Lessons from TV: Showing versus telling on America’s Next Top Model

If you didn’t see it, Angelea almost went home last night on America’s Next Top Model. (Right, like you don’t have any guilty TV pleasures.)

She didn’t take a bad picture or even write a terrible song (the models were singer/songwriters last night). She almost went home because she was telling one thing but showing another. (To get all technical, her brand wasn’t aligned.)

Watch her video. She’s singing about being a tough girl who gets up when she’s been kicked down. The words are feisty, punky, even a little angry. Despite Angelea’s best attempts at fist pumping and head swinging, the judges said things like:

  • “It never registered”
  • “It was a little flat”
  • “You were blank”
  • “You need to sell everything”
Tyra even showed her that she needed to get her angry-pretty face on and really put some force in her air punches. Basically, she needed to align her words with her actions. She needed to SHOW and tell.


Apply it to your job search

Let’s clear up one thing first — I am NOT advising you to begin forcefully air punching during interviews. With that out of the way, how can you avoid falling flat like Angelea?

Angelea was trying to convince the judges that she was tough and feisty. You, on the other hand, are trying to convince an employer that you’re the best person for the job. To break it down, you need the employer to know that 1) you have the skills and 2) you have the passion.

SHOW you have the skills

1. In your resume. That little skills section isn’t enough. You need to show how you’ve used those skills. That’s why your experience descriptions should contain lots of accomplishments.

2. In the interview. If you find yourself speaking in generalizations like, “I really enjoy working with people,” you need to get acquainted with the Situation-Action-Response interviewing strategy. It forces you to turn your experience into illustrative stories.

3. In a portfolio? Nope, they’re not just for artists. Even if you’ve revamped your resume, a portfolio can help employers see the accomplishments you’ve mentioned. For example, if you talk about writing a 20-page research paper, put it in a portfolio.

SHOW you have the passion

Remember how the judges called Angelea ‘blank’? That’s the absence of passion. Other synonyms are blah, boring and safe.

Here’s the thing — sometimes, when you’re trying really hard to be professional, you can come across as blank. This is especially true for new job seekers. You’re worrying about being labeled immature or unprofessional, so you stick with uber-formal language or play it very tight laced in interviews.

Being excited doesn’t make you unprofessional, and employers want to know that their job and company make you light up. Don’t believe me? Take a look at this cover letter written by a hiring manager sick of receiving the same “professional” sounding letter.

It’s a tough line to walk, but let your excitement and passion come through in your cover letter and interview. Smile. Smize, even.


3 ways job seekers are like Halloween candy

I heard two couples have virtually the same conversation on Target’s Halloween aisle this weekend. It went something like this:

Couple enters aisle full of candy.
Person 1: Sighs heavily
Person 2: How do we choose???
Person 1: Silence

And then it hits me. Job seekers (especially entry-level job seekers) are like Halloween candy. Let’s explore.

1. You have a lot of competition. There are two aisles stacked floor to ceiling with sugary goodness, but there’s only so much space in your Halloween bowl. Employers see the same thing. There are about four job seekers for every job opening, but you’ve probably heard stories of employers receiving hundreds of resumes for a single position.

2. You start to look alike. Once you’ve weeded out the obvious low quality/bad fits (ehm, Palmer’s chocolate), you’re left with similarly strong competitors. Reese’s, Hershey’s and Almond Joy vs. Milky Way, Snickers and Twix. It’s really hard to go wrong. Likewise, you’re not the only candidate who has a great GPA and stellar internships.

3. You’re shoved in with the Christmas decorations. Come mid-October, the Halloween stuff is scrunched alongside Rudolph and sparkling ornaments. That’s because stores have competing priorities. So do the companies where you’ve applied. That job may be the center of your universe, but it’s only one piece of theirs. Just keep that in mind if the process drags on, or if it takes them a while to get back to you. They’ve been distracted by the penguin yard ornament.

