Career Vision & Strategy

Career vision is the big picture view of where you want to be. This starts with passion for a role you want to play, or maybe a path you seem meant to follow. You can follow a dream, a mentor, or your own curiosity.

Some people seem to have a clearly focused vision from a very young age. Others follow their curiosity long past college, enjoying the path without seeing (or even caring too much) where it is leading them. Most people do a little bit of both at one time or another, and the long range vision eventually transforms into a specific career goal.

With a career goal in mind, the successful professional maps a strategy. Personal effort, good choices, and learning opportunities are put to work to reach that goal. Successful careers don’t happen all by themselves. Successful professionals map and move strategically up the ladder.

Take an inventory of the specific tasks that you are able to do, find out what professionals typically can do, and start to fill in your own blanks. Don't settle for a second-rate career because you're not prepared right now. Take steps to prepare yourself for the top offers.

  • Look for ways to apply skills in actual job situations. For example, you'll learn how to create an Excel spreadsheet in class. Look for an organization where you can volunteer to create a spreadsheet to keep track of an inventory or budget or forecast a project outcome.

  • Take steps to learn what professionals really DO in a job setting. Internships are the best way to get an in-depth look. If you can't afford to do that, work VERY hard to find opportunities to shadow professionals, even for just a day or a week. If you have a job, ask for a chance to shadow someone in the company who has a position in your field of study.

  • Never ignore the opportunity to earn a certificate, endorsement, or badge. Even if it's not required for employment, the process will help you identify and verify your own skills.

The consistent advice to young professionals is to follow a passion and do what you love. The hard part is sometimes to discover a passion. If you know what you love, that's great, but if you're still "dating" a few different career choices, don't panic. Date wisely with internships, shadowing, and mentor advice, but don't feel you have to make a final decision if you're not ready.

  • If you know you love a certain community, lifestyle, or industry, make that your priority. Any job at all in the city you love is one step closer to the career you'll love.

  • If you hate the job you're in, look for another one. Even if it sounds like a dream job to everyone else, hating what you do (or the people you do it with) will sap your ability to grow, learn and advance.

  • Be open to mysteries. More than one graduate has discovered a perfect job that had absolutely nothing to do with his or her major. If someone offers you an outlandish but intriguing opportunity, don't be afraid to explore!
Whether you think about them or not, the consequences of your efforts, choices, and learning will define the path your career takes. Having a career strategy means thinking about the process. Take time to prepare. Take time to make good choices. Take time to learn from your professional experience

The search for a position is time consuming. If you are serious about establishing a successful career, treat the search as a full-time job. Work every day; work professionally. At every stage of the process, your contacts will be judging your professionalism, knowledge, and values.

Locate opportunities

There are several ways to find career opportunites. Use them all! Keep in mind that networking leads to 65% of the new jobs, but other methods can be very important in some situations.

  • Networking is the most effective method of finding a job. Identify contacts who can provide support and advice as well as give you information about opportunities and resources. For more on networking, hover over Communication and Presentation skills at the right.

  • Internships are not just learning experiences. Nearly 80% of all companies offer internships, and many of those will make offers only to successful interns.

  • Job or Career Fairs are sponsored by most universities. Many different companies pay to set up booths where recruiters are able to talk with those who are interested in working for them. This is an excellent opportunity to network as well as distribute resumes.

  • Classified ads are the easiest place to find jobs in a specific town. They usually contain complete information about the position, and the application process will be straightforward. Be sure to check in with any network contacts you might have at the company.

  • Recruiting websites are an important tool for most large corporations and government agencies. Some recruiters will require candidates to apply through the website, even if they have first met at a career fair or as a network referral.

  • Cold calls are a surprisingly good way to find a job, especially if you've just moved to a new city and haven't yet built up a network. Treat this like a sales call, finding contact information for a hiring decision-maker, sending a preliminary letter with your resume, and then following up in a week or two with a phone call to make an interview appointment. It's generally better to ask for local industry information or networking contacts rather than a position.

  • Employment agencies try to match appplicants to employers. If there is a fee, you can expect some help with your resume and a bit of career counselling as well. Sometimes employers pay the fee when the desired skills are hard to find.

