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I want to work in Environmental Consulting

earthEmily Gallagher, a freelance writer, compiled the following information for PM Environmental, an environmental engineering firm. The original post can be found on the PM Environmental website.  Emiliee has given me permission to reprint it here.

PM Environmental discovered that many students express interest in environmental consulting careers, but that there wasn’t much practical information available about what a career in this environmental consulting looks like. With that in mind, Emiliee asked some successful environmental consulting professionals about their thoughts on career paths, advice on classes, starting positions and much more.   Their responses are below.

If a student were looking to get into environmental consulting, what courses should they focus on and what skills should will be most valuable in the industry and most important in helping them succeed?

It depends what type of consulting they are interested in. The environmental sector is really broad, and is probably going to continue to spread into different areas in the future. Clean Tech, Supply Chain, Environmental/Green Design, Sustainable Business Practices, etc. all have different areas of expertise; but, in general I would say focus on the hard skills (math, science, design, engineering, environmental economics, etc.) that pertain to your area of interest. These are more marketable, are likely going to pay more, and are more difficult to learn/master once you are out of a college environment.

A. Lauren Abele
COO, Pipeline Fellowship

Students looking to enter the environmental consulting industry should do their research and determine what aspect of environmental consulting they are interested in making a career.  If environmental due diligence (i.e. Phase I ESA, Phase II ESA, etc.) is the area  students wish to get into, students should focus on environmental policy, environmental chemistry, geology/hydrology, and writing courses. Most courses are not going to cover the basics of writing a Phase I or Phase II ESA, however, if you have a good background in the policy and science involved, you will stand out as an applicant and consultant. 

Kristin Dawkins
Staff Consultant, PM Environmental

The environmental due diligence consulting that we do at AEI is primarily related to helping people evaluate property for the presence of contamination – it’s a bit like environmental detective work.  Environmental history plays a role in understanding how land use can affect property with legacy issues.  Geology and hydrogeology are important in regards to subsurface sampling and remediation of soil, soil vapor and groundwater.  GIS and geography can help with the presentation of the information that we gather.  One of the most important skills in environmental consulting, in my view, is the ability to take complex information and present it in a well-written, easily understandable format for the layperson.  Conducting research and preparing written findings of your research is one of the most important skills you gain during your studies.

 Holly Neber
President and a Principal at AEI Consultants

There are many branches of environmental engineering. Examples include water (potable) and wastewater plant construction, operations and management, infrastructure impact planning, mining operation amelioration, energy conservation, etc. Other aspects include helping governments in the US and overseas develop environmental legislation and regulations for industrial, commercial and residential polluters or those industries that specialize in pollution cleanup.

In addition to technical courses, students should take a foreign language, economics, accounting or finance, political science/government, sociology and writing because consultants are required to be conversant with a range of issues and comfortable communicating with diverse groups of stakeholders.

Carla Sydney Stone
Founder & Principal, International Development & Technical Assistance, LLC

Earth science, biology, chemistry, and public policy. Learn to write an intelligible report, unlike what engineers tend to crank out. Read “The Elements of Style” by Strunk & White, or some other such manual.

Bob Carlson
President, Green Knight Environmental

LEED AP – then work on energy modeling and audits that show how to pay for improvements.

Chuck Lohre
Green Cincinnati Education Advocacy

If there were such a thing as a “typical career path,” what would it look like?

Internship, associate, manager, director….I’d say that the corporate ladder in the environmental sector is much the same as anywhere else. Which sector you are working in will dictate a bit of how that path looks, and many people in the environmental field cross sectors throughout their career.

A. Lauren Abele
COO, Pipeline Fellowship

A typical career path starts out with an internship or entry level consultant.  The next step depends on the specific type of consulting and the company you are working for.  You may transition to a project manager and find that is best for you, or you may have management opportunities and find that is the career path for you.

Kristin Dawkins
Staff Consultant, PM Environmental

In the environmental due diligence field, people generally start out assisting with field work or research under the guidance of a Project Manager.  They then grow into a Project Manager role where they are responsible for all aspects of the project.  Over time, they can progress towards more senior roles such as managing teams of Project Managers and providing technical expertise and working with clients directly.

Holly Neber
President and a principal at AEI Consultants

In an entry level position, what types of tasks and responsibilities should a student expect to take on?

Sector (public, private, or nonprofit) and business size (large, medium, small) will play a large role in terms of what types of tasks and responsibilities an entry level employee will be faced with. In general, larger agencies tend to have more structured roles, opportunities, and larger budgets. Smaller companies and nonprofits tend to have more diverse needs, less structure, and less disposable income. Both of these can have pros and cons, depending on what your goals and needs are. I would say that after looking at sector and business size, the next variable is your manager or managing team. These people, and their working styles, will usually play a big role in terms of what responsibilities will be delegated to you and/or how open your managing team is to you taking initiative as a new hire.

A. Lauren Abele
COO, Pipeline Fellowship

Entry level tasks will focus on learning and building on various aspects of the area of consulting you have chosen.  The training period can vary, and within our company the first year is considered your training period. You will help with research, site visits, information gathering, report writing and preparation, and client communications. All of these will build on each other and as you become more skilled, the projects you are working on will increase in difficulty. As an entry level employee, you should take this time to ask questions and absorb as much information as you can from senior staff members because you will be able to apply all of that information to future projects.

Kristin Dawkins
Staff Connsultant, PM Environmental

Example tasks would be conducting site research at local agencies or conducting soil or groundwater sampling at the site.

Holly Neber
President and aPprincipal at AEI Consultants

Most beginning engineers are assigned to a mixture of duties and projects that will teach them the basics of the industry in which they have chosen to work. They will hone their skills as mining engineers, dam designers, energy auditors, etc. They also may be asked to take some accounting or finance courses if they have not done so as undergraduates to prepare them for preparing budgets or capital justifications. They may be asked to go into the field to conduct environmental assessments. In most cases, the work, while interesting, is not glamorous. They may spend several years as part of a team conducting a survey of the water and geological resources in a site scheduled for development.

Carla Sydney Stone
Founder & Principal, International Development & Technical Assistance, LLC

Grunt work, carrying gear around, helping more senior staff finish reports.

Bob Carlson
President, Green Knight Environmental

What kinds of varying positions / jobs / experiences should a new hire seek out to become well-rounded as an environmental consultant and make them marketable in the industry?

In environmental work, I would say seek out projects/jobs/roles that allow you to flex some of those skills (math, science, design, engineering, sales, networking, legal work, etc)–especially skills that you can quantify and talk about in a resume. Project management, which many young environmental professionals do, can be a bit vague. It can be a hard sell. You should learn to back that up with either technical skills (that you can demonstrate you have used at work) or soft skills (Are you a good networker? Do you write really professional emails? Can people refer you to others?). Word of mouth, and having a great network, are really important in the professional world. Of course, in order for your network to work for you, you also have to be good at what you do.

