In case you’re really desperate…

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College Budget Deals’ “Deal of the Day” is a discounted bartending school package. It came out right at the end of the school year. Coincidence, or timeliness?

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In a recent conversation with my father, he told me that his company was looking for a new mechanical technician to fix the machines that he is in charge of overseeing. The machines are big and dangerous if mishandled, but nothing too complex that require a college degree. He mentioned how he was on the panel of interviewing candidates, and that there was one recent college grad on the list of hopefuls. The young man had received a degree from Santa Clara University in engineering, and was now applying to fix the machines at a warehouse company that prints junk mail advertisements. A pretty easy choice for hire, in my opinion.

Apparently not. The kid was not hired, despite his impressive resume. My father told me that, although he liked the student, he was “overqualified.” Overqualified? Most of us have heard this term thrown around, but I had never thought that it could actually be grounds for a “No Hire.” I only believed it to be a consolation statement for a bigger reason, but according to my father, overqualification raises much more concern than one would think.

“He went to a top school, what makes you think that he wants to work for $20 an hour when he can make a lot more?” My dad explained, “I’m going to start training him, and he’ll find a new job and leave. I’ll be lucky if I can get a year out of him.”

This made a lot of sense. We spend so much money on years of high school training, of course university graduates would feel a sense of entitlement after graduating, even if the economy does not allow for it. So, for those who haven’t even received their impressive new diplomas in the mail, how can we escape the  odd position of expecting a high-paying job while not even being able to land an entry-level one? I did some research to find out what can possibly be done, and found some common mistakes that many make that we should definitely avoid in these tough times.

Well, first thing’s first, at least act like you want the job you are applying for. My father suggested that if the Santa Clara graduate had not handed him a resume that screamed “I AM A FUTURE ENGINEER!” with all of his experience catering toward something that was largely irrelevant to the job, then maybe he would not have seemed so eager to find something better. Essentially, present yourself and alter your resume so that you are a good match for that specific position. If you need an example, follow this guide for tips on how to re-vamp your resume.

Next, do not emphasize how smart you were for going to Harvard or the University of Chicago. Seriously, employers who are looking for someone to input data do not want to see your summa cum laude tassel, so leave them at home. Instead, talk about how eager you are to learn, or how your are interested in expanding your knowledge of what they do. This should go without saying, but do not act like you are slumming it in their company, because, even though you might be, no one’s going to hire someone who feels like a threat to the hierarchy. A little humility goes a long way.

If you are really adamant about finding absolutely any job, offer to sign a contract. Even if it is not customary for the job, if you show your commitment to staying for at least a year, then it will show that you are serious about wanting it. Bosses are like jealous girlfriends, they want to know that they have a future with you and don’t want you chasin’ no fast girls on the low.

Most importantly, be honest. If you are applying to a lower-paying job because you simply need a job, it is ok to say that. If you are too mysterious about your intentions for undervaluing yourself, the employer will automatically jump to conclusions about you that may or may not be true. They may believe you were fired from your previous job, or that you are burned out and you may be a risky hire. So confront the issue and then try to shift the subject as soon as possible. Don’t ignore it, but don’t lull on it too long.

I know that being pegged as “over-qualified” may sound like a compliment, but after hearing it about 5 times, it is guaranteed to frustrate you. So, instead of wishing you didn’t pay hundreds of thousands for an education that ended up hurting you, use the smarts that you learned in college and figure out to adapt to a changing job market.

How To Get Hired At McDonald’s

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Focus: Give Your Gap

Image source: kimberlyang.wordpress.com

Many students believe that after graduation they must throw themselves right into the flames of the tough job market, whether they feel prepared for the heat or not. However, what founders of GiveYourGap.Org, Kimberly Ang and Amber Rackliffe wishto do is encourage graduates to take a year after graduation to offer their services to volunteer organizations locally and abroad. I attended their on-campus webinar last week where the marketing and outreach director, Joeva Rock, phoned in with a small group on campus to introduce us to their organization and the benefits of giving a gap year. 

The very young founders were UC San Diego alumni who were somewhat intimidated to step into a faltering economy, but who also had an insatiable desire to see the world before they settled down into a “stable career.” They both decided to take a year after their undergraduate studies to volunteer abroad, but were shocked to learn that, not only was the process much more complicated than they had though, but it was often unreasonably expensive. And for recent grads dealing with the anxiety of student loan debt looming in the near future, this was a bit discouraging. So they found a new goal, to help others deciding what to do with the “scary time after graduation,” and connect them to the resources that would make this alternative course of action a possibility.

