The Job Search: Reviewing Offers

You’ve made it: You’ve finally gotten an offer. Congrats!

Now what?

It’s time to review your offer. For many positions, this will be fairly standard and easy, but it’s still best to come up with a list of questions to ask yourself as you review:

Is this job what I’m looking for?

Wow, sounds obvious, right? You just spent all this energy applying to and interviewing for this position, but the way a position is sold by an interviewer versus how it is portrayed on paper can sometimes be different. This is the time to:

  • Get your official job description, and make sure it matches up with what you think you’re being hired to do;
  • Get your official salary/pay rate and pay period;
  • Get your list of benefits, including vacation and, if applicable, health insurance, 401k, stock options, and others;
  • Confirm job location, hours, working conditions, and ask any remaining culture/fit questions. Glassdoor is a great resource, but so is the company’s own HR person.

Do the realities of this job fit in with my lifestyle and goals?

I realize this is a privileged question to ask, but even if you’re hard-pressed for money, this is still an important consideration. A job that may not offer you the flexibility to care for your kids may not be an appropriate job for you. That being said, this is the time to ask for that flexibility in hours, or other working considerations you may need.

Is the salary in line with what I want/need?

This is probably the first time you’ve come to face with the proposed salary for the position. Is it what you asked for? Is it what you need? This is the time to evaluate your proposed salary alongside your benefits package, as well as against your own lifestyle. Often there is room to negotiate, and negotiation is expected in salaried jobs. The worst a hiring manager can say to your request for more money is “no,” and even then, there might be wiggle room in vacation days, benefits, etc. Establishing the salary you want now is critical—many bonuses and raises are based on a percentage of current salary, so by not advocating for yourself now, you’re missing out on money down the line. This is also the time to ask how those bonuses and raises work, too.

Is this what I want to do?

At this point, you won’t have all the information—you haven’t worked for the company yet, so you won’t really know what your new coworkers are like, or how a “flexible leave policy” works in action. But you should ask enough questions and get enough information to form an informed view of the work, which you should measure against all the work you did earlier to identify your “dream” job and/or lifestyle. Does this job get you closer to your ideal? Where does it fall short, and are those shortcomings acceptable? (All jobs will fall short, I promise.) How can you learn and grow in this role and/or at this company? Is this a short-term job or a long-term career? You may not have all the answers, but even educated guesses will help you evaluate and grow in your decision-making and pivoting down the line.

Go with your gut

Intuition is critically important to decision-making, and it may pick up on things we can’t quite figure out in our conscious mind. If you gut is telling you to go for something and you can’t see any critical reason why not (and sometimes, even if you can), do it. More importantly, if your gut is telling you NOT to do something, don’t do it. Sometimes red flags are very hard to spot, and if your gut is telling you they exist, it’s worth it to trust that feeling. Better to avoid a bad situation than find yourself working too hard in one, or going through all that work just to quit a few weeks later.

Ultimately, you’re the only one who is going to be able to decide whether an offered position is right for you. At the job offer stage, remember to ask as many questions as you need to make sure you have all the necessary information (and to make sure your contract is acceptable and correct!) before you sign on the dotted line. But once everything is in line and a compromised has been reached…congratulations! You’re hired.

The Job Search: Interviewing

Ah, interviews. No one likes them, but they’re still a crucial part of the process. Face-to-face (or face-to-screen) interactions are critical for both applicant and interviewer to get a feel for the intangible, hard-to-quantify things, like “fit.” There are at least a thousand different articles that can tell you about the nuts and bolts of interviewing, like how to dress and which questions to ask, so today, I’ll instead talk about the process in general.

First, and most importantly…confidence is key. Interviewing is nerve-wracking, and it only gets more stressful the more you want the job. However, hiring managers are looking to find applicants who are cool, calm, and collected, and who project a sense of expertise and show drive for the work. Figure out how to tap into this confidence on your own, both in low- and high-pressure situations, so you can bring it out on the day of the interview. This may come through practicing questions with a friend, working out, practicing some breathing techniques, or (my go-to) listening to your favorite pump-up playlist and imagining yourself kicking ass. The more interviewing you do and the more jobs you have, this will get easier, but figuring out the strategies that work for you now will benefit you in the long run.

