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What can I do with my major?
This can be very easy or very difficult to answer, depending upon your major.
If you are majoring in accounting, chemical engineering, social work, architecture, or any other field that tracks directly toward a specific professional, you have at least one possible answer to that question.
If you are majoring in a foreign language, any of the liberal arts, or many of the natural sciences and social sciences, you have a wide variety of possible answers.
If you in your senior year and have just discovered that you do not want to work in the area of your undergraduate major, you have a lot of options to consider, and you are probably a bit frustrated and scared.
What should you do? Here are a few things to consider.
Many people with college degrees work in fields NOT directly related to there undergraduate major
Not working in a field related to your major is NORMAL. It certainly is easier to look for work when you are an accounting major looking for a job in accounting, but that doesn’t make it better. Take a look at the new Education section on LinkedIn. (If you’re looking for work and your are not on LinkedIn . . . what are you waiting for?) Search your school’s alumni by major and you will see that you have a lot of options. For example, I went to the State University of New York at Oswego and studied communication. Look at the “Where they work” and “What they do” columns below.
Surprised by the variety? You shouldn’t be. If you limit your search to those opportunities that are directly related to your major, you are really limiting your options.
You major does not define you
You are not an English major, you are a student who happens to be studying English.
You might call it semantics. I call it a big distinction.
Defining yourself by your major is self-defeating. It says “I can only do things that people similarly educated do.” It tells potential employers that the only thing they need to know about you to consider you for a job is your major; nothing else matters.
I don’t mind saying . . . THAT”S CRAZY!
What you offer potential employers is the grand collection of education, skills, experience, qualities, characteristics, gifts, talents and passions that make you who you are. And, you are a lot more than just a major.
But there is a catch . . . . (there’s always a catch) . . . .
You have to help employers understand what you offer and what you want
Even when you are majoring in a clearly definable professional field (e.g., architecture), you still have to help employers understand who you are, what you are looking for in a job, what you offer in qualifications, why you want to work for their company, and why you want to work in their industry.
If you can’t explain who you are, what you want and what you offer to employers, how do you expect them to figure you out?
Answer: They won’t!
You must be curious, ask questions and explore your options
If you are going to ask the question – what can I do with this major? – you had better be ready to look for answers. If you want to consider your options, you have to be willing to explore those options. Be curious! Let your knowledge of yourself, your interests and your talents guide your exploration.
If you are really into sports, what industries, business, non-profits, etc. focus on sports. Not everyone who works in sports in an athlete. Where might you fit in?
Likewise with arts & entertainment: Not everyone who works in the arts is an actor, sculptor, artist or musician. What roles exist in arts and entertainment that allow the artists to create? Again, where might you fit in.
If you haven’t explored your career options, you are in no position to complain you don’t have any career options.
You must be realistic
Understand this – you will not live in a big house, drive an expensive car and vacation in exotic locations on a school teacher’s salary, unless you marry well, win the lottery or have a trust fund.
No matter how badly you would like to be a teacher and earn a six-figure income, those two concepts are largely incompatible.
As you explore your career options, be realistic. Look at jobs and career paths that are compatible with your needs and lifestyle expectations. Not doing so will be very frustrating for you and everyone who might offer you job or be willing to help you look for a job.
You should seek help
Why try to answer the What can I do with my major? question on your own?
Chances are, your college has people and resources that can help.
For example, the California State University Chico Career Center has an excellent What can I do with my major? page and career center advisors who can help you navigate your options. Likewise, St. Norbert College’s Career Services office has a What can I do with a major/minor in . . . ? page on their website, and helpful career center staff.
Get help! And, start with the career center on your college campus.
What can you do with your major? What can’t you do with your major? You’re not going to become a brain surgeon by studying sociology, but if you really explore your options, you will find they are many, but the answers don’t always come easy.
Labor Day is past. Summer is over.
Freshmen are nervous as they experience firsthand just how different life as a college student is from their life in high school.
Seniors are beginning to contemplate life after college.
Most sophomores and juniors are just glad they are not freshmen or seniors!
Parents of seniors are wondering what their blossoming adults are going to do when they graduate, whether or not they are going to be able to get a job, and when they are going to start paying their own bills.
Please don’t ask to move back into my house, they think quietly to themselves.
