Which box do I check?

Sarah Pugh grew up in northern Massachusetts, not far from Boston. She is in her third year at Northeastern as a political science major. She ultimately hopes to attend law school and work in the federal judiciary. 

There was this little box on your college applications that said something along the lines of “What program are you applying to?” or “What will be your major?” Some people (the lucky ones) know the answer to this question and have known for quite some time exactly what they want to do. I (and many others) am still trying to figure it all out. And here I am in my third (middler? junior?) year.

When I was filling out my application, I saved that ominous question for last. There was absolutely no way that I was applying as an undeclared student. Because then everyone would know that I didn’t know what I was doing and everyone else has it all figured out, right? After ruling that out, there were only a hundred other choices. Much better.

Image from us.123rf.com

It came down to political science or biology — two majors on very opposite ends of the spectrum. I had always enjoyed learning about the government, and watching the debates during elections season was fun too. To be honest, I didn’t know what political science even was. I couldn’t fathom what made it a science. Also, what kind of job would I have with a degree in political science? You can’t just graduate college and become a successful politician. Ultimately I checked the box for biology. After all, I liked AP biology in high school and I did well in it — what could possibly be different?

I went to orientation, met other biology students, and registered for classes. I was excited about my decision. My first semester was filled with microbiology, chemistry, calculus, and economic justice (an elective for the honors department).

After what was only two week’s worth of classes, I hated chemistry, calculus, and worst of all, biology. I loved my economic justice class. It was engaging, the readings were interesting, and I just liked it. I can remember being on the phone with my boyfriend complaining about school and he asked, “If you could be studying something other than biology and you had to choose now, what would it be?” And it was then that I decided to change my major to political science. I loved learning about the government systems and how it affected our everyday lives, and I could figure out what to do with it career-wise later.

Later that week I was in my advisor’s office signing the paperwork and talking to the department head about why I wanted the change. I felt so grateful to be at a school that encouraged its students to explore their interests and that they made changing programs of study so simple. I attended the major fairs that are typically held for the undeclared students to talk with other students. There were these pamphlets that they passed out called “What To Do With a Degree in Poli Sci” — just the question I needed answers to. Today I know that there are plenty of options.

Image from theviewspaper.net

Technically I am a political science student with a concentration in comparative politics and a minor in international affairs — talk about a mouth full. Furthermore, I’m looking into adding a minor in history. I recently completed my first co-op job at the United States Attorney’s Office for the District of Massachusetts as a legal intern. I thoroughly enjoyed my time there and have nothing but wonderful things to say about my experiences, though not enough time to share them. In short, I am now looking at law schools for when I graduate from NU.

As cliché as it may sound, the biggest and most important piece of advice to someone that may find themselves in a similar situation to my own is study what you love; the rest will fall into place.

Conquering the grad school application process

Kassi Stein is a senior chemical engineering student hoping to get a PhD. She is interested in bioengineering research and is actively working to connect students across the college of engineering with research opportunities. You can usually find her at the lab bench or in the Capstone computer lab.

Applying to grad school is really daunting. REALLY daunting. Undergrad applications were bad enough, and now I have to go through it all over again? Great. But as I’ve been chugging along, I’ve found that the process really isn’t so terrifying as long as you have a plan of attack. Here are some ideas for how to conquer your application process.

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Research programs ahead of time: You know what’s stressful? Doing things at the last second. You know what’s not stressful? Leisurely browsing websites. Most schools have a pretty extensive admissions site, so go through it. If, like me, you will be pursuing a research-based degree, look at what research is actually happening at that school. It could be the absolute best program in the world, but if they don’t do anything that interests you then you probably won’t be happy there. For example, some of the top ten chemical engineering programs have relatively little research happening in biotech areas, so I won’t be applying there because biotech is the field I want to be in. Good advice I’ve gotten is that you should look for at least three professors you could see yourself working for at any schools you’re considering. If you haven’t the slightest clue where you want to go, some useful places to start might be your professors or colleagues on co-op. You could also think about what part of the country/world you want to be in and see if there are any schools there that offer what you want to study.