Also, know your audience. I don’t mean reading up on the company, though that’s important, too. When you get to the interview, get a feel for your interviewer. Are they someone who is going to look for formal responses, or are they more casual? Did they show up in a t-shirt and jeans, or a fitted suit? I’d always advise leaning formal in interviews for both your outfit and demeanor (though I always advocate that you be yourself—of course, the best version of yourself!), but sometimes, a casual, friendly attitude will be more welcome than a purely professional one. This is why it will benefit you to get the tone of the interview early. Of course, some interviewers may try to test you and stress you out—first of all, boo (I hate this tactic), but second, take a deep breath and respond as you truly would. Don’t let anyone steamroll you or beat you down—chances are, if they’re like that in the interview, they’ll be like that as a manager, too.

Finally, follow up. This means both thanking the interviewer both at the end of the interview as well as after (by email or phone, whichever method you’ve been using to communicate), but also, by establishing next steps at the end of the interview. Ask when you expect to hear from the interviewer, and what the next step will be, whether it’s another interview, an offer, or a decision. That way, you won’t be sitting around wondering whether or not they’ve decided (or worst case, ghosted!), and if you don’t hear around when you’re “supposed” to, it allows you to check in without feeling pushy.

What tips have helped in your interviews? Let me know!

The Job Search: Five Tips for a Successful Job Fair

Job fairs can be great tools for job seekers: Everyone at a job fair is there either to hire or be hired, which eliminates any ambiguity and allows people to cut right to the chase. Job seekers can get a feel for what positions employers are looking to fill, and employers can quickly screen potential candidates to find qualified leads. However, they can be long, exhausting days, and the constant direct interpersonal interactions is a lot for anyone, but especially for introverts.

To make them easier, here are my top five tips:

1. Know who is attending

Do your research! Most job fairs will at least give you an idea of which companies are attending, and some will already have their jobs listed. If you can find some jobs and employers you’re especially interested in, plan to head to them first, while you and the recruiter are both still fresh. Knowing which companies and jobs will be there also gives you the opportunity to brush up on your applicable experience, and to tailor your resume in a way that highlights your relevant skills.

2. Bring resumes and business cards

Note the “and,” not “or.” Both resumes and business cards are critical—some recruiters prefer one, the other, or both. Even if you print them both at Staples or Office Max or another low-budget printer, they should look decently nice (please don’t just use printer paper for your business cards!) and should clearly include your pertinent, updated contact information. I’ll talk about business cards soon, but a good practice is to use writeable stock and to leave the back blank so the recruiter can jot down notes. Resumes can be on regular printer paper, but nicer stock is also appreciated and appropriate. Have these in a nice folder at the ready, so you can provide them to the recruiter when prompted without having to fuss for them.

3. Look your best

Dress up for a job fair in business professional or well-curated business casual, unless you’re going to one for a targeted industry at which suits would be overkill (video games, for example…though even then, there are some roles for which suits might be appropriate). I find it really helpful to do something nice for yourself beforehand, like getting a manicure or doing a face pack or whatever makes you feel good—even if the effect isn’t obvious, it’ll put an extra pep in your step, and that extra confidence will come across to recruiters.

4. Practice your elevator pitch and introductions

Job fairs are all about meeting people—lots of people. You won’t have much time with anyone, so you want to make the most of what time you have. Craft a succinct introduction that conveys who you are and what type of role you’re looking for, and practice it enough so you can say it confidently and clearly over and over again. Be specific: It helps both you and the recruiter save your time and energy if you’re clear about what you’re looking for, because if what you want doesn’t match up with the job for which someone is recruiting, you can both move on. Just remember to be polite and professional, and always thank someone for their time!

5. Take breaks and pace yourself

Job fairs can create a lot of pressure, because not only are you and the other attendees looking for a job (which is stressful enough as it is!) but with so many recruiters and job opportunities, it can feel like a waste if you aren’t out there applying and networking the whole day. However, if you’re constantly in motion, you’ll start to run out of energy and be useless by the end of the day. Plan to take water and snack breaks at least every 45 minutes, and plan to take lunch if it isn’t provided. Also, especially for introverts, it can be worth deciding on a set time to stay there before you even go. Three dedicated hours can be more fruitful than an entire day. Know how you work best, and structure your day accordingly.

