Questions and Answers with Career Expert Marcia Merrill
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Marcia Merrill is career advisor at Loyola College, Maryland, Career Development and Placement Center.
|ica” color=”black” size=”+4″>Q:||Can you comment on the importance of mentors and tell readers how to find one if their organization doesn’t have a formal mentor program?|
|ica” color=”black” size=”+4″>A:|| I have coordinated the Career Development Mentor Program for nine years. The value of having an alumni/professional partnered with a student interested in his/her field is priceless. Students (mentees) get to ask their mentors questions about the “real world.” Mentors report that it’s very rewarding to help someone, remembering what it was like when they were trying to decide on a career. They invite the students to job-shadow them in the workplace to see how it really is and experience firsthand what it’s like to be an attorney, doctor, or counselor/psychologist. Our program involves these areas of law, medicine and psychology. Many more fields could be involved depending on the need.
Having a mentor can be the first step toward deciding on pursuing a given career. Many of the students began with making networking contacts and grew into working part- or full-time for their mentor or their mentor’s contacts. Internships often result as the student gains the experience needed to make a career decision. I tell all my clients about the value of networking — talking to someone in their field of interest and how beneficial having a mentor can be.
A college career center is only one way of seeing about getting a mentor. Usually colleges have an Alumni Network for this purpose. If you’re not affiliated with a college, you can find mentors by looking at the association that corresponds to your field of interest. Examples: Society of Women Engineers, Association for Sociological Research, American Management Association, American Institute of Physicists, to name a few. Every major/career field has one or more associations dedicated to that particular area of interest. Most have Web sites and outline membership benefits, usually including mentor programs.
You can also informally find someone who has skills/knowledge you’d benefit from learning. You can job-shadow or do an informational interview with that person. Think of clubs/organizations. They’re a great place to find a mentor — garden clubs, astronomy clubs, sport-walking clubs, bicycling clubs. You can also check the Encyclopedia of Associations at the library or look online and do a ‘Net search.
There are several online e-mentoring Websites, such as Mentornet.com and asktheemployer.com, to name a few. Not having a formal mentoring program within your workplace is not an excuse. You could start your own! And you’re never too old to have or be a mentor. I’ve been in the career-development field for more than 14 years, and I have a few mentors. I have one I’ve known for 10 years — wise and wonderful. I have another whose judgment and attitude I admire and want to emulate. Certain aspects make someone good mentor material. When I told her she was a role-model, a mentor to me, she felt very flattered. I have an online mentor, too. She’s an Internet consultant, author, and friend. I’m also proud to say that I count a few new professionals as folks I mentor. You gotta give back! So, what are you waiting for? Someone you admire is mentor-ready and maybe sometime, you can show a newcomer “the ropes.” Both being a mentee and a mentor can be extremely rewarding!
|ica” color=”black” size=”+4″>Q:||What do you feel is the most disturbing trend in job hunting today?|
|ica” color=”black” size=”+4″>A:|| I think the belief that all a job hunter has to do is to post his/her resume “out there” on a Web site or several Web sites and just wait for the employers to line up. Other avenues are often forgotten or overlooked. The Internet is a tool — not the only thing! Networking with alumni/ae professionals, internship employers, friends, associates, contacts from any source is one of the best ways to get a job or valuable information that can lead to a job opportunity. We know that all positions aren’t advertised; the statistic is something like 70-80 percent of positions are found through the “Hidden Job Market.” The Internet is one way of establishing that networking relationship.
I think people in general want the “quick fix” and see the Internet as THE job search solution, which NO one way is. Interviewing on campus through your career center (if you’re a student) and using the job listings available in the career library, posting your resume to employer Websites, researching companies that are in your field/geographic preference/industry, by using the Internet and resource materials, looking in the newspaper classifieds — ALL are viable methods of job searching.
|ica” color=”black” size=”+4″>Q:||What do you feel is the most exciting trend in job-hunting today?|
|ica” color=”black” size=”+4″>A:|| Same answer — the Internet, coupled with the increased use of technology! As I said, the Internet is a TOOL and it is a GREAT TOOL for researching companies/industries to help the job seeker find information that might aid him/her in deciding if there is a good “fit.” This information can help you “sell yourself” in a job interview by showing you’re obviously interested in the company; you’ve done your homework. You’ve researched the company and thought about how you’d fit in, make a contribution, be an asset to XYZ company and why they should hire you!