Know what materials you need to submit: Every program is different and may require you to submit different documents. Find out if you’ll need to send a hard copy of your transcript so you can get that sent out ASAP. Make a list of what you will need to write, including personal statements, research proposals, resumes (though everyone at NU should already have a nice one of those!), etc. Some of the schools I’m applying to require essays in addition to a personal statement, like an essay on diversity, while others require a statement of intent that is different than the personal statement. Make sure official standardized test score reports (e.g. GRE) get sent if they are required. You don’t want to miss any component or all your hard work will be for nothing!

Start brainstorming: If you’re used to writing lots of essays, something like a personal statement might come easily to you. If you’re anything like me, you feel a lot happier with numbers than with words, especially if those words have to describe your life. Either way, a brainstorm is a good way to generate big ideas that can be the focus of any written work you need to submit. I started by writing down the things that are most important to me in life, what I want to do in grad school, and what I want to do when I graduate to get myself started. Just the act of getting ideas down on paper starts the flow of the writing process, and before you know it you’ll have a draft. If you’re really stuck for ideas, have a conversation with someone who knows you well. Case in point, my best friend was able to point out all the things I’ve done that might make good fodder for a personal statement while I was sitting there panicking about what to write about.

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Get feedback: Have someone else proofread. Get someone else’s opinion. Things that make perfect sense in your head can be complete nonsense to another person, something you won’t catch if you’re the only one reading your work. For example, I can never tell if I’m being too technical, so I have asked non-engineers to read through my work and tell me if they understand it. Also, it’s a rare thing to write a perfect first draft, so other people’s feedback will hopefully help you revise. I’ve revised my personal statement at least ten times at this point, including a total rewrite.

Don’t give up: Feeling stuck on a certain component of the application? Go away and come back later. Clear your mind and refocus. It’s much more productive to come back with a clear head and get to work than to bang your head against the keyboard for hours.

So there it is. Hopefully something here will help you along the way. Remember that this should be about taking your life in a direction that interests and excites you, so keep your chin up and stay positive! Best of luck!

Why going to grad school isn’t always a good idea

Image from helpingpsychology.com

I’ve never subscribed to the idea that going to grad school is a good strategy for escaping a bad economy.  Is the job market tough? Yes. Is it particularly tough right now for recent college grads? Yes. Does it make sense to wait it out another year or two (or three or four) in the hopes that the economy will be better when you graduate? Not if that’s your only reason for going. Getting a graduate degree takes significant time, money and energy. What’s the point if you come out just as confused as when you went in, further into debt, and still not competitive for the job market?

Some of the most common assumptions people make about going to grad school (in general and particularly in a bad economy) include:

The economy will be better by the time I get out of grad school

Hopefully the job market will continue to improve over the next few years, but it’s hard to say exactly what it’ll look like and you may find it just as competitive. Some industries/sectors are struggling more than others, and some fields have always had limited opportunities. Job prospects for a wanna-be philosophy professor are not likely to be dramatically better in 5 years than they are now. Make sure you research the job trends for the fields you’re considering, by talking to people in those fields and researching sites such as the Occupational Outlook Handbook www.bls.gov/ooh. (Doing this kind of background research, by the way, is essential to any kind of career-related decision-making, not just going to grad school.)

I’ll figure out what I want to do when I get to grad school 

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Most graduate programs are far more specialized than undergraduate degrees, and don’t usually give you time to “explore”. You don’t necessarily need to have an exact job title in mind, but you are expected to have some idea of a career path, and why that program would be a good fit for you. I didn’t know exactly what area of higher education I wanted to work in when I went to graduate school, but I knew I wanted to advise college students, and that was specific enough to identify relevant programs.

An advanced degree can make up for my lack of experience

Some fields don’t require or even care about graduate degrees. Many communications jobs, for example, emphasize relevant experience over advanced education. Unless you also get additional work/internship experience during your grad program, you’re still going to be competing with candidates who don’t have graduate degrees, but do have more work experience.  You could end up being over-educated but under-qualified.

I’ll make more money in my field with a graduate degree

Educational level is merely one of multiple factors that may affect the salary level of a given position. Others include experience, industry, size of company, a specific department’s budget, or geography.  As mentioned above, not all jobs require graduate degrees, and education may take a back seat to some of the other factors.