If you want to work abroad, you should definitely spend several months in that area–either as a volunteer or in a paid capacity. If you want to work in or with a country that speaks a foreign language, you should also speak that language.

Working in different sectors–maybe even all of them–would also be great. Unlike other industries, environmental issues cross all three sectors. Having experience working at a non-profit, government agency, and for-profit will give you insider knowledge about culture and operations of each of these types of businesses. It can also be very attractive on your resume, depending on what a particular job is looking for.

For me, when considering potential hires for entry level positions at a social venture start-up, these two main things have popped up as “issues”: (1) This person does not have the hard skills and/or experience we need for this specific project and (2) This person does not have the soft skills we need for someone to be a part of our team (they are a bit awkward, don’t feel comfortable networking, their emails are a bit odd and unprofessional sounding). These soft skills will not be taught in school, you kind of have to learn by doing… and the earlier you start, the better.

A. Lauren Abele
COO, Pipeline Fellowship

Internships are valuable experiences and stand out on a resume and application. If you know your career path early in your college career, you should seek out internships with similar skills. As we all know, you do not necessarily know what your career path will be until your last year in college or even after you graduate. However, internships are still very important and will provide you with valuable skills that you will be able to apply to a future career. If you are unsure of your future path in the environmental industry, seek out a range of internships that include field work, data collection, report writing, etc. Any of these can be applied to an environmental consulting career.

Kristin Dawkins
Staff Consultant, PM Environmental

Conducting Phase I Environmental Site Assessment research is a good place to start because you get exposed to the regulatory oversight agencies and reviewing the other phases of work that often occur (Phase II investigations and remediation projects).   However, it is a mistake to think of a Phase I position as an entry-level job.  Phase I ESAs can be very complex, depending on the type of site you are evaluating.  If you can work under the guidance of a top notch Phase I Project Manager, you will gain a great skill set and a well-rounded view of the overall industry.   Joining a Subsurface Investigation department as an entry level person can also be helpful in terms of understanding typical contaminants and how they behave in the subsurface of a property.

Holly Neber
President and a Principal at AEI Consultants

Study federal and state regulations and local industrial history.

Bob Carlson
President, Green Knight Environmental

What differences are there between working for a large (national or international) environmental consulting firm compared to a smaller, regional one?

For starters: bureaucracy. Larger companies have much bigger food chains, and rely more heavily on bureaucratic processes to get things done. Smaller companies have more of an opportunity for a more democratic or “flat” hierarchical structure–but that is not necessarily always the case.

Second, opportunities and/or requirements for travel and professional development will likely vary between the two.

Third, benefits–and that could go in either direction. Environmental companies tend to be a bit more socially-minded and often offer great “quality-of-life” benefits, but that is really dependent on company culture.

A. Lauren Abele
COO, Pipeline Fellowship

Smaller firms typically allow their staff to “wear more hats” which allows for more variation in your job responsibilities.  If you join a growing smaller firm, there is often more opportunity to advance to levels of more responsibility quickly.  A larger firm may offer more opportunity to work on extremely large or complex remediation jobs or the ability to work internationally.

Holly Neber
President and Principal at AEI Consultants

Larger international or national environmental consulting firms, or the environmental divisions of a large construction or international development firm may work on larger projects in more locations. Smaller firms tend to work locally or partner as subcontractors to larger firms for a piece of a large contract, foreign or domestic. The contract manager usually comes from the larger firm. I am an international consultant who has been a project manager as well as a subcontractor to large multinational corporations.

Carla Sydney Stone
Founder & Principal, International Development & Technical Assistance, LLC

Large tends to be more for big or quick spill cleanups under EPA oversight; small tends to be more geared towards local conditions such as endangered species, watershed issues, etc.

Bob Carlson
President, Green Knight Environmental

If you had one piece of advice for a student looking to get into a career in environmental consulting, what would it be?

Develop your professional skill-set as quickly as possible. Get networking. Everyone hates it, but there is no substitute for it.

A. Lauren Abele
COO, Pipeline Fellowship

Do your research. Self evaluate your skills and match those with an aspect of environmental consulting that is consistent with those skills.

Kristin Dawkins
Staff Consultant, PM Environmental

When you get your first job, be a hard worker.  Show your company’s management that you are up to any challenge.   Opportunities will open up to you from there.   Internships are also great.  We’ve hired a few people that originally worked for us as interns.

Holly Neber
President and a Principal at AEI Consultants

Technical advice: Water – access to clean water and the reuse of process water and waste water- is the single most important issue affecting the world today. Life does not exist without water.

Personal advice: Learn to write well and to be comfortable speaking with people of different backgrounds.

Carla Sydney Stone
Founder & Principal, International Development & Technical Assistance, LLC

Get a job with a government agency first for the experience. Stay there if you can.

Bob Carlson
President, Green Knight Environmental 

Based on your experience, what are the most surprising or unexpected elements about working in environmental consulting?

In general, it’s less about what I learned in school, and more about how well you do the job. But, I always love how often I get to use economic principles in my job and use project design skills from school when analyzing impact.

A. Lauren Abele
COO, Pipeline Fellowship

The most surprising aspect of environmental due diligence is the standardization of the process. Although every state has their own regulations, I have had experience completing Phase I ESA reports throughout the eastern and southeastern United States because of the standardized process.

The most unexpected element is the number of industries you will encounter and the manufacturing processes you will have an opportunity to observe.

Kristin Dawkins
Staff Consultant, PM Environmental

Every state has a unique regulatory environment so working in Michigan can be quite different from working in Illinois, even on the same type of project.

Holly Neber
President and a Principal at AEI Consultants

The most surprising aspect of environmental consulting is the extent to which projects are subject to politics, both in the US and abroad.

Carla Sydney Stone
Founder & Principal, International Development & Technical Assistance, LLC

Congress yanking funds from programs.

Bob Carlson
President, Green Knight Environmental

Not wanting to study to pass the LEED AP exam and then go on to work on projects.

Chuck Lohre
Green Cincinnati Education Advocacy

What do you find to be the most rewarding aspect of your career?

Essentially being my own boss and being really creative and strategic about solving social and environmental problems.

A. Lauren Abele
COO, Pipeline Fellowship

The most rewarding aspect of my career is the ability to be a resource for our clients.  We have clients that are just as knowledgeable as we are, and we have clients that have never even heard of environmental due diligence. I am able to provide valuable information to clients on both ends of the spectrum, and in between.

Kristin Dawkins
Staff Consultant, PM Environmental

I love working with our clients to find solutions to environmental issues, and I love building a collaborative team with my co-workers.

Holly Neber
President and a Principal at AEI Consultants

The most rewarding aspect of my career is the opportunity to make a difference in the lives of people around the world.

Carla Sydney Stone
Founder & Principal, International Development & Technical Assistance, LLC

Doing public education. It’s amazing how concerned but uninformed people still are about all this stuff.

Bob Carlson
President, Green Knight Environmental


It’s the future.