What about those seniors? Surely, with all the money they have invested in their education, these soon-to-be graduates should be able to get jobs, right? That’s the next logical step, isn’t it? The university is providing the education; it should also provide a direct path to that first job out of college, right? And that job had better pay enough (regardless of the field) so that they can afford their current lifestyle! That’s the way it should work, isn’t it?
Unfortunately, unless you pursuing a degree that directly tracks into a talent-starved field (engineering, accounting, and many of the other Science, Technology, Engineering & Math (STEM) related majors) that’s not usually the way it will work for most students.
Finding a job – particularly a job you will like and that will match your skills and interests – is a process. Like any process (for example, training for a marathon), it requires planning, personal accountability, discipline and focus.
It takes a lot more than “want to” to get a job after college. It takes planning and action.
It’s easy to say “I want a good job when I graduate.” It’s hard to define what that means to you. And it takes planning and action to get that job.
Your career services office can’t get you a job, but they can help you get a job.
With the new academic year underway, I want to take an opportunity to share with new and returning college students (and your parents) the following quick summary of what your college career services office can do, can’t do, will do, and won’t do to assist students in making the transition from the college to career.
What Career Services Can and Cannot Do For You
Career Services staff can market their services to students and encourage them to take advantage of the career services available, but they cannot force students to use career services.
You’ve heard the old saying: You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink. Well, most college career services offices provide a broad range of career services, but they cannot force students to use these services. They offer services that are relevant to students at all stages of their education, so career services is relevant to all students. Your college career advisers are ready to help you. All you have to do is ask!
Career Services staff can help students explore and evaluate their career and employment options, but they cannot place students into specific jobs.
It sure would be nice (and would certainly be easy) if students could walk into their college’s career services office just before graduation and choose a job from a variety of opportunities prepared exclusively for them. Unfortunately, getting a job is not like ordering dinner or shopping for a new outfit.
By law, career services staff cannot select candidates or make hiring decisions on behalf of employers; employers have to make these hiring decisions themselves, and that means students have to be prepared to apply for jobs and present their qualifications in interviews.
I don’t know about you, but I wouldn’t want someone else choosing a job for me; I would want to be a part of that process. Students, get involved in the process – it’s your life, after all!
Career Services staff can build recruiting relationships with employers, but they cannot force employers to come to their campuses or recruit for the types of jobs students want.
Employers recruit on college campuses when they need to. If an employer can generate a sufficient number of qualified candidates for their job opportunities without physically coming to campus, they usually won’t come to campus. And, employers that do recruit on college campuses do not typically go to all college campuses, recruit to fill all types of positions, or recruit across all majors.
“Bulk employers” – big national and multinational companies that need large volumes of candidates to fill large volumes of target vacancies – are the bread and butter of on-campus recruiting.
Lastly, on-campus interviewing is not the only tool employers use to recruit entry-level talent from colleges and universities. As a job seeker, your job is to understand the hiring dynamics of the industries you wish to enter and adjust your job search strategies to those dynamics. Your career advisor can help you do this!
Career Services staff can help students identify and pursue jobs that match their skills and interests, but they cannot do so if students can’t (or won’t) identify their skills and interests.
This is the toughest part! In order to find a job you will like and that will match your skills, experience and other qualifications, you have to spend some time identifying and articulating your likes and dislikes and your skills and interests.
If you can’t describe your likes and dislikes or identify your skills and interests, how will you be able to know when you find a job that is compatible with them? By the way – this usually isn’t an easy process, and it does take time, so don’t wait until the end of your last semester to get started.
What Career Services Will and Won’t Do
Career Services staff will advise and assist students in planning and crafting effective resumes and critique drafts of resumes, but will not write resumes for students.
Sorry, they can’t do this work for you. Most career service offices have resume writing resources, resume samples and advising services available, but you really should prepare your resume yourself. All resume formats are not created equal, so don’t just download and use the first resume template you can find. What might make sense for an engineering student probably doesn’t make sense for an advertising student. There is no such thing as a one-size-fits-all resume. Your resume is a marketing document. Treat it like one!
BTW- Regarding that “$39.99 Resume Writing Service” you found online . . . you get what you pay for!
Don’t waste your money. You can find good resume writing assistance online, but it won’t come cheap.
Career Services staff will help students understand and evaluate the pros and cons of different job opportunities, but they will not tell students which job offers to accept or reject.
Want help understanding the various advantages and disadvantages of different job opportunities? Want to know what questions to ask? Want an unbiased perspective of your options? Ask your career adviser. Your career adviser doesn’t have a vested interest in which option you select. She just want you to make sound and informed career decisions; good decisions for you!