It’s important to remember that the Internet was first developed as an information exchange for research. This is where it is at its most powerful. Sure, there are plenty of Web sites that have employment opportunities, but reliance solely on this one method is like what doing a mass-mailing of resumes and cover letters used to be — only now, we’re electronically mass-mailing! The increased use of numerous kinds of technology is a very exciting trend!
By technology, I mean the increased use of resume databases, systems like eRecruiting, Career Connections, First Place, that manage the resume referral/job-matching and interview signups for some college career centers. Ultimately these systems make it easier to connect the job seeker with the employer. Students should definitely check out what the career office has to offer. On-campus interviews are a super way to facilitate that connection. Check out what your school’s career center has to offer. Almost all schools have Web pages with the career center linked to them. Students can access information on workshops, services, occupations/majors and more. Most career centers have links to helpful Web sites that not only list employment opportunities, but also information valuable to the job seeker.
There are sites dedicated to salary information, industry/employer profiles and even information to aid in the interview. As the one who maintains and updates my career office’s home page, I can tell you that many career-center Web pages have information on recent graduates, resources to help with graduate-school searches, as well as job-search resources.
Another example of the use of technology is DISCOVER, a multimedia career guidance system, usually housed in the career center. It has a great graduate-school database with links to the schools’ Web sites. Prospective graduate students can often take a virtual tour and get a better idea of the campus environment, which is very helpful if you can’t visit every school in person. For the job seeker, DISCOVER has an excellent section where you can look up occupations and get labor market information, salary ranges, what workers like and dislike. These can greatly aid in the decision-making process. DISCOVER also has interviews to help you practice possible answers; this interactive module allows you to choose the response and then gives you feedback on the answer. You can do a practice interview and hone your interviewing skills.
Technology is a very exciting trend for the job-seeker. It can be used in so many ways and is a constant source of innovation. It sparks my creativity!
|ica” color=”black” size=”+4″>Q:||When you give presentations on Internet job-hunting, what surprises your attendees the most about what kind of career help they can find on the Internet?|
|ica” color=”black” size=”+4″>A:|| I’ve been doing Internet Job Search presentations for about four years. The questions have moved from simply “how do you search?” to specific search engines and Websites. I think attendees are surprised at the depth of information and how it might prove useful. For example, at several employer Websites, you are shown a picture of the people in the company, which can be used to get a look into the “corporate culture.” Are women shown? What’s the typical office dress? How many minorities are pictured? Certainly, this is not the only way. Remember this Website is used for PR purposes! Going to the workplace, meeting the key players, interviewing face-to-face is the best way to form an opinion — positive or negative — of a prospective employer. But the Internet does enable the job seeker to research a prospective employer in greater depth. By researching the employer, you can often find an annual report or other document available online to help you prepare for the interview.
Many do not realize there are online assessments you can take and pay for on the Internet. There are some that are free, but I caution against relying solely on these to make a career decision, as many have no validity and are not based on sound research. I also tell my attendees about the ability to network online and join a discussion group or read a newsgroup on a topic of their choice. Looking at dejanews.com [Editor’s note: Now housed at groups.google.com] or www.liszt.com gives you a list of numerous newsgroups or discussion lists that the job seeker can join. Establishing an “Internet presence” by posting on a discussion list (after learning the rules “Netiquette” one should follow for posting a message or reply) facilitates others getting to know you and your area of interest/expertise. Often you can connect with an employer and feel that you “know” each other before having actually met; the interview might be more of a formality as you’ve exchanged ideas online before.
Now, more attendees want specific information on a certain area of interest and a Web site that has that answer. More of my teaching/workshop presentation revolves around search techniques — narrowing the search, using particular sites. For example, LatPro.com looks for professionals that speak Spanish and is more targeted than just using Monster.com’s jobs database when looking for employers that want Spanish.
Questions have become more sophisticated in my Internet Job Search presentations. I always stress that if someone had told me I’d be presenting on the Internet Job Search, I’d have thought they were nuts! Now look — see the importance of being flexible in any career.
|ica” color=”black” size=”+4″>Q:||Thinking “outside the box,” what’s the best way for job-seekers to figure out what career will give them the greatest happiness?|
|ica” color=”black” size=”+4″>A:|| I believe you have to be happy with what you’re doing. We spend more time with our “work family” than our real one — five days at work vs. two for the weekend. It’s imperative we like what we do. There is no magic formula to find this fit. There are, however, some steps you can take in this process.