None of this is to say that you shouldn’t ever go to graduate school. But if you can’t explain how you want to use that degree or why, then maybe postponing it is a better option (the world is not going to end if you work a few years before going to grad school). Unless you’re independently wealthy, you’re going to have to find a job at some point anyway, and you may just be postponing the inevitable.

Tina Mello is Associate Director of University Career Services, and has worked at Northeastern for over 10 years. Nicknamed the “information guru” by other members of the staff, she loves to research and read about various job/career/education topics. For more career advice, follow her on twitter @CareerCoachTina.

On quitting.

Emily Brown is a Career Services intern and a graduate student in Northeastern’s College Student Development and Counseling Program. She is a lifelong Bostonian interested in the integration of social media into the professional realm.  Contact her at e.brown@neu.edu.

Quitting. We’ve all done it. Whether it was that youth soccer team or student government, we’ve all made that decision not to continue with a certain activity or group. It was easy enough right? Just don’t sign up the next go around. But what about quitting your first job? You can’t just opt out on January first. Thanks, but no thanks, I won’t be returning this year. There has to be careful planning – where will I work instead? Can I schedule interviews during my lunch break? When do I tell my boss? HOW do I tell my boss? What do I do and say on my last day? Just like the first day on a new job, leaving a job can be anxiety-ridden. If an interview is like a first date, leaving a job is the break-up – “it’s not you, it’s me… we just want different things… it’s a great place to work, just not great for me anymore.” Like break-ups in one’s personal life, quitting a job is unavoidable in one’s professional life. So how do you ensure that you keep it professional and “stay friends” (aka leave on good terms)?

image from scottmccown.files.wordpress.com

  1. Timing – Two weeks’ notice. It’s the right thing to do. If the company policy requests more than two weeks notice, then adhere to that.
  2. Transition – Someone else is going to have to do your job when you’re gone right? Whether it’s a new employee or a coworker, you want to make it as easy as possible for them to take on your tasks. This might mean training the new employee, scheduling meetings to discuss projects with coworkers, making LISTS. Everyone loves a list.
  3. Last day – Don’t just beeline out the door at 5:00. Say goodbye to your boss and coworkers and thank them for the experience. You could send a group email to coworkers with your personal contact information if you want to stay in touch.
  4. Trash talk – Just don’t do it. The world is small and negative comments could easily get back to former boss or coworkers. If your new employer hears your negativity, he or she might think you’re immature or ungrateful.

So, no, quitting a job is not as simple as quitting girl scouts, but if done in a professional manner, it is not a negative experience. Keep in mind that everyone likely has to do it at some point in their career, so your boss will understand what you are experiencing and hopefully be supportive of your decision.

Emily Brown is a Career Services intern and a graduate student in Northeastern’s College Student Development and Counseling Program. She is a lifelong Bostonian interested in the integration of social media into the professional realm.  Contact her at e.brown@neu.edu.

We can’t all be engineers.

I was an American Studies major as an undergraduate. It was possibly the broadest major I could have chosen at a liberal arts school. And I LOVED it. I loved reading history and sociology and literature and politics. I would do it again if I had it to do over. Except I would have double majored in sociology.

I knew even before high school that I was better at reading comprehension and writing, not as good in math and science. Remember those silly bubble tests they give you in grade school? I performed far better on the language components and got placed into advanced English courses. I continued to struggle with science and math – particularly math, for which I had tutors through most of high school. I eventually discovered that I was pretty good with applied math, such as statistics and accounting, but my reading and writing were still stronger. Someone recently suggested that I just didn’t have the right teachers to get through to me, but I’m not so sure it would have made a difference.

Image from i.livescience.com

Based on my interests and academic performance, a liberal arts college made sense. Yes, there were science and math majors there, but they were outnumbered by the English and history and American Studies majors, so I fit right in. There were no engineering, health or business majors. It was only when I went home or to the bank I sometimes worked at, that I got blank stares or sometimes sarcastic comments about my degree. Being first-generation college, my parents didn’t know what to make of my major. My father asked who on earth was going to pay me to read books and write essays. People at the bank rolled their eyes and assumed I’d be a history teacher (not once in my life have I ever wanted to be a history teacher).