I hope these tips are helpful, and allow you to maximize your time at a job fair! They can still be great avenues for getting a job, especially for students, so I hope you look into them and feel cool and confident when you go!

The Job Search: Your Resume

Resumes are the worst.

Okay, we’ve gotten that out of the way. Great.

Resumes are necessary, a way for a potential employer to see what you’ve done and make sure you’re employable. Right?

Close, but not exactly.

Resumes are for an employer to quickly see if you have the skills for the job they’re hiring for.

Many employers (and of course, it differs by industry and area of the country/world) won’t care about where you went to school and that you worked for a major tech company, but they will care that you got a degree in computer science and are fluent in multiple coding languages. Employers are inundated with applications from total strangers, and so your cover letter (which we’ll get to!) and resume are the five minutes of their attention span you have to make your case as the right fit for the job.

So what does that mean for your resume?

1. Have multiple versions

Reformatting your resume to match the job or industry is crucial. Someone hiring for a copywriter and someone hiring for a book editor will be looking for different (if similar!) things in their potential employee, so highlighting different skills in your past work will be important.

It’s considered passé by some to name your resume files based on the job or industry you’re applying to (for example, Scanlan_copyediting_resume.pdf or Scanlan_PRH_resume.pdf), so instead, organize your reformatted resumes in separate files on your computer, and name them all along the lines of Scanlan_resume_2018.pdf.

2. Keep it on one page

There are three people under 35 I have known who have needed multi-page resumes, and the jobs they were applying to were technical and/or sensitive (think security clearances) in ways that required it. If you are applying to a job that will require a two-page resume, you’ll know.

For the rest of us, one page is plenty. Again, sometimes a hiring manager is only giving a quick glance to each resume before they decide who they interview, and they may have a huge stack of resumes and a short amount of time. In this case, a multi-page resume shows the manager that you don’t know how to highlight and prioritize your own experience, and so may not be good at figuring out and prioritizing what’s important in the role they’re hiring for. One page is perfect.

And this doesn’t mean messing with font size!

3. Only include the important jobs

In the beginning, this won’t be an issue—instead, you might be facing the opposite issue, of not having enough content. If that’s the case, include whatever you have, including coursework, volunteer experiences, and even projects you’ve worked on yourself (have you blogged? That can count! Just make whatever you include on your resume is something you’re okay with a potential employer looking into.)

As you continue in your career, not all of your jobs will fit on that one page. That’s fine! Your future employer is not necessarily going to care about the summer job you had at the golf course or Bed, Bath, and Beyond…unless you’re going into course management or looking for a job in retail. Include only the jobs relevant to the position, which can include jobs you’ve held in the same industry, or in which you’ve had a similar role. You can explain what you were doing in the other times in your interview, if asked.

If you’re switching industries or careers, you can get creative. Retail can, after all, teach you a lot about customer service and expectation management, which could translate into being a good counselor. Writing letters for Amnesty International could have taught you how to edit. Find the skills that are transferrable, and include the jobs at which you learned those skills.

4. Highlight your relevant skills

If you’re including a job, it’s because it’s relevant, so tell them why. Your tech internship taught you how to code. Your campus job cold-calling alumni taught you how to talk with people who are uninterested in giving you money—perfect for that sales job. There’s no point in listing everything every single job taught you—most employers will assume you’re competent enough at the soft skills every listing asks for: Timely, self-motivated, team player. Each bullet point needs to show your employer that you have the hard or specific skills needed to succeed in the role they’re hiring to fill.

5. Format it well

Resume templates can be found for free with a quick Google search. Unless you’re a designer or artist who will benefit by making their own, use a free template. There are plenty, so pick one that matches the feel of the industry and who you are as a person. If you’re going into something super formal (like banking, for example), you’ll want something very structured and traditional. If you’re going for something a little more creative, you might want to choose one with a pop of color (if you’re willing to pay for color printing, that is!) or a unique design. But whichever you do, make sure it is formatted with intention, and looks good.

6. Proofread

I have actually declined a potential candidate for an interview for a proofreading/detail-oriented position because her resume was so riddled with typos and formatting errors. Your resume represents you at your best—it’s a document for which you have all the time in the world to create, so any errors are a reflection on you. If you’re not good at proofreading, ask a friend—it’s better to get edits from a trusted source than to lose a potential job from an employer.

