Explaining “I was fired” in your next job interview

Getting fired from a job feels like the end of the world. But you’re not the first person to ever be fired and you certainly won’t be the last. Life – and your job search – goes on. When it’s time to apply for other jobs, you’ll need to explain what led to your termination. Keep the following tips in mind when the interviewer asks “so why were you let go from your previous company?”

Take time before job searching to process what happened. Receiving a pink slip is an awful feeling. You’re going to be bitter, sad and angry – three emotions you don’t want to bring to the job interview. Take some time to sort through your feelings and put things in perspective. This was a learning experience. Once you get a handle on your emotions you can begin to articulate that.

Know that you’ll have to talk about being fired in future job interviews. A reference may share what happened or you might make the mistake of talking about it in office conversation once you’re hired. So be prepared during the interview to summarize events that led to being fired. An employer will sense if you aren’t telling the entire story and will keep probing with questions or dismiss your application entirely.

Be honest. The truth will come out sooner or later and it’s best that it comes from you. Don’t add half-truths or leave out information in efforts to make yourself look better. Honesty is always the best policy. This job interview is an opportunity to start fresh. Don’t blow it by lying.

Stick with facts. Tell the story in a straightforward, concise way. Avoid sharing your emotions or perceptions about what happened.

Take ownership for your role in the firing. There are two sides to every story. Presenting yourself as the victim won’t gain sympathy or get you a job offer. How did your actions play a role in what happened? What could you have done differently? After having time to reflect on the situation what have you learned?

Talk about how things will be different. You’re a different person after being fired. You’ll be a different employee. Share with the interviewer how you’ll prevent this situation from happening again. Talk about what you learned about yourself (sharing your strengths and areas of improvement) during the ordeal.

Practice answering the question. Don’t try to wing it. You’ll become flustered and emotional. Rehearse what you plan to say so that you sound thoughtful, objective and confident.

July 21, 2015

8 reasons why your summer job is important to your future career plans

What’s your summer job this year? Mowing lawns. Serving ice cream. Working at the mall. Organizing camp activities for kids. Loading shipments at a warehouse. Babysitting. The duties and job opportunities vary, but all share one thing in common: Great work experience.

“It wasn’t a real job, just something I did over the summer to make money.” Not so fast. In addition to the paycheck you’re earning, a summer job is great for building skills and gaining experience. So yes, it is a real job. And here’s a list of the eight items you’ll gain from it.

Skills. Future full-time job employers will hire you based on your skills set. You’re building these skills every day in your part-time summer job. The ability to work well and communicate with others, solving problems, managing multiple tasks at once. Employers value soft skills that are developed in any work environment.

A resume builder. Part-time and summer jobs are often the first jobs listed within the Employment section of your resume. Employers are more likely to contact applicants who have previous work experience.

References. References are people who can talk to future employers about your ability to perform your job duties. They are required for almost any job application. Past supervisors and coworkers that valued your contributions make great references.

Connections. When it comes to job searching, the phrase “it’s not what you know, it’s who you know” is partially true. Developing a strong skills set is important, but you learn about many opportunities through word-of-mouth. Talk to your summer job coworkers and managers about your career plans. You never know who might know someone in the profession you’re targeting.

The ability to work with others. In every job you’re going to have to work with people who are different than you. Different personalities bring opportunities and challenges to each work setting. Your summer job may be your first experience with this fact.

A peak at money management. With your first paycheck, you’re going to learn about taxes, social security and W-2 forms. You’re also going to see how far your take-home pay stretches in between paychecks. Now is a good time to attempt a budget.  

Multi-tasking. Your job duties will likely require juggling many tasks at once. Additionally, you may be managing your work schedule with other commitments, which is a good lesson in time management.

Learning what you like and don’t like. A summer job is a great time to find out what you like and dislike when it comes to job duties and work environment. Is it appealing if your job keeps you outside most of the day or would you prefer an office setting? Do you like that your work has routine tasks or would you choose a job with more variety?  Observations like these are important factors when considering future career choices.

Don’t dismiss the importance of your summer employment. The foundation for your career development starts somewhere. Why not this summer?


June 29, 2015

Accomplish any of these career to-dos in 30 minutes or less

Summer is either very relaxing (light course load) or extremely busy (classes, increased work schedule, etc.). Whether your summer schedule allows time to unwind or barely any time to breathe, you can still accomplish career-related tasks. Check out this list of seven items, each of which you can achieve in 30 minutes or less.