What did I intend to do with that American Studies degree? I didn’t. I picked the classes and major that I liked most and went with it. Not necessarily the most practical of options, but 15 years later, I still don’t regret it. Based on my experience with several campus programs conducting research with faculty members, a staff member in my school’s Career Center helped me identify the research and consulting firm where I ended up working right out of college. And dad said no one would pay me to read and write!

I’m not suggesting everyone should be a liberal arts major. A college degree is a significant investment, and it would be foolish to ignore practical implications when choosing a major or career. College is far more expensive now than when I went. But practically speaking, we also can’t all be engineers or doctors, or other “obvious” jobs people think of when they think stability, prestige and high income. Not everyone has the skills or drive to succeed in those positions. I know I don’t, and I can either spend my life feeling like I’m somehow not good enough, or I can get over it and take satisfaction in career opportunities that actually fit me.

And for those wondering what an American Studies degree has to do with being a career

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counselor, I use two of the core skills I learned in school – researching and analyzing information – every day.

In the words of Dr. Seuss: “Today you are you, that is truer than true. There is no one alive who is youer than you.”

Tina Mello is Associate Director of University Career Services, and has worked at Northeastern for over 10 years. Nicknamed the “information guru” by other members of the staff, she loves to research and read about various job/career/education topics. For more career advice, follow her on twitter @CareerCoachTina.

10 Things not to do at the Northeastern Career Fair on October 3 (in no particular order)

  • Go up to an employer and ask them what they do – The list of companies

    Don’t be this guy – image from encrypted-tbn2.gstatic.com

    participating in the career fair can be found on our website http://www.northeastern.edu/careers/jobs-internships/career-fairs/. You should research companies in advance so you can be prepared when you approach them. You’re more likely to impress employers that way.

  • Walk around holding your girlfriend/boyfriend’s hand – A career fair is a professional event, and is not the place for PDAs (public displays of affection). Do you want the employer to perceive you as an immature college student, or a young professional?
  • Travel with a pack of friends – You may all be looking for a job, but you each need to do your own job search.  Be independent. You don’t want to appear as if you can’t do things on your own.
  • Randomly grab goodies and giveaways from the employer tables – Yes, employers bring the stuff for a reason, but it’s rather tacky to walk up to an employer just for the sake of taking their food/toys, especially if you’re disrupting a conversation in progress.
  • Talk on your cellphone while waiting in employer’s line – Cabot Cage is already crowded and noisy enough. Loud conversations while in line could disrupt the employer’s conversations, and may be interpreted that you’re not really focused on being there.  Reviewing your resume or notes while in line can help give the impression that you’re prepared and thorough.

    What not to wear to the career fair – image from i01.i.aliimg.com

  • Dress like you’re going to a club, or alternatively, the gym (don’t let the fact it’s in a gym fool you) – It’s possible to be under-dressed or inappropriately dressed for a career fair, but it’s hard to be over-dressed. Stick with a suit and you can’t go wrong.
  • Wear clothes that don’t fit well – This includes clothing that is too big as well as too tight. You don’t want to look sloppy and/or unprofessional.  Make sure you try clothes on in advance to make sure they fit.
  • Ask an employer to “wow” you or convince you that you should want to work for them – While it’s important to determine if a particular company is a good fit for you (not just the other way around), this tactic can put the recruiter on the spot, and can make them feel defensive.  If you move forward with the application process at any particular company, you can use your own research and interview to help you determine if that is, in fact, a company you’d like to work at.
  • Get upset if the employer won’t take your resume – Due to a variety of regulations, some employers will talk to you, but won’t actually take your resume. Some employers will still make notes for themselves about candidates who impressed them, or provide you with more detailed information, so don’t let your frustration keep you from convincingly explaining your qualifications.
  • Expect to leave the career fair with a job – No one leaves a career fair with a job, though some people may leave with interviews. The career fair is an opportunity to make face time with employer contacts, and making a good impression can often carry over into your application process with that company, even if it’s at a later date.