  • Executive recruiters are skilled in locating the best candidate for important executive or professional positions. They seldom work with people who don't already have a job.

  • Temp agencies are a fine way to bring in some money while you're job hunting, and your network grows with each new position. Some agencies specialize in contract or "temp to hire" positions, which many companies use exclusively when hiring new employees.

  • Electronic job boards are similar to the classified ads, but online and searchable for multiple locations all over the world. Low-ball companies also post a lot of junk, so this can be a time-consuming tool.

  • State employment services typically cater to people who need to develop skills before they can qualify for the job they want. If you have been downsized or dislocated, check to see what might be available.

  • Targeted direct mail is sometimes used by employers who seek applicants with specific licensing or qualifications by directly advertising to those with the right credentials. You know who you are!

Prepare the resume

The resume is a standardized document that provides information about a job candidate's work history and preparation. This is also the professional's career summary. Keep it accurate and up-to-date at all times. Your boss could ask for a current resume to support a proposal or team assignment, and you should be able to provide it immediately.

  • This is a business document, and should reflect the characteristics of any businesslike communication: show a conservative and clean look, provide objective and complete information, and use the technical format competently and correctly. For more on Businesslike Style and Tone, hover over Communication and Presentation Skills at the right.

  • Graduating business majors will usually use a (reverse) chronological format, showing their education at the top. If you're midcareer or changing professions, you might switch to a functional format which focuses on skills and competencies instead of work history.

  • Provide specific, concrete evidence of responsibilities and accomplishments. Instead of "Responsible for supervising part time workers and shift change procedures," fill in the details: "Supervised an evening crew of six part-time clerks and stockers with responsibility for balancing four cash drawers, preparing a drop deposit, and securing the facility." Use active verbs that emphasize what you did, not words about learning or assisting or watching other people.

  • Find out how jobs, tasks, and responsibilities are usually described in the industry you are targeting, and use those words to describe your experience. If you are submitted your resume electronically, expect that it will be searched for key words. Use the key words on your resume!

  • Distinguish between regular job responsiblities (usually shown as a sentence or two of description below the job title) and special accomplishments (usually shown as bullet points below that description.) Don't create long lists of mixed up information.

  • College students should usually keep the resume to one page. Eliminate high school information just as soon as you have enough college-level content to fill up a page.

  • Double check for accuracy on educational degrees, job titles, and dates. The resume is a professional document, and mistakes can be interpreted as fraud. Proofread, proofread, proofread. Employers discard resumes with spelling errors.

  • Format the resume with clear fonts, clean edges, and straight lines. Your aim is to make the resume easy to read. Put information where the reader expects to find it, and leave enough white space to make a balanced page. Pick just one or two professional looking fonts (Times Roman and Arial are good) at 10 to 12 points. Don't go crazy with italics or underlining, but use bold face and lines to emphasize sections or key information.

  • Have somebody take a look at your resume; do this more than once. There are a lot of judgment calls: GPA listed or not? references listed or not? objective or not? one page or two? volunteer activities? hobbies? technical skills? You'll get conflicting advice, and the correct answer is to do what makes you look most professional.

  • Be brave! Say good things about yourself! Showcase your accomplishments. The resume is a summary of facts, but you choose which facts to share. Think about the image you want to project, and focus on the facts, skills, and demonstrated accomplishments that support that image.

  • If you need a printed resume, use pick a conservative, classy, heavy (24lb), textured paper in white or ivory. Save your resume as a .pdf file to retain the proper spacing when sending it electronically.

Line up references

You will need to provide references for any job application. Sometimes you'll provide a list of references with contact information. Other applications will require a letter from each reference. Sometime references will be asked to fill out an on-line questionaire. Whatever the situation, your references need to agree to help you ahead of time! Never list a reference without asking permission.

  • Graduating business majors will usually give previous employers and professors as references. Unless you have been working for them in a professional capacity, don't ask relatives, religions leaders, or political figures to be your references.

  • If you have a network contact with ties to the company you are applying with, ask your contact for advice on using him or her as a reference. Sometimes it's best to give in internal reference in the cover letter, and other times it's best not to give the person as a reference at all.

Write a cover letter or email

Your resume should never be submitted without a proper introduction. Whether you submit your resume in person, electronically, or by mail, you will explain why you are submitting it and how it should be read for maximum effect.

