12 Questions for Career Services
Expert Tips to Help You Secure Your Dream Job in an Employer
Whether you are looking for a new position, to change occupations, to gain professional development, or simply to expand your network, GSEP’s Career Services department offers knowledgeable guides and a bank of resources to make you marketable, competitive, and primed for future opportunities. Below, members of the Career Services team answer some of our most pressing questions.
Colleague: How has the economic climate affected job opportunities for students and alumni?
C.S.: Students and alumni have had to get more creative and persistent in their job search strategies. There are certainly positions out there in both the fields of education and psychology, but both have been affected by the national economic situation and California state budget crisis. It is taking longer to find positions, and so networking has become more important than ever – a lot of times it is who you know that matters. Students and alumni should also take advantage of the Career Services divisions at their schools and alma maters. We exist for the sole purpose of providing job search assistance, and only consider ourselves successful when students and alumni consider themselves successful.
Colleague: What is the value of obtaining or possessing a graduate degree during a challenging economy?
C.S.: Now is a great time to be in school because it is likely that the economy will turn around by the time students graduate, resulting in more open doors. Also, graduate requirements such as student teaching and practicum give you firsthand experience in the field in which you hope to enter, positively impacting your career in the long-term. For example, a credentialed teacher with a graduate degree will likely earn more than one with only a bachelor’s degree. This is a tangible measure tied to a salary scale. In addition, there is also the intangible concept of value, in that the skills of an employee with a graduate degree sometimes ensure greater job security during times of recession. When organizations cut back, they often look to keep employees with advanced degrees and abilities because those employees have the resiliency to take on the added challenges of working in an environment with a reduced workforce.
Colleague: Many highly-skilled employees have been laid off and are now willing to provide their services for a lower wage. How can students and alumni remain competitive against more experienced professionals vying for the same position?
C.S.: The job search techniques that students and alumni utilize are key. It is imperative that they are able to sell themselves effectively through their resume by highlighting their transferable skills and demonstrating how their course work as well as field experiences apply to the position being sought. Students and alumni can also volunteer their services, not only to gain additional experience to add to their resume, but also as a way to foster relationships that may offer full-time job prospects.
Colleague: Have cutbacks been made across all sectors, or are there certain industries that are stable or even growing?
C.S.: In the field of education, charter and private schools are doing more hiring than the public schools and larger school districts. This is a result of charter and private schools being less affected by state funding. On the psychology side, now more than ever are counseling services needed by individuals dealing with financial stress and job losses. There are unquestionably more opportunities now for therapists interested in working with clients with these presenting problems.
Colleague: In today’s market, is it more important to be well-rounded or a specialist?
C.S.: Both characteristics have value, but whether that value translates into job opportunity really depends on the field, as different employers are looking for different skill sets. For example, with a degree such as organizational leadership or learning technologies, there are benefits to being a specialist because having a niche sets one apart from other candidates—as long as the skills one demonstrates are needed by your employer. On the other hand, for psychologists, it is important to be well-rounded because agencies are more interested in hiring someone with broad theoretical knowledge, a comfort with a variety of techniques, and the capabilities to work with diverse populations.
Students and alumni should try to develop an area of specialization and be well-rounded in other areas so that their resumes and skills will appeal to more employers. This can be achieved by taking a class to extend one’s knowledge or volunteering at an organization to hone a specialization.
Colleague: For a long time, “flexibility” and “adaptability” were buzzwords incorporated into resumes to attract employers. What are the strengths employers most value today?
C.S.: The strengths that an employer most values will be clearly stated in the job description. That is why it is very important that students and alumni customize their cover letters and resumes to each specific job. As a first step, job seekers should print out the job posting and highlight all the keywords and phrases. They should also review the mission, vision, and values statements on the organization’s Web site, and reference all that information in their cover letter and resumes to demonstrate that they are the perfect fit for the job in question. Rather than making their cover letters and resumes appear to be a list of everything that they have done in the past, they should sell themselves for the job they want.
Colleague: What are some unorthodox situations that lend themselves to productive networking?