7. Extras?

Oh, boy. There are so many other things people are doing with resumes these days, I can’t keep track. For a while, a “mission statement” or a summary at the top of your resume was popular, then it dropped off. References were once standard at the bottom, now they’ve gone by the wayside (and so has “References available upon request.”).

For these things, I’d do a quick Google search for resume trends over the last year, and follow those. Or ignore them, if that seems like too much work. Realistically, none of these extras are going to make or break your resume, unless they make it harder to read or understand. If a summary takes up room you could use to list a critical skill or role, skip it. If you are starting out and want to show potential employers where your interests are, go ahead and include it. As long as your resume has the critical information we’ve already covered, whichever extras you do or do not include don’t really matter.

Finally, and most critically…

8. Always save your resumes as PDFs!

This makes everyone’s lives easier. Yours, because the formatting will stay the same no matter how the receiving person opens it (just make sure there aren’t any errors when your PDF gets created!), and your potential employer’s, because PDFs are easier to forward/print/shred after.

Above all, your resume reflects you, so make sure you’re happy with the final product before sending it off. And it’s good practice to update it every 3-6 months—maybe make a habit of updating it when you update LinkedIn. That way, if a new role comes along that you’re perfect for, you won’t have to waste precious time scrambling to remember all your jobs and skills!

The Job Search: Elements of a Good Online Presence, part 2: Social Media

Ah, social media. The modern double-edged sword. On one hand, it can be a great tool to get your name and your work out in the world, and can help establish you as an expert in your field. On the other, it can act as a permanent record, and is a window for employers into your personal life, your views on your work and your career, and your views on others.

Used well, social media can be productively incorporated into a job-hunting and career-building strategy. Below are my tips to create a cohesive social media brand to use professionally. This may not be appropriate for your field, or for how you want to use social media, so take them as guidelines I’ve found to be useful for keeping professional accounts.

Unify your avatar
Avatars and photo icons that represent your accounts are the visual window into who you are, and should be treated accordingly. In order to maximize your professional branding, I would use the same photo (preferably the one I advised you to take for LinkedIn in my last post) for your avatar/image across accounts: LinkedIn, Twitter, etc. This builds visible brand recognition, and those who might gloss over your name will remember your face wherever you post.

That being said, I’m going to take a moment to speak to the creatives, since it’s a bit of a different game for you. Avatars and site images can be a great way to show off your art, but again, I would use the same image across all sites. This can be updated every so often as your art style evolves and changes, but the important point is that it should be a clear example of who you are as a professional and what your style is.

Whatever the photo or image is, should be memorable (in a good way!) — my professional Twitter account has an image of me fighting a dinosaur, which, when I was pursuing a career in game localization, made me stand out in the community. I was known by high-level professionals in my industry as “the dinosaur girl” — undignified, but useful for branding and breaking the ice at professional networking mixers! I put the same image on my business card for GDC, the premiere U.S.-based game development conference for professionals, and it worked to link my professional work to my Twitter account, where, at the time, I was posting often about game localization. Whichever image you choose to use, make sure it is the same, and working for your branding.

Post often
Social media tends to have returns that stack depending on how much you use them. The most successful users on various platforms are those who post often and interact with others. Because of this, it’s best to focus on only a few social media channels, prioritizing the ones you know will work for you. It doesn’t matter how good Instagram is for your field if you hate using it — if you hate using it, you won’t, and there’s no point in worrying about a stagnant account you’ll never go back to. So choose the social media you like to use, and build a brand on that. Most now let you schedule posts, so if you can’t or don’t want to be online all day, you can schedule them in advance.

Become an expert
The best posts are ones that have to do with your field, and retweeting or reposting counts as endorsement from you (as long as it’s allowed on the site and you give due credit!). In fact, the general rule of thumb is to post 80% of the time about other’s work and 20% of your own; otherwise, you can risk sounding like a self-promoter (self-promotion in moderation is critical, but in excess may seem like you’re trying too hard/aren’t interested in making genuine connections).