Career Services staff will contact employers on behalf of all students, but we will not contact employers on behalf of individual students exclusively.
Sorry, your career adviser is not your personal job search agent. Career advisers won’t contact employers with your resume trying to convince them that you are a great candidate worthy of consideration. They work on behalf of all students at your institution. They do a lot of employer relationship building in order to make employers aware of the recruiting services they offer and the talents and qualifications their students possess. They reach out to a lot of employers, and a lot of employers use their recruiting services, but you have to apply for jobs, and you have to close the deal.
Career Services staff will help students evaluate whether or not graduate school makes sense as a next career step, but will not tell students whether or not they should go to graduate school.
“The job market still stinks, I think I’ll go to grad school to wait out the economy” is a lousy reason for going to graduate school, particularly if it is your only reason.
The grad school decision is an important one, and one you should not take lightly. What do you want to study and why? Where are the best programs of study in that field? How will the graduate degree make you more marketable to employers? What types of employers will find you more valuable with a graduate degree? These are all really important questions. Your career adviser can help you answer them.
A graduate degree, in and of itself, is not going to make you more desirable to employers. It will not necessarily mean that you will earn more than someone with just a bachelor’s degree.
The decision to go to graduate school is a big one; career advisers can help you make a good decision because, again, they don’t have a vested interest in whether or not you go to graduate school. They just want you to make good decisions; informed and sound decisions that makes sense for you.
Okay, enough of the heavy stuff.
The start of a new school year is full of excitement, energy, uncertainty and hope! There is no place on earth as vibrant as a college campus at the start of the fall semester – everything feels possible; almost everything is possible.
Turning those possibilities into reality takes a lot of work, perseverance and intent. It doesn’t just happen. (Okay, sometimes it does, but people sometimes win the lottery, too!)
When it comes to exploring and pursuing your career options, connect with your College Career Services office.
The Campus Career Coach
A Final Note:
I first wrote this blog post in August 2010 and have been updating and re-posting annually at the start of the fall semester ever since. The concepts and advice are timeless. The need for students to be actively engaged in their own career planning and management is greater now than ever before. And, the responsibility of colleges and universities to provide students both an education and career preparation is cannot be ignored.
If your college doesn’t have a career services office that provides the support and assistance outlined in this blog, share it with your school’s president and ask why?
I recently attended the annual conference of the Midwest Association of Colleges and Employers in Chicago. One of the general sessions featured a panel discussion with members of The Career Advisory Board. As part of this panel, CAB member Kristin Leary, Vice President of Global Talent at Quintiles, presented the top 10 things hiring managers look for in candidates, gleaned from the Career Advisory Board’s Job Preparedness Indicator Report.
Here is that top 10 list (with my parenthetical commentary).
Top 10 things hiring managers look for in candidates
- Positive Attitude (focus on the opportunities in your life, not the obstacles)
- Strong Work Ethic (show up, work hard, set higher standards for yourself than your boss sets for you)
- Excellent Communication Skills (talk and write write well; not just in social media shorthand)
- Interpersonal Skills (look up from your iPhone and look at people when you talk to them)
- Self Motivation (motivating you is more your job than it is your boss’s)
- Collaboration Skills (can you work and play well with other and be productive?)
- Business Acumen/Skills (successful means that you understand expenses cannot exceed income)
- Intellectual Curiosity (employers want lifelong learners – be one!)
- Local & Global Perspective (there are people who live, think and act differently than you; respect those differences)
- Passion (if you’re not doing something you care about, find something else to do)
The one thing missing from this list, of course, is the most important: Employer want you to have the skills needed to do the jobs they need to fill. Everything on this top 10 list is very important IN ADDITION to education, skills and experience, NOT INSTEAD OF of education, skills and experience.
Develop and nurture all aspects of you qualifications and you will be successful.
Have you said this or heard someone say this recently? I’ll bet you have.
I have heard this statement countless times from students facing the completion of their undergraduate degrees.
They don’t know what they want to do when they graduate, they hear news reports about high unemployment rates, and they figure that a graduate degree will allow them to wait out the recession, buy them more time to make up their minds and make them more marketable.
Ready for the cold, hard slap of reality:
A graduate degree – by itself – will not make you more employable.
It will not – by definition – allow you to demand greater compensation than candidates who only have undergraduate degrees. It will not guarantee you a job or necessarily make finding a job easier.