Tina Mello is Associate Director of University Career Services, and has worked at Northeastern for over 10 years. Nicknamed the “information guru” by other members of the staff, she loves to research and read about various job/career/education topics. For more career advice, follow her on twitter @CareerCoachTina.

Getting the Inside Scoop: Career Fair Success

Brenda Marte is a dual major in Marketing and Finance in the D’Amore-McKim school of business, and plans to pursue a Master’s in Computer Science. She studied abroad in Spain, which has motivated her to pursue her next co-op abroad as well, specifically in Latin America.

Co-op allows undergrads the unique opportunity to immerse themselves in a company, and learn what a future position within that firm holds.  I am currently a middler at Northeastern University and doing a co-op within campus recruitment in University Relations at Liberty Mutual Insurance. Working in campus recruitment and engaging with campus recruiters gives me great insight into what campus recruiters and employers like Liberty Mutual expect from students.

Since I’ve been able to get an inside scoop from the recruiters’ perspective, I want to share some do’s and don’ts for attending the Northeastern Career Fair October 3, 2013. Here are few tips and suggestions to keep in mind when meeting a potential employer:

1. Preparing to Prepare

Recruiters arrive at career fairs expecting students to be interested in learning more about their firm and be prepared with questions to learn more about the company and/or the candidate selection process.

High school hasn't prepared you for career climb

Prior to arriving at the fair, aim to “wow” a targeted set of employers, rather than going in blind with 50 (or 200, which is usually the case at Northeastern fairs) tables of recruiters to shake hands with.  Arrive having researched the firm, programs you wish to participate in, and their career and internship opportunities. This shows your intent to make a good and long-lasting impression within a sea of students. Having a game plan before attending the fair, can be the difference between getting in the “do contact” and the “don’t contact” pile of resumes.

2. First Impression Jitters

I can relate to the nerves you feel when first meeting a recruiters. So, to assure that you are relaxed when networking at a career fair, make sure that you are:

  • The Whole Package: Do dress comfortably and professionally, and be ready to impress; don’t let your attire negatively distract from your experience and accomplishments – but add your personality in your ensemble.
  • Organized: Make sure you do have a resume ready for distribution when asked, don’t fumble through a folder of disorganized materials.
  • Cohesive Throughout: Do create mental bullet points of potential talking points, from what the recruiter is describing to you. Don’t appear that your only mission is to have them take your resume and pick up some promotional giveaways. Instead, demonstrate interest and curiosity.

3. A Conversation About Conversation

At my co-op, I’ve had the privilege to work with campus recruiters that are extremely accommodating and easy to talk to. I feel comfortable speaking about my future career aspirations. At career fairs, many recruiters will try to make the exchange conversational. Don’t forget the career fair is not a social event. What you say and how you portray yourself reflects on the recruiters’ determination of whether you will fit within their organization.

Keeping the conversation short and to the point is always a plus because you aren’t the only student recruiters have to speak with.  A short outline can help you stay on topic and assures that you do not extend your 30-second pitch into a 30-minute life story. Prepare a concise story that shows what kind of student and potential employee you can be for the firm.

Make sure to end your conversation with a proper and professional goodbye. It often becomes very hectic at career fairs, and recruiters may become sidetracked by distractions. Wait patiently and acknowledge how busy they are. End with a thankful handshake and the possibility to speak to them one on one in the future. Doing so will leave a good last impression.

career fair cartoon

Employers attend career fairs with the intention of branding their company and meeting potential candidates to fill their jobs. They want to hear the story beyond your resume. Networking with employers increases your chance to work with the firm as a co-op or full time employee. The opportunities these recruiters bring on campus are endless – as students it’s our job to attend and discover what those opportunities are. Career fairs can be overwhelming, but with preparation, you may walk away with a new professional connection, knowledge of career opportunities, and even the potential to interview for a job.   Armed with these insider tips from campus recruiters, you will no doubt be on your way to career fair success.

