Thursday, December 1, 2016

Millennials: How to Leverage Your Negative (and Positive) Stereotypes in the Workplace

We keep hearing again and again how this current generation of young adults, or Millennials (born roughly between 1980-2000), are not prepared for the workplace. They’re lazy. They’re addicted to technology. They want praise for everything. They can’t communicate face to face. The list goes on and on about the negative stereotypes this generation has coined. 

What we often overlook are the increasing amount of articles and polls published about the positive qualities about this generation as well. For you Millennials reading this article, take our advice as to how to let your positive qualities shine, and perhaps even how to offer a new perspective to those who see you in a negative light.

Stereotype #1: Millennials, you are addicted to technology.
We’ve all seen you on your phones and devices in class, walking to the library, and everywhere in between. While this habit might be irritating when faculty are trying to teach, your ability to learn and adapt to new technology is truly impeccable. Your generation has grown up with information at its fingertips, and while we might assume you’re always playing Pok√©mon Go or making fish faces on Snapchat, many of you are reading the news, looking up new information for class, or communicating with family and friends far away. In a job interview, make it clear to your employer that you are a quick learner, have used many forms of technology, and can collect information rapidly and efficiently. On the job, make sure to leave the personal messaging and web surfing for after hours. As tempting as it might be to check your phone or peek at Facebook, don’t give your employer a reason to think you’re using technology for the wrong reasons.

Stereotype #2: Millennials, you need praise for every little thing you do!
You may or may not have heard that your generation is also referred to as the “Trophy Generation,” where participation medals and ribbons were given to all children, not just the winners. While the intentions behind this gesture may have been good, it’s led some to believe that people your age feel they deserve to win everything, or at minimum be told they’ve done a good job in everything they attempt. For an employer from previous generations (Generation X or Baby Boomers), this might be frustrating for them to understand. So, how can this become a positive? Perhaps you need to make a shift in mindset to realize that outward positive reinforcement doesn’t need to be a constant in order to do well and stay motivated. A clear line of communication between you and your employer can also be helpful. Make it clear to them what your preferred communication style is, and that you’d like to know when things are going well and when there are concerns. This might clue the employer in that you’d like more direct, intentional feedback. Finding some intrinsic motivation can also be healthy: perform well simply because it makes you feel good, and not just when someone else is watching!

Stereotype #3: Millennials, you are lazy.
This can be frustrating or even hurtful to hear. You’ve gone to college, put in the time and effort, and have a degree to show for it – how could that make you lazy?! Well, sometimes it’s more about your attitude as to how you go about tasks and expectations, not just the fact that you may have completed them. We all had to do things we didn’t enjoy in college, whether it was a group project or 30 page research papers or simply tough classes. That will continue after college, no matter how much you love your job. Chances are, most of you aren’t lazy; you might just be a big disengaged, or tired, or distracted, which happens to all of us. You have to make sure that your first impressions are showing the opposite: be eager for new tasks, ask questions, show up early, volunteer for committees or staff events. Engaging with your career and colleagues will make not only your attitude and demeanor more positive, but you’ll take more away from the experience as well.

Bottom Line:
There are several articles with more research and facts and interesting perspectives about this generation and their entrance into the workforce, and I’ve included just a few (formal and informal) ones below. If you are a Millennial, or employ Millennials, I encourage you to continue researching the qualities and habits of these young adults and learn how to maximize their potential, because after all, they have a lot to offer.

Abbot, L. (2013) 8 Millennials’ Traits You Should Know About Before You Hire Them. Retrieved from

Alsop, R. (2008). The Trophy Kids Grow Up: how the millennial generation is shaking up the workplace. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass,

Stein, J., Sanburn, J. (2013). The New Greatest Generation: why millennials will save us all. Time Magazine. Retrieved from

Written by:  Anne Funke, University of Dubuque
Assistant Director of Vocation & Civic Engagement  

Edited by:  Sarah Moss, Dordt College
Career Development Coordinator

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

5 Factors to Make Student Internship Experiences Most Successful!

By now most college students have heard employers (73% according to NACE-National Association of Colleges & Employers), are looking to hire students with an internship or other related experience on their resume. We also know that employers are interested in soft skills, emotional intelligence, communication abilities, problem-solving/analytical skills, leadership and the ability to work in teams. While that is great for the employer, what should students look for in a quality internship experience?

Coaching/Mentoring – Having access to your supervisor is important, will they provide significant constructive feedback on a regular basis?  Can they coach you on the important elements of the business and give you a perspective on what working for the organization is like on a long term basis?

Do company research, talk to prior interns or other professionals at the organization to find out what their career experiences have been like, and ask questions to determine organizational culture and leaderships styles.  This is where strong social media networks like LinkedIn or sites like Glassdoor might be helpful.