1. Begin building a resume. Take 30 minutes to write down your employment history, education and accomplished skills. This information becomes the foundation for your resume that you can write in small chunks throughout the summer and have ready by fall. See the Career Services Career Guide for tips and samples. Email Career Services or schedule an appointment with a counselor to have your resume draft reviewed.

2. Complete your EmploymeNC profile, including uploading a resume. EmploymeNC is an online job searching and career information tool offered by Career Services to CPCC students and alumni. Search for full-time and part-time jobs, learn about upcoming career events and receive informative Career Services emails.

3. Watch a Career Services video. Whether you want to learn how to make career decisions, write a resume, interview for a job or use LinkedIn, Career Services offers short step-by-step videos to provide assistance.

4. Start completing your LinkedIn profile. LinkedIn is the social media resource for career and professional development. Watch the Career Services video about building your LinkedIn profile or attend a free LinkedIn webinar. Both provide great tips on what information to include in your profile and how to use LinkedIn effectively.

5. Visit Career Coach. If you’re still undecided regarding your academic or career interests, Career Coach is a great online tool for you to use. In just 30 minutes you can learn about job opportunities related to CPCC programs. All of the information is localized, which means the job statistics are regionally based.

6. Write and practice your elevator speech. If people ask you what your skills are, can you tell them? If you know your job interests, would you be able to talk about them in 30 seconds or less? An elevator speech is the tool to help you clearly and concisely discuss your qualifications as they relate to your career goals.

7. Learn about jobs related to your academic program. If you want to learn about jobs related to your A.A.S. degree, check out Career Coach (mentioned above). Students earning an AA or AS degree with plans to transfer to a four-year college or university to discover bachelor’s degree career options here.

Do you have time to spare and questions to ask? CPCC Career Services is open throughout the summer months. Now is a great time to meet with a career counselor to get your career and job search questions answered.

June 15, 2015

How do you answer “Tell me about yourself?”

It’s often the trickiest question you’ll hear during a job interview. It’s always asked at the very beginning and sets the tone for the rest of the meeting.

“So let’s start by you telling us a little bit about yourself?”

Answering this question is your “Shark Tank” moment. Your pitch to the recruiter could set the path for whether you’ll sink or swim during the interview.

Leave out long answers and personal info

  • Don’t tell them your name – they already know it.
  • Don’t volunteer your age, marital or family status, race or ethnicity – it’s illegal for recruiters to ask this information since it has no bearing on your application.
  • Avoid mentioning personal interests and hobbies – neither are relevant to your ability to perform the job well.
  • Don’t repeat your resume.

Start with a hook

Starting the conversation is sometimes the hardest part and causes you to leap into unnecessary or inappropriate information. Consider one of the following hooks to get started:

  • “First I’d like to thank you for inviting me to speak with you today.”
  • “I’m someone who is very excited to talk to you about this opportunity.”
  • “I’m looking forward to talking to you about the job and learning more about your company.”
  • “I’m excited to tell you what I can bring to this position and your company.”

These opening statements, and others like them, grab the interviewer’s attention and ask them to listen to what you’re about to say. Additionally, you’ve set the scene for providing your skills and qualifications.

Once they’re hooked, give them the elevator speech

After beginning the answer with a hook, launch into your elevator speech, or a brief highlight reel of your skills and qualifications related to the job. When preparing for the interview, list five skills you want the recruiter to know about. Write out a brief, scripted speech that touches on these five skills, using your hook as the introductory sentence.

Practice, practice, practice

You shouldn’t wing it when it comes to interview questions, especially this one.  Practice your answer in front of the mirror and in front of others. Pair it with solid eye contact and a genuine smile.

Know when to stop

Interview silence is so awkward that it frequently causes candidates to keep talking unnecessarily. Don’t let the silence suck you in.  When you’ve said what you want to say, stop talking and wait for the interviewer to proceed.

June 1, 2015

First day on the job: 10 ways to make it successful

You finally made it. Your first day on the job. You’ve proven yourself through your studies, your resume and your interview. It’s smooth sailing from here, right?

It can be with the correct approach. But don’t confuse smooth sailing with slacking. Now’s the time to assure your new supervisor and coworkers that their decision to bring you on board was the right one.

You’re going to make an immediate impression on the first day. Follow these 10 steps to make sure it’s a good one.

Arrive on time. Remember how important the arrival time was for the interview? It’s still important today. The “15 minutes early” rule still applies.