First, know yourself. There are some online inventories. They’re fun, but unless you know that they’re valid and reliable, you might not be getting a true picture. I give my students the Strong Interest Inventory. It’s an inventory that looks at both your interests and people that are happy in their field and how similarly you scored to persons in this field. So if you scored similarly to a certain field, maybe you’d enjoy working in that field. It’s based on John Holland’s work, and there are codes for each area of interest and each occupation. You can also take it online and get the scores. You might want to take these to a career counselor to get a more complete interpretation. The written one they give you is rather comprehensive and could be a good place to start. If you don’t have access to a career center, taking this assessment online is a good idea as you know it’s valid and reliable.
Sometimes I also give them the MBTI — Myers-Briggs Type Indicator. It looks at personality type: How they take in information. What information do they use when making a decision — data based on impersonal information or more values-driven? Whether they prefer a spontaneous mode of living or are more planful, organized, or structured. Sometimes this assessment reveals more than just the Strong, thus, putting career ideas into a larger context of how people prefer to operate. Sometimes career passions may be buried as many well-meaning people, such as parents or friends have told them their ideas are just dreams, not practical. Having taken these inventories often takes the conversation to a new level; other ideas are revealed. Now they need to add the second step in the career decision-making process.
Second, know the world of work. You can do this by investigating possible career fields in a number of ways. Some people prefer to read about careers. In your career center’s career library, public library, or a good Barnes & Noble/Borders-type bookstore, you can find numerous resources to help you. You can use the Occupational Handbook either hard-copy or online, “Opportunities in…,” a VGM Horizons series, “Real People Working in… Law, Advertising, Education, etc…,” “Great Jobs in” series, as well as Peterson’s Guides to Computer Science or Liberal Arts or Business. [Editor’s note: You can find many of these books in our industry-s ecific caree bookstore.] Yo can o to CareerPlanit.com’s information and search by occupation or major under Resource Mining, or you can talk to people in fields you’re considering. Doing informational interviewing/networking can be very helpful as you talk to someone in the “real world” who’s doing what you might want to do!
Then you put your knowledge about yourself with your knowledge of the world of work and see what matches. The more information you have, the easier the decision. Add to that knowledge your experience, whether through a part-time/summer job or an internship. Employers want you to have that experience, and you do, too, because it’s easier to know whether you like that field/environment or not. Also, I think it’s incredibly important to know that you need to be flexible. People have more than one career in a lifetime! Stats say two to three. You may be a CPA and begin your career in a public accounting firm but work in a variety of industries, one of which is the construction field, do a trade show presentation for this job, get seen by a training/consulting firm, and now design presentations for that company. Or start out as a journalist, and after doing a six-part story on the reclamation of wetlands, work on internal newsletters for a corporation that does environmental consulting. These are but two true-life examples. Careers don’t have to be linear — a traditional move up the career ladder often is not the way a career grows.
I often ask my students to tell me what they’d do if education level and experience weren’t a factor. These daydreams often reveal their career passion. Someone who’d love to be an actress and has a strong value of helping others might look at training or teaching. Someone who dreams of being a novelist could channel that love of writing and words into publishing, corporate communications, news writing, and numerous other fields.
Job seekers need to look at possibilities when deciding on a career path. They also need to determine what their likes/dislikes are and have information about the world of work. By doing some self-assessments, research of various fields/industries, and having experience in some areas, the process of determining what career(s) might give them happiness is easier to manage.
Marcia Merrill, career advisor at Loyola College in Maryland, Career Development and Placement Center, has been in the career development/higher education field for more than 14 years. She holds a Master of Science degree in counseling psychology from Loyola, a Master of Arts degree in instructional systems development/bilingual-bicultural education from University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC), a Certificate in Employee Assistance Programs from Loyola and is currently in the Certificate of Advanced Studies-Counseling Psychology program, also at Loyola.
She is co-chair of placement for Commission VI of American College Personnel Association (ACPA) and on Executive Board for Middle Atlantic Career Counselors Association (MACCA). She regularly answers online career questions on NACE’s “Ask the Experts” panel. She developed and maintains the Career Development and Placement Center’s home page. You can contact Marcia at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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