The Career Doctor: Career Advice for All
A Career College and Job-Search Advice Column
Readers: Dr. Randall Hansen a nationally recognized career expert is the Career Doctor. Discover more about Dr. Hansen read about the purpose of this column and find previous issues of this column at the home of The Career Doctor.
Dr. Hansen writes this column on a biweekly basis. If you have any college career or job-related questions or comments that Dr. Hansen could provide valuable assistance with please feel free to email him at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Note: Readers can find other columns from this year in Current Year Archives of The Career Doctor Q&A.
In This Issue (6/02/06):
- Dealing with pressure to choose a major and a career
- Wanting tips for finding and obtaining fist-ever summer job
- Requesting former and current supervisor to be a reference
- Dealing with aggressive employers seeking past salary information
|Q:||Alex writes: I am a student in college. I recently have been getting pressure from my family to pick a major and a career but I’m still taking classes and learning about new subjects and while I realize the importance of choosing these things I really have no clue what I want to do. I mean isn’t this what college is supposed to be about? Why can’t I just enjoy the learning and not worry so much about the major and the career?|
|A:|| The Career Doctor responds: One of the raging debates in academic circles is how early students should be locking into career choices and whether college (and even some high schools these days) should be so vocational or focused more on the appreciation of learning and acquisition of knowledge.
That said you also do not want to be like that thirty-something college student — I believe in Minnesota — that still has not graduated and now plans a study-abroad term to extend his graduation even further.
I think college is the perfect time in life to begin the first phase of focusing on self-assessment. I say the first phase because you will most likely change careers several times over the course of your adult life.
The most important thing you can do for yourself (and perhaps for your family too) is to find time over the summer to do some self-assessment and career exploration. There are all sorts of ways to do the assessment but I suggest a combination of tests and self-reflection. You can find online assessment tests (both no-cost and fee-based) as well as at your college’s career office; that’s the easy part. The harder part is the self-reflection where you should examine your likes and dislikes your strengths and weaknesses and the activities and classes you enjoy the most.
The goal from all these exercises is to learn more about yourself and your interests. Once you have discovered these things about yourself the next step is exploring careers that fit you. There are lots of books and Websites that give information about careers though one of the best sources is the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Outlook Handbook. I would suggest also talking with people in your network (including your professors) about careers — and perhaps even conducting some informational interviews once you have narrowed your prospective career paths.
|Q:||David writes: I’m trying to get a job for the summer but I don’t know where to look at how to fill out an application for a job. I’m not dumb or anything like that but its my first summer looking for a job. Could you please help me out without giving me a full essay on how to get a job.|
|A:|| The Career Doctor responds: I am a big believer in teens getting summer jobs so I am more than happy to give you some short but practical advice on summer job-hunting and job applications. Summer jobs are a great way for teens to get a taste of the work world gain some valuable experience and earn a decent amount of money.
The keys to obtaining a summer job are these: preparing a resume (and learning how to complete a job application) developing an action plan on where you plan to apply for jobs learning how to dress properly for interviews and practicing for typical job interview questions.
Teens do not really need a resume to apply for a summer job but by creating one you will stand out from other teens without resumes. The key to job applications is having all the information you need to complete them and I would recommend getting a sample of one before you actually complete one for real. Remember to read and follow the instructions carefully and if you are completing it by hand do it as neatly as possible. Answer everything as honestly as possible but never provide negative information.
There are LOTS of places to look for summer jobs including local retailers (downtown and at the mall) seasonal employers (like camps tourist attractions) local government and even local businesses. You’ll need to pound the pavement applying at as many places as possible while also using your family and family friends to keep an eye out for job openings for you.
What do employers want from teens? Employers want motivated teens who are going to arrive to work on time have a positive attitude work hard work well with others show leadership qualities work their full shift and do the best job they can.
For more detailed advice please read these two articles published on Quintessential Careers: A Guide for Teens: How to Find a Summer or Part-Time Job and A Job-Seeker’s Guide to Successfully Completing Job Applications.
|Q:|| Sabrina writes: Recently I have reviewed one of your articles online and would like to request time permitting of course that you may send me a sample letter of how to request/obtain a reference from a past and current supervisor.
Thank you kindly for your time and consideration in this matter.
|A:|| The Career Doctor responds: Thanks for being a reader! My goal with all my work is to empower folks like yourself to succeed in your job-search.
Let’s first talk about reference strategies and then get to your question.
As more and more employers conduct background checks references have increased in their importance in helping you obtain that job offer. Given their importance job-seekers should invest a little time in selecting the best references. And remember that you should always ask someone if s/he is willing to be reference for you.
A reference can be anyone who has knowledge of your work skills abilities and accomplishments. Typically at least one of your references is a former direct supervisor but you can also use co-workers associates and supervisors in other departments who know your work. You may also choose to list an educational (mentor) or personal (character) reference.
College students and recent grads have a little more flexibility but ideally you should have several references from internships or volunteer work in addition to professors and personal references. Avoid listing family members; clergy or friends are okay for personal references. Former coaches vendors customers and business acquaintances are also acceptable. Again the key is choosing people who know your strengths and abilities — and who will say positive things about you.
The key to securing a reference is having a good relationship with the person yet another reason why it is important to stay in touch with folks in your network. With your former supervisor simply write a short email updating them on your career path and new job-search and ask if s/he would be willing to be a reference for you. Include a current resume and highlight some recent accomplishments. For the current supervisor I would ask only if I had a great rapport with him or her — and s/he knew I was leaving the company.
For more advice read this article published on Quintessential Careers: References: The Keys to Choosing and Using the Best Job References in Your Job Search.
|Q:|| Angela writes: I recently went on a job interview where the person conducting the interview asked me how much I made in both my current and previous job. I told them and then they called my past employer and asked him how much I made as well. I was appalled that they did this and don’t really even think it’s legal.
Is it okay for a company I am applying with to contact my past employer and ask him or her how much I was making while employed there? This past employer was not a reference of mine and in my opinion should not have been contacted and asked how much did so and so make when they worked for you.
|A:|| The Career Doctor responds: You have to remember that in job-hunting knowledge is power. That’s why early in the process it is critical for job-seekers to research prospective employers. But employers always want the upper hand and in salary negotiation having your previous salary information means the employer can possibly offer you a lower salary.
I have had job-seekers tell me that some prospective employers demand to see paystubs as proof of compensation. Never offer salary information until requested to do so.
I understand the value of information but I detest the idea that a job-seeker’s worth is dependent on the amount of money s/he is currently earning. I believe employers should pay not only what the job is worth but what the job-seeker’s potential is worth.
So the lesson here is not to lie or inflate your former compensation just to try and obtain a higher salary. Instead be aware of your strengths and achievements — and demonstrate the value you’ll bring to the employer.
Employers typically do not divulge much information for fear of lawsuits but they do provide starting and ending dates and some will verify salary information as well as the circumstances under which you left.
Find lots of good information resources and tools in the Salary Negotiation and Job Offer Tools and Resources section of Quintessential Careers.
Stay up to date with the latest salary information form LiveCareer’s Salary Calculator!