Chuck Lohre
Green Cincinnati Education Advocacy

Biographies of Respondents

A. Lauren Abele
COO, Pipeline Fellowship

Prior to her involvement with Pipeline Fellowship, Lauren worked in the nonprofit sector in economic development, environmental issues, and women’s empowerment. A long-time sustainability advocate, Lauren has analyzed the Kyoto Protocol with the U.S. Department of State in Brussels and worked on environmental projects in both Spain and Australia. Her interest in social and environmental issues led to her involvement in social entrepreneurship where her focus has been on strategic planning, social impact assessment, and executing mission-based business strategies.

She currently serves on the New York Women Social Entrepreneurs (NYWSE) Events Committee and is a former Young Nonprofit Professionals Network of New York City (YNPN-NYC) board member.

Lauren has a B.A. in English Literature and Environmental Studies from Washington University in St. Louis and an M.P.A. in Economic Development and Comparative & International Affairs from Indiana University’s School for Public and Environmental Affairs (SPEA). She is also a proud School for International Training (SIT) alumna. You can find Lauren on Twitter (@laurenabele).

Holly Neber
President, AEI Consultants

Holly Neber is President and a principal at AEI Consultants, a national environmental and engineering firm headquartered in the San Francisco Bay Area.  AEI performs environmental and engineering due diligence, investigation and remediation projects with 14 offices located across the US.  Holly’s educational background consists of a Bachelor’s degree in Environmental Studies from the University of Kansas and a Masters of Education from Holy Names College.   She is a Registered Environmental Assessor (REA) in California, and oversees the day to day operations of AEI.  AEI’s website is

Carla Sydney Stone
Founder & Principal, International Development & Technical Assistance, LLC

Ms. Carla Sydney Stone is the founder and principal of International Development & Technical Assistance, LLC, a firm that delivers projects that improve people’s lives. It provides consulting services to companies, non-governmental organizations, and government agencies. Ms. Stone has a proven ability to initiate and build international partnerships to achieve results. A mining engineer, with additional training and certificates in water and wastewater operations, she also acts as a consultant to governments on the critical areas of environment, human capability, and resource management. She has considerable experience in developing, managing and implementing training programs, project management and public information programs for stakeholder support.

Carla Stone is a graduate of Columbia University’s (New York) Henry Krumb School of Mines with a B.S. degree in Mining Engineering, Geophysics Option and M. S. degree in Mining Engineering and Mineral Economics. She also holds certificates in Wastewater III (Delaware) and Water Operations (Delaware). She is a Member of the Board of Directors of People to People International, Delaware Chapter, a Past Member of the Board of the World Trade Center Institute Delaware, and serves on the International Council of Delaware. She also is a member of the Water Environment Federation, the Society of Mining Engineers, Society of Women Engineers, and the Project Management Institute. She has been Chair of the Council of Economics of the American Institute of Mining, Metallurgical and Petroleum Engineers. She also served as Economics Committee Chair for the Delaware Delegation to the White House Conference on Small Business.

Kristin Dawkins
Staff Consultant, PM Environmental

Bob Carlson
President, Green Knight Environmental

Chuck Lohre, LEED AP+
Green Cincinnati Education Advocacy

In 2007 we started to promote LEED by holding afternoon seminars as forums for prominent LEED pioneers to address the community of architects, engineers, contractors and the public. From there we started to volunteer with the Cincinnati Regional Chapter of the U.S. Green Building Council and helped develop their web site and trade show exhibit materials. Promotion doesn’t come without education and we registered our offices as a LEED CI project as well as Chuck Lohre passing the LEED AP exam. After developing educational materials for the Fernald Preserve Visitors Center we created classes to help individuals pass the LEED AP exam with one-on-one mentoring and tutoring. With the push to achieve LEED AP status by June 30, 2009, several classes were held. A unique aspect of the classes was actual tours of many regional LEED projects. We received LEED Platinum May, 5, 2011 on our office.



How can I find the right career path for me?

Bailey from the College of the Canyons asked:

I’m a freshman, and I work full time in the Aerospace Industry.  My work experience has really changed my perspective on my degree and my career exploration.

I’ve lost interest in powering through my General Education requirements, as I have come to believe that no entry-level job can be satisfying . . . so why not just take classes I enjoy? 

I’ve even gone to the extremes of escapism: Maybe a degree isn’t for me. Maybe I need to leave the country. Maybe [fill in blank with absurd alternative to going to college].

I know this is flawed reasoning, but how can I deal with serious estrangement from something I used to be very compassionate about: heavy college involvement in the effort to transfer, excessive career searching?

Hi Bailey –

Wow – talk about having your perspective turned upside down! I can understand why you are frustrated and confused. That said . . .

baby-with-the-bathwaterDon’t throw the baby out with the bathwater!

In your haste to figure out what do do next, don’t do anything drastic or rash, like throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

You should finish your college degree.  There are many studies that show that people with college degrees have more opportunities than those without.

For now, focus on two things:

Power through your General Education Requirements

Regardless of the degree you end up pursuing, you will have general education requirements.  Get as many of these out of the way as you can. Consult with an academic advisor at your school to determine which classes will help you fulfill these requirements.  Working on your GEs will also buy you some time as you try to identify a major field of study to pursue.

I have to challenge you a little bit – particularly the following comment:

“I’ve lost interest in powering through my General Education requirements,
as I have come to believe that no entry-level job can be satisfying” 

What does completing your GE requirements have to do with your potential satisfaction with a yet to be determined entry-level job?  I don’t see the connection.

How did you come to the conclusion that all entry-level employment will be unsatisfying?  That is a pretty broad and sweeping statement which – I bet – is just a result of your current frustration. Don’t fall prey to your frustration.  Work to overcome it.  How?

Get to know yourself really well!

And, use that knowledge to drive your academic and career exploration.

What do you enjoy doing?  What are your skills, gifts and talents?  In what kinds of work environments do you best thrive?  What types of work environments are “toxic” for you?  How do you define “job satisfaction”? What motivates you?  What are your hobbies and interests, and what business/professions surround those hobbies and interests?

I could go on, but I think you get the idea.

From my perspective, everyone has the right to pursue a career path they will enjoy and find fulfilling.  Sounds pretty great, don’t you think?  Well, there is a catch:  In order to pursue a career path you will enjoy and find fulfilling, you must be able to define that which you enjoy and that which brings you fulfillment.

Think about it: How will you know you got it, if you can’t define it in the first place?

By the way, that is much easier said than done!  I strongly recommend you seek the assistance of a career adviser/counselor at your school.  They can be really helpful in sorting out your options and answering those questions.

 . . . so why not just take classes I enjoy?

If you can afford to do that (financially, that is), go ahead and just take classes you enjoy.  Most people do not have that luxury.

Remember, every decision you make has consequences; some good, some neutral, some bad – but every decision has consequences.

Eventually, you will have to pay your own bills (you may already), and pay back your student loans (if you have any).  That means, you are going to have to work.  And, life will be a whole lot better when your work doesn’t stink, don’t you agree?