C.S.: Informational interviewing can be very beneficial. Whether you establish a connection through your personal network, a common contact, or even cold-calling, much can be gained from sitting down to chat over lunch or coffee with an individual that works in the organization or type of organization for which one would like to work as well. This is a great way for students and alumni to get their foot in the door or acquire an understanding of the job duties and environment. Students and alumni should inquire about how the person to whom they are speaking attained his or her position, how he or she would describe “a day in the life,” nuances of the work culture, challenges associated with the job tasks, favorite aspects of the job, and advice for them as they seek to attain a similar place in the organization or industry. Ultimately, informational interviewing is an extension of networking. Students and alumni should cultivate the relationships made through this process, developing advocates and referrals along the way.
Networking is not merely an activity that takes place at an event such as a mixer or meeting. It is a lifelong skill that the best professionals utilize on a daily basis, not just when it is time to find a job. Relationships should be established and nurtured consistently, and reciprocal in nature.
Colleague: The advent of e-mail and social networks such as Facebook and LinkedIn have made maintaining relationships with professional contacts very easy. When is it necessary to communicate over the phone or in person?
C.S.: While Facebook and LinkedIn are convenient ways to stay in touch, it is important to alternate e-mails with phone calls and face-to-face meetings every few months because they are more personal means of interaction, which in turn creates greater bonds—and a greater willingness to assist. A periodic phone call or lunch invitation makes one more memorable, and gives more credence to the relationship. Students and alumni must just be sure to foot the bill if the meeting was at their request.
Colleague: It seems like more and more people are attempting to launch or transition careers by developing a blog or “tweeting.” Do you think that this tactic works?
C.S.: This might be a profitable tactic if someone already has a stellar curriculum vitae and Rolodex. However, it is better to focus on the basics. Students and alumni should edit their cover letters and resumes, polish their interviewing skills, and network as much as possible. Over time, they are more likely to see success by leveraging these traditional channels than by building a tower without a foundation.
Colleague: What are some common mistakes made by job seekers?
C.S.: We commonly see a lack of attention-to-detail in the resume format. Employers spend on average just 15 – 30 seconds scanning a resume’s content, so it is vital that the readers’ eyes fall on the information that best demonstrates one’s abilities and accomplishments best fitting the position at hand.
Place the most important categories, such as education and professional experience, first on the page, since the most attention is paid to the top half of the sheet. Bold the highlights, such as section headers, job titles, and degrees, but be careful not to overuse this feature which can detract from the areas that deserve emphasis. In order to unclutter the content, dates should be placed along the far right margin since readers tend to focus on the left side of the page. Italics are difficult to read, and indentations are distracting, because they force the readers’ eyes to dart back and forth. Resumes should not reflect extensive lists of career history, but be tailored to the job description and employer’s needs. Develop bullet points written in active tense that best exemplify the traits that match the job requirements.
Colleague: What are some of the GSEP resources that students and alumni can use to facilitate their job or internship search?
C.S.: Students and alumni should visit the Career Services Web site, (gsep.pepperdine.edu/career-services/students-alumni), which outlines all the types of counsel we offer. Our resource bank includes cover letter- and resume-writing tips, sample cover letters and resumes, a career handbook, job search strategies, interviewing tips, videos of past events, links to helpful job posting Web sites in a variety of industries, job postings on PepPro by employers with whom GSEP has established relationships, and our quarterly newsletter called Career Waves. Long-distance students and alumni can also take advantage of our popular phone and Skype appointments.
Colleague: Why should employers hire one of the 18,000 students or graduates of GSEP? How can a hiring manager access this vast talent pool?
C.S.: GSEP students and alumni are among the best and brightest from around the globe. They are taught and mentored by an esteemed faculty consisting of preeminent scholar-practitioners, and receive hands-on training through supervised field experience. With students located at five graduate campuses located in West Los Angeles, Malibu, Irvine, Encino, and Westlake Village, as well as alumni spread across continents, students and graduates are always nearby and readily available for recruitment.
Moreover, for more than 50 years, GSEP has dedicated itself to preparing educators and mental health professionals for service in the underserved communities. These efforts have been formalized through the Urban Initiative program, which has expanded opportunities for our students to develop cross-cultural competencies and knowledge of the political, economic, and social considerations that affect the fields of education and psychology. With a sophisticated understanding of systemic conditions, a spirit of service, and inclination toward leadership, GSEP’s students and alumni are assets to any organization.