Dress appropriately. If you’re unsure what the office dress code is, it’s completely appropriate to ask your director or the HR department beforehand.

Ask questions. No one expects you to know everything from the start. Ask questions now because you don’t want to ask a question three months from now that should have been asked on the first day.

Practice your “tell me about yourself” answer. You’ll be asked this question. A lot. Revisit the elevator speech you gave during your interview (it’s okay now to sprinkle a few personal anecdotes such as where you live). Keep your answers brief – people aren’t going to remember a ton of details in the first meeting.

Bring necessary documents. On your first day, you’ll complete paperwork to get you established, such as securing a parking pass, a work badge and paycheck items. Be sure to bring a form of identification (driver’s license, passport, etc.) and bank account information, as it’s likely you’ll be completing a direct deposit form.

Don’t be the comedian. A sense of humor is great, but allow time to figure out the office culture when it comes to jokes and humor. Avoid being labeled the office clown or comedian who doesn’t take his work seriously.

Take notes. Bring a legal notepad on the first day, or grab one at the office. Write things down (you’ll tell yourself you’ll remember it all, but you won’t). Write down questions to ask. It’s likely you’ll carry this notepad for the first few weeks.

Accept an invitation for lunch. Even if you packed your favorite ham and cheese sandwich. If coworkers invite you to join them for lunch, say yes. They’re making the effort to welcome you so take them up on their offer.

Dodge office politics. Offices have cliques. Offices have coworkers who know the 411 about everyone.  Don’t get swept up in office politics on the first day.

Listen. You have a lot to learn.




May 19, 2015

Avoid these 13 job interview mistakes

The job interview is your chance to show an employer that what they liked on paper (your resume or job application) is the real deal; you are the best candidate for the job opening. Avoid these 13 interview mistakes and you’ll increase your chances of getting hired.

1. Showing up late. When job searching, there’s no such thing as “fashionably late.” Plan to arrive 15 minutes early.

2. Showing up early. Arriving earlier than 15 minutes is awkward for the employer.

3. Dressing inappropriately. The best interviewing skills won’t save you from a bad first impression. Unless you’re specifically told otherwise by the employer, plan to dress professionally. Pay attention to other aspects of your appearance such as hair and nails (groomed), makeup and jewelry (minimal) and tattoos or body piercings (covered and removed).

4. Demonstrating distracting nonverbal cues. Do you avoid eye contact, slouch in your seat or constantly move your hands or legs? These nonverbal habits turn employers off and can make or break the interview.

5. Not researching the company. If you can’t show you know about the company, the department or the job, the interview will be short and the job offer won’t follow.

6. Talking negatively about current or previous employers. No matter how nightmarish the boss was, trashing him only casts you in a bad light. Instead, provide positive answers that focus on the type of work environment you thrive in and what challenges and experiences you’re looking for.

7. Appearing bored. If you lack enthusiasm during the interview, the employer’s left wondering how excited you are about the job itself.

8. Appearing arrogant. There’s a fine line between confidence and arrogance. Know where the line is so you don’t cross it. Learn to talk about your accomplishments without too much bragging and showmanship.

9. Not providing specific examples. Interviewers want to hear about previous experiences as testimony to your qualifications. Reviewing behavioral based interviewing techniques can help you provide specific answers.

10. Failing to ask any questions. The job interview is a two-way conversation. It’s expected that you’ll have well-thought out questions to ask the interviewer when it’s your turn.

11. Asking inappropriate questions. Avoid questions that indicate you’re only focused on what you can gain from this job or give the impression you’re not interested in the position.

12. Providing too much personal information. This often happens when an employer begins the interview by asking “tell me about yourself.” Keep the answer focused on your skills, qualifications and interests as they relate to the job. Developing an elevator speech can help you avoid providing unnecessary information.

13. Answering a call or text during an interview. Turn your phone off – which doesn’t mean putting it to vibrate mode. Believe it or not 49 percent of surveyed employers said job candidates do this – and don’t get a job offer as a result.

Remember the best way to prepare for an interview is to practice, practice and practice some more. Some ways to practice before the interview include:



May 5, 2015

13 “Must Follow” Resume Tips

The resume is one of the most important documents you’ll write. It’s your admission ticket to a job interview. People have different ideas on what makes a great resume, but here are some basic tips that everyone follows. Use these strategies to write a resume. Meet with a CPCC career counselor to receive feedback on ways to market your skills and qualifications.