  • Cover emails are shorter and more informal than letters, but both cover exactly the same four points: what job you are applying for, how you fit the position requirements, other qualities or skills you bring to the job, and what your next contact step will be. For a more detailed look at the cover letter form and content, hover over Writing and Reasoning Skills at the right, select Business Documents, then the business letter.

  • Don't be shy about folding your resume. When sent with a cover letter, both are folded into even thirds and sent in a #10 business envelope. Be sure to type the address! Handwritten envelopes are not businesslike.

  • When sending a resume electronically, the email is the cover letter, and it should be complete and professional. Don't attach a separate cover letter unless you are specifically asked to do so.

  • It is possible to embed links into an emailed cover letter or resume, but this is not always a good idea. Links to your personal website, professional bio, or video elevator pitch can be great sales tools, or they can provide a human resources professional with annoying and sometimes illegal information. Check with a mentor on this one!

  • Delivering your resume in person? You probably won't provide a written cover letter. (But, be prepared in case you're asked for one!) Instead, this is when you'll use your "elevator pitch" to make the four cover letter points.

Enjoy a job interview

Your business knowledge, technical skills, and work experience will get you an interview. Now you'll have to demonstrate your communication skills, critical and creative thinking, and professionalism. At the same time, this is your chance to meet real people and compare their attitudes, intelligence, and goals with the company's website and recruiting materials. It's a crucial process, but preparation can make it productive and even enjoyable.

  • Research the company thoroughly. In just an hour or two on the internet, you should be able to converse intelligently about the company. Be sure you know the company's:


  • Research the job thoroughly. The first step is to read the job description carefully. Then, compare the position with similar positions in the industry, noting differences in pay or organizational culture. Talk to people familiar with the organization, if you can, and get yourself up to speed with the vocabulary used in the industry. The interview is not the time to ask for a clarification of the job description.

  • Know thyself. Needless to say, you should know your own strengths, preferences, and career goals before you can make a decision about your fit for the job. The interviewer is also looking for evidence that you are thinking carefully about the search process and not taking just any job that comes along--that's a sure sign that a new hire won't be around for long. For more about developing self-awareness, hover over Organizational Awareness on the right.

  • Prepare your answers. There are only so many questions in the world, and you should have scripted answers to the top ten that all interviewers ask. Click here for the list. To prepare, create the ultimate study guide by writing out the answers. Then take a look at this list of typical interviewer questions. For each one, figure out which story or example will fit, and practicing the answer out loud. Practice until you are comfortable and fluent in your responses.

  • Be ready for STAR questions. You'll face at least a few behavioral interview questions, and these are excellent for showcasing your own best skills. The interviewer will ask you to describe a situation of some sort, and you'll be able to tell a story about something you do very well. To prepare, decide what attributes or behaviors you want to show off, then write out answers that demonstrate them. BehavioralQuestions.

  • Prepare some questions. Most interviewers will conclude with, "Do you have any questions?" You should have two or three. If something came up during the interview, that's great, but otherwise, AsktheInterviewer.

  • Participate in a mock interview. Or two or three. Sometimes job hunters will schedule interviews so that the first ones are with companies they aren't too excited about, leaving the "real" interviews for later. Many people discover great careers with companies they'd never heard of this way!

  • Now that you're all prepared, remember to make a good first impression. For a review, hover over Communication and Presentation Skills, and select First Impressions. Arrive early enough to find a restroom and check your outfit in a mirror. Take a breath mint and turn off your phone. Stand up straight and smile at everyone you meet, including receptionists, fellow interviewees, and maintenance staff. Sometimes these are the real interviewers!

  • Take notes! Take a nice portfolio and a pen that works. These notes can be used as a reference for questions you might want to ask at the end of the interview or just for your information. The interviewer will perceive you as professionally attentive. Be sure to get a business card or write down the name of everyone you talk to.

  • After the interview send an immediate thank you note or email to the interviewer as well as anyone who helped you get the interview set up. The same day is not too soon! Be sure to mention something specific about the interview. Answer a followup question or ask one, comment on something special that you learned about the company or job, or thank the interviewer for some specific piece of information or advice.