Finding a job and career path you will enjoy and find fulfilling takes time, energy and attention. Invest that time, energy and attention, and you will discover a variety of career options to consider.

One last thing!

Try to enjoy the journey of your career exploration – over the course of your life (not just your college career) that journey will take many turns you will not expect and cannot anticipate.  This is normal. Nearly everyone experiences this.

Some people are born knowing precisely what they are going to do for a living – the“I always knew I was going to be a [fill in the blank]” people. Most of us were not!  I think this is good.  Too much certainty breeds complacency.

Consider this:

Many of the jobs/careers you may encounter in your future don’t even exist yet,
so how can you want them right now?

Take a deep breath! Relax! And, start this next phase of your career exploration with an open mind and a blank slate.

Let your curiosity help you explore and let your common sense and intellect help you sort through your options.  Do this, and you will find your way!

Best of luck,


What companies are most likely to hire graduates of my university?

new_alumni_picRegina from California State University – Bakersfield asked: 

I’m an English Major with a Public Policy Administration Minor; I wanted to know which companies are most likely to hire CSUB alumni? I am also seeking a position in contracting or underwriting perferably in the insurance industry as I have my license.  Any advice you can give me on the companies that hire these positions and suggestions would be appreciated.

Hi Regina –

Your first question – Which companies are most likely to hire CSUB alumni? – is a challenging one to answer.  Most companies do not make recruiting decisions primarily by school.  They make decisions based on how they can most efficiently and economically find candidates with the skills, experience and expertise they need to fill the positions they have open.  That said, geography and school ties do play a role:

Alumni often look to their Alma Mater when they need to hire

Who loves a school more than its alumni!  Alumni who valued their college experience often like to “pay it forward” by looking to their Alma Mater for interns and employees when they need to hire.  It is a long standing tradition at most schools and a great way for alumni to “give back” without having to write a check to the Annual Fund. I’ll bet the CSUB Roadrunners like to help other Roadrunners!  Start with your University Career Center and see how they can help you connect with alumni.  Also, join the CSUB Alumni LinkedIn Page and visit the CSUB Alumni page for more information on connecting with alumni.

Many graduates wish to work near where where they went to school and many employers prefer to hire from the local talent pool

Whenever possible, employers like to hire from their local community.  The candidate review and selection process is usually less expensive and the on-boarding process using goes a lot more quickly when you don’t have to bring in candidates from outside the local area.  Hiring locally is not always an option (or the best option) but when it is possible, employers like to do so; particularly small and mid-size employers.

Look at the pool of employers around where you live and go to school.  Who is in your immediate vicinity?  Of these employers, which ones are in industries that match your interests, skills, education and experience.  Answer those questions, and you will have a good idea of where the best opportunities for you can be found.

Employers target specific universities and degree programs when they offer candidates that match their hiring priorities

Affiliation (alumni) and proximity (local talent pool) won’t matter unless the candidate pool meets the employer’s hiring needs.  Employers will target specific schools when those schools are a proven source of the kind of talent they need.  Employers that target specific campuses (often larger employers) usually do so through the University Career Center, so check with them to see who recruits on campus and what types of candidates they are seeking.

How to find a job in insurance underwriting

underwriting1You can and should look at the major job boards (Indeed, CareerBuilder, Monster, etc.) for insurance underwriting opportunities in your area, but also look at the industry specific resources unique to your field.  For example: – Underwriting Jobs

These are just a few suggestions and ideas to get you started.

Good luck!


Getting Your Foot in the Door with Macy’s

macys logoAbout Macy’s

Macy’s began in 1858 as a single dry goods store in New York City.  Since then, Macy’s, Inc. has evolved into one of the nation’s premier retailers for fashion and affordable luxury, and today, operates more than 800 Macy’s department stores and furniture galleries in 45 states, the District of Columbia, Guam and Puerto Rico. Macy’s, Inc. also operates 40 Bloomingdale’s stores in 12 states, as well as and for distinctive online shopping experiences.

Last year, Macy’s hired more than 1000 students for jobs, internships and their management development programs.

Learn more about opportunities at

dara-silverglateAbout Dara

Dara Silverglate is a Manager of College Relations with Macy’s, Inc.

She began her career with Macy’s as a Merchandising Assistant in 2006, was promoted to Assistant Buyer in 2007, and became an Associate Buyer in 2008.  She transitioned into her current role in 2010. She earned a BS in Retailing and Consumer Sciences from the University of Arizona.

Blake WittersAbout Blake

Blake Witters is a Director of College Relations with Macy’s.  He oversees hiring for the Macy’s Store Management Executive Development Program and Internships across the eight regions of the company.

Blake began working for Macy’s in high school.  He has been an associate, an intern, an assistant sales manager, a group sales manager, a college recruiter for the Store Management team, and a regional manager and regional director in College Relations, prior to accepting his current position  A graduate of the University of Georgia, Blake KNOWS Macy’s!

What kinds of opportunities do you recruit on-campus to fill?

DARA: I recruit for our Merchant Executive Development Program for Macy’s and and for our Finance Executive Development Program and for Human Resources.  We have one director and three recruiters for the Merchant and Finance Executive Development Programs and HR recruiting, and we target 15 universities across the country.

BLAKE:  I oversee recruiting for our Store Management Executive Development Program and our Intern Program. I have one regional director and eight recruiters on my team, and we target about 50 universities nationally, primarily for the Store Management and internship positions but we also work in partnership with Bloomingdale’s stores, logistics, finance and human resources for our Cincinnati offices.

How important is a student’s specific college major for these opportunities?

DARA: We are open to all majors! In fact, this past fall I was recruiting on campus with one of our Buyers, and she had been a Theology major in college.

As long as you understand business (and want to work in business), have strong analytical and communication skills and can demonstrate leadership, you could be a good candidate for us, regardless of your major.

BLAKE:  That’s right, all majors!  About two-thirds of our hires come out of the business schools, but the remaining third come from a broad variety of disciplines.  They key things we look for in candidates are a genuine interest in working in business, an aptitude for the retail business, and demonstrated leadership and analytical skills.

We’re running a business, and when you come to work for Macy’s, you are given significant responsibility for some area of our business.  We want to make sure you are ready, willing and able.

How can students demonstrate they have the qualities and characteristics Macy’s seeks in candidates?

DARA: Stand out at the career fair! Have your 90-second elevator pitch ready!

Be prepared with examples that illustrate how you excel at leadership, how you applied your analytical and communication skills with positive results, how well you know Excel.

Don’t just tell us, show us! Give examples of the things you have done.

BLAKE:  We want to see that you have been involved beyond the classroom.  Develop your leadership and analytical skills and, like Dara said, provide the examples.  Without the examples, you’re just giving us your opinion.

How do students not on your target campuses apply?

If you know someone at Macy’s, use them as a referral.  We are not going to hire you because of the referral, but we will review your application.