Many professional conversations are taking place on social media, in Twitter hashtags, on LinkedIn, in blog comment threads, etc. The key point here is to keep your contributions professional: Be polite, inquisitive, and ready to learn. The internet can be a breeding ground for hate and disparagement and it can be tempting to get down and dirty with the worst of them, but using social media professionally should always be treated as a soft interview…because it is. Employers or clients may know you from the reputation for expertise you build on social media, so they may be considering you for potential jobs or partnerships you don’t even know about yet, or that aren’t public. You want to make sure you conduct yourself in a way that you’d be proud for a future employer to see. For me, this means I don’t swear on my professional Twitter — I try to keep it as clean as possible. However, I do retweet articles and discussions promoting women’s rights and gun control, because if someone doesn’t hire me on account of my raging feminism, that’s probably the best for all parties involved. Set out some guidelines for yourself at the start, and try to adhere to them as much as you can.

Know your limits
At some point, social media can start to detract from your professional life, especially after you’re hired and at a job which doesn’t involve being on social media. It can feel like you need to be posting to maintain your street cred, your “influence,” your follower count, etc. This can make you less productive at your job, and may make you look unprofessional, if you’re always on Twitter/Discord/Facebook/whatever when you should be on the clock.

Well, here’s a strong opinion from me: Social media is a constructed space, and as such, your performance within it can be structured as well. Take time off when you need to. Close accounts entirely, if it isn’t working for you. Be conscious of how much time you’re spending each day on social media, and ask yourself if that time could be spent on other, more important aspects of your life. Social media was created with seduction in mind (remember, these apps profit because of their large user base — they’re designed to keep you on them!) so you’ll have to define your own limits on what serves you and what does not.

As I said, social media is a double-edged sword, but if you set out with self-imposed guidelines, you’ll be able to use it (most of the time) to your advantage. And if it doesn’t serve you, don’t use it at all — your time should be spent in ways that benefit you, not just your reputation.

How to Approach Personal and Professional Development

Thanks to blogs like this, social media, traditionally-published books and articles, workshops, and podcasts, there’s a wealth of information on personal and professional development. It can be overwhelming just to figure out where to start, let alone find resources that are applicable to your situation. So, before I delve into my opinions on the subject, I’d like to outline some ways to use everything I’ll be posting here.

1. I’m not always right (and neither is anyone else!)

I hope this is obvious, but if it wasn’t, consider it said here and now: Take any advice you get with a good grain of salt. My advice is inherently limited by my own experiences and research; your mileage will vary, and only you are going to know what will help you grow and further your own goals. There may be times when it behooves you to totally go against something I’ve advised. The important thing is to follow your instincts, sort through which parts work for you and which don’t, and adapt advice as you see fit. That being said, I do encourage you to not dismiss things that may be helpful but will take you out of your comfort zone: After all, we only gain experience through living that experience, and every time you stretch your comfort zone you get to keep the extra space.

Which leads me to…

2. Figure out what you want, and use your personal and professional development journey to get closer to that goal

Picture what you want…now go get it! Easy, right?

Just kidding. I’ve known a handful of people who have always known what they wanted to do or who they wanted to be, and even then, some of them took a roundabout way to get there. If you aren’t one of these people, don’t worry — figuring out what you want out of life is going to be the first topic I’m going to cover here, precisely because it’s good to start out with a goal. It’s okay if your goal is small and vague, because it’ll change as you learn more and put your tools into action.

As I said, we’ll be going into more detail on this soon, but I want to give you a small teaser: When I was in business school, I realized that no matter where I ended up, I didn’t want to work somewhere that required me to wear a suit. I have never been comfortable in suits, and would rather be able to work somewhere where I was allowed to be professional in a more casual setting, even if it meant losing out on opportunities that may earn me more money, or help me meet other aspects of my goals faster. It also meant giving up on certain careers entirely, but they’re careers that wouldn’t have suited me for a number of reasons, clothing least of all. That choice allowed me to focus my search to jobs I did want, and led to other similar realizations about the lifestyle I wanted while working.

I recognize this depends on having the privilege to choose, but these considerations are still worth thinking about even if you are not in a financial or other situation that allows you to pursue the career you want, because…

3. You reap the benefits of whatever you put time into

This is an important lesson to learn now. You aren’t allowed to know how much time as you’re given on this earth, but you are allowed to decide what to do with it. And let me be clear right now: I don’t (and nor should anyone) expect you to use every waking breath to be bettering yourself. Time off is incredibly important, and rest is beneficial to your brain and well-being. But I want you to consider how you use your time on a daily basis. How long do you spend scrolling through endless status updates on social media? How many levels of Candy Crush have you played this week? How many shows have you binged this month?