Don’t get me wrong. I am a big fan of graduate education. I have a graduate degree, and I really enjoy working with graduate students. But, if you are considering graduate school, do so as a consumer. Make an informed decision about what you want to study (and why), where you should go, and what you are going to do when you finish.
Considering graduate school? Ask yourself the following questions and see if you like your answers:
Why do I want to go to graduate school?
What field do I plan to study?
What degree will I pursue?
Why this field and why this degree?
Where are the best graduate programs in this field?
How much money and time am I going to have to invest to get this degree?
What is the demand for professionals in this field with this degree?
How competitive is the job market in this field?
Where do professionals with this degree find employment?
What I can reasonably expect to earn?
And finally, after you have considered all of the questions above:
Given what I know now about degree programs and employment prospects, am I ready and willing to commit the next 2-5 years to a graduate degree program?
Graduate school can be a great career step, but it is not a step you should take blindfolded or wearing rose-colored glasses.
If you are considering graduate school, you owe it to yourself to factor into your decision-making what you are going to do when you finish.
Otherwise, you stand a good chance of ending up over-educated, under-employed (in your opinion, at least), and regretting the original decision you made.
IMHO – perhaps one of the most important TED Talks you will ever watch. Oh so simple, but oh so complex!
Seriously, I hear a lot of college graduates (and their parents) say things like:
I didn’t get a college degree to do that!
I didn’t send my daughter to college so she could do that!
With as much money as it cost to go to college, my job should pay more!
You don’t need a college degree to do that!
. . . and other similar comments.
There appears to be some overriding belief that a college degree – any college degree – should immediately qualify you for a certain type and level of employment and a certain minimum level of compensation simply because you have earned the degree and you have spent a certain amount of money getting it.
I hope I am not the first person to tell you this, but . . .
A college degree does not guarantee or entitle you to anything
It may offer you some great advantages over someone without a college degree. It may offer you greater long term opportunities. It may help you gain access to jobs or companies you might otherwise not be able to access. But, a college degree does not come with a guarantee of employment or a guaranteed level of compensation.
What you choose to study (your major) will play a big role in how easy or hard it will be for you to find a job when you graduate. There is a much greater need for Engineering graduates than there is a need for Philosophy graduates. I’m not knocking Philosophy! I’m just saying that Philosophy does not track into specific high-demand career tracks in the same way Engineering does. What you study does matter when it comes to looking for a job. What you study will determine whether or not you are “overqualified” for a job or not.
What you do outside the classroom (internships, part-time jobs, student activities, etc.) will play a big role in determining how competitive you are as a job candidate. Just taking classes and collecting college credits doesn’t cut it anymore. You have to explore your career options and gain experience to complement your degree while you are in school
How you connect the dots between what you do inside the classroom and outside the classroom will make all the difference. You have to connect the dots. You college can’t do this for you. They can help, but they cannot do it for you, no matter how much you might be willing or able to pay.
A college degree itself does not make you overqualified
Some college degrees make you qualified to do specific things. Degrees in Civil Engineering, Accounting and Secondary Education qualify you, respectively, to be an entry-level civil engineer, accountant or high school teacher.
The same cannot be said for degrees like Rhetoric, Sociology and any number of other Liberal Arts and Social Sciences degrees. They offer great opportunities to learn and grown intellectually and personally, but they do not prepare you to enter a specific profession in the same way professional degrees do.
Know this going in! Don’t be surprised by it when you graduate! The whole “what am I going to do when I graduate?’ thing is not going to take care of itself.
A college degree will not necessarily make your career path clear or easy
Some college degrees track directly into clearly definable career paths, most do not. Sometimes these career paths offer stability and good compensation. Sometimes they do not.
There is a reason the term “starving artist” exists and the term “starving software developer” doesn’t!
Your expectations must be in line with reality
A lot of students go to school and major in television, film, acting, theater and music. Most do not become television stars, directors, producers or professional musicians. Why? The barriers to entry into these professions are really high.
The competition is intense. There are many more people who want to work in these fields than there are (or ever will be) opportunities available.
Don’t believe me? Look at the how many people show up for auditions for reality TV shows, American Idol, The Voice and other programs looking to find the next big star.
If you think you want to try to make it in entertainment, be honest with yourself: Are you really ready to make the necessary sacrifices? Do you really like Ramen noodles – three meals a day, every day?