High Impact Projects (related to your academic major are important) – Make sure that the type of work or projects planned for your internship are relevant to your academic major in order to provide  a quality resume building experience. It is crucial to walk away from your experience with 1-2 significant accomplishments for your resume and to be able to provide effective examples in interviews.

This is not to say you won’t also do repetitive basic tasks (almost all professional positions involve some level of basic tasks), but a good rule of thumb to go by is the  80/20 principle. 80% of your assignments should be career/academic related and the other 20% fall into the category of other duties as assigned, regardless do them all well and with enthusiasm. One significant way to find out is to ask! When you are asked if you have any questions at the end of an interview, ask “What significant projects or priorities do you have allocated for this position?”

Networking Exposure – What kind of exposure will you have to organizational leaders, department heads or other company stakeholders?

It pays to do good work and establish professional credibility.  Every internship does not turn into a job offer but the broader your exposure within the organization or to outside stakeholders, the greater the opportunity to expand your professional network. One of those contacts may turn into a future job prospect!

Training and Skill Development –Will you be offered specialized professional training in areas related to your major or profession of choice?  Make sure you will have ample opportunity to build concrete skills that you can advertise on your resume or talk about in the interview. Also take the opportunity to build some of the softer skills like leadership, teamwork, and communication.

Find out if interns are offered or have the opportunity to participate in team-building activities (during or outside of work hours), specialized public speaking and presentation training, or if opportunities to cross-train and job shadow in other functional areas exist.

Will the internship expose you to the work culture of an industry or specific company that you are interested in exploring?

Perhaps one of the biggest benefits of an internship is to experience a career from within the organization. Learning about a profession from lectures, text books, and research can only tell you so much.  To find out if a career/organization is a good fit nothing beats firsthand knowledge. This is a perfect way to analyze if the opportunity is a good fit for you.

Internships provide valuable training and experience for students to explore careers, don’t short change yourself, do the research and ask informed questions before choosing the internship experience that provides the best opportunity for you!

Written by:  Angela Wolfe, St. Ambrose University
Assistant Director 

Blogger - Career Specialist - Leading Student/Employer Engagement

Edited by:  Stacy Hays, Morningside College
Career Counselor, Career Services

Monday, October 3, 2016

The Art of Conversation: How to Improve your Small Talk Skills

Small talk can be awkward. Whether you’re talking with a recruiter at a job fair or trying to work up the courage to introduce yourself to someone at a networking mixer, it can be tough to know what to say when you’re already feeling out of your element.

Here are some simple tips to help you make the most of the opportunities you have to engage in small talk:

Practice. If you know you’re going to an event where you’ll likely have to engage in small talk, take time to practice in advance.  Consider the scenario and what type of conversations you’ll have. For example, with a career fair, you’ll likely have to walk right up to a recruiter and introduce yourself. What will you say to her? How will you react?  You’ll likely want to research the organization ahead of time; instead of walking up to the recruiter and asking, “So, what do you do?” have a grasp of what the company does, what products they make, and what they stand for. This will help you to look more competent when you talk with a recruiter; she will be more likely to see you as someone the company would be interested in hiring. So, prior to the event, check the company’s website and consider what questions you might ask.

Have a mental list of topics you’re comfortable discussing. You obviously don’t need to bring a physical list with you, but it helps to have a few topic ideas in mind as you get ready to participate in a networking event. Get up to speed on current events, on new ideas or topics within your specific industry, or perhaps on the latest happenings within a particular organization. Knowing what you want to talk about in advance will keep you from having to scramble in the moment to think about topics of discussion.

Treat conversations like a game of catch. Try to balance a conversation between asking questions and also responding yourself. A good conversation is like a game of catch: Toss the conversation back and forth, with you spending some time speaking and the other individual also spending time speaking. A lopsided conversation isn’t very productive.  What questions you ask will depend on what type of networking event you’re attending. For example, if you’re participating in a networking mixer where you don’t know anyone, you might ask questions like, “What do you do? How long have you worked for your organization? What do you enjoy most about being part of these networking mixer events?” Be sure to keep in mind the needs of your audience when considering what types of questions to ask.

Ask questions and listen to the response. Don’t be afraid to ask questions of others while at networking events. However, when you ask a question, be sure to listen to the answer. There’s nothing more embarrassing than only halfway listening to a response and then saying something that seems completely off-topic to the person you’re speaking to. Focus on a response instead of trying to think of what you’ll say next.

Put your phone away. There’s nothing wrong with pulling your phone out. However, next time you have the urge to reach for your phone, stop and look around. Is there someone who you can talk to at the networking event or job fair instead? If you’re waiting in line at a job fair, consider that the recruiter who you’re waiting to talk to might notice what you’re doing and might see looking at your phone as unprofessional. Don’t close yourself off from opportunities to interact with others by focusing on your phone.

