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Posts tagged ‘resume’

Your Class Schedule Isn’t Enough to Get You a Job

99% of resumes divide their information into two sections: Education and Work Experience. There’s a reason for this. Potential employers want to know about your education to see what your interests are, what your talents are, if you’re generally pretty smart, and if you have a nice looking institution to put next to your name. They want to know about your work experience so they can tell how you’re able to handle the day-to-day responsibilities of a workplace and if you can meet the minimum requirements of the job.

iStock_000009629000XSmall In other words, employers look at your education to know who you are. They look at your work experience, on the other hand, to see what it is you can do.

Despite this visible distinction right on the resume, many entry-level applicants, especially the ones who have impressive higher education credentials, think leaning on their education will be good enough.

I don’t care if you aced all your classes at Harvard. If you aren’t showing off outside interests, experience, or ambition, you’re not offering your employer very much at all.

So how do you fill out those non-education chunks of the resume? By volunteering, working odd jobs, and extracurriculars. I’m sure you’ve heard this advice before, but I’m going to try to be as crudely practical about it, based on my observations, as I can. Hopefully that’ll provide a fresh perspective.

Volunteering. Aside from all the good altruistic reasons for volunteering, from a purely strategic perspective, volunteering is a great way of getting work experience without competing for the job position beforehand. It doesn’t matter all that much what you’re doing, but if you want to show that you can show up to work on time, follow instructions, and work well in a group, give up a few hours to a soup kitchen, a youth group, or whatever other charitable labor you can find.

Working odd jobs. Work experience doesn’t have to mean a corporate position with benefits, 401(k)s, and regular salaries. Anything you can get paid for doing (as long as it’s legal) counts as a job. So if you need to show that you can hold your own in a professional setting, mow some lawns, paint some houses, or weed some garden beds. If you do it enough times over the course of a couple months, then you’re technically “freelance.”

Extracurriculars. After your first one or two jobs, the structured things you did with your spare time aren’t going to matter very much. You’ll probably cut them out of your resume altogether. However, before that first job, the extracurriculars are not optional. They’re an essential part to the overall story of you as a professional. Whatever field you want to work in, you’ll need to prove that your interest in it runs deeper than the minimum credits required to get your degree. And you’ll need these extracurriculars, once again, to show off your ability to handle the basics of a professional setting: showing up on time, handling responsibilities, and working well with others.

How Are Unpaid Internships Legal?

Hands holding a sign reading "Will Work for Credits"

The further along students get in their education, and the closer they get to entering the workforce, the more the line between the two starts to blur. College athletes, for example, aren’t getting paid for their athleticism, other than the lucky ones offered scholarships. But in many cases, their hard work is still making truckloads  of money for their universities.

Internships are the tipping point between education and career. But if higher education is something that you pay to do and employment is something that you are paid to do, which of the two is an internship?

It’s a point of contention, for sure. A group of former interns recently sued the Hearst Corporation in a class action suit, claiming they were owed back-pay. The judge threw out the case, saying they didn’t meet the definition of a “class,” since the work done varied too much between individuals. But if the case had been able to play out, it would have come down to an argument over the nature of the work. Were the interns primarily there to receive instruction and experience, or were they there as a free source of labor?

According to the Fair Labor Standards Act, there’s a few criteria an unpaid internship must meet to be legally acceptable:

  • It must give educational training.
  • It must be for the benefit of the intern.
  • It can’t displace regular employees.
  • It can’t give your employer a competitive advantage.
  • It isn’t a lengthy try-out for a full-time job.
  • Everybody involved has to know and agree to the fact that there’s no paycheck.

As you can see, a few of these definitions are more than a little fuzzy. (Though keep in mind the phrasing used is mine.) Every job benefits the worker on some level, even if it’s just another line you can put on a resume, so I’m not sure how even the most mind-numbing internship would fall short of that requirement. Also, every intern does work that ties back into the objectives of the company somehow, otherwise no company would hire interns. So while “displacing employees” and “competitive advantage” might be a little strong, in one way or another all interns will be doing work that someone else could be doing. That being said, these vague rules are probably about as fair as they can be, considering the already vague definition of the word “internship.”