Apply online!  Online application systems are not a black hole for job applications. Over 15% of our hires last year came primarily through our online application system. Every application submitted online gets reviewed!

Naturally applications that get some face time – through a referral, at a career fair or at campus recruiting event – do have a certain advantage, but we do hire candidates that come to use through

Macys bannerWhat do you look for in candidates?

BLAKE: We look for students with internship experience.  Internships teach you time management and how to collaborate productively with others in the workplace.

DARA: We look for students who understand Macy’s.  Students need to understand that, while Macy’s is in the fashion industry, we are a business.  You have to be interested in business; in retail and fashion; in business strategy; in understanding what customers will respond to and delivering that. We are a $26.4 billion company, and we don’t do that just by selling clothes.  We do that by understanding business – what’s working and what isn’t – and understanding our customers.

BLAKE: We are looking for student leaders – students who are involved on campus, whether it’s a fraternity or sorority, a student chapter of a professional association, student government.  You name it!  It’s great to be a member of an organization, but we are interested in hearing how you impacted that organization for the better.  How you demonstrated leadership.

DARA: We do have a minimum GPA requirement for our programs, but don’t depend upon your GPA to get you an interview. A 3.2 students with a lot of internship and leadership experience is usually a stronger candidate than a 4.o student who focused only on their classwork.

In addition to their coursework, what do you recommend students do while they are in college to prepare to work for your company?

BLAKE: Get involved on your campus outside the classroom and look for opportunities to develop you skills.

Want to develop as a leader? Join and make an impact on a student organization.

Want to get experience? Get an internship, a work-study job or a part-time job or volunteer in a meaningful way.

Need to develop your skills?  Take a class in Excel, public speaking or time management.

Want to know your options?  Attend the career panels and information sessions your career center offers.  Go on information gathering interviews with people working in professions you are considering.  Get their advice.

DARA: If you are interested in Macy’s, come to our events on campus.  Not just the career fairs, but the employer panels, information sessions, and the guest lectures.  These events will give you an opportunity to get to know us and will give us an opportunity to get to know you.

BLAKE: There are things you need to do and learn that you are not going to get in the classroom.  Seek them out!

In addition to their coursework, what do you recommend students do while they are in college to prepare to enter the workforce?

DARA: Put yourself in situations that are uncomfortable.  Life is full of uncomfortable situations. You cannot avoid them, so you need to learn how to manage through them.

Look for opportunities to work in teams and collaborate with others.  You need to show you can work well with and depend upon others to get a job done.  You need to show you can give and take constructive feedback and criticism.

BLAKE: If you think you want to work for Macy’s, get a job in a store and see if the retail industry is someplace you fit. And, learn Excel; particularly if you are interested in our programs. You have to be able to use Excel.

What are some of the classic mistakes you have seen students make when interviewing with you?

Not being ready for the “Why Macy’s?” question. You have to do your research. When students aren’t prepared to answer the “Why Macy’s?” question, or follow up questions about our business and strategies, they show they’re not really interested our company or our industry.  And, have questions! The questions you ask at the end of the interview tell me a lot about how much you prepared for the interview.

Too much fashion! Students that wear too much perfume or cologne or dress too fashion forward.  You’re not going to a party or a club – you are going to a job interview. Dress professionally.  We are looking for business people, not astonishing!

Not connecting the dots.  Your job in an interview is to show how what you did in school relates to what Macy’s does.  Connects the dots between your qualifications and our business needs.  Don’t assume we understand what you offer.  Show us why we should consider you for employment.

What are some of the most impressive things you have seen students do when interviewing with you?


DARA: I love when candidates tell me something about Macy’s that I don’t already know.  That really shows initiative!

Also, when students can speak to our strategies and make their own observations about what these strategies mean to them as a consumer.  That’s powerful.

Students that offer their opinions on our business strategies and suggest ways we might improve or do things differently; they almost always make a good impression.

BLAKE: People who can clearly present their qualifications in ways that connect to Macy’s and our programs catch my attention. Be ready to tell me why you want to work for Macy’s and why we should hire you.

If you knew then what you know now: What advice do you have for college students as they plan for life after college and getting that first job?

DARA:  Make a lasting impression! Go to the career fair as a freshman to see what there is to see and meet the recruiters. Go back to the career fair as a sophomore and continue building those relationships. Return to the career fair during your junior year to continue those relationships and compete for the internships.  Lead the way to the career fair as a senior and compete for jobs.  I love getting to know students over the course of their college careers.

Make smart decisions about the classes you take inside and outside of your major.  Take classes that will help you develop skills and abilities you will need after you graduate.

BLAKE: Take advantage of the career services and resources at your college.  Do mock interviews. Get your resume reviews.  Seek out their advice early and often. Start this process early. Don’t wait until the start of your senior year to think about life after graduation.

Getting Your Foot in the Door with the Southwestern Advantage Company

SWAdvantageLogoAbout Southwestern Advantage

For over 140 years, college and university students from all over the world have participated in the Southwestern Advantage summer sales and leadership program.

Southwestern Advantage serves as the core company of the Southwestern Family of Companies.  It’s in this program that students are trained in life skills such as independence, confidence, self-motivation and goal-setting.  They run their own business selling an integrated learning system to families throughout North America

Southwestern Advantage was established as a publisher in 1855 by Reverend J. R. Graves in Nashville, Tennessee.  Originally called the Southwestern Publishing House, Southwestern Advantage is recognized as the oldest and one of the most respected direct selling companies in the US helping young people build character, gain life skills, and reach their goals.

Since 1970, nearly 100,000 students have participated in the Southwestern Advantage summer sales and leadership internship program. Many former Southwestern Advantage interns now hold distinguished positions in their respective fields. U.S. Congresswoman Marsha Blackburn was part of the Southwestern Advantage internship program, as was Rick Perry, the Governor of Texas.

In fact, there are thousands of doctors, lawyers, authors, pastors, teachers, entrepreneurs, and homemakers who have had the experience.

ralphbrighamAbout Ralph

Ralph Brigham is the Global Director of Campus Relations for Southwestern Advantage.  For the past 11 years he has been traveling to universities around North America, Europe, Africa and Australia coaching hundreds of corporate recruiters and speaking to campus officials.  Ralph holds a doctorate in Adult and Higher Education Administration from Montana State University.

Prior to joining Southwestern, he spent 25 years in higher education, primarily as Career Services Director at Montana State University.  Ralph has served as president of the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) and is a certified Life Coach.

What kinds of opportunities do you recruit on-campus to fill?

We recruit for participants in our Summer Sales and Leadership Internship Program.

Southwestern interns get the chance to run their own business during the summer, selling educational books, CDs, software and other resources to families in their target communities

After an intensive week-long sales training and leadership development program at the Southwestern Sales School in Nashville, Southwestern interns head to their target communities, secure housing with a host family (we help with housing, by the way), and “start their businesses” selling Southwestern Advantage educational resources.