Parents, you have to be realistic, too
Run the numbers. What lifestyle have you created for your kids? When they are on their own, how much is your son or daughter going to need to earn just to maintain the lifestyle you currently provide for them? Are you setting them up for a rude awakening after graduation? Are you setting yourself up for a rude awakening?
If you are sending your daughter to a private liberal arts university and paying for her to live a year lifestyle that costs $40-50,000 a year to maintain, don’t be surprised when she is shocked she cannot live on the $25-30,000/year entry-level salary her first job offers.
It’s not the university’s fault! Your daughter is not overqualified for those jobs! It’s the reality of the marketplace.
So, are you really overqualified for that job? Take my Four Question Test
If the qualifications you offer exceed those outlined in the job description – YES!
If you think you should get a better job just because you have a college degree – NO!
Getting ready for a job interview? Answer the following questions, and you will know whether or not you are qualified, overqualified or just not a good fit for the job:
1. Why do you want the job? (What appeals to you most about the work itself?)
2. Why should they hire you? (How do your qualification match the qualifications they are seeking in candidates?)
3. Why do you want to work in this field? (What interests you about working in this area?)
4. Why do you want to work for this employer? (Why do you think this would be a good place to work?)
I find that many job seekers are very naive when they are searching for jobs and reviewing job descriptions.
Just because a job has been posted on a career services website, company website or internet job board, does not mean it is complete, accurate or wholly legitimate.
Just because YOU wouldn’t consider a specific job, kind of employer or profession doesn’t mean that job, employer or profession isn’t right for someone else.
Different strokes for different folks, right?
Like in every other part of your life as a consumer, when you are looking for a job, you have to evaluate and scrutinize your options carefully and realistically before making decisions.
With that in mind, here is a little advice:
Don’t think someone else is doing quality control on job postings for you. That’s your job.
If you look carefully at most online job boards you will find a disclaimer that says something like “we do not necessarily endorse any of the positions or companies listed on this site.”
Get the idea? People who run job boards usually do some kind of quality control, but they do not go back to everyone who posts jobs to make sure all the information in their postings is complete or accurate, and they don’t thoroughly check the legitimacy of every company that post jobs.
So, be a little suspicious if:
- You are being directly to apply to a Gmail or other personal email address rather than a business email address or web application.
- They don’t provide a company name or any information about the company.
- You can’t find the company website or you can’t tell by viewing the website what the company actually does.
- The job description provided isn’t really a job description but rather a list of characteristics they are seeking in candidates; e.g., “sports-minded people sought for outstanding career opportunity” as the core of the job posting! Where are the details? How can you tell whether or not you are interested or qualified? This should be a red flag!
You don’t blindly accept everything your parents, teachers and advisors tell you, do you? You don’t – I know. I am a parent and an advisor! Why would you blindly accept the information in a job posting without questioning it first?
“I found it on the internet, so it must be legit” is a lousy answer, and if something sounds too good to be true, it usually is.
Don’t decide not to apply for a job because “you don’t think you want to work in that field”!
I hear it all the time.
JOB SEEKER: “Yeah, I didn’t apply for that job because I don’t think I’d want to work in that field.”
ME: “Really, what do you know about that field?”
JOB SEEKER: “Um, not that much really, I just don’t think I want to do that kind of work.”
ME: “What kind of work? What about it didn’t seem to match your interests or skills?”
JOB SEEKER: “Um, I don’t know. I just don’t want to do that kind of job.”
ME: “Okay, so what kind of work appeals to you? What jobs would you like to do?”
JOB SEEKER: “I don’t know, just not that job. What else do you suggest?”
Now, I am not telling you to apply for everything and everything available (that would also be crazy), but don’t rule out a job opportunity unless and until you know (not think) it’s not a possible fit for you. Give it a chance!
You can still have the right to say no to a job offer, but you will never get to the job offer if you self-select out of the process before it ever begins.
I can guarantee you one thing: If you don’t apply for jobs, you won’t get a job. It really is that simple.
When you apply for a job, don’t just assume that the employer will recognize you as qualified.
You might read a job posting and be convinced beyond the shadow of a doubt that you are qualified to do the job. You might feel very strongly that you are a highly competitive candidate.
Don’t keep this a secret from the employer!
Use your cover letter/email to tell the employer precisely how your qualifications match what they are seeking, not how badly you want the job or how cool the employer is. They already know you want a job (you’re applying), and they are already aware of precisely how cool they are.