Their website, GiveYourGap.Org, helps organize the process of looking for the best option for one’s volunteer goals, especially for those with limited funds. This emphasis particularly appealed to me, as I also found it hard to understand why volunteers must be charged a fee of thousands of dollars. The site links users to nonprofit organizations that are constantly accepting international volunteers, as well as the different websites that access a variety of scholarships and program information. It also provides tips and testimonials from other featured “gappers” that have used the site, with the promise that a social networking sector is also in the works, to create a community of volunteers with similar experiences. The site was just launched last December, with the reported number of assisted students at a little over 100. However, due to the free-informational nature of the site, along with a count of daily site traffic, the estimated number is over 1000.

Kimberly Ang (who unfortunately couldn’t phone in as she was in China on the last leg of her 6-month tour of volunteer networking in Asia) also wished to express to students the advantages with taking a “gap year” to volunteer. What I took away from Joeva’s accounts, was that “giving your gap” should not simply be viewed as a deferment of responsibility, or a temporary escape from the work field. It should be seen as a voyage of personal growth, of understanding the world you live in and giving back to

Ang volunteering in the Philippines

those less fortunate.

“When you live in a country with no running water for a year, you will definitely be changed in a positive way,” remarked Joeva. “You learn to value the life that you live, challenge yourself by being in a completely different place, and develop unique relationships with the people and the culture.”

However, it does also have empirical value to give your gap. Rock, who had volunteered in Ghana for a year, was paid a stipend along with room and board during her stay there. It also equipped her with unique job skills that interested and impressed hiring employers when she came back to the United States.

So, ultimately, there is no “right way” to proceed after graduating, even though a norm does exist. But what the team at Give Your Gap want to publicize is that this option is both rewarding and timely, and, most importantly, available to all. The time to give back is when you can, and after college graduation may be the perfect time to throw caution to the wind and make that jump into helping the world.

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Focus: Shivani Singh and Dharma Express

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Shivani Singh at the UCSD Job Start-up Fair

“You can go on as many soul-searching trips as you want, but you still won’t find the answers.”

Last week I met author and CEO of the company Dharma Express, Shivani Singh. This statement is what she told me inspired her to develop a program that would help recent college graduates and people in a “slump” like she once was. This UC San Diego alumni, after searching for years after graduation to find the perfect pathway for herself, found a certain technique that could be utilized to fully determine one’s passions and personal goals. She created the simple program, named from the Sanskrit word “dharma,” meaning one’s higher purpose in life. She uses this term to express the idea that we have the capability and intelligence to make an impact on the world if we could only make that purpose more clear to us.

Shivani was a Physics major who, like many college students, was in a difficult position after her undergraduate studies. Although she had been told constantly how brilliant she was, which was only reaffirmed by the position she snagged working for NASA, she still did not feel like she was using all that she had to offer in life. After 3 years of being on the nine to five work schedule, she admitted to “feeling mechanical,” and that she had lost her passion for a dream she had since she was little. She knew that she could not be the only one who felt this way, which left her frustrated at the fact that many of her classmates and coworkers were now settling for less than they could accomplish. So she left her job to travel and learn about the world, including a trip to India where she was first introduced to the concept of dharma. However, after all of this, she was still somewhat unsatisfied.

So, in an attempt to find out “the secret,” Singh read books from many of her personal heroes such as Mother Teresa, Ghandi and Pablo Picasso–people that she believed changed the world. Among all of her readings, she discovered the common denominator to be the simple act of journaling. By getting their thoughts out on paper, these brilliant minds were able to organize their character in a way that helped them to realize the pathway they wanted to take.

Shivani then began to work with neuroscientists at UC San Diego, where she decided to continue her education to flesh out a plan even more, dovetailing the journaling technique with listening to music at certain intervals. Using music to trigger certain emotions and reactions in one’s brain is not a new concept, but the research done at UCSD helped to narrow it down to a specific regimen that would ultimately create the unique process that Dharma Express promotes today.

Discover Your Dharma, is the book which outlines the way that her program can help the gifted scholars and minds around her to do exactly that. After writing it, her company began developing other platforms and forms of technology, such as web apps and blogs, which would spread her coaching sessions to reach large audiences. Shivani Singh still travels around to universities, hoping to specifically guide college students that she knows are facing the all too comon dillemma of asking, “What next?” Because, although it is pretty common knowledge that university graduates have got some serious brains, sometimes the secret lies in figuring out exactly what to do with them.

“Secrets” of the Interview

A recent article in Forbes.com listed a few key tips for college grads in hoping to land a job. Because employers are looking to hire a good number of their future employees from the class of 2012, the article is an effort to prepare seniors for what to expect when looking for a job. Upon reading this very informative advice, I could not help but notice that for every single step listed, I had an accompanying interview horror story in which I had done the complete opposite. I had gone in for my dream job, knowing practically nothing about the logistics of the company at which I was applying. When I was flat-out turned down on the spot, I moped around all summer without even attempting to interview for another position. I had arrived 40 minutes late to one interview, and in another had worn denim jeans while everyone was in a suit and tie. It made me wonder, where was this list when I was tongue-tied in front of an intimidating hirer? More importantly, where was everyone else getting their advice? What was the secret? Was everyone as lost as I was?