Our interns pay their own travel expenses, traveling to Nashville for training and to their target communities (most car-pool).  Once they reach their target communities, their expenses are minimal.  The host families charge nominal rent.  Of course, interns have to pay for their own food and local transportation.

Students come to the Southwestern Intern Program from over 340 colleges and universities and nearly 30 countries.  Each summer, approximately 2,500 students take on the challenge to become independent contractors and learn all aspects of running a business.

What about the Southwestern Advantage Internship Program appeals most to students?

Probably, the most important thing to most of our participants is the opportunity for personal growth, as well as to make a positive difference to families and their children. A summer running one’s own business, out of their normal “comfort zone”  causes a person to grow in confidence, flexibility and adaptability, resourcefulness, cultural awareness, and communication skills with all types of people.

The chance to sit down with families and their children and diagnose what some of their educational needs are, then suggest solutions for them, is a powerful and personal interaction with other people. Many students tell us that returning at the end of the summer to deliver their products, and show the children how to best use them, is one of the greatest experiences of their lives.

Another major appeal for many students is the entrepreneurial nature of the work and the opportunity to make a good deal of money.  The potential income the Southwestern Advantage Summer Internship Program offers is very appealing, but the money doesn’t come easy; and we are very upfront and honest about that!

The most successful Southwestern Advantage student dealers choose to work long hours, six days a week. Running your own business can be challenging, but very rewarding. The amount of money you save throughout the summer, however, depends directly on the individual intern. The average gross profit last summer by a Southwestern Advantage intern in their first year was about $8,000. Some first-year interns made over $20,000, while some did not make any money, usually because they discontinued their work long before the summer was over. There is a definite learning curve in this activity, as in most others.

How much you make and save over the summer is directly proportional to your work habits and how you apply the training you receive in the Southwestern Advantage Sales School. Just like any other entrepreneurial endeavor, if you are not working, you are not making any money.

If you need a guaranteed salary or a set amount of income, our internship program may not be right for you. But if you think you are inspired by the challenge and believe you prosper in an environment where there is no ceiling on potential, it may be right up your alley!

Some students are attracted by the opportunity to travel.  The Southwestern Advantage Summer Internship Program gives students the opportunity to see another part of the country, or in the case of participants in our International Program, a whole other part of the world. Our interns gain independence and maturity by relocating to another community. They become part of the community and get to know many fascinating families.

Many students are looking for sales experience. Let’s be honest here: Most students do not go to college to major in “Sales,” and most college curricula don’t focus on sales, but most of us end up in careers that involve selling. Whether it is ideas, information, products or services, we are all selling something.

Our internship program gives students something they aren’t getting in the classroom – sales experience! There are lots of summer jobs for college students that simply offer a paycheck. However, that’s precisely what they are – jobs; not career training. Our summer internship program is not a job, it’s career training, valuable for just about everyone, regardless of major.

Some students are inspired by the challenge.  Life is full of challenges, and our summer internship program is challenging. For some students, our program offers the kind of challenge they seek; to be out of their element, in a new place, getting to know new people, creating their own opportunities.

No one ever said life would be easy – and this program is not for those looking for an easy way to spend a summer. The students best suited to succeed in our program are those who have an inner desire to study hard and work hard, and those who are coachable. Prior sales experience is not necessary, but the willingness and desire to grow, learn and take on new challenges is.

How important is a student’s specific college major for these opportunities?

We recruit all majors, and our program is valuable to students in all majors.  Often, people think that our program is only for Business students, but we have very successful students from Engineering, Nursing, Agriculture, Psychology, Communication, Education, the Liberal Arts, and the Natural Sciences disciplines.

Academic major is less important than program fit.

How do students interested in working in other areas of your company apply/express their interest?

The Southwestern Advantage Summer Internship Program is THE pathway to other opportunities with the company.  Some graduates who have worked with Southwestern Advantage during the summers while in college, come to work for one of our “sister” companies after they graduate.  They love to hire graduates who’ve had several summers with Southwestern Advantage.  Our sister companies offer sales-related opportunities in fundraising, executive search, consulting, training, Insurance and Investment services.

What do you look for in candidates?

Candidates must have the ability and willingness to travel to a different part of the country for the summer.  In addition, we want students who are entrepreneurial-minded and want to develop that aspect of their personality and skills.  We want students who study hard and work hard. They need to be both coachable and persistent and have a competitive spirit

We look for students who want to grow outside their comfort zone, have a track record of trying different things and having success.

Lastly, I look for a firm handshake; that almost always makes a positive first impression.

In addition to their coursework, what do you recommend students do while they are in college to prepare to work for your company?

GET INVOLVED on campus.  Don’t just join a group, though; just “belonging” means nothing.  When I look at a resume and see that a student is involved in a student organization, I want to know how and how much.  The first thing I ask about is their involvement.  How did they make a difference?  Find a way to make a difference; to get some sort of leadership or project management role.  We want interns that get involved and make a difference.

I also think it is beneficial to volunteer your time in service to others. Volunteering builds character, and we want interns of impeccable character.

In general, do whatever you can to develop yourself, your understanding of your career options and your goals.  Find out what motivates you and do that!

If you are motivated to work hard and work for yourself, we’re interested in getting to know you better.

In addition to their coursework, what do you recommend students do while they are in college to prepare to enter the workforce?

Learn how to work with people that are not like you.  There are a lot more people in the world unlike you than there are people just like you.  It is important that you can work and play well with people from different backgrounds than your own.

Take advantage of the career services at your university as much as possible.  And, get to know your professors.  The best thing a couple of our recruiters said they did in college was to form personal relationships with their professors.

Sit in the front row, answer questions in class, and take advantage of office hours.

Do at least one internship; do more than one if you can!

Look for opportunities to step out of your comfort zone.

What are some of the classic mistakes you have seen students make when interviewing with you?

Believe it or not, I have seen students bring food, take calls, and respond to texts during interviews! That is just disrespectful.

Showing up late, not paying attention, not taking notes, not asking any questions; these things show me you’re really not interested in what we offer.

What are some of the most impressive things you have seen students do when interviewing with you?

I love it when candidates show up early, have their resumes ready, and are attentive and “present”  and engaged during the interview.

Candidates who learn my name and use it, that dress respectfully and are clean shaven or not overly accessorized.

First impressions are really important.

SalesCalls6_27_08321-300x199If you knew then what you know now: What advice do you have for college students as they plan for life after college and getting that first job?

Do a Southwestern internship for at least two summers while you are in school!  Learn to run a business, and learn to lead others as they run theirs!

Don’t just take classes! Take advantage of the services, programs and opportunities offered on campus, and get to know your professors, advisors and classmates.

Spend time actually planning how to succeed during your university years and spend time actually planning how to succeed during your career after graduation

What jobs can I get with a Psychology degree and Spanish/Business minors?

Oh-the-places-you-can-goKayla at the University of Wisconsin – La Crosse asked:

I’m pursuing a degree in Psychology with minors in Spanish and International Business.  What kind of careers can I find that utilize these skills?

