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Is a Gap Year Experience in your Future?

gap year experienceIf you graduated recently from a HBCU and have not landed your ideal job, think about doing something meaningful and exploring “gap year” activities.

According to Wikipedia, the term, “gap year” refers to a “prolonged period (often, but not always, a year) between two life stages. This “gap year” is also known as a “year out”, “year off”, “deferred year”, “bridging year”, “overseas experience”, “time off” and “time out”. Taking this time off is actually very popular in Europe and Australia where young adults are encouraged to take a break before or after college. Graduates are urged to take on meaningful experiences during this time for personal exploration before moving to the next life stage of career.

If you are not sure what your next career or grad school option should be. Think about incorporating a “gap year” experience into your overall career strategy.

Is the “gap year” a good alternative for you? The answer of course is – it depends. You will want to weigh the pros and cons of taking this time off.

Pros of a Gap Year experience

1. Great way to explore careers and get more clarity about what to pursue
2. You may be tired of school and would not do well in classes if you jumped into college right away. Taking the time to do something meaningful might save you spending on college and then dropping out.
3. You might be able to work to save some money before returning to school.

4. Traveling could help you to explore geographical options and other cultures.

5. Many colleges are actually very excited about recruiting students who have had meaningful gap year experiences.  I know students who got into their top schools by spending time doing things like wwoofing, starting a business and starting a music festival.

Cons of a Gap Year experience

1. You may never want to return to college or further your education if you languish in this “gap year”. This is probably the most common advice you will hear for not taking a break.
2. Once away from school you could lose touch with professors and others who encourage you to further your education.

Some colleges understand this urge that college graduates have and are now getting on board with innovative programs to meet the needs of these students. A recent article in the US News outlines “gap” year plans from Princeton University in New Jersey for incoming freshman.

The gap year concept is so significant that Princeton University is planning to send 10 percent of their incoming freshman admitted to the school overseas for a year to work in the social services. They will actually do this before these freshman students even set foot on the Princeton campus.

Here are some great articles on study abroad programs if you are looking for meaningful ways to spend your “gap” year after college.

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3 Ways to be Excellent at Work

In a recent conversation with an small business owner, the subject of workplace excellence came up. We were discussing organizational culture and the since she was getting ready to hire her first employees, she wanted to clarify what she meant when she talked to her staff about being excellent at work. The fact is, no matter what the employer says, all of us will have our own definitions of what it means to be excellent at work. Given the same constraints of duties and assignments and the required knowledge skills and abilities to do the job, there are some characteristics that I believe will always set people apart from their peers. I encourage everyone to have a similar conversation with themselves and come up with their own definition of what it means to be excellent at work. Here are three of the things I always prioritize and try to encourage.

Do good work.

Regardless of what type of Be Excellent at Workwork you do, to be accountable and to be excellent at work, you must do good work. Keep in mind that your work is the reason you were hired and why, hopefully, you will remain hired.  Whether you work for yourself or you have a boss like most people do, you must take pride of ownership in your work. One of my favorite quotes about doing good work, comes from Martin Luther King Jr. who said: “If a man is called to be a street sweeper, he should sweep streets even as a Michaelangelo painted, or Beethoven composed music or Shakespeare wrote poetry. He should sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will pause to say, ‘Here lived a great street sweeper who did his job well’.”

Own your errors, your mistakes and your bad judgements.

We all make errors, mistakes and bad judgements sometimes. No sense acting like we don’t. Sometimes they become only visible in hindsight.  However, if you have a commitment to being excellent at work, you will do the ongoing self evaluation to see where you might be making errors or mistakes or where there is the potential for exercising bad judgement. Hopefully, you work in an environment that is not primarily punitive.  We all know those environments where the first reaction is to punish or put on blast the person who made an error or made a mistake.  This kind of environment breeds subterfuge and becomes a blaming workplace.  Being excellent at work means adapting the Steve Jobs approach to handling mistakes: “Sometimes when you innovate, you make mistakes. It’s best to admit them quickly and get on with improving your other innovations.” Another favorite is from Jack Welch, former CEO of GE who said that, “Mistakes can often be as good a teacher as success.”

Stay ethical, speak up and maintain your integrity.

At the end of the day, there are few things that we have with us all the time, regardless of our circumstances at work or the environment in which we work. One of those things is our personal integrity. Like I always say about integrity – It only weighs you down, when you don’t have any. Each of us make our own decisions about what we will do or won’t do based on where our ethical boundaries lie.  Once you have established your ethical boundaries, consider living by this Elie Wiesel quote: “There may be times when we are powerless to prevent injustice, but there must never be a time when we fail to protest.”

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How to Explain a Low GPA

explain low gpaSo you are graduating college soon or looking for an internship and you are worried about writing your resume if you have a low GPA. Take heart. You are not the only  person who has struggled with GPA issues and you won’t be the last.

The fact is, your GPA is one of those little facts that employers and others will use to determine your skill level, work ethics or your ability to learn new things. So, bottom line is that it matters.

You earn your GPA; it doesn’t happen to you!

There is a lot of debate about the differences between an “average” GPA from a really “hard” school versus a “great” GPA from an “easier” school. None of that debate matters for the purpose of my arguments here. Ultimately, your GPA, regardless of where you earn it, says a lot about you. Notice I said “earn”, because that is indeed the case.  Your GPA doesn’t just happen to you.  You earn it!

General rule of thumb when you are writing a resume is that you include your GPA on your resume if you have a 2.75 or higher.

I actually believe it is ok to include your GPA on your resume, no matter what it is, UNLESS the employer specifies a minimum GPA requirement. Why?