From a grad that’s been there and landed a job: Learning and Organizing

A guest post by UNC senior Courtney Miller. (Thanks for all the wonderful posts, Courtney!)

It’s been a pleasure guest posting on Kelly’s blog (thanks, Kelly!) and I hope I’ve covered helpful tips that you can apply to your job search! Now it’s time for a few final words on how to learn from the job hunting experience and how to stay organized.

On learning:

  • Interviewing. It’s unlikely that your first few interviews out of college will be your best. After an interview, take the time to write down what was said. Take special note of what you did well and what you could have phrased better. Write down the questions that took you by surprise because you never know when you might hear them again. Go over your questions and answers with someone who can give good feedback – a seasoned friend, ex-boss, professor, career counselor, or parent for example. Practice the questions you messed up on with a friend or career counselor so you’ll be ready next time.
  • Pick up new skills in the downtime. You might notice you’re finding job descriptions that mostly fit your skills, but ask for a few skills you don’t have, such as HTML, Web 2.0, JavaScript, content management systems, etc. Now is a great time to try to learn these other skills to add to your resume and flexibility. Expanding your skill set will only improve your candidacy.
  • Etiquette. Constantly watch out for the little things that usually go unsaid in phone or in-person interviews. Manners can go a long way. For example, be conscious of what you’re wearing, your body language, and mannerisms. Make sure you practice your handshake, keep your hands on the table and don’t rock back and forth if you have a chair that pivots. You can also test your phone etiquette knowledge with a quiz on QuintCareers.

On Organization:

  • Spreadsheets. An organized spreadsheet will help you stay on top of deadlines and keep records. Create an excel spreadsheet to track the jobs. Make columns for: company/organization, job title, location of the job, the URL of the post, username, password, date the job was posted, due date, application status, date you turned in your application,  contact person (and the person’s contact info), whether you followed-up or not (and dates), whether you heard from them (and dates), and if you have an interview scheduled.
  • E-mail organization. Every e-mail server is different, but it’s important to come up with an organization system to keep track of correspondence. Create a folder for job search agents, application e-mails, interview correspondence, application confirmations, and networking correspondence. Star or highlight the ones you have not responded to or the ones that contain important information. When you’re applying to ten jobs a day, your inbox can get a little crowded and you need to remember not to overlook or forget to send important e-mails.
  • Computer Files. Create a system for organizing your computer files. Keep all job hunt materials in one folder, “Job Hunt 2009.” Place your most important and used documents in this folder, such as your resume, general cover letter, job search Excel database and reference list for easy access. Create sub folders under this folder for each month and then sub folders for each organization. Save all cover letters, thank you notes, interview questions, and interview notes under the organization’s folder. Keep a separate folder for networking and save important things you learned from each contact and the contact’s information.
  • Paper files. Buy a tabbed accordion folder to keep paper files. Create a tab for each organization you actually interview and keep interview notes, directions or handouts in the section. Also create a tab for useful resources you printed or received and anything else related to your job search that is in hard copy.

From a grad that’s been there: Top 5 services that UCS has to offer

A guest post by UNC-Chapel Hill graduate Courtney Miller.

Editor’s Note: This post is particularly relevant to UNC graduates and students. For those of you not familiar with UNC’s campus, UCS stands for University Career Services.

The UNC University Career Services Web site is a great tool to get your job search going. It has tons of resources that you might not have access to elsewhere. It is free for the first six months after graduation, so use it now! After that six-month period, you must pay $65 each year to access Career Services as a alum. I’m listing a few of the resources that I found helpful from UCS and how I used them.