Apparently so. Among most of my classmates, most of them had never been to an official interview, and those who had, claimed to  not knowing much going in other than the fact that one should, “dress nice.” Although, after asking for further clarification, not many of them even knew what that meant exactly. Enter, Alexa in blue jeans. Many were in the same boat as myself, picking up fragmented information from word of mouth and television shows, but not understanding that finding a job is much more tactical than it appears. One student in particular, when asked how he prepared for his first interview, replied with a slight shrug, saying, “I just winged it. Probably why I didn’t get the job.” Finding this solidarity amongst my fellow clueless classmates admittedly put me at ease.

On the other hand, I once was talking to an alumni of my high school who is now a pretty successful slam poet. He revealed to me that his first job was working in a lab, with some long and official-sounding title. I asked him what it meant, and he laughed, telling me that to this day, he still had no idea. He tried his best to convince me all he needed was to go in with no inhibitions, and from there he “just got them to like him.” I was astounded. Sure, he had an infectious personality and carried himself very well, but I was amazed (and highly dissatisfied with the lack of a “real” explanation) that his simple demeanor could get him hired on the spot.

Which brings me to the other interesting facet about this article, that none of it was spent giving advice about answering the actual questions during an interview. This, I had always assumed to be the most important part. Before my first interview, I had scoured the web for generic sample questions that I thought would surely be asked of me, so that I could give the most brilliant and eloquent responses and impress an employer. Of course, they never were. Instead, Forbes stresses how having knowledge of oneself as well as the confidence to showcase it was key to leaving a good impression, not having all the right answers. This explains why clearly unqualified people can sometimes land the job, and why many socially awkward college grads from highly ranked colleges may feel frustrated that their bulky resumes are getting them no where.

Essentially, the secret to having a great interview is that there are no secrets. It is a game of the draw, and the best one can do is go in with a positive outlook and leave with one as well, hired or not. Although preparation is key, the important part to draw from this article is that the advice is purely that: advice. Helpful to read, but ultimately one’s preparedness will come from getting to know yourself and your own habits, and knowing that even if you know all of the right answers, you’re still not going to get the job in tattered blue jeans.

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Here’s to Bruno

The other day, I attended a hiring fair for a job on campus. This situation crammed 95 nervous students all going after the same job into one tense room. The small talk was very awkward. However, one student clearly stood out among the rest. His name was Bruno, and although we were advised to wear “less-constricting attire” due to the physical nature of the fair, he was wearing a suit with a neck tie and shoes shined to perfection. He rose his hand at every opportunity, asking purer-than-light-Miss-America-quoted questions. He made sure his rather shrill voice was heard during every group activity by grabbing the lead from anyone who tried to participate. He even did so much as to run to each room we were directed to, ensuring that he would be the first one greeted by the interviewers. Needless to say, we were all quite annoyed.

However, we couldn’t get too mad at Bruno for pulling whatever obnoxious tricks he had to make himself noticed.  We were all secretly wishing that we had the audacity to be that aggressive, secretly questioning whether our hatred for him was misplaced insecurity at our own unpreparedness for the dog-eat-dog world. And, let’s face it, as college students, we are not prepared for it. We do not know what it takes to make it as a career-focused adult, because these past four years have been spent partying and pigging out with our friends, thinking that if we managed to wash and fold our laundry on the same day we were being responsible. Yet as graduation approaches, all seniors are inevitably faced with the same gripping question: What will I do now?

The idea that one can go right into the job market after being freshly weaned off of midterms and midnight trips to McDonalds is an artifact of the past. It is no secret that with the current state of the economy, the job market is less likely to let us, most of us having little to no experience. We got a degree in anthropology, what exactly did we expect? This, coupled with the debilitating fear that we will have to move back home after tasting freedom, creates what is commonly known as the “Post-Grad Syndrome.” This is the stress students who have recently graduated feel upon leaving the comforts of school and stepping into the next phase of adulthood. It is thus becoming more and more common for students to tack on additional majors and pursue higher degrees just so that they may avoid this awkward in-between stage. But the truth is that we will all have to make the transition sooner or later.

The purpose of this blog is to shed light on the different ways that students have coped with moving on from their undergraduate studies. Past, present and future post-grads will be able to give their input here and share valuable advice to help ease the growing pains. The job search is hard, but what is harder is understanding that it is just a phase that, with patience and planning, can be a lot less stressful than it seems. So, following Bruno’s lead, I will make an effort to find out the best tips for overcoming a fear of the unknown, and take the future into my own hands.

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