What are some other great small talk tips that you’ve heard?

Written by:  Sarah Moss, Dordt College
Career Development Coordinator

Edited by:  Bobbi Sullivan, Simpson College 
Director, Career Development and Civic Engagement

Monday, May 2, 2016

How to Make the Most of your Summer Break

You finally made it!  The academic year is over and it’s time for you to relax and recharge until the fall….right?  While it is important to come back to school in the fall rested and focused, I would challenge you to think about summer break in a bit of a different way.  Here are some things to think about in making the most of your summer break.

  • Consider taking courses – summer is a great time to take prerequisites to keep you on track for your graduation plan. You might also take a challenging course to which you’d like to devote all your attention.  By taking the course individually without other content to worry about, you may find you can focus all your energy to that course in a positive way.  If you are looking at graduate school, you could also take pre-requisite courses required by your program that are not required for your major.  In addition, taking a course (or two) over the summer may allow you to take less courses during the academic year, freeing you up for other activities or to provide more time for your other courses.

  • Carefully choose a summer job – many students decide to work in the summer to make as much money as they can for the next academic year.  This is a great plan but consider thinking about all your options.  Might there be summer jobs that would be related to your major or field of study?  What are those job options?  Would the pay be comparable to what you make now?  Some students are pleasantly surprised to find out they can make even more working a job that is related to their field of study, versus going back to their old summer job.  If you are exploring career options, taking a summer job in a field you may be interested in is a low risk way of testing out your interest.  Visit your Career Services office to get ideas of the kinds of jobs that you are qualified for that would be appropriate, or follow their job posting page or social media sites to keep updated on what is available.

  • Identify a goal – while summer is a time to relax and recharge, it is also a great time for you to spend time on things you don’t necessarily have time for during the academic year.  Identifying a goal can be as simple as reading a book you haven’t had time for, doing some job shadowing, or performing targeted volunteer experiences. These experiences can help boost your resume, but most importantly, they assist you in getting that great feeling you get from achieving a goal, and may just motivate you to do even more!

  • Think ahead – think about what is next for you.  College students should always be thinking about what is to come for the next semester or next year.  Are you considering an internship? A research project?  These things take time to come together and typically require about a semester of planning, so start thinking about your goals and aspirations and making plans to bring those to reality.

Summer is a great time for you to gain experience, explore careers or pursue additional education without taking time out of your busy schedule during the academic year.  By thinking strategically, you can really make an impact on your career development!  Have a great summer!

Written by:  Stacie Hays, Morningside College
Career Counselor, Career Services 

Edited by:  Bobbi Meyer, Simpson College
Director of Career Development & Civic Engagement

Thursday, March 31, 2016

Salary Negotiation

Your phone interview is just wrapping up, you’re sure it went well, you had great answers and even asked some insightful questions to help you determine fit. Then your interviewer asks what your salary requirements are, and your response is dead silence.


You aced the phone interview. You were invited to an onsite interview where you were well prepared and wowed the entire selection committee. They tell you they will be making a decision within the week. You’re on pins and needles all week, and finally the phone rings and you’re offered the job! But then the recruiter starts throwing numbers around related to salary and benefits, and suddenly your mind goes blank.

Now what?

Don’t let this happen to you! Salary expectations are usually discussed before the job offer, but some organizations do not bring up this topic until they make you an offer. In any case, the mention of salary by the recruiter should not be the first time you consider your wage expectations. Thorough investigation of salary ranges, additional compensation, benefits, and cost-of-living factors should all be part of your research for a specific job and preparation for the interview.

Salary: Do your homework on acceptable salary ranges for that particular job in that particular city. See the list of online resources below that will assist you with this research. Is the company located in a city with a much higher cost of living than what you’re accustomed to? Once you determine the salary range for the job, create a list of expenses you can expect as you transition from student to young professional. What will your estimated take-home pay be? Will that be enough to cover your estimated expenses? Can you make a case for yourself that you should expect the upper range of the salary? Even if the job is entry level, do you have relevant experience, such as internships, that would place you in the upper-range category? The online guides will assist you with answering these questions. Once you have this information, you can move forward as an informed participant in the negotiation process.

Additional compensation: Besides a flat salary, the employer should make it clear if the offer includes additional remuneration, such as bonuses, commission, and overtime. Add these approximate figures to your range.

Benefits: Similar to additional compensation, the employer should discuss all benefits that are provided to make the offer more attractive. These typically include paid vacation, different types of health insurance, life insurance, and retirement plans. Moreover, some companies add additional benefits as incentives, such as educational benefits and access to fitness facilities or other memberships. What are these worth to you? Are you prepared to accept a lower base pay if these benefits and amenities are added?