  1. Job Postings. When you log in to UCS, click the “search jobs and internships” tab. Opportunities are posted daily, and some are exclusive to UNC students. Many allow you to apply through UCS by simply clicking a button that submits your resume directly to the employer. Some employers listed allow you to sign-up for on-campus interviews through UCS as well. One great feature is that the posting lists the contact information of actual people, allowing you to start an open and friendly dialogue with the hiring managers, which can increase your chances of landing a job.
  2. Counselor Advice. Aside from reviewing resumes, the counselors can provide advice on applying for jobs, networking, cover letters, proper job hunt protocol and etiquette, and long-term career planning. The career counselors I spoke with were readily available and gave helpful advice in career searching. They spent a great deal of time on the phone with me listening and offering advice specific to my situation and goals (Thanks to UNC Career Counselors Jay Eubank and Laura Lane!).
  3. Resume Building. Your resume is the most important marking piece you can use to further your career search. UCS provides access to Optimal Resume, a resume-building tool that will you create and format an effective resume. Once you create it, you can also publish an online version to show employers. Once you create your resume, schedule an appointment with a UNC career counselor for advice and tips on perfecting the tool. You can submit the resume online through University Career Services by logging in and clicking on the tab that says “resumes and cover letters.” A career counselor will review your resume and give you comments once you upload the document, but I would recommend going beyond that and scheduling an appointment to talk one-on-one.
  4. Research. Before you interview with an organization, do your homework. You can access WetFeet and Vault employer and industry information. These databases give you a company profile and have message boards available that list insider information – both can be useful for your interview. The link also includes access to salary information, a career networking mentor database (see earlier post on networking). E-leads is another resource that provides a database of jobs that companies generally or potentially have open for new grads as part of the an ongoing hiring process.
  5. Interview Skills. No matter how great you look on paper, your interview skills are crucial to landing a job. You can do mock interviews with UCS counselors to prepare for the real thing. UCS also allows you to do interviews via videostream and e-mail the interview to a counselor for review. Interview workshops also are offered on-site at UCS.

Now that I’ve described the basic features on UCS that will help you maximize the results of your career search, take a look for yourself. Also check out the other services that UCS offers, including events, career fairs, and a reference filing service.

From a grad that’s been there and landed a job: Navigating online job postings

A guest post from UNC-CH graduate Courtney Miller.

Searching for job postings on the Internet should never be your ONLY job hunting activity. Jobs posted online usually receive many applicants due to ease of access. Even if you have stellar qualifications, it may be difficult to make yourself stand out among other recent graduates.
Most of the interviews I got were a result of direct contacts I made through networking, including the job I currently hold. I applied for nearly 100 jobs online. Out of the jobs I applied for online, I was offered the opportunity to interview at eight of those places and actually interviewed at six. I was offered a position at two, and neither would be considered full-time gigs. With that being said, I’m going to offer some advice to maximize job searching online.

  • Get advice and tips from alumni and professionals in your field on where to find postings. When you engage in networking activities with alumni or professionals in your industry, ask which Web sites are good to check for job searches. They may have some good insider-specific Web sites that aren’t widely publicized, which means less competition for you. If possible, try to join a local chapter of a professional organization. Many professional organizations offer exclusive online job postings.
  • Watch out for scams/fraudulent job postings. If a job posting sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Anything that reads, “Work from home and make $100,000 a month,” probably isn’t legit. Job scams are abundant on Web sites like Careerbuiler.com, where any organization can post. If you see a posting from a company you’ve never heard of, check out the company’s Web site before you waste your time applying. If the Web site isn’t current or seems fishy, there may be a reason. You may also want to try typing in the name of the company and the word “scam” in the Google search box to see what comes up.
  • Consider moving the geographic location you want to find a job. If you want a job in New York City and your resume lists a Florida address, many employers will be weary of even bringing you in to interview. For jobs that have many qualified applicants, why would an employer pick a person who lives hundreds of miles away when there appears to be many qualified local candidates? In a down economy, employers don’t want to pay your travel or relocation costs. If you can’t afford to move to the city without a job, this blog suggests a few things to mention to get around this problem.
  • Social Media Postings. Set up a Twitter account and search for job Twitter accounts. Search by geographical location or industry. For example: DC Marketing Job Twitter: http://twitter.com/MktgJobsDC. Also there are blogs that track industry job openings. One of my favorites is the DC Public Affairs + Communications Job Blog. I didn’t have as much success on Facebook; however I did know a lucky person who got a job at CNN from a Facebook posting, so it might be worth a try.
  • Create RSS Feeds for Job Postings. Setting up an RSS can save you searching time and brings you the information instead of the other way around. This Web site has some really great tips on how to create an RSS Feed that suits your job searching needs.
  • Create Job Search Agents. Take the time to visit the Web sites of the organizations you would like to work at the most. Even if they don’t have job postings that you’re interested in right now, many have the option of setting up a search agent that will e-mail you as soon as a new posting that fits your parameters is created.