Hi Kayla –

To paraphrase the immortal words of Dr. Seuss – “Oh the places you can go!”

The good news is that you have a lot of options!  Your degree is not preparing you to do one specific thing in the same way an engineering degree prepares you to be an engineer, an architecture degree prepares you to be an architect or a social work degree prepares you for a career in social work.

The bad news is that you have a lot of options!  That is, there is no clear linear career path that all Psychology majors follow, nor are  there specific paths for those who study Spanish or International Business.

So – what’s a girl to do?  Explore – Be Curious – Ask Questions – Test Drive Careers – Connect the Dots!


Use your entire educational experience and all of the resources at your disposal to explore your options.

The staff at your University’s Career Center will be able to help you with your exploration.  They even have an online resources called “What Can I Do With This Major?” which includes specific information on careers for Psychology majors.

Use LinkedIn to keyword search for UW-LaCrosse alumni who majored in Psychology.  You will find a wide variety of people in a broad spectrum of career areas at various stages in their careers; each offering a different career path with different stops along the way.

Use your coursework to explore careers.  In your Psychology, Spanish, Business and general education  courses, you will be required to do research projects.  How can you complete these assignments and learn something about potential career areas? When ever you have a choice about the research you will do, choose in a way that will allow you to complete the assignment and explore your career options.

Be Curious

Exploration requires some degree of curiosity.  Anytime you see someone who really enjoys their job, try to find out and understand why.  Anytime you see a job and think “that might be fun” or “I’d love to do that,” try to figure out why you think it would be fun and what about it is so appealing to you.  Recognizing that a career path might interest you is great!  If you take the time to find out why, you will start unlocking a world of possibilities

Ask Questions

133143076_mr-ed-24x36-bw-poster-printWhen you find careers you would like to consider, get some first hand advice!  Ask people doing the jobs that interest you about their experiences.  Ask them what they like and don’t like about their jobs. Ask for their advice on your career.  Do as many informational interviews as you can. Want to know what a job is really like? Go straight to the horse’s mouth!

Test Drive Careers

Do internships – as many as you can! Learn from each one and use what you learn to decide what internship to do next.  build upon your experience.

Volunteer.  Many volunteer opportunities also the chance to explore careers, get experience and develop skills.

Get a part-time job. The more workplace experience you have, the more valuable you will be to future employers.

Connect the Dots

Process every experience, every bit of advice and information, and every contact you make to see what they tell you about yourself and your options.

What does all of this information tell you about your likes and dislikes; skills, gifts and talents; industry preferences; work style and workplace preferences?

Connect the dots between what you are doing in the classroom and what you are doing outside the classroom and you will begin to reveal of picture of what you might do when you graduate.

As you do all of this, take full advantage of the career services, on-campus interviewing opportunities, job and internship databases, career fairs and other events and resources provided by your university.  The career services team is there to help you.  They won’t tell you what you should do, but they will help you identify what you can do and take steps toward getting there.

Oh, the places you can go!  Just remember, the journey to where you might go begins with a first step.  So, take that step and  . . .

Explore – Be Curious – Ask Questions – Test Drive Careers- Connect the Dots – and discover what you might do next.

Good luck,


PS – You might also want to read a couple of my earlier posts.  You may find them helpful:

What can I do with a degree in University Studies?

What can I do with a degree in Liberal Studies?

Are you really overqualified for that job?

Humor_OverqualifiedWhat does it mean to be overqualified for a job?

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?)

How can I get paid experience when no one will give me an opportunity?

experienceTeresa from California State University Bakersfield asked:

I am majoring in the Child, Adolescent and Family Studies, I have applied to several jobs and keep getting the same response: “We would love to hire you,  but you have no paid experience.” I have volunteered at an after school program for over a year now and told have been told that it does not count.  So my question is this: How can I get paid experience if no one will give me an opportunity? 

Hi Teresa

This is a tough challenge that can seem impossible to address:  You need experience to get a job, but the only way to get experience is to get a job, which you can’t get because you don’t have the experience.

In these situations, I usually find the issue is not that you don’t have the experience they are seeking, rather it’s that they don’t understand the experience you have, and it is easier to just say no.  Most job seekers don’t do a good job of clearly articulating what  they want and what they offer in terms clear and relevant to employers. You may be having a similar experience.

I have some advice and suggestions below.  If these don’t help, please let me know.

Not all experience is created equal

When it comes to experience, it is important to be sure that you and potential employers are on the same page with regard to how you each are defining experience.  That is, when an employer requires that candidates have experience, precisely what does that employer mean?  And, when you say you have experience, precisely what do you mean?

Look at the answers to both of those questions and see if they are the same.  Sometimes the experience you have is in line with the type of experience they are seeking; sometimes it is not.  When, in your opinion, they are in line, it is your job to make that fact clear to the employer.  Remember, employers don’t just inherently understand you , what you offer or what you want.

You have to help employers understand you.

Not all job opportunities are created equal

Take a look at the kinds of jobs for which you are applying.  Are they entry-level jobs or are they jobs that truly do require some kind of post-degree experience?  From your question, it sounds like you are a current undergraduate student.  Perhaps you should be looking for an internship rather than a job?  Perhaps the jobs you are targeting are a step or two beyond your current reach?  I don’t know  the answers to these questions because I don’t know you.  I strongly advise you meet with the career advisers at your university to get their suggestions and advice.  They can help you make sure you are focusing on the right jobs for you, your skills and experience, and your objectives. Also, they can tell you when your objectives are (or are not) compatible with your qualifications.

Employers will not usually tell you why you weren’t hired

As long as they are following fair, open and ethical hiring practices, they really have no obligation to justify their hiring decisions to people they did not hire beyond sharing that they hired someone who was a better match.  When pressed for more information, employers often give very nice and polite, but extremely generic, responses like “we hired someone with more experience” or “we needed someone with more paid experience.”  Sound familiar?  Thought it might?

So how do you get the real story?

Go to the source! Get advice from people doing the jobs you want

Have you ever heard of informational interviews? They are great ways to get first hand information on jobs and careers from professionals already working in the fields you wish to enter.  For detailed information, download my Informational Interviewing handout.  Informational interviews are not job interviews but they can lead to job interviews.  They are the best way to get first hand information directly from the source.

Teresa, my guess is that you and the employers you are targeting are just not the same page.  I’ll bet that if you get some advice from your college career adviser and couple that advice with the information you can gather through informational interviews, you will have a better idea of how your combination of education, experience and skills match best with entry-level job opportunities in in your field.

Good luck!


Can I get a job with a 2.2 GPA?

Matt from Seton Hall University asked: 

I’m a senior and I have a 2.2 GPA. I want to know is there any way I can still get a job in the communications field or do I have no chance of getting a good job?