The Career Fair – It’s Not Just for Seniors

Linda Yu is a senior majoring in International Business and minoring in International Affairs with a concentration in Finance. She has completed two co-ops within a financial management firm in Boston, MA and London, UK. She has studied abroad in Spain, Ireland, and England. Follow/tweet her at @lindayu925.

I have always been the type of person that gets nervous when meeting new people. It can be quite ironic how I am enrolled in business school because I’m a big introvert, the exact opposite of what business schools encourage you to be. So when I heard about the Fall Career Fair, the bigger of the two general career fairs that Northeastern Career Services hosts, I immediately disregarded the opportunity. At the time, I was a sophomore and on the search for my first co-op. The Career Fair didn’t matter to me because I already had everything figured out. I had extensively researched the companies I wanted to work for and networking didn’t seem necessary. I was planning on nailing the interviews and getting the job.

I asked myself: “Why not? What can I possibly lose?” There was always the chance of humiliating myself but I knew I had to let go of that someday. So I put on my best suit, a pair of shiny pumps, took out my portfolio into which I inserted 20 copies of my resume, and headed off to Cabot Cage.

Image from www.campusrec.neu.edu

Upon arrival, Career Services provided me with a detailed list of employers and their exact locations (I encourage you to research the companies in advance, you can find

the company list here).

Yes, it was crowded but not unmanageable. Students and alumni were constantly leaving and arriving. There was a room where students could get organized. I followed the map and went straight to the companies I wanted to work for. The extensive research I conducted proved to be both useful and useless at the same time. Employers were impressed with how much I knew about their company. However, I realized that I didn’t know enough about the company until I spoke to someone that actually worked there. The information I received from employers made me realize that from my original target list, I truly only wanted to work for less than half of the companies. This saved me time and spared my co-op coordinator many headaches.

I explored the fair further and talked to companies that I was interested in but didn’t know too much about. Whether there were internships, full time positions, rotational programs, or co-op positions, the companies there had so much to offer! It was interesting to me how companies in the same industry often had different selling points and I was able to gain exposure to various industries. Initially, the Career Fair made me queasy but it turned out to be fun and informative.

A week after the fair, my co-op advisor called me and told me that a top 20 company within the Fortune 500 wanted to interview me after they met me at the career fair. I was so surprised that they remembered me from the hundreds of students they had met that day. I went to the interview and a day later found out that I got the job! I was gloating while my friends were still searching for their co-ops. I guess they really should have gone to the Career Fair!

Image from Northeastern.edu

After completing 2 co-ops within a financial management company in Boston and in London, I now know that my reasons for fearing the career fair never really end. You are always expected to market yourself, to network with other people and companies, and to constantly learn. Some people will love the process and others will hate it. Some people will be better at this than others. For me, I guess the question to always ask yourself is “Why not? What can I possibly lose?”

Interviews are a two-way street

Most people, myself included, find interviewing for a job to be extremely stressful. As a job-seeker, you’re so focused on answering questions “right”, trying to impress the employer and getting them to offer you the job, that you can lose sight of another perspective that is very important – your own. Your opinion is just as important as the employer’s, even though it may seem like they’re the ones with all the power. Let’s be honest – interviewing is not so different from dating. You’re always flattered to get an offer, and prefer having the opportunity to turn someone else down rather than being turned down yourself. But accepting a job is more significant than going on a date with someone you may not be all that interested in, and before you let the flattery go to your head, make sure you think through your options.

Image from www.paulmullan.ie

Shortly after college, I interviewed for a legal assistant position working for a corporate lawyer. It’s been 15 years, and this interview still ranks as one of the worst, if not THE worst, interview I have ever sat through. Not only did the lawyer regularly swear in the interview (not at me, thankfully), but he also repeatedly insulted his female clients, claiming that they got their companies in a divorce or by being widowed, and had no idea what they were doing. I sat there thinking “Do you not realize I’m a woman?”, with no idea on how to handle the situation (pre-career counselor days!) and hoping it would be over soon. I walked out of that office completely unconcerned about whether I ever heard from the company again, because there was absolutely nothing that would convince me to accept a job working for that man. (And before anyone starts with lawyer jokes – I’m not criticizing all lawyers or the legal profession, simply the behavior of this one particular man.)