From a grad that’s been there and gotten a job: Advice on networking

Guest post from UNC-CH graduate Courtney Miller.

Every career counselor will tell you that networking is crucial to a job search, but it can be intimidating, especially for those of us who aren’t used to making conversation with perfect strangers. My approach to networking is to take it as a learning experience. Not all networking activities will lead to a job, but you can get great advice from someone who has been there.

Step One. Prepare an elevator speech.

One of the keys to job searching is letting people know you’re looking for a job. Having an elevator speech helps you do that; the speech tells someone who you are, what you’re looking for, and what your background is – all in the time it would take to ride an elevator. It doesn’t have to be an Oscar-winning monologue. It can be as simple as, “I graduated from UNC this past May and majored in Political Science. I did three internships in state congressional offices over the summers, where I improved campaign strategy and by researching voter demographics. I’m currently looking for a job on the campaign trail.” Make sure you come across as natural, enthusiastic and genuine.

The elevator speech should be tweaked depending on your audience. If you’re talking to someone you already know, then your elevator speech can be a lot less formal. For an interview, you’d also want to add what makes you stand out from other candidates and what you can contribute the company.

For more tips on elevator speeches:
Elevator Speech Dos and Don’ts
Writing Elevator Speeches
Job Search Elevator Speech

Step Two. Reach Your Existing Networks

Now that you just ran to the bathroom to prepare your elevator speech in front of the mirror, you’re ready to practice it. The best place to start is with people you already know. Give your parents, friends, and everyone else you know the elevator speech and ask them if they know anyone directly in your field. If they don’t, ask them to put feelers around for you with their co-workers and friends. Also, ask them to send around your resume. Think of it as a game of six degrees with Kevin Bacon. Someone you know knows someone that can help you; however, if you don’t let people know you’re looking for a job, then you’ll never meet that someone.

Step Three. Volunteer

Volunteer a few days a week at a place where you can use the skills you would want to use in a job. Many local United Ways or local governments have volunteer coordinators who are more than happy to help you find somewhere that you fit. For example, if you want to be a graphic designer, there are many non-profits or churches that could benefit from your services. Once you get there, take the initiative and use your expertise to make new suggestions or improvements. The experience will expand your network, give you references AND improve your resume. If you volunteer at a place where you would eventually like to work, you will get a chance to meet the hiring manager and the people who work there to determine a fit.

Again, make sure to let them know you’re looking for a job. You want to make these people think, “Wow, what will I do when he gets a real job and isn’t here to volunteer here anymore? I wish we could hire him full time!” You never know when volunteerism can lead to a full-time position if someone else leaves or if the money is available.

Also, check your community event calendar. Attending community events and meeting new people also can expand your network.

Step Four. Networking via Career Services.

UNC has a global network of alumni and a number of helpful career mentor volunteers. If you graduated from another university, check your career services department to find out if it has a similar feature. There is a general UNC Career Connection that is searchable by industry and location (http://careerweb.unc.edu/). Some professional schools, like the J-School and the B-School, have additional databases. Once you create a list of people based on organizations or locations where you would like to work, e-mail them and introduce yourself with your elevator speech.

Tell them why you thought they would be interesting picks. For example: you really liked the range of clients their companies serve, the areas they live in, or the industries they work in. Then ask if they have any advice about finding a job in said industry/area/organization. Try to schedule a phone conversation. Tell them you’re attaching your resume for their reference. After you speak with the person, don’t forget to follow up with a gracious thank you note. Use the conversations to learn what you can about working in the industry and job searching. Chatting about UNC basketball can’t hurt. If you really like the company the person works for, request an informational interview.