So should companies pay for internships or not? It’s a tough question. The classic anti-unpaid argument is that unpaid internships only offer opportunities for employees financially stable enough to work for free. Therefore, if an internship is the expected entry point to a career, that career is only available to people in good socioeconomic standing.

But, fair or unfair, how is that different from any form of higher education? At least an intern doesn’t have to pay the company in anything other than time. Sure, college students can take out loans, but that just leaves them saddled with debt. Either way, isn’t the ultimate objective of both the same: to gain the experience and credentials to help launch your career?

The summer between my junior and senior year of college, I took an internship with a newspaper. It didn’t pay and I couldn’t use it for credit. Still, I’m happy I did it. It gave me a major leg-up when looking for entry-level positions after graduation. It got me my first job. But I also only did it for two and a half months. Long enough to get what I needed: experience and recommendations.

I have no doubt that there are a lot of businesses out there exploiting their interns as a source of cheap (or free) labor. But interns should keep in mind that they might be able to exploit those businesses too. Find the business that will give you experiences you can use as future leverage.

The key deciding factor should not be money, but should be variety. If the internship is just repeatedly doing a single, simple, and boring task, it’s not probably not worth doing. If the internship means you get to be shoved into a dozen different bottom-level tasks, then there’s educational value, as well as a dozen new things you can put on a resume and spin into something bigger during future interviews.

The Problem With Grade Inflation (and the Problem With Fighting It)

grade_inflateThere’s a problem at a lot of well-known, hyper-competitive schools. As it turns out, when you get thousands of very successful students who’ve made their way into a top-tier college by getting straight A’s, they don’t want to stop getting straight A’s just because they’re suddenly surrounded by kindred spirits. Suddenly, just about everyone‘s getting A’s for doing a comparatively average job and the grades start to mean very little.

The consequences are far reaching. The more grades get devalued, the more a college education gets devalued as well. If you ask Google whether or not you should include your GPA on your résumé, you’ll get wildly differing advice. That’s too bad, because it shows how little faith many employers have in what’s supposed to be a standardized marker of academic achievement.

The data on grading trends is pretty shocking. Take a look at the chart below. You’ll notice a huge spike in A’s through the ’70s, then another slow but steady climb starting in the early ’90s and not stopping. You’ll also notice that private schools have a steeper slope than public schools. Not sure if means there’s more grade coddling at private schools or if it’s just because those students are most likely in a better socioeconomic status.

inflatechart

 

So a handful of schools, notably Notre Dame and Princeton, have decided to combat this practice by setting limits on the percentage of students who can earn A’s.

At least Princeton seems to be going about it intelligently. The school recommended that no more than 35% of students should earn an A. But rather than pulling A’s from students who’ve already earned them, they’ve been pressuring the faculty into being more conservative with their grading. Consequently, they’ve been able to bring the total number of A grades down from nearly half to just above their goal.

I hope other Princeton’s practice of setting goals, not quotas, becomes the model solution. Quotas pit students against each other in direct competition while taking all the responsibility out of the hands of the professors. Goals, on the other hand, give incentive to professors to hold their students to a higher standard.

10 Things College Students Should Never Share on Facebook

Facebook has always had a weird relationship with colleges. It was created by a college student and originally exclusively used by other college students.  And even though a billion people are on the network, there’s a general sense that it’s mostly young people who’re using social media.

Despite (or maybe because of) its origins, college is both the best and the worst possible time to use Facebook. A very large percentage of the things the network tempts you to share are the very last things you want to be seen doing right as you’re entering the work force. I dare you to find one person who hasn’t done something while in college that they would never share with an employer.

Just like our guide to things not to do during finals, we’re back with another reference list of bad ideas. If you’ve started your job search, here are some things you should purge from your wall (or probably just never put up there in the first place.)xed_out_solo_cup

  1. Under 21? No pictures with alcohol. This should be a no brainer. If this is the first time you’re hearing this, then please, please continue reading this list. You’ll need it more than the rest of us.
  2. Over 21? Only incredibly tasteful pictures with alcohol. Just because you’ve hit the legal drinking age doesn’t mean your future employer wants to see photographic evidence of that night you were undefeated in Flip Cup. Treat your pictures like they are beer commercials. Holding a beer is probably fine. Chugging from a bottle, lying in a pile of red Solo cups,  playing drinking games… they’re all probably not. (more…)
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