1. Check for typos. Don’t rely on spell check. Hint: Read the resume backwards (bottom to top, end of lines to the beginning). You’ll focus on individual words and more easily catch mistakes.

2. Use a consistent, professional font style. Top choices  include Arial, Calibri, Times New Roman and Verdana. It should be easy on the eyes and look professional, not fancy or flashy.

3. Keep the font sizes consistent. Whatever font size you use for one category title should be used for all. Keep font sizes consistent for each entry.  Don’t choose a size smaller than 11 point font.

4. List important items on the left side of the page. Employers’ eyes zero in on the left side of the page when they glance at a resume. Job titles, degree and skills should appear on the left. Entries such as dates of employment, locations for past employers and graduation date can appear further to the right side of the page.

5. Use bullet points. Avoid long paragraph descriptions. Bullet points help the employer quickly glance through the resume.

6. Nix the “I” statements. Complete sentences aren’t necessary; start with action verbs. Instead of “I was responsible for increasing floor sales by 50%,” say “Increased floor sales by 50%.”

7. Keep it to one page. Employers are short on time so one page resumes work best. A two page resume might be okay if you have extensive relevant experience. Resumes exceeding two pages won’t catch an employer’s eye.

8. Don’t get wordy. Focus on relevant information rather than telling your entire employment history. Too many words is a visual turnoff that causes employers to move to the next applicant.

9. Focus on the past 10 years. Unless the jobs are particularly relevant, only list those from the past 10 years. If you’ve worked for one company for longer than ten years, list the job but not dates of employment.

10. Target the resume to the job/industry. Nothing turns an employer off more than receiving a resume that’s clearly been sent to multiple job openings in different industries. Quickly updating your objective or career summary easily targets the resume to a specific job or company.

11. Use bold and capital letters wisely.  Bold font and ALL CAPS help break up the presentation. Remember to be consistent: If you bold one job title, bold all of them. If the EDUCATION category title is capitalized, do the same with the other category titles.

12. Include an appropriate email address. Use your student email address or set up a job search email account that uses a combination of your name as the address. Fun addresses (partypal@hotmail.com) send the wrong message about your professionalism.

13. List contact information at the top of the page. Include your name, mailing address, phone number and email address. Put your name in slightly larger bold font

April 27, 2015

When I was a kid, I wanted to be a…

Take Our Daughters and Sons To Work Day is celebrated every April. Participating companies encourage employees to bring their children to work and let them see a day at the office in action. Many companies organize events designed to introduce kids to different departments and careers.

Think back to your childhood, when you were asked “what do you want to do when you grow up?” Did you want to be a doctor, teacher, pro athlete, astronaut, or singer? Or did you aspire to more fantastic career goals such as princess, pirate or superhero?

Your current career goals are probably quite different than your dreams as a kindergartner. But LinkedIn published a report in 2012 that showed the influence childhood dream jobs can have. A survey of more than 8,000 professionals found that while less than 10% were working in their childhood dream job, over 20% said they worked in a career that relates to their dream job.

So don’t dismiss those youthful ambitions just yet.

Here’s the top 10 list from the survey:

Top Childhood Dream Jobs for Women

1. Teacher

2. Veterinarian

3. Writer (journalist or novelist)

4. Doctor, nurse or EMT

5. Singer

Top Childhood Dream Jobs for Men       

1. Athlete

2. Pilot

3. Scientist

4. Lawyer

5. Astronaut

While the exact job title might have changed, what still may linger are the interests and work personality. The childhood astronaut may want a career as an adult that is challenging, adventurous and inquisitive. The preschool veterinarian might pursue a career where being able to care for others in need is a priority.

The following exercises might help connect your childhood to current career pursuits and uncover some patterns to consider:

1. Write down the jobs you found interesting as a child, including ideas you had as a middle and high school student. Do the jobs share any patterns or similarities?

2. List careers you were exposed to as a child, through your family and media (television, movies, books). Which ones look both appealing and uninteresting? Write down your reasons for each.

3. Identify your dream job(s) that you have today. When we’re grownups, we have more external factors that influence career decisions (salary, job security, benefits, required training, etc.). Set those aside for a minute and let your imagination run.

If you’re having difficulty making career decisions, career counselors can help. Schedule an appointment to talk about career options that make sense now. You may be surprised how much as a kid you already knew!




