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Lee Capristo, editor
The Mulberry Tree
Phone: (240) 895-4795
18952 East Fisher Road
St. Mary's City, MD 20686
Written by Dana L. VanAbbema, Career Development Center director
In a strong economy, the average job search takes about three months-if you are searching full time. During an economic downturn it can take twice as long. It can be especially difficult for new graduates to compete because they may be up against displaced workers with more experience and better connections. Here at the College's Career Development Center (CDC), we post position announcements and help students find jobs, but that isn't actually central to our mission. Our goal is to help students learn the marketing, research, and decisionmaking skills they'll need to navigate the professional world. It makes more sense, after all, to teach students to "fish" than to serve them a single meal and send them on their way.
In early August I received a call from "Mark," a May 2009 graduate who had been searching for a job since April. Mark had attended our three-day senior transition conference, "Bookbag to Briefcase," in January, but had never visited the CDC. I began the same conversation that I'd had with others over and over throughout the year. "Have you gotten expert feedback on your résumé? Are you tailoring your cover letter? Do you know what kind of job you are looking for? Are you using a variety of search strategies?" Mark's answers to these questions were, "No, no, no, and no," just as they often are for so many students. This is always my chance, though, to make a number of suggestions that will improve the likelihood of becoming gainfully employed. If a graduate says only "yes," there isn't much for me to suggest, except to wait patiently until the economy turns around.
I referred Mark to our extensive online resources including self-assessments, career exploration links, cover letter tips, and résumé and job search guides tailored for St. Mary's students. When we met a few days later, I gave him feedback on his new résumé and cover letter and offered ideas for identifying employers that may be offering the sorts of jobs that appealed to him. Mark left with an attractive résumé that highlighted his experience. But more importantly, he left with a skill set on which he will be able to draw for years to come. This sort of knowledge is essential these days since a typical new grad will likely experience 9-13 job changes before retirement.
If I had had the opportunity to speak with Mark in his sophomore year, our conversation would have been quite different. Second-year students are often choosing their major, so that's a great time to begin formulating a career plan. Engaging in personal reflection and occupational research early in college can lead to satisfaction with future professional roles and success in the job market. Having some idea of what you see yourself doing after you graduate helps identify internships, jobs, and volunteer and leadership roles that will let you test your career ideas while you're still a student. Building such experience will make you more competitive, too, and allow you to speak confidently about your goals when facing employers. In fact, internships have become so pervasive in the past decade that a recent survey of employers found that 76% indicated they would not hire a new graduate without some form of professional experience. St. Mary's students seem to get this message. This summer we had students interning in every sort of setting from General Mills in Shanghai to the Red Cross in Alaska. And many of them were working on their second or third internship.
In addition to directing Mark to our extensive internship listings in his second year, I would have encouraged him to search MentorNet, our online database of alumni, arents, and other friends of the College that have indicated a willingness to serve as a resource for current students smcm.alumniweb.net/mentornet. Reaching out to others in a field of interest allows students to complement occupational facts with more personal first-hand accounts.
There is no doubt that St. Mary's students are feeling the impact of this current recession. It was estimated that employers planned to hire 22% fewer 2009 college grads than they did in 2008. This not only increases competition for jobs, but also for internships and graduate school admissions as recent graduates look for ways to bide their time and build their résumés. The good news is that students need not navigate any of these paths on their own. The CDC is here to help! The extensive resources on our web site, www. smcm.edu/careercenter, are a great place to start, and they can be used by anyone, anywhere, at any time. Those on campus, or visiting campus, can also take advantage of the hundreds of books and directories in the new resource loft in Glendening Hall. We also welcome questions by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org, and encourage students to book their own appointments through our online scheduler. We have a lot to offer students at all levels, but can only help those who want to be helped...so to the parents out there, please encourage your student to visit the CDC!
Five Essential Tips for Improving your Résumé
1. Consider the purpose. The purpose of a résumé is to get an interview, not to chronicle work history. What aspects of your experience are going to help you land the job? Focus your efforts there.
2. Focus on transferable skills. Brainstorm professional skills like communication and problem-solving that you have developed in jobs, internships, clubs, sports, and coursework. A functional résumé which organizes skills by category rather than by position helps de-emphasize limited professional experience.
3. Keep it to one page. This demonstrates your ability to communicate succinctly and decreases the likelihood of an employer overlooking important information. (Two pages are acceptable for seasoned professionals.)
4. Make it attractive. Appearance is as important as content. Make it stand out, in a way that is not distracting. Even a single typo is a sure ticket to the recycling bin. If it looks like you put 110% into your résumé, the employer will presume that you would do the same in the workplace.
5. Do the "10-second test." An employer spends only 10 seconds reviewing a résumé during an initial screening. Make a positive impact immediately to avoid being discarded. Show your résumé to a friend for only 10 seconds and ask for their first impression and what they remember.
With competition for jobs after college so keen, interning before graduation is almost a requisite. This summer, junior Sophia Travern worked at the Neuroscience Laboratory at the Johnson Space Center in Houston through a National Space Biomedical Research Institute (NSBRI) internship. Travern, a biology major, assisted scientists on a project to develop a more balanced and mobile spacewalk spacesuit. In addition to gaining research experience, Travern feels, "Interning for NSBRI at JSC is giving me insight into the kinds of biomedical projects that NASA is working on and where they hope to go with this research.... [It] will become invaluable to my endeavor to become a military flight surgeon and, one day, an astronaut."