Informational Interviews

College students have a few options when it comes to researching a potential employer to see if the job and the work environment are a perfect fit. Internships are often a great way to get college credit (or even a little dough) for working in an organization of interest. If you are short on time or graduation is just around the corner, a better option might be to set up an informational interview. Even though most informational interviews don’t usually yield a job offer by the end of the 1 hour meeting, they provide a valuable opportunity for people to not only pick the brains of professionals in their field of interest, but in some cases, these professionals (if they like you) might provide you with leads to positions that are hiring.

Yesterday, I had the opportunity to finally meet with an employee at my dream employer, a globally recognized athletic apparel and equipment company housed in a fortress in Beaverton (I wonder what company that is!). I read about the person I was meeting with on LinkedIn and spent the majority of the meeting finding out what he did, how he got to where he is, and if he enjoys what he is doing. Not only did I leave the meeting feeling encouraged about my chances of snagging up one of their prized jobs, but the person I met with gave me an internal listing of open positions, some creative and effective strategies to get in touch with hiring recruiters and a copy of my resume that he would pass around on my behalf. At the end of the day, can you beat an opportunity like that?

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Articulating Your Skills

The ability to articulate your skills to a potential employer is the number #1 most important, can’t get a good job without it, thing that any college student or recent graduate should have down by the time they sit down for an interview. So what are your skills and how do you go about researching the things that you do best and thing things that could make you money?

For some people, this process couldn’t be easier. “Give me a piece of paper, a pen and 5 minutes and I’ll have those for you in no time.” For others (including myself), this particular process turns into a complicated, stressful, self-reflective anxiety frenzy. Put me in front of a group of people and I could talk for an hour about nothing, but ask me to describe myself and my skills and I would (used to) break into a nervous sweat.

The good news is, there are a lot more people in the world that fall into the second, self-reflective anxiety attack category. Better yet, there are several helpful tools and strategies to get you from panic-mode to calm, cool and collected.

Here are a few suggestions that can help you articulate your skills:

1 – Strength Finder 2.0

Any career services expert will put this book at the top of the list when it comes to defining your skills. The “Gallup System” uses a 34 theme or defining adjective method to find the 5 words that best describe your personality and talents. After taking a lengthy but informative questionnaire style online assessment and identifying your 5 key traits, the assessment kicks back a 15 page breakdown of tools that can help you make decisions about the type of work you should be doing to best match the professional characteristics that make you extraordinary. Here is the list of information provided in the assessment results guide:

Section I: Awareness

-A brief Shared Theme Description for each of your top five themes

-Your Personalized Strengths Insights, which describe what makes you stand out from

others with the same theme in their top five

-Questions for you to answer to increase your awareness of your talents

Section II: Application

-10 Ideas for Action for each of your top five themes

-Questions for you to answer to help you apply your talents

Section III: Achievement

-Examples of what each of your top five themes “sounds like” — real quotes from

people who also have the theme in their top five

-Steps for you to take to help you leverage your talents for achievement

After taking the assessment, Strength Finder 2.0 kicked back an email with my top 5 themes which happened to be:

Significance

Futuristic

Command

Woo

Focus

So what do these “themes” mean? You’ll have to buy the book and take the assessment for yourself to find out (which I highly recommend).

2- Rocket Career Online Skill Assessment Test (www.rocketcareer.com)

This one is pretty self explanatory; go to the aforementioned website, fill out an assessment and the website will kick back some of your dominant skills.

3- LinkedIn “Stalking”

It sounds pretty sketchy, but when it comes to figuring out what employers want to see or hear on a resume or in an interview, what better way to find out than to check out their skills on LinkedIn (in my opinion, most useful and groundbreaking inventions of the last decade). Not only can you see what these employers look like, which might come in handy if you are meeting outside of the office, but you can see how they wrote their skills and find a way to write your skills in the same professional style.

Try these three strategies and make a short list of the things you feel the most confident doing. When the day of the interview comes and the person behind the desk in the big leather chair asks you the inevitable question “What skills can you bring to this organization,” you won’t need a few minutes to think about it.