If the employer is seeking specific skills or types of experience and you have these qualifications, say so in your cover letter and back it up in your resume.
Look, employers can’t get inside your head. They can’t read your mind. If you are lucky enough to get an interview, you will be expected to demonstrate and defend your qualifications in person. So, if you are a good match, tell them early and tell them often.
Two side notes to this topic:
- If you can’t make compelling arguments regarding why you are a qualified candidate and why you want the job, why are you applying?
- If you only apply for jobs for which you are not qualified, your chances of getting a job for which you are qualified are pretty slim.
Don’t assume the job description is complete, well-written or realistic in its stated expectations.
Job descriptions are wish lists. Based upon the jobs that need to be done, employers write job descriptions to create ideal candidate profiles, including job responsibilities, necessary qualifications, preferred qualifications and, of course, other duties as assigned (just in case they forgot something).
The chances of an employer finding a candidate that matches the description perfectly and is a good fit with its organizational culture is somewhere between slim and none. If an employer has listed ten key qualifications and you have seven of these qualification; you are probably a viable candidate. If you have two or three, probably not.
Looking for work is hard enough as it is! Don’t over-complicate the process by not being a savvy consumer.
Caveat Emptor! That means you, if you are looking for a job.
I cannot tell you how many times I have had the following conversation:
Matt: “Did you apply for this job?
Student: “No, I don’t know if I want to work in that city, so I didn’t apply.”
Matt: “ What about that job?”
Student: “No, I don’t think I want to work for that company, so I didn’t apply”
Matt: “Okay, so how about this job?”
Student: “Yeah, I didn’t apply for that one either. They’re not in my industry.”
Matt: “So what kinds of jobs and careers are you looking for? What is ‘your industry’?”
Student: “I don’t know; something I’ll like; something in my major.”
Matt: “How do you know you won’t like the jobs we’ve been talking about? How do you know they’re not right for someone in your major?”
Student: “I don’t know; they’re not what I’m looking for.”
Matt: “How do you know they’re not what your looking for if you don’t know what the jobs involve and you don’t know what you are looking for?”
Student: “Look, I can’t describe what I’m looking for, but I’ll know it when I see it. So, I have one more question.
Matt: “Okay, what’s your question?
Student: “Why is it so hard to find a job? Nobody seems to be hiring.”
Don’t you just love circular logic like this? I do. It brings a real level of certainty to the process. In this case, it guarantees you just one thing:
“You will not get jobs for which you do not apply – 100% of the time.
How do you like those odds?
Listen, I want students to be selective when considering their career options. I don’t want student randomly applying for jobs just because a job is available and they need a job. But there is a huge gray area between “perfect fit” jobs and “not a chance” jobs that far too many job seekers neglect. And worse yet, many job seekers don’t even take the time to define or describe they types of positions they are seeking, yet are perfectly happy to reject opportunities outright as “not for them” without any reasonable explanation.
Former US Supreme Court Justice Potter, when asked to characterize pornography in a 1964 opinion (Jacobellis v Ohio), had difficulty defining it, but said:
“I’ll know it when I see it.”
Is that your approach in your job search? If so, I’ll bet you’re pretty frustrated.
Don’t use the “Justice Potter approach” in your job search! It might be a good way to characterize your definition of pornography, bgut it’s a lousy strategy for a job search.
If you don’t have some idea what you are looking for, chances are it (and many other really good opportunities) will pass you by. Don’t arbitrarily apply for every job out there, but don’t arbitrarily reject potential opportunities unless you can legitimately defend your rationale for not applying.
Finding a job is hard – identifying a career path is even more difficult – don’t make the process that much more (and unnecessarily) challenging by being picky.
It’s good to be selective in your search for a job. Being selective means you are evaluating your options and pursuing those most suitable to you and your goals.
It’s bad to be picky in your search for a job. Being picky means you are lazy and not willing to invest the time necessary to be selective.
So, are you picky or just selective (and be honest when you answer that question!)
I wish more people would focus their time, attention and energy on writing well.
I read a lot. It is part of my job.
I have 20+ daily Google Alerts set up to help me sort through and prioritize articles, data and information online. I usually have three books “in-progress” at any given time on my Kindle. I review emails, news releases, web content, sales collateral materials, reports, resumes and other documents every day. I also read articles from print and online newspapers, blogs, magazines and other media.
Like I said, I read a lot, and there is a lot of poor quality writing out there!