Cost-of-living factors: Even if you’ve moved off campus and have become accustomed to managing your own finances, transitioning from student to employee is a big adjustment. The goal is to be a financially literate new professional. Know the lay of the land in your target community, including what you can expect to pay for expenses such as housing, utilities, transportation, groceries, and entertainment. Factor in any credit-card and school-loan payments you will have.

Once you get a base salary amount (or range), add the above benefits to come up with a value-added compensation package. Is it realistic? Does it, at the minimum, cover all of your expenses and income requirements? Are you prepared to turn down the job offer if the salary doesn’t meet your expectations? Knowledge is power, and you will be a better negotiator for yourself when you are prepared!

Keep in mind that the employer is committing to you with this job offer. Go into the negotiation process with the assumption that they will be honest with you and will give you the best package they can based on their budget, the job requirements, your experience, and industry standards. They won’t intentionally give you a low-ball offer, but they will often start with the lower range in anticipation of a counter offer. If you don’t advocate for yourself, you may lose out on the higher starting point. Ask! They will certainly not think less of you for speaking up. However, realize that there may not be room for negotiating – especially for entry-level jobs – but they will be upfront about this as well.

Your prospective employer has done their research and prepared themselves for the negotiation process on their side of it. Make sure you have done the same. If all goes well, you’ve got yourself a job and your post-graduate career is launched.


The following resources offer more assistance on salary negotiation:


Written by:  Maureen Fitzgibbon, Grinnell College
Assistant Director of Employer Relations & Employment Counseling 

Edited by:  Stacie Hays, Morningside College

Career Counselor, Career Services 

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Stand Out During Your Job Search

Last week, I had a student ask me for some tips to help her stand out to employers in the job search process; should she:

  • Print her resume on hot pink paper?  
  • Use a funny email address?
  • Upload that sexy picture from her cousin’s wedding to her LinkedIn profile?

While you are likely to get an employer’s attention using any one of these tactics, your best bet for making a positive impression is to send a hand-written thank-you note following your job interview.

First, it’s the right thing to do.  You are asking a hiring manager to consider you for a position with her company.  She honors your request by inviting you to visit the organization and to share your skills and qualifications with the search team.  As we learned in kindergarten, when we ask for something and it’s given to us, the polite response is to say, “thank-you.”

Second, you want them to remember you.  Employers may look at hundreds of resumes before selecting the candidates they wish to consider.  After conducting phone interviews, they pare the prospects down to 3-4. You want to be sure they remember YOU, so mention a specific topic or piece of information discussed during your interview.  It will help them connect your name to the exceptional impression you will have made. 

Finally, sending a hand-written thank-you note can help close the deal; however, most candidates do not take the time.  Why should you? Here’s what employers say it means to them-

The job seeker…
  • understands the subtle rules of etiquette
  • is willing to put forth the extra effort
  • shows persistence
  • knows how to seek out solutions
  • demonstrates that he/she wants the job

Take the extra time and effort to send a thank-you note.  Your efforts will pay off.

Written by:  Cheryl Redd, Mount Mercy University
Career Services Director

Edited by:  Catharine Craig, Graceland University
Director of Career, Academic and Personal Counseling Services 

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Making Career Fair Conversations Count!

In the September edition of Career Hot Spots, we discussed How to “Crush It” at a career fair by preparing, performing and persisting.  In this edition, we want to briefly discuss a bit of preparation for your recruiter conversations that will help you maximize your time, feel confident, and make a good impression at the event.

Below are five career fair tips that recruiters want you to understand.
1.      Time Matters – Give yourself plenty of time at the career fair.  This means arriving at the beginning of the fair when the recruiters are fresh rather than toward the end of the event.  
2.      Divide and Conquer – When attending a fair with a friend, divide and conquer!  The recruiters want to talk to you, not your friends.  Make a plan to meet your friend at a certain time and share what you learned from various recruiters.   
3.      First Impressions – Practice your greeting and don’t let the first words out of your mouth be, “So what does your company do?” Your first 30-second introduction with the recruiter can decide whether you get an interview later. Remember to make eye contact and smile. Show them you are interested in their company. 
4.      Ask but You Might not Receive – Ask for a business card but don’t take it personally if the recruiter doesn’t want to give you one. Recruiters get 100’s of emails after career fairs. They just don’t have time to respond to that many people. But, if you are given a business card by a recruiter, make sure that you send a brief, customized thank you note, a customized LinkedIn message or email after the event. (career fair follow-up tips)
5.      SWAG “stuff we all get” – Yes, you can take one, but don’t grab more than one and don’t take so many things that you look like you’re on a shopping spree.
Use the career fair tips above to help you land that internship or job interview you’ve been dreaming of!
For more tips on how to make the most of a career fair, visit your campus career center.

Written by:  Derek Solheim, Wartburg College
Pathways Center Director 

Edited by:  Angela Wolfe, St. Ambrose University 
Assistant Director, Internship & Recruitment Coordinator