  • Handwritten thank you notes are personal and exceptionally gracious. Not too many college recruits make the effort, but you'll stand out if you send one! Email is probably the technology you've been using, and an emailed thank you is perfectly appropriate. There might be just one special person who gets a handwritten thankyou, along with several who should get an email. If you're not sure whether to send a thank you or not, you should!!

  • Follow up on the interview within a week, unless you've been specifically told that the hiring process will take longer. A follow-up lets the interviewer know that you're still an interested, serious candidate, and some companies won't even consider a person who doesn't make a follow-up contact.

  • Phone interviews work about the same way, including dressing appropriately and smiling. You'll sound more self-confident and professional if you know you look good. Some people recommend standing up during the call as a way to increase your vocal enthusiasm and confidence. Schedule the interview when you can be in a quiet space without interruptions, and be sure to have all your papers and notes ready when the phone rings.

  • About 80% of second interviews involve a meal. Event or meal interviews will usually involve fewer formal questions, but they do add the complications of food, sports or other activities, and multiple personalities. Brush up on your social graces by hovering over Communication and Presentation Skills on the right.

When people don't succeed in a new job, the biggest reason is a failure to build good relationships with others (Fisher, B.). The degree and technical business skills to earn it were the key to getting the job. Knowing what people actually expect and how the politics of the organization work are the keys to success in the job.

Mentors

Some companies assist new employees by assigning a mentor, but many mentoring relationships develop naturally. Whether assigned or informal, mentoring is a proven advantage (Payne & Huffman). Cooperate fully with whatever formal mentoring is offered, but in addition, make an effort to introduce yourself to co-workers. Not everyone will become a good friend, but everyone knows something valuable. Listen!

  • Don't wait for someone to volunteer. If you haven't already been assigned a mentor, it's up to you. Take a look around, find a smart, successful person in your company, and ask a question. Don't be shy! Just ask the person for a minute to "pick her brain" or "run something by" him. People love to give advice, and next thing you know, you'll be getting a lot of it.

  • Don't be demanding. Your mentor has a job to do and could become impatient with too many nitpicky questions. Remember it's your job to read the stacks of pamphlets, policies, and instructions that you're being given. Don't ask a mentor to tell you something you've already been told.

  • Don't expect simple answers. People who have done a job for a while can inadvertently leave out crucial steps because they've become second nature. Sometimes the reason really is, "that's just the way it's done." Don't give up trying to understand, but don't expect the answers to always be simple.

  • New employees are expected to learn to follow the written and unwritten rules of the organization. but, it's a two-way process (Louis, M.R.). A good employee introduces new ideas, and sometimes young college grads are hired for their fresh perspective. Ask your mentor how to properly question the rules and take a leadership role when there is a better way to get things done.

On the Job Training

A new employee might receive formal training on some aspects of the job, but these are nearly always limited to specific task requirements. To become effective as a professional, is is just as important to learn the rules about when, how, and why to do those tasks. Getting answers can involve asking straightforward questions, making indirect queries in casual conversation, and observing others as they deal with situations (Miller & Jablin).

  • Relax. New employees are bombarded with so much information in their first few weeks on the job, it is normal to feel uncertain (Miller & Jablin).

  • Be patient. Sometimes direct questions can seem embarrassing or too assertive, and even long-term employees can't always explain why or how things are done. Don't be surprised to find a few mysteries that aren't answered for weeks or months.

Internships

In general, learning from an internship experience is just like learning from a new job. In fact, many employers hire only successful interns because they've already learned some basic job tasks and shown a fit with the organizational culture. There are other things to learn from an internship, however, that might be even more important to your career strategy.

  • Some of the people you meet will continue to be your business associates, regardless of which company you go to work for. These will be the people you'll call for advice, references, and resources as you get your career going.

  • No recruiter can ever give you first-hand knowledge of the organizational culture, co-worker personalities, or day-to-day frustrations of the business. An internship is the only ethical way to test-drive a potential employer.

  • Whether you enjoy the internship or not, you should be thinking about why you do or don't. Pay attention to what you like or don't like about the industry, the job, and your boss. Think about your comfort level in terms of personality, preferences, and skills.

Professional development doesn't end with graduation, and career development doesn't end when you land your first job. The successful professional is always keeping an eye out for opportunities to grow, learn, and advance.

