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Insights to Prepare Yourself for the Job Market from Those in “The Know”

November 13, 2014 10:00 AM

By Becky Kelleman, Rutgers University

As many of us are approaching our fateful graduation day in the spring, we are currently investigating organizations that will align with our passions to make the world a better place. Yet, there is one burning question that had been reiterated at APPAM’s Professional Development Workshop, one that may pose challenging to answer: What is the difference between MDRC and Mathematica? Now, when the panelist asked this question, many of us in the audience turned to one another and asked “Is there really a difference?”

The reason the panelist posed this rhetorical question to us was to understand the importance of doing our homework on an organization before we apply. As a matter of fact, the panelists, which included Melissa Kovacs from Maricopa County, John Hutchins from MDRC, and David Schachtner from Wagner University, provided many helpful tips to help us prepare for our impending job searches. As a matter of fact, the pre-job application must begin with four questions; these four questions will shape our cover letters, resumes, and sharpen our informational interviews.

Question One: Who Am I?
This fundamental and existential question is not nearly as complicated as it may sound. Kovacs explained this question is essential in determining what type of position you are going to search for. Are you a people person and prefer to work in teams or are you an individual person that prefers to work independently of others? Do you LOVE numbers or LOVE reading? What do I need to make my life balanced? Kovacs found herself working for local government and providing consulting services because she wanted to effect social change fast and enjoys working regularly with people. So, what kind of person are you?

Question Two: What are you looking for?
Schachnter provided the remaining three questions to examine. Question two comprises your field of interest, organization preference and the role you wish to have. Your field of interest, at this point, should be fairly obvious to you, if it is not, ask your advisor for some help on this one. The classes that you have been taking, the work that you have been doing, and the stuff you are interested in make up your field of interest. Your organization preference has more to do whether you want to work in government, private, or non-profit sector. Finally, your role is what you want to do on a day to day basis with this organization.

Question Three: What are employers looking for?
Well, this question is relatively easy to answer by investigating job postings by the organization. In job postings you can find the skills and abilities for which organizations have a need. Yet, there is more to an organization than the skills and abilities they need. Each organization has a culture that defines how it operates. Employers want to make sure that you will fit in to their culture, IN ADDITION to having the skills and abilities they need. Employers also want to know what value you will bring to the organization. To find out one way to do this, check out what the panelists shared about Cover Letters here (please insert link).

Question Four: What do we do about it?
This is the final question that informs your resume. What classes are you taking, what internships have you had, do you understand the trends in your field? The answers to these questions demonstrates the actions you are taking to compose your career. These answers inform others of your passion and commitment to your field. Another way to engage yourself in your field at this point is through the use of informational interviews; by organizing opportunities to discuss with those who are in your field of interest and discover their paths and learn about their successes can help to inform your next steps in the job search.

Michael McCormick, Vice President of the FAA’s Management Services, and our dedicated volunteer moderator, closed the panel by suggesting that students have a social media presence. McCormick explained that, as someone who has hired thousands of employers, one of the first things he does when he is narrowing down between applicants is to check out their social media presence. By having a LinkedIn account or having your work published gives employers insight into another side of your personality that they may not have seen in your resume and cover letter.

If you are uncertain when you should begin applying for jobs, Hutchins, from MDRC shared the interviewing process could take up to six months, while Kovcas explained the time frame can be just as drawn out in local government.

So, my fellow soon-to-be-graduates, make sure to ask the important questions and continue to do your homework. The sooner you begin the job search process, the sooner you can find yourself pleasantly employed!


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