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The Power of Ambition

You may be a college freshmen, entering the exciting new world of higher education, away from mom and dad for the first time and ready to spend the next 4 years exploring, soaking up as many experiences as you can before you throw on that cap and gown. Perhaps you just graduated this past year and feel like the economy has been curb stomping you for the last few months, wishing you could go back to the days when class didn’t start ’till 1 p.m. and staying up and drinking on a Wednesday night wasn’t such a bad idea. Regardless of where you are right now, since chances are the majority of the people around you are struggling to find direction or employment in today’s miserable economy, it’s important to step outside of yourself and create some goals either for the next few hours or the next few years.

In Michael Masterson’s book titled “Automatic Wealth for Grads,” the author explains the importance of identifying your ultimate goals in life, the things that will most likely lead to personal success and happiness. Everyone has a different opinion on what it means to be “successful,” but more often than not, money takes center stage in enabling people to do the things they want with their time, energy and resources.

The biggest source of anxiety that most college grads and recent grads have is finding a way to spend the next 50 years of their life doing something that they enjoy (or atleast tolerate), that they are good at and that they can make a decent living off of. After all, when you add up the number of hours that a typical full-time (40 hour/week) employee works over the course of the year, you end up with 80 24/hour days of work

So where do you start? It’s pretty simple. Follow those 3 steps in order:

  • Find something you enjoy: What are your hobbies? What do you like to do in your spare time?When you watch TV, what shows do you find to be the most interesting? Asking yourself these types of questions may help you identify a particular area of interest that you might want to pursue or possible get an internship/job in.
  • Find something you are good at: This one is pretty simple. Have you found yourself to be particularly talented in certain classes in school? When you compare yourself to your peers, are you above average in a certain area? Looking at the people around you can be helpful in gauging your personal progress towards your ultimate success if you don’t get too caught up.
  • Find a way to make money doing – that thing: In an ideal world, people would make all of their decisions based on their passions. Unfortunately, most people can’t afford to do something that they are particularly passionate about when they first start out, so it’s important to look into the future when you are deciding what you want to do to see if this entry-level/low level career could potentially lead to a more exciting/sexy career down the road.

While Masterson’s book focuses more on personal finance techniques to becoming wealthy (like the power of compound interest), he makes a powerful point when he talks about how having a good ambition is more important than having a good job. In the following passage from Automatic Wealth for Grads, Masterson uses his son’s to illustrate this message, saying:

My first son has a great job. At least, it seems like a great job to me. He works in computer engineering. Just two years out of college, he is already earning more than $80,000 a year. That’s pretty good money. Not enough to live like a king in Los Angeles – but enough to pay the rent and put 10 percent to 20 percent on the side for savings. Yet despite the creative challenge of developing new ideas and languages, getting great fringe benefits and making lots of money…he’s thinking about quitting. Why? Because he doesn’t feel like this is what he wants to do.”

Some of you might be thinking what I first thought when I read this passage; “$80,000 a year and he wants to quit?! Give that money to me.” But how much money would you need to spend 160 hours a month doing something you hated?

Masterson’s book is a practical guide to attaining the freedom that everyone strives to have in life, whether it’s the freedom of a flexible schedule or the freedom to think creatively in a job and contribute in a unique way. I’d highly recommend that you swing by the library or a bookstore and pick up a copy, asap!

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My Addiction

About two years ago when I was a sophomore in college, my mom gave me a book called “The Measure of a Man” and said, “I gave a copy to your father for his birthday. Maybe you can read it and tell him what it says.” The book was an autobiography about Sidney Poitier, an actor both my father and I admired for his work in films like “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” and “To Sir With Love.”

I let the book sit on the shelf for a few months until one day, when I decided to take it along on my daily commute downtown on the Max to my summer internship. As a young college student with absolutely no idea what I wanted to do with my life (or even what I wanted to major in!), this magical book enabled me to look at the blueprint to someone else’s life and just like that, my addiction to autobiographies and self-improvement material was established in hopes of ultimately creating a successful blueprint of my own.

By no means is this blog a detailed, clear-cut guide on how to be successful: As a college senior planning on graduating at the end of this term, I am still searching for a path to lead to a fulfilling and successful life. The purpose of this blog is to identify some of the tools that I have used since high school to help locate opportunities and optimize my potential.

My personal objective for the next 10 weeks? To be gainfully employed by the end of my last final exam in March. I’m confident that if I stick to my plan and use some of the tools that I will share with you in the coming weeks, I can land an entry-level job with a decent salary even in the worst economy in the last few decades.

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