Hi Matt –

Thanks for this question.  I am sure you are not the only one asking it these days.  The economy is not the greatest right now, and there are a lot of anxious college seniors wondering what’s next.  There are a lot of ways to respond to your question, so I will do my best to give you a variety of answers.

Will  my low GPA get in the way of me finding a job?

Having a low GPA will take you out of the running for some – but not all – jobs, so you can’t use that as a reason not to look!

I can guarantee you one thing: If you don’t actively seek employment, you will not find employment.  You have to look for jobs, because they will not come looking for you.

For jobs that draw large volumes of candidates, some employers do use GPA as one of their screening criteria; frankly, it’s the only way to sift through the volume of applications they get in the amount of time they have to review candidates.

In some fields, particularly technical fields, GPA is a clear indicator of subject mastery, so a high GPA is really important.  Think about it – do you want to go to a doctor that graduated with 2.2 GPA?  How confident will you be in that doctor’s ability? When skills are easily quantified and measured, GPA is generally a good indicator of potential performance.

Can I still get a job in the communications field?

Yes, but you are going to have to be very focused in your efforts.  For example, what do you mean by the communications field?

As a specific field – like accounting, petroleum engineering, architecture – the “communications field” doesn’t exist.  Okay, it exists – it just isn’t easily defined or understood.  If you say you are going into law, sales or social work, everyone understands what you plan to do – you and your career objective are easily definable.  But if you say you are going into a communications field, no one really knows what you mean until you make it understandable for them – and that includes employers!

A couple of weeks ago I responded to the question “What is the best way for a first-timer to look for a job?” I think the advice I shared in that post applies equally well in here.  When you are looking for a job, an employer will consider you if and when you give them good reasons to do so.  Those reasons can include attitude, motivation, intellect, passion, academic performance, prior experience, specific training, specific interests, etc. . . . the list can go on and on, but if you are not able to tell an employer why they should consider you for a job, how can you expect them to figure it out?  Be prepared to market yourself to prospective employers.  Give them reasons to hire you.

Regardless of the jobs you pursue, you had better be ready to answer the following question:

Is your GPA reflective of your ability to perform in the workplace?

It’s going to come up.  You cannot avoid it altogether, so you better be prepared to have the conversation.  If your GPA is a reflection of your work ethic and your abilities, you may have a challenging time answering this question.  However, if your GPA is a result of a variety of very plausible factors (a bad freshman year, the need to work full-time and go to school full-time, documented test anxiety) and is not indicative of your work ethic or your abilities, you have a very good story to tell prospective employers of how you overcame adversity.

So, are you “lazy and not too bright” or have you “overcome some kind of adversity to earn your college degree”?  The story behind the GPA is what matters.

By the way, employers can generally tell when you are not being truthful with them, so don’t try to spin up a story that isn’t true to explain away your GPA.  Employers can also tell when you are being truthful and authentic (and they really appreciate it!).

Finally, here are three nuggets of wisdom I have shared in the past.  Keep them in mind as you prepare for the post-graduation job search . . . .

All college degrees are not created equal

So, you cannot compare them directly.  While accounting majors, engineering majors and architecture majors are all pursuing degrees that prepare them to enter very specific and clearly defined fields, in most cases, psychology majors, communication majors and university studies majors are not.  While it is easy for accounting majors to identify target employers, and it is easy for employers needing entry-level accountants to identify and evaluate potential candidates, the same cannot be said for students in majors that do not track linearly into specific professions or for employers who have job opportunities that require a diverse set of skills, education and experience.  Not all job searches are clear cut.  There are huge gray areas that you (the job seeker) need to clarify for prospective employers.

Why is that . . .

Employers don’t inherently “get” you, what you want, or what you offer

You have to make you understandable and valuable to employers.  Employer expect you to be able to tell them why you want the job they have to offer, why you believe you are a qualified candidate for that job, why you want to work for their organization and why you want to work in their industry.  As a job seeker, you have to prove to employers why you want and are qualified for the job they have.  And their expectations are not unrealistic. They don’t expect entry-level candidates to be able to respond to those questions in the same way an experienced candidate would respond, but they do expect you to have done your homework.  Needing a job is not a qualification for seeking a job.  You have to be very proactive and focused in your search, which leads me to my third point:

In order to find a job you want – one that fits you, your needs and your priorities –  you must first define yourself, your wants, your needs and your priorities

And, you must use that information to guide your search for employment.  Finding a job after graduation is a process.  It requires time, attention and focus.  It is not a simple transaction.  Too many people, I think, treat the job search like a transaction and then wonder why it is so hard to find a job.  Make sure you are investing your time and energy in the process.

Okay, that’s probably a lot more advice than you wanted, but it’s all important.

Need a little inspiration?  Consider the following:

Good luck with your job search,

How do I pursue a career in sales when my degree is in political science?

Jake at Texas Tech University asked:

I recently graduated with a Political Science degree with a minor in English. My original intention was to go to law school, but I no longer want to do that. I have gotten some experience in sales and  have decided to pursue a career in sales. Unfortunately, I’m finding it difficult getting my foot in the door. I believe I am a leader, I am personable, and I am an extremely hard worker.  I believe I have great salesmanship qualities. Despite all of this, I think companies are taking a look at my resume and moving to the next one because of my limited experience and my degree. My question is: How do I sell my qualities beyond an application and resume? How do I pursue a career in sales and management with a degree these types of companies are not interested in?

Hi Jake –

Before I start, I want to call your attention to three related questions that have come in (along with my responses to them):

How do I improve the appearance of my resume?

How do I write a resume when my skill set is diverse?

Should my resume have an objective statement?

Now, let’s get to your specific question.

You want to work in sales.  Great – your sales job starts now. You have to sell yourself to employers. You have to convince employers that you are worth their investment.  You have prospect the clients, market your services, communicate your value proposition, and close the sale.

The parallels between selling a product or service and looking for a job are many.

In both instances, you need to know your product, you know your target market, and you must position your product in ways that are meaningful to your prospective buyer.

In your question to me, you stated that you are a leader, you are personable, you work hard, and you have great salesmanship skills.  These are all things recruiters want in candidates for sales positions.  To be honest, unless a specific technical expertise is required, most recruiters for sales opportunities don’t care what your major was; they care whether or you can and want to do the job.

Here is my question to you:  To what extent does your resume current illustrate your sales skills, qualities and characteristics to prospective employers?

If your resume simply presents you as a recent political sciences grad with limited experience, you are missing a great opportunity.  Your not giving them any reasons to be interested in you.

You see, employers will not know what you offer unless you make it very clear to them, and they won’t find it relevant or interesting unless it sound like it will meet their needs.

If you present yourself as a recent political sciences grad with limited experience; employers will believe you and move on to the next candidate.

You are in sales right now!  Show you are a good sales person by effectively marketing yourself as a job candidate to prospective employers.

My resume handout provides a lot of good advice, and our resume gallery has a lot of good examples.  I encourage you to check them out.

Also, seek out the advice and assistance of your campus career services offices.  They are good people and they want to help!

Good luck!