Thank you letters: Politeness pays off in the job search

   Your mother was right. Saying “please” and “thank you” is important. This motherly advice is relevant in the job search, too.

Cover letters often go hand-in-hand with resumes, so job seekers are usually familiar with them. But a thank-you letter sent after an interview is equally important. It thanks the employer for their time and reiterates your interest in the position. Consider the following tips when preparing a thank-you letter.

Don’t delay: Send a thank you-letter within 24 to 48 hours of your interview. Doing so makes it easier to write (topics discussed are fresh in your mind) and gives a positive impression.

Tailor the delivery to the audience: While typed or emailed thank-you letters are standard, consider who’s receiving it. If the interview was fairly informal, the organization’s culture is laid-back or you established an immediate rapport, a hand-written note could also work. Additionally, hand-written notes stand out more than another email received in an employer’s inbox.

Keep it short: A thank-you letter should be no longer than three brief paragraphs.

Follow a standard format (even when handwritten): The first paragraph literally thanks the person for the interview. The second paragraph discusses your skills and qualifications for the job. Here’s where you can mention skills you didn’t have the chance to talk about during the meeting. The third paragraph closes the letter by restating your interest and your anticipation at hearing about the opportunity.

Proofread: Check spelling, grammar and typos. If you didn’t get a business card and are unsure of how to spell a person’s name (or what their job title is), take the time to contact the company to confirm.

Write a letter to all interviewers: If the interview was a group format or a series of individual interviews, write a thank-you note to everyone you spoke to.

Personalize: Add a “professionally personal” touch to thank you notes. Reference a particular conversation that took place during the interview with that person. Not only does it show you’re making a connection, it will help the person better remember your interview.

Be enthusiastic: The thank-you letter is the last impression you’re going to leave with the interviewers. Make sure it’s a great one.

Too often job seekers mistakenly believe that sending a thank-you letter is an extra step they can take if they want to. Think of it this way: If the other job candidate is taking this “extra step,” which is more likely to receive an offer?

Mom was right! Take time to say thanks!



The hard truth about soft skills: In the job search they matter!

   A recent LinkedIn article talked about the importance of soft skills in the job market. The phrase “soft skills” is misleading. Look up the word soft in the Thesaurus and you’ll find synonyms like lenient, lax, weak, even spineless. Talk about giving soft skills a bad rap.

The reality is, while solid academic performance and technical skills are critical, employers value soft skills just as much and in some cases even more. According to a Job Outlook 2013 report published by the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE), soft skills make graduates stand out among their competitors in the job search. It’s great that you earned a high grade point average, but how well did you do working in teams on class projects? Your knowledge of Excel, PowerPoint and other computer programs is important, but so are your interpersonal skills.

Here’s a checklist of soft skills employers look for when recruiting job candidates:

  Communication skills (listening, verbal and written): Employers need employees who can effectively explain an idea through conversation or in writing. It’s also equally important that an employee listen to other colleagues’ ideas and points of view.

Interpersonal Abilities: Can you relate well to your coworkers? Are you good at building relationships? Bottom line, can you positively interact with others for the work day?

Planning/Organizing: An effective employee designs, plans and executes a project in a specific amount of time. Planning and organizing involves paying attention to details and knowing how to use your time wisely and effectively.

Teamwork: It’s tough to find a job that doesn’t involve interacting with others on some level. Can you work with other professional to achieve a common goal?

Flexibility/Adaptability: How well do you handle changes? Work assignments and conditions don’t always go according to plans and employers want employees who can easily adapt to these changes.

Problem Solving/Creativity: How creative are you at figuring out new approaches? If there’s a problem to solve, how do you go about doing it? Can you use available resources to offer solutions?

Multicultural Sensitivity/Awareness: This is perhaps one of the most critical soft skills as the world of work continues to diversify. Do you have an awareness of and sensitivity to other people and cultures?

Reference these skills on your resume and cover letter. Be prepared to talk about your experiences using these skills during job interviews.

If you’re concerned that you lack some of the soft skills employers seek, think of ways to begin developing them:

1. Identify the soft skills that need fine tuning. Ask friends, family and peers what areas they think you could improve. Use a skills checklist to evaluate.

2. Take some classes that could help you develop your soft skills. A public speaking course can help you improve your presentation skills. Look for leadership focused courses that develop teamwork skills or classes where you’ll polish your writing abilities.

3. Get involved in student groups  where you can develop soft skills in a fun environment.

4. Volunteer with an organization or group where you’ll develop skills, meet others and get involved with your community.

9 ways to learn about college majors before selecting one

Students earning  Associate in Arts or Associate in Science degrees from CPCC know they want to pursue a bachelor’s degree at a four-year institution. But many are unsure of which academic major they want to study. There are many ways to explore academic majors before selecting one.

Read the description of the major: It’s amazing how many students don’t take the time to actually read a college or university’s description of the academic majors offered. The major description often talks about the focus of the program, courses offered and types of careers people pursue after graduation.

Read the descriptions of the courses you’ll be taking: You decide which movie to rent by reading the movie description. The same approach works for college courses. Read about what you’ll study in the class. Does it sound interesting? If many of the classes from one major sound appealing, it’s a positive sign that the major might be a good fit for you.

Take a class: If possible, take a class from the major you’re considering. Keep in mind that introductory courses often provide an overview of a particular subject whereas upper level courses are more focused and intensive. However, an intro course can give a brief insight into topics that will be covered in more detail in the upper level courses.

Remember that you won’t like every course: Don’t dismiss a major because of one or two courses that make you cringe. Every academic major has courses that won’t be your favorites. Consider the bigger picture. Could you survive that course for one semester knowing that the other classes sound very interesting?

Talk to faculty and upper-level classmates: If possible, try connecting with students already enrolled in the major. Find out what they like about the major, why they chose it and what their career plans are. Email a professor from the department asking if you could schedule an appointment during office hours to talk about the program. Come prepared with questions to ask.

Check out related student organizations: Many programs have organizations that give students the opportunity to connect what they’re learning in the classroom to real-world applications. Clubs could be a great avenue for finding peers to talk to. You can usually find student club information through a college’s student activities office or through the corresponding academic department.

Meet with a career counselor: Career counselors can help you identify your skills and interests and brainstorm particular academic majors that compliment both. While a career counselor can’t tell you which major to pursue, the information you learn can help clarify which path might be the best fit.

Research possible career paths: Visit career exploration websites such as the Occupational Outlook Handbook, O*Net and others to learn about different careers. These resources provide extensive information about the expected duties and skills for different jobs as well as the education path required to pursue them.

Know that your major may not determine your career path: If you talk to people employed in a profession of interest, there’s a good chance they have different academic backgrounds. The truth is, most career paths have different starting points. The likelihood that you’ll find yourself pursuing a different career than the one you originally intended is quite high. Additionally, your career interests may likely change over time. The chances of your academic major selection determining what career you’ll retire from are quite low.