UIC knows, not every person on the street knows what U of C is. The same is true for employers. For each recruiter that’s impressed, there will be another one who could not care less. The truth is, what’s important to most hiring managers is not so much where you went to school, but what you have gotten out of your education. This is where the U of C experience becomes a key factor. Even if your interviewer has never heard of the University of Chicago, they will appreciate the skills you have honed here—like critical thinking and a strong work ethic. The key to career success is combining these skills with self-reflection and career exploration, so that you are able to identify your abilities, talents and interests, and understand how to use those to your advantage. And, as you’ve probably figured out by now, that process of reflection and exploration is exactly what CAPS is here to help with!

Are there any myths or misconceptions you know about that weren’t mentioned here? Leave them in a comment below!

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Getting to Know the Real CAPS

by Laurel Mylonas-Orwig

Now that the mercury is falling and the homework is piling up, summer might seem like a distant dream. In fact, looking for work is probably the last thing you want to think about as the quarter kicks into gear. But next summer—and for fourth-years, graduation—tends to come more quickly than you think. That doesn’t mean that you need to start looking for a job or internship today. But when you are ready to start, the good news is that you don’t have to figure things out alone. Whether you’re looking for a job in finance, the nonprofit sector, government, the arts or journalism (among others!), the CAPS staff is here to help you.

You may have been to CAPS several times, or never. Either way, you probably have a few ideas about what we do here…and a few impressions about how we do it. As an undergrad, I was fairly certain that it was CAPS’ job to get me a job, and I was a little disgruntled when I realized that CAPS is primarily a planning and career exploration service. Once I figured that out, I wondered what other myths about CAPS were floating around. So, to help you get to know the real CAPS, over the next two weeks I’ll be exploring, in descending order, the top six myths about CAPS, as well as explaining what we actually do.

6. The Crystal Ball

Imagine the following: John Doe, a fourth-year, is looking for a job, but isn’t sure what he wants to do. He figures that he should go to CAPS, since they can tell him what to do with his life.

Sound like anyone you know? The truth is that no one but you can tell you what to do with your life, or what’s in your future. Life is unpredictable, and the process of figuring out what you want to do is an internal one. While you might have wanted to be a ballerina or a firefighter when you were younger, your career goals have probably changed as you’ve grown up and figured out more about yourself. At CAPS, we offer resources such as career counseling, career exploration workshops, and a wealth of programs and networking events to help you learn about and explore your options. However, we can’t do it for you, just like we can’t look into a crystal ball and tell you what your future holds.

5. The Box of Jobs and Basket of Internships

When I started working for CAPS, more than a couple of my friends asked, “So you can find me a job now, right?” They were joking (sort of), but it reminded me of my mistaken assumption that it was CAPS’ job to find me a job. While it would be great if all CAPS counselors had a magical box of jobs or basket of internships under their desks to dispense to students, that’s not the case. The truth is, job and internship searching requires dedication and hard work, and it can be a long process. The old saying “looking for a job is a full-time job” is often true. That can seem daunting—but the good news is that CAPS does have a bevy of resources to help you out. First and foremost, we teach job-searching and networking skills, so that when you find that golden opportunity, you can take advantage of it. Second, we help connect students, employers and alumni, because networking is a big part of finding a job. Third, we have an extensive online job board, as well as several job fairs each year. If you invest some time in your search, and take advantage of the resources CAPS offers, chances are you will be well-positioned to capitalize on opportunities that come your way.

4. The Secret Map to Success

It’s commonsense that the most direct route between two points is a straight line. With this in mind, it would seem that there must be a “direct route” to the job or internship of your choice. The myth is that every CAPS member has this ”secret map to success” tucked away in a desk drawer, and that getting the job you want is as simple as following the prescribed steps. While this is partly true in some cases (you need to go to medical school if you want to be a surgeon, for example), for the vast majority of students there are a number of different ways to reach the same goal. Your path may have branches, loops or dead ends. The most important thing to remember is to be flexible and keep an open mind, because you are the one who determines your career path. What CAPS can do is help you learn more about the career(s) you are interested in, and connect you with people and resources in that field. One last thing: never feel that your major must determine your career. Film studies majors can work in finance, just like Economics majors can become actors. It’s all about how you choose to pursue your interests.

Check back next week to read about the top three CAPS myths...

Comments? Questions? Criticisms? Please leave your feedback below!