Of course, my example is an extreme one, and most interviews won’t be quite so dramatic and most red flags won’t be quite so obvious. But the point is a good one – you have an obligation to yourself to assess the merits of the job/company, to determine if the job is what you want, if it will help you accomplish what you hope to accomplish, and if it allows you to do the things that are important to you, both inside and outside the office. Each job-seeker has their own personality and their own priorities, and while I could not have tolerated the working environment I described above, it’s also true that some job-seekers would not have been bothered by it like I was.

So take some time to think about what is important to you in a job and in a working environment, and compare it with what you know about the job/company before you accept any offers. Does the job play to your skills? Does the work seem like something you’d be satisfied doing, or are you unconcerned with the actual work as long as the salary meets your financial needs? Would you like a job where coworkers socialize regularly, maybe outside of work, or would you rather just do your job and be on your way? What did you think of the manager/coworkers that you met, and how did they interact with each other? If you’re looking for flexible scheduling, does the job allow that, or is the schedule clearly defined? Do you have other outstanding questions or concerns that haven’t been addressed yet?

Image from Career Girl Network

These are just examples of possible questions you may want to ask yourself, but there may be other things that are important to you as well. Be thorough about your research. In addition to what the company tells you, use sites like glassdoor.com to see what other people have said about them, Google the company to see what has been said about them in the news, and try networking with any possible contacts at the company who may be able to give you more insight.

Why is my job search taking so long?

source: careerrealism.com

source: careerrealism.com

One thing that often surprises Northeastern students when they are searching for their first after-graduation job is timing.  After all, co-op operates on a clearly defined time frame –cycles typically run January to June, or July to December. You start working with your co-op coordinator at the beginning of the semester prior to going on co-op, there’s a designated time period when resumes are sent out, and employers are generally expected to respond within a certain time frame or they run the risk of candidates accepting other positions.

When it comes to full-time positions, however, employers act on their own time frame.  Most full-time jobs are filled on an “as needed” basis, meaning that the timing of hiring is unpredictable, such as when an employee gives notice or the company needs to hire additional staff because they gained a new client. The professional standard for giving your employer notice is two weeks and can happen at any time, for any reason. Often the original employee is already gone and the position is already empty by the time it’s advertised.  How do these factors affect the timeline for hiring?

  1. There’s only so far in advance you can apply to a job.  An employer who posted a job opening in December is unlikely to wait for someone to start in May or June and leave work piling up.  Two to three months in advance of when you’ll be available to start is a more likely time frame to apply to positions, with earlier time periods for out-of-state or international job searches.
  2. Reviewing resumes, comparing candidates and setting aside times to conduct interviews is labor-intensive and time-consuming.  Also, if there’s a search committee, scheduling mutually convenient times can sometimes be a nightmare.  These things can affect how long it takes to contact candidates, especially since interviewing and hiring responsibilities are often in addition to their usual work.
  3. As much as employers may want to move forward with the hiring process, they may have other more pressing obligations that keep them from doing so. Delays can happen at any time in the process, from contacting candidates for initial interviews, to moving forward to the second round, or even after the company has already made an offer.
"ugh, this is taking forever!" Source: someecards.com

“ugh, this is taking forever!”
Source: someecards.com

There are many factors that affect the hiring process.  Candidates often assume that they are not in consideration for a position if they don’t hear from an employer right away, when in fact the employer just hasn’t had a chance to respond yet.  A perfect example is a friend who was beyond aggravated that a company hadn’t followed up with her in a timely manner as they said they would after an interview.  When she finally followed up with them, she found out why she hadn’t heard from them – the building pipes had exploded! Their office had flooded and they were busy doing damage control and temporarily moving to another office. Everything else had to take a backseat.

Waiting to hear back from employers can be frustrating and discouraging.  Having a better sense of timing can keep you from getting too stressed, too soon.

Tina Mello is Associate Director of University Career Services, and has worked at Northeastern for over 10 years. Nicknamed the “information guru” by other members of the staff, she loves to research and read about various job/career/education topics. For more career advice, follow her on twitter @CareerCoachTina.