In my Spring 2018 column, I summarized key findings from Job Outlook 2018 (NACE, 2018). They included the hiring plans of 13 industries, academic majors and degrees that are currently in demand, skills employers seek, the eight essential career readiness competences, and ways that psychology majors can use that information. For this issue, I e-mailed three colleagues, each highly experienced and successful in their respective field, for their responses to questions posed by the editors of Eye on Psi Chi that related to the job search process. Many additional questions could have been asked but I wanted to respect their very hectic schedules.
Camille Helkowski earned a BA in interdisciplinary social science, an MEd in counseling, NCC and LCPC certifications, and has over 30 years of experience as a university counselor, clinical supervisor, writer, and presenter. She maintains a private practice in counseling for individuals and couples around a broad spectrum of issues.
John Jameson achieved a BA and MA in I/0 psychology, has worked as a recruiter in corporate and academic settings for 15 years, and is senior associate in private equity practice and manager of global internship programs for DHR International, an executive search organization.
Jon Keil earned a BA in interdisciplinary psychology, business, and management with an emphasis on human resources. He is the director of corporate operations and compliance with 21 years of experience for The Salem Group, a privately owned, multidivisional, strategic staffing and workforce management company.
What information should you learn about a company/employer before you submit a resumé? Or before a job interview?
Cam H.: All organizations have information available on their websites. Whether it’s a mission-driven organization or a for-profit company, it’s important to incorporate the spirit of the organization’s mission, and why you are drawn to it, into a cover letter. It’s also critical to know as much as possible about the job to which you’re applying so that you can connect the dots for the employer. A well-written cover letter demonstrates how your previous experience and current skillset fits the demands of the position to which you’re applying. Candidates who stand out in the interview process have taken the time to learn as much as possible about an organization before their phone or in-person interview. You can ask for the names of the people who will be interviewing you and look them up in LinkedIn or on the organization’s website. You can thoroughly review the organization’s accomplishments and goals. If there have been public issues, it’s important to know what they are and if/how they have been resolved.
John J.: For the resumé, identify the critical skills listed in the position description and ensure they are highlighted. Regarding the interview, companies don’t hire people, people hire people. Therefore, interviewees should spend ample time reviewing online profiles of interviewers. Recent press, leadership changes, and organization mission are also important to understand.
Jon K.: First, you should always know exactly what a company does and what they look for in candidates. This will not only help you find a company that you feel comfortable working at if you are a match, but also it prepares you for potential interview questions. During your research, look for aspects of its corporate culture so you can determine what the company values in its employees. Look at the “About us” pages of company websites; try to identify the managers and executives, and what they say online or on social media. If it is company-specific, determine if their comments align with your own interests and beliefs. Look for blogs, social media sites, Glassdoor, Yelp, etc., and see what employees are saying about the company. Turn to company websites to determine what the company does and who are their target markets and clients. This will help clarify what your work may entail and, again, help you prepare for the interview. Also, see if you can identify who would interview you and then research them on LinkedIn. Educate yourself on their position and experience and look for common interests to help you connect during the interview. Overall, be sure you understand the company, what it does, what they value, and if it can offer you the opportunity to learn, grow, and advance. You will spend a great amount of time representing the organization you work for, so you want to be sure there is common ground to be proud of and nothing to cause personal conflict.
How can an individual personalize a resumé/application for a specific job opening?
John J.: See my comments above. Highlight transferable skills in the top one-third of a resumé by referencing the “knowledge, skills, and abilities” in the job description. The top one-third is important because many recruiters will quickly scan a resumé. If the transferable skills are not easily identified, the recruiter will move on to the next resumé. In the resumé, an overview or skills section would be the best place to include this information.
Jon K.: It is a good rule of thumb to customize your resumé to the job you are applying for. To start, make sure you have a well-written summary of your experiences at the top of the resumé. Here, you can add key words, if they apply to you, pulled from the job responsibilities that show your applicable experiences to the job. You are selling yourself to the recruiter or potential employer on why you should be given a chance to interview. From there, make sure your resumé reads well to the specific job. When needed, expand on areas of your experience and education that align well to the job duties or requirements. You often have as little as 20 seconds in front of a screener, so this is where you want to sell yourself and subsequently get called to speak with someone.
Cam H.: I recommend that individuals keep a master resumé containing every work, interest-related, and skill-related experience they’ve ever had. When applying for a position, review your master and BE SELECTIVE. A potential employer does not need to know everything you did in a job—just those experiences that are relevant to the position for which you’re applying.
How can a person make their research or academic experiences applicable during interviews for “nonacademic” positions?
Jon K.: Prepare, prepare, prepare. Most students will have experienced projects, internships, case studies, and even teaching styles that will help prepare them for their careers, even outside of academia. The key is to identify those experiences and then relate them to the real world—relate them to the job if possible. If you completed an internship, address how certain experiences helped you focus on group dynamics, marketing, human behavior, and so forth. Professors help to prepare us by teaching critical thinking skills. Address how one’s critical thinking skills have been sharpened through class discussions, projects, and cases studies where professors challenged your thinking and problem solving abilities through various complex assignments. Be prepared to apply your research and academic experiences to the real world. How would what you have learned so far help you excel at any of the required requirements for the job? Potential employers will appreciate your ability to connect those experiences to real-world applications. As you can imagine, to really prepare for this you will have to do your research on the company and job.
Cam H.: Focus on transferrable skills! For instance, did you work with a research team? The ability to be an effective team member is considered a critical skill. That said, you need to provide a BRIEF example of a time when you demonstrated that skill. Look at the skills the job requires and help the interviewers understand that you developed many of those same skills during your academic experiences.