April 20, 2015

Don’t overlook the importance of volunteering in the job search

April is National Volunteer Month. On any given day millions of people donate their time and skills to companies and organizations. Whether it’s long-term volunteer commitments or one day events, volunteering positively impacts everyone involved.

It also positively impacts a job search. While you don’t earn a paycheck from your volunteer experience, research shows that volunteering can increase employment opportunities. Here’s why:

  • Showcasing your skills set.  Volunteering lets you put your skills to use in an actual work setting. The duties and responsibilities become resume content and job interview topics.
  • Acquiring new skills. A volunteer position is a great place to try new skills you’ve never used before. The accountant who thinks he might want to work with kids? Volunteering to tutor in an after-school program offers an inroad to developing the necessary skills.
  • Introduction to new career options.  The best way to learn about career possibilities is seeing them first hand. Many organizations representing many different industries utilize volunteers. This can be a great way to try a job setting before committing to it.
  • Staying connected to the world of work. Whether you’re donating your time to an animal shelter or an environmental organization, you’re in engaged in the world of work. This benefit is especially helpful for job seekers who have recently been laid off. When you begin your job search, prospective employers prefer candidates who have remained involved.
  • Meeting people. Networking is a key component to any job search. Many jobs are not found through online job boards, but rather word of mouth. Volunteers for one organization have many professional backgrounds. Strike up a conversation with the volunteer next to you. You never know where it could lead.
  • An outlet for demonstrating you’re motivated and hard working. You aren’t getting paid for your efforts. If that doesn’t show your commitment, what will? Prospective employers look for candidates who possess a solid work ethic. Volunteer work catches employers’ eyes for this reason.
  • Feeling productive. Being engaged and productive increases your motivation level. Job searching is an exhausting process. Volunteering is a great energy boost to help continue the job search. For this reason, and all the reasons mentioned above, you should actually view it as a step of the job search process rather than an extracurricular activity.

Where to find volunteer opportunities

www.volunteermatch.org   (Volunteer Match, Charlotte)

www.handsoncharlotte.org (Hands On Charlotte)

www.cpcc.edu/service-learning  (CPCC Service Learning)



April 2, 2015

6 Habits That Could Jeopardize Job Offers

How you say something is just as important as what you say.

Having solid answers to the interview questions is important. But how you act while talking with the recruiter affects your chances, too.

The suggestions listed are helpful guidelines when preparing for job interviews in the U.S.  Culture plays a big role in nonverbal communication. Different cultures share different views of the same action. For example maintaining eye contact is valued in some cultures but considered disrespectful in others. These differences make the job interview process challenging.

Check this list of what are considered unappealing nonverbal interview cues. Are you guilty of any? If so, follow the action items to improve what you’re silently communicating and improve your chances of landing a job offer.

Awkward handshake. A soft, limp handshake suggests lack of confidence. A crippling, knuckle-breaking handshake might imply arrogance. Handshakes lasting too long are inappropriate.

Action step: Practice shaking hands until you establish a firm, comfortable handshake. Always extend your right arm when accepting or seeking a handshake.

Bad eye contact. Find a balance between completely avoiding eye and staring intently to the point it’s uncomfortable.

Action step: Learn the difference between looking at someone and staring. There are many tricks that can improve your eye contact. For example, focus on a spot in between the person’s eyes, giving the impression that you’re looking directly at them.

No facial expressions. Employers are people, not robots. And they want to hire people, not robots. Showing no facial expression tells the employer you’re bored.

Action step: Think of the interview as a conversation between two people. It’s okay to smile, laugh and even make a funny (appropriate) comment now and then.

Poor posture. Slumping in your seat could mistakenly express boredom. Leaning forward across the desk is aggressive. Neutral posture is relaxed and confident.

Action step: Sit up in the chair, lean slightly forward.

Distracting gestures. These aren’t just limited to wild hand movements while talking. Tapping your foot, shaking your leg, clicking a pen, twirling your hair are also interfere with what you’re saying.

Action step: Identify any distracting gestures and look for ways to minimize them. Placing your hands on your lap, not crossing your legs and not carrying a pen are all helpful ideas.

Inappropriate interview attire. You must present yourself as a polished, well-groomed person to be taken seriously as a candidate.

Action step: Check out resources for learning about suitable interview attire.

The final action step for avoiding all of these behaviors is practice. Watch yourself in a mirror when answering questions. Schedule a mock interview with a career counselor. Ask the counselor for feedback about nonverbal cues you have specific concerns about.



March 24, 2015

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