If you stick around on the radar screens of your new friends, they might think of you when something opens down the road. Regardless, you gained a friend and learned something at the same time.

From a grad that’s been there and gotten a job: Advice on presenting career materials

First, I’d like to introduce myself. My name is Courtney Miller, and I am a recent UNC-CH grad. I graduated a semester early (in December ’08) to save tuition money and get a jump on finding a full-time job ahead of May grads. I expected to find a job in public relations within a month or two, but the job hunt proved much more difficult than I expected. After six months of learning, constantly sharpening my skills, networking, tweaking my resume and promotional materials, and solidifying my goals, I finally landed a solid gig near my hometown of Fredericksburg, Va. But more importantly, I learned some very necessary life skills that they don’t teach you in college, and it’s my pleasure to share my experience and what I’ve learned with you over Kelly’s blog every Monday, in a five-week series.

Presentation Advice

Many grads don’t think about the overall presentation of their job-search materials (resume, cover letter, portfolio, etc.), but it’s crucial because it directly affects the first impression employers have of you. Think about it: if the person on the other end of the computer only spends 10 to 30 seconds looking at your materials, you want to make sure that your presentation is every bit as effective as your content. In addition, consistent presentation is good personal branding.

Aside from the basic and most obvious things to consider (spelling, style, grammar, unclear/inconsistent message and congestion), here are few tips and tricks I learned about presentation.

E-mail PDF versions of your materials. I always convert my materials into PDFs using the Neevia PDF Converter tool. PDFs can’t contain viruses like Word documents (which is why some offices will only accept PDFs), and they preserve the carefully crafted formatting of your materials.

For example, I use the Calibri typeface for my resume, but earlier versions of Word don’t have Calibri. If my resume is opened in an earlier version of Word, the entire format (including spacing, length, bullets, indentions, etc.) is thrown off because the program uses a substitute font. When I use a PDF document, though, whoever opens my resume will see it exactly as I intended. In addition, it is smart to have a scanned PDF version of your most recent transcripts. (http://www.quintcareers.com/e-resume_format.html)

Remember font and design consistency. Use the same typefaces for your resume, cover letters, and supporting documents. It makes your work look more professional, and consistency helps your personal branding efforts.

For a classic, professional look, Times New Roman could be a good option, but some criticize its letterspacing issues and clichéd usage. Other serif options include Garamond, Georgia, and Palatino Linotype. I’ve also seen Century Old Style recommended for business positions.

For a more contemporary resume, consider professional sans serif typefaces, like Helvetica, Ariel, Geneva and Tahoma. That means NO PAPYRUS OR COMIC SANS MS – the only places for these typefaces are elementary school classrooms and comic books.

Don’t set your point size smaller than 9 for sans serif and 10 for serif typefaces.

Frequently Update. Always keep your materials updated and ready to go. You never know when someone will call you wanting you to send over your resume and writing samples immediately.

Make writing sample summaries.
On each writing sample I send out, I include a short description of the piece. The description includes what organization I wrote the piece for, the intended audience, where the piece was published, the purpose of the piece, and how many readers it reached. If you won an award for a writing piece, also include which one and how many people you competed against to win.

(Kelly’s note: The same advice goes for anything you include in a portfolio. It doesn’t matter if it was a design for a physics class, or a feature article for the Daily Tar Heel, give some context and explain why the piece has value.)

Use a job-hunt buddy. Buddy up with another job-searching friend. If possible, pick a friend that has different strengths and perspectives than you. Let your friend proofread every communication piece you write – resumes, cover letters, thank you e-mails, and writing samples. Proof all of her communications too. Help each other by making constructive criticism and sharing articles, job postings and resources. You can also try the 20-Second Resume Test with your buddy to gain constructive feedback.