John J.: Identify transferable skills that were developed during academic and research experiences. For example, skills developed conducting research may include critical thinking, problem solving, and orientation to detail. Indicate how these skills are relevant to the job or opportunity of interest. Students can prepare answers to behavioral interview and open-ended questions for each skill.
What elements or topics should be in a thank you letter/note after a job interview?
Cam H.: Thank you notes should be brief and immediate. They can highlight something you learned and/or are excited about because of the interview. They also need to clearly state your interest in the position.
John J.: Less is more on the thank you note. Thank them for their time, reaffirm your interest in the opportunity, and reference a high point in the interview. Proofread, then proofread again.
Jon K.: I highly recommend thank you letters because they are often overlooked today. The thank you letter should be short and concise. However, write a few lines to clarify any points needed from the interview. For example, maybe the HR director shared their initiatives for employee engagement; thank the director for sharing that information, or you could add a few points not discussed that demonstrate your ideal candidacy for the positions. Always thank the interviewers for their time and reiterate your interest in the opportunity. To reinforce your interest, let them know you look forward to the next meeting with them.
How should a person negotiate a job offer with a potential employer?
John J.: The person must need at least a good reason to ask for more money, usually to support one’s self financially. Many people want to negotiate for the sake of doing it, but this is a mistake. You should thoroughly research salary data online for comparable jobs. If a job offer is lower than average, that information can be used to negotiate for higher pay. PTO (Paid Time Off) and other benefits can also be negotiated.
Jon K.: Conduct research on what positions in that category pay. Salary.com, Careerbuilder, and the U.S. Government all have salary data readily available. Next, identify what your worth is, that is, what is it you need for that job. Make sure you identify what skills you bring to the potential job that deserves higher pay. Do you have the specialized skills needed? If so, address them. If you have a clear idea of what you should be paid and learn that it is not what is being offered, request a meeting or phone call. Be direct and confident, and thank them for the offer. Indicate that it may very well be an excellent offer, but you believe you should receive X-amount for reasons being A, B, and C. The key is being confident but realistic, and remember that you are guaranteed to not get what you want 100% of the time if you do not ask!
Cam H.: Again, research is one of the keys to negotiation. Find out what the market rate is for the types of jobs you’re considering. Professional associations as well as websites that offer salary information are all very useful in this process. The other key is knowing what you’re worth. Get feedback from industry professionals. Ask them to evaluate your resumé and honestly assess your marketability. They can give you pointers as to what you should focus on when looking to negotiate.
What are mistakes that people make during the job search?
Jon K.: This could fill a book, and some mistakes may just be subjective. Some of the most important mistakes I have seen are:
- Not giving the search enough time. Job searches are a full-time job when you are seriously looking. Be sure to set aside the right amount of time to really do your research and follow-up.
- Not matching personal abilities, beliefs, and experiences to the job and, more so, the company. When managing internships for a global pharma company, I recall one individual who did not think they would have problems working for a company that performed animal testing. It was communicated upfront, but they really could not adjust to seeing the labs and cages. This is an extreme situation, but company activities could conflict with personal beliefs.
Cam H.: Mistakes can include waiting too long to apply, sending a canned cover letter or a template resumé, lack of preparedness for the interview, forgetting the thank you note, and deciding not to negotiate. It’s important to remember that you can do everything right and still not get the job offer. You can also do some things imperfectly and be offered the position. Beyond LinkedIn, your career center and/or alumni association is likely to have valuable information as well as professionals to help you structure your search and offer guidance as you proceed on the path to a job.
John J.: The top mistakes include a lack of a job search plan and relying on online job boards versus utilizing relationships to identify opportunities, that is, networking (Jameson & Hettich, 2016). For the few individuals who network, many only focus on what they can get out of it, versus finding ways to help make others successful. Finally, many people don’t commit to the job search process and don’t put forth sufficient effort to identify and secure the right opportunity.
On what job search elements do our experts differ? On what topics do they agree? Their consensus on several points should clue you to the importance of these issues. For example, their emphasis on conducting online research about the job, the organization, and key personnel demonstrates the necessity for developing online research skills. In addition, note how often the terms skills and transferable skills were used. Unless the job you are researching calls for specific psychology-based knowledge and skills, most interviewers will be less interested in the content of your coursework and more focused the skills you attained and your evidence for claiming those skills. It is your responsibility to identify and be able to articulate the specific transferable skills you acquire in college and in your major because most teachers will assume that you can identify them.
To learn which career readiness skills employers deem essential (and the competences that graduates lack), read “What’s YOUR Job Outlook.” (Hettich, 2018). For information about networking, consult Jameson and Hettich (2016). Eye on Psi Chi has published numerous articles about job search and other career-related issues. The best way to locate these articles is to go to the Publication Search page and select Career Preparation from the dropdown menu (currently showing –Select one): https://www.psichi.org/?Publications_Search. In closing, remember that the process of searching for a job is a job. To become proficient in that job, perhaps the most important foundation skills you will need are planning, patience, practice, and persistence.
Hettich, P. (2018, Spring). What’s YOUR job outlook? Eye on Psi Chi, 22(3), 12–13. https://doi.org/10.24839/2164-9812.Eye22.3.12
Jameson, J., & Hettich. (2016, Spring). Career engagement through networking. Eye on Psi Chi, 20(3), 4–5. Retrieved from https://www.psichi.org/page/203EyeSpr16eJameson
National Association of Colleges and Employers. (2017). Job Outlook 2018. Bethlehem, PA: NACE.
Note: I am very grateful to Camille Helkowski, John Jameson, and Jon Keil for communicating their extensive knowledge, experiences, and wisdom. Through the years, each has willingly shared their insights in service of advocating for the workplace-bound psychology major.