Trust me, no one is immune — I’ve played more solitaire than I will ever care to admit, and I have an explicit ban on installing Match-3 style games to my phone. But becoming conscious of your time and how you use it will help you find pockets of time in which to level up your life. Can you listen to a podcast about your hobby or career on your way to work instead of the radio? How about dedicating an hour each weekend to reading? Could you have lunch with a coworker instead of browsing Buzzfeed in your cubicle?

Your skills are like financial interest, and effort put into bettering them will compound over time — honestly, in my mind, time is the most important resource you have, and it’s far from free — it’s worth a lot, to all of us. We’ll work on learning to use it to your advantage, especially when using it to work toward your goals.

In fact, set a goal now. Is there something you’ve been wanting to do but couldn’t find the time? We’re at the beginning of the year, when resolutions have been recently made. Find the time in your week, schedule it on your calendar, to achieve your goal. Mine for this year is this blog; yours can be anything. Start now, and we’ll use this time to make it to the end together. The important thing is to start somewhere, now!

4. Accountability is your friend

I find that declaring intent often is one of the best ways to transforming your habits and meeting your goals. This can be anything from simply writing your goal down and keeping it in a visible place where you see it daily, to getting a buddy with whom you communicate about the status and progress of your goals. I keep a star chart for my daily writing on which, like one might do for children, I give myself a star every time I complete my goal — let me tell you, it’s underrated. Giving myself a daily star gives me more pleasure than any other treat or bribe I’ve tried to give myself in the past. There’s something so satisfying about watching those stars add up! I also announce my intent on social media, mostly to friends, whose acknowledgement and comments help me commit to the work I’m doing.

Find your own way to keep your goals in mind. Photos, Pinterest boards, written goals, frequent updates, accountability partners…heck, even writing your dream salary down, if that’s what’s most important to you. Become accountable to something, and you’ll help keep yourself on track to your future.

5. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes

Part of why it’s taken me so long to get this blog started is, honestly, fear of putting myself out there. In the writing of this post, I’ve thought of at least three better ways to go about it. Maybe I’m making no sense at all! Maybe I’m boring you all to tears.

Guess what — mistakes happen, will always happen. And frankly, they, too, are critical to your development.

There’s a reason why “tell me about a time you failed” is a popular interview question: Not only does it show that you are introspective and have good enough self-awareness to identify a moment or period of personal failure, as well as the courage to share it, but it shows that you’ve carried your mistakes with you into the future with, hopefully, the experience of how to deal with it already under your belt.

There’s been a lot of work done on fear and vulnerability, and how instrumental they are to finding your stride as the person you want to become. This goes back to pushing your comfort zone, but the more you can become vulnerable and face your fears, the bigger your comfort zone grows, and the more uncertainty you can handle…because now, fewer things are uncertain. You’ve already dealt with the ambiguity of fear, the anxiousness that comes with trying something new. Embrace the fear, anxiety, and vulnerability, and make them work for you.

And, something that’s so easily forgotten in the internet age: no one is perfect. Every single one of us is growing and learning day by day. By making, acknowledging, and learning from your own mistakes, you become more compassionate to the mistakes of others. And who knows? Your mistakes, if handled well and learned from, may just make you more friends.

6. Keep an open mind

I am all for skepticism, believe you me. However, so many of the moments I’ve had that have taught me something about myself came about from trying something new. By remaining open to change and flexible, you’ll achieve your goals with less work and better results.

That’s a big promise, right?

But I mean it. Again, trust your instincts: If something inside you is telling you to pivot, and you’ve done your research/know it won’t cause you or others harm, go for it. The worst that happens is that you fail…which, as I’ve already pointed out, can be a good thing. So what’s the harm?

I’m not saying to give up your high-powered Wall Street finance job to take up beekeeping, but if something is telling you that you need an apiary, maybe start by taking a class or reading a book. Explore what calls to you, and don’t be afraid to pivot if the timing is right.

Okay, my “tips” blog post is becoming small teasers for many of the things I’m going to cover in detail this year, but I hope you keep these things in mind as you start or continue your journey into personal and professional development!