Put yourself in the shoes of the potential employer. What if you were the hiring manager and saw a resume with a “low” (under 2.75) GPA; What are some of the assumptions you might make about the person?

You could be thinking that the student is lazy, has poor work ethic or did not have good grasp of the subject matter. All of which may be true.

However, in my years of experience working with college students, especially our HBCU students, I know that this is not the case in the overwhelming majority of situations.

Explain a low GPA

Now, again consider that you are the hiring manager and looking at a resume, but in addition to seeing a low GPA, you also see that the student:

– changed majors
– had a gap in education and came back to school
– is finishing college in 3 ½ years
– works full time and during breaks
– has great professional experience through part-time jobs or internships
– has a double major

Would all that make a difference? As a hiring manager, I can tell you that “Yes” it would make a difference.

Bottom line is that students need to own their GPA’s – regardless of what it is.

Is the job search easier if it the GPA is higher? In many cases it is.

Do you have fewer choices for jobs and internships if your GPA is below what the employer considers appropriate? Yes.

However, the real key is knowing how to speak to the potential employer about that GPA and be willing to put in all the additional work to have a good overall job search strategy.

If you are just coming up with the explanation for a low GPA in the job interview – it may be too late.

Visit your HBCU career center if you need help finding the right way to dispel employer’s negative perceptions about you or if you want to learn about how develop skills and behaviors employers want.

If you are not a graduating senior you should be doing everything you can to improve your GPA or creating the scenario where a hiring manager will put your GPA in context along with everything else you have to offer.

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Consider Headhunters and Employment Agencies

headhunters and employment agenciesHeadhunters and employment agencies are valid options for job seekers.

If you are looking for a new career in this economy, headhunters and employment agencies help job seekers get into companies they admire and sometimes can get resumes past application tracking systems.

As with everything else, proceed with caution and do your research and due diligence since some recruiters and headhunters do charge up-front fees. You do not want this to be a surprise to you.

To help with your research, TheLadders.com has a list of 10 Questions To Ask Headhunters to see if they are a good fit to help you find what you are looking for.

Three ways to connect with headhunters and employment agencies:

1. Use social networking sites like LinkedIn or Twitter. Keep in mind that recruiters and headhunters are looking for professionals so keep your online persona positive. When you first reach out to the recruiter, don’t just ask for a job.  Ask about their services? what they do? How they can help? Ask for insight on the industry and the job?  Headhunters and employment agencies have recruiters who are super busy people so schedule appointments and be respectful of their time.

2. Ask the professionals in your college career center.  Too many college students and alumni forget about the resources on their college campuses to connect with headhunters and recruiters.  Career center staff can give you recommendations since some centers actually allow some recruiters and staffing firms to participate in college job fairs.

3. Connect with recruiters and headhunters through professional association memberships. No matter what industry you are interested in, there are professional associations affiliated with your industry.  Many recruiters and headhunters stay connected with professional associations and meet their potential candidates that way.

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Consider Military Officer Careers After College

Are you graduating from college next spring and considering your career options? You might want to consider military officer careers.  If you haven’t thought about that, there is still time to explore those.

Military officer careers offer unparalleled leadership development and long term career satisfaction.

Visit your career center to find out more about when officer recruiters might be coming to campus.

So you want to be an Army Officer? – 800.USA.ARMY
US Marines Officer Candidate School – 800.MARINES
Navy Officer Candidate School – 800.USA.NAVY
Air Force Officer Training – 800.423.USAF
Coast Guard Officer – 800.424.8883
Army National Guard – 800.TO.GO.ANG
Air National Guard – 800.GO.GUARD

Two additional resources:
Military Spot

Read an article from Denise Witmer called Five Reasons Your Young Adult Should Consider the Military

If you don’t have time to read the entire article here are the major advantages the author identifies as advantages of a military career.

1. Maturity, Focus, Pride
2. Education Benefits
3. On-the-job Training
4. Lifetime career
5. Veteran’s Benefits

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8 Steps to Land the Perfect Internship

The economy is pretty much booming right now with the unemployment rate close to 5%.perfect internship Although that’s a good indication that there is an internship with your name on it, you won’t get it if you don’t stay “woke” (that means “aware” like my students say often).

Whether or not the internship was paid or unpaid, 75% of the 2015 grads agreed that they were satisfied with their internship experiences (Source naceweb.org). One way to improve your chances of being satisfied with your internship, is to try and land that dream, perfect internship early.

Since fall is the big recruiting period for summer internships, you should know that many deadlines have already passed for competitive internships.

Here are some tips as you try to land that perfect internship experience.

1. Use all available resources. Take advantage of the career counselors and coaches in the career center at your college or university.

2. Talk to your network of friends, fellow Greek life associates, faculty, staff and family.  Ask upperclassmen about internships they completed. They may be able to make a recommendation for you.

3. Pump up your professional job seeking skills. Take your internship search seriously. It is just as if you are looking for a full-time job.

4. Watch that sloppy, social media speak in your correspondence. Too many college students are using texting and social media language in formal job search documents.

5. Check your voice mail message and ask yourself if that message would make a potential employer want to call you back.

6. Do your research and show your interest in the company by targeting your resume and your cover letter to the company and the position.

7. Get job interview help!  Please find your campus career center, do a mock interview to practice your interview skills and get feedback.

8. Clean up your social media profile as soon as possible.  Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, YouTube and Google+ are all places that recruiters are using to evaluate applicants.

Read more about finding internships and how to use these opportunities to advice your career goals!

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