The way you write says a lot about your professionalism, attention to detail, educational preparation and, ultimately, your ability to represent an organization as an employee.
Your communication defines you. People, particularly employers, judge you on your ability to communicate orally and in writing.
And, guess what? Different rules apply in different situations.
The language, tone and sentence structure appropriate for business is different from the language tone and sentence structure acceptable when texting friends and family or writing a personal blog. For example, you shouldn’t LOL in a cover letter or business email, nor should you accent your resume with emoticons.
Grammar matters. Sentence structure matters. Your ability to correctly develop and articulate complete thoughts, statements, stories and other messages matters immensely. Your ability to logically communicate an argument or defend a position is critical. Write poorly and no one will care what you meant to say. Great ideas can be killed by bad writing.
Journalists must write and edit well (and in AP Style). They must also know that writing for print is different from writing for broadcast and different from writing for the web.
Screenwriters must write well and follow the structure, form and styles of screenwriting. In addition, they must be good storytellers.
Professors must write well, follow the rules of academic writing and scholarly research and be ready to write a lot. “Publish or perish” is still the battle cry of assistant professors seeking tenure.
Successful business professionals know that writing business plans, sales proposals and client correspondence is different from writing personal letters, research papers or essays.
A well-written business plan or proposal can help you get a business loan or win a new account. Poorly written ones can put you out of business.
To excel in public relations, you must know how to write news releases, backgrounders, media alerts, executive summaries and client profiles. You can’t afford typos or grammatical errors in a one-page news release!
Every profession requires unique and specific writing skills, but all professions require that you be able to construct grammatically sound, coherent and professional documents.
Unfortunately, I have read a lot of really poor writing from people who genuinely believe they are very good writers. Do I have you questioning your writing skills? If so, get some assistance.
Whatever you do, please learn how to write. It really does matter.
I read a lot of cover letters and most of them are pretty bad. This is unfortunate because, in most instances, cover letters are pretty important and a bad cover letter equals a missed opportunity to market yourself to an employer. So, why do so many people write so many bad cover letters? Consider the following . . .
Four things good cover letters can do:
- Get the employer to read your resume
- Demonstrate your ability to write persuasively
- Illustrate how your qualifications align with those in the position description
- Establish you as a viable candidate for the job for which you are applying
Four things to keep in mind when writing cover letters:
- Each cover letter should be unique (though some content may be similar)
- You cannot write an effective cover letter without reading the position description first
- The content of your cover letter should be consistent with the content of your resume; not identical to it
- The writing style of your cover letter should be your own
The Harsh Reality: Most cover letters are generic “junk mail” that read like form letters.
What do you do with junk mail? You throw it away.
If the following sounds like the cover letters you write, you shouldn’t be surprised employers aren’t calling you to schedule an interview:
Part One: First Paragraph – The introduction: I am applying for this job because I am the perfect candidate.
Part Two: Body Paragraph(s) – The main emphasis: Let me tell you 10,000 wonderful (but random) things about me that have nothing directly to do with the job for which I am applying. Honestly, I haven’t even read the job description, and I’ve already sent this exact same cover letter to 200 other employers.
Part Three: Last Paragraph – The close: That’s why I am the perfect candidate for the job. Here’s my resume. I expect you to call because you should be able to see how good a candidate I am.
The Opportunity: Good cover letters are focused marketing letters that present what is relevant.
Use the following as a guide for writing cover letters that market what you offer in terms relevant to the hiring employer:
Part One: First Paragraph – State your Case! (tell them why you are writing): State the purpose and nature of your inquiry.
Part Two: Body Paragraph(s) – Defend your Case! (tell them why they should care you are applying): Tell them how what you offer/seek matches with what they offer/seek
Part Three: Last Paragraph – ◦Close your Case! (Set context for next steps and close): Wrap it up/Summarize. Suggest/hint toward next steps in the process
The Caveat: This advice does not apply to everyone equally.
I admit – not all jobs require candidates with strong written communication skills; in some instances, what really matters is your ability to write code, process data, engineer technology, etc. If you are pursuing a career in a field where your communication skills are not really all that important, your ability to communicate effectively won’t be all that important either, so your ability to write persuasive cover letters won’t be all that important.
For most of us, however, the ability to write and speak persuasively is critically important to our career success. So – if you think you are a good writer . . . prove it by writing good cover letters.
Want a few more tips? Check out our Cover Letter Guide.