Building Your Resume

As a business student, you've probably been urged to join a club or get a certificate because it will give you something to put on your resume. The process of "building" your resume doesn't stop when you graduate. Every career is built in a series of steps, but a successful career doesn't look like a staircase. Plodding up the steps that lie right in front of you might not even get you half way to the top.

  • Say yes to "stretch" assignments. The project or task that is beyond your current knowledge or skill level is how you grow and learn. Don't say no because you're facing an uncomfortable situation. Build your resume by taking on the challenge.

  • Say yes to "high profile" assignments. You can't be tapped for a promotion if nobody has ever heard of you. If the event is likely to be noticed by high level executives, the local newspaper, or colleagues from other companies in your industry, it might be something to add to your resume.

  • Say yes to "fixer" situations. Be cautious if the situation can't be fixed, but these can be a great way to demonstrate problem solving and communication skills.

  • Say yes to cross-functional experience. Sometimes the career staircase turns sideways. It's possible to advance within a narrow scope of expertise, but most management positions require experience in multiple areas of a company.

  • Say yes to international experiences. The business world has gone fully global, and it's a rare company that doesn't value the language knowledge, cultural awareness, and confidence that come from expat assignments.

Protecting Your Reputation

As a professional, your personal integrity, reliability, and standards mean more than your specific job skills. You can always learn a new skill, but if others think of you as a crook, a jerk, or a slacker, your career will go nowhere. Keep your promises. Don't lie, steal, or cheat. Be nice to others. Pay attention. Do your job.

  • For a business professional, there is no separation between work and personal reputation. Yelling at your kid's soccer coach is just as bad as yelling at an employee, especially if you live and work in the same small town.

  • Don't burn any bridges. If you develop a reputation at one company--good or bad--it will follow you to the next.

  • Be honest. Don't think others won't notice your faults because you refuse to admit them. If you have social or cultural biases, family problems at home, or an abrupt personality style, be grateful for colleagues who are willing to offer support and advice.

Moving Up and Moving On

A professional career path means moving from one job to another, probably many times. Most individuals will work for a few different companies over their professional lifetime, usually landing at a "permanent" home after a few years. Then, they will move from one division or company unit to another as they move up an organization's hierarchy. The transition out of a job can be as important to career success as the transition into a job. Good communication can make the transition comfortable and productive, which will foster positive relationships that can form networking relationships that can have significant benefits to a person's career. The bosses and coworkers left behind are the people who provide references, refer potential clients, and offer professional mentoring (Corley).

  • The customary two weeks notice involves formal communication the immediate supervisor and human resources department, providing both the intended final day of work and the reason for leaving the company. Notice is typically a written, but an oral notification is acceptable and legally binding in many lower-level positions.

  • Give an honest reason for leaving, but keep it positively phrased. Most large organizations will request a formal exit interview where details of mismanagement or production errors can be discussed, and the written notification should remain neutral.

  • A departing employee is often responsible for communicating key job information to those affected by the departure (Joyce) and sometimes to those who will take his or her place. The amount of information can range from location of the keys to filing cabinets and passwords for electronic files to developing a detailed training manual for ones replacement.

  • The amount and detail is usually higher for senior executives (Joyce), but a basic list includes 1) a list of any "open" jobs, decisions, issues, or problems, along with the location of relevant files, contact information for resources, or data summaries. 2) A calendar of production commitments, due dates, meetings or client presentations that have already been scheduled, and 3) contact information for key resources, advisers or colleagues who are regularly involved in the job responsibilities.

  • Employees will sometimes try to shortcut the communication with a friendly suggestion, "Just call me if you have any questions." This fails to provide sufficient information to accomplish tasks and also suggests an inappropriate relationship. As an new employee somewhere else, you should be concentrating on the current job rather than fielding interruptions from an old one.

  • Appropriate networking steps often start with the termination letter or exit interview when the now ex-employee asks whether he or she might use the individual as a reference. Any employer expects to verify employment dates and job titles, but most refuse to provide any information about work responsibilities, accomplishments, or personal character. Make an effort to stay in touch with former supervisors, colleagues, and clients who can be valuable colleagues, mentors, and resources for an entire career.

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