Career Skills You Won't Learn In School

Contributed by Teresa Crane, 30 August, 2013

There are a number of skills important to being successful in the job market, but you won’t necessarily acquire them in school. These skills will not only help you to thrive as you make the initial transition from school to work, but also to manage your career for the long term. And they may be different from the skills that brought you success as a student. Your needs, the demands of the job market, and the nature of your field will all change over time. Developing career skills now, in the areas of planning, networking, conducting a job search, and persisting through the process, are critical to finding that next job, whether it’s your first experience or you are a seasoned professional seeking advancement. This guide will help you begin to navigate the job market and make the most of your online degree.

PLANNING SKILLS

Career planning efforts should take place before you send out your first employment applications. These activities will help you to identify employers hiring in your field, establish your professional presence online, and develop a strategy for how you will move forward with your search.

IDENTIFY POTENTIAL EMPLOYERS

Create a list of specific companies and organizations that are currently seeking people with your job skills. You may already be working in your field and have an awareness of where hiring is taking place. If so, add these businesses to your list and continue to explore similar companies and those that provide related services. If you are planning to enter a new field after graduation, now is the time to find out more about the industry you are interested in and identify potential employers to add to your list.

Keep your list of potential employers up-to-date, adding and removing information to maintain a current roster of contacts. Find a format that works for you and is easy to edit. This may be a simple handwritten ledger or a more complex spreadsheet. Create entries that include details such as: company name, websites, location, human resources contact, any vacancy announcement information, and how you found out about them (e.g. through a friend, social media, news article, alumni). Remember to focus on the skills required, not just the type of company. You may find potential opportunities that require your skills in a variety of organizations, ranging from non-profits and private businesses to government agencies and educational settings.

While you will continuously find leads and ideas about potential employers, there are a few ways you can begin your research now. Explore the following resources and get your list started.

Get in touch with your career center advisors to find out more about how your school is working directly with employers. Keep in mind that employers that are already recruiting at your school are likely aware of your program and the fact that it is online, and find some benefit in actively recruiting there.

But don’t just compile a list of employers and leave it at that. Use it to maintain your focus on employers that are interested in hiring in your field, and to help you document future networking and application efforts. It’s important to stay organized as you make multiple contacts and send out resumes.

ESTABLISH YOUR ONLINE PRESENCE

What will potential employers find out if they search for information about you online? A positive and professional online presence is gaining importance in today’s job market. Having an online presence allows you to not only participate in social networking activities related to your career field, but also present your experience, interests, and skills to potential employers in an arena where they are already active – the Internet.

A recent article in Forbes provides a sneak peak of the future of job search and placement activities, a future in which your online presence may replace your traditional resume and provide a way for employers to find you based on a match of their job needs with your skills and interests. Taking the time to thoughtfully establish your online profiles, with a job search in mind, is a key part of the preparation you need to complete before applying for positions.

DEVELOP A JOB SEARCH STRATEGY

How much time will you invest every week, every day, in looking for a job? How will you make contact with potential employers? Where will you look for position announcements? Developing a job search strategy to answer these questions helps you to focus your efforts so that the time you spend looking for a job is as efficient and effective as possible. Consider your other commitments, such as school, family, and current employment and plan wisely.

Block time on your schedule to conduct your search and create a list of specific activities you’ll engage in to complete your search. Organize a list of contacts and decide how you will follow-up with each one and what search techniques you will use. If you are interested in career fairs for example, find local events and virtual ones that are scheduled to take place and register. Keep a record of your efforts and review this periodically. Figure out which activities are working well, and which ones aren’t, and adjust your strategy accordingly.

NETWORKING SKILLS

Active professional networking means reaching out to and maintaining contact with those individuals who can provide you with information about your career field and potential opportunities. These efforts may open up leads to positions you weren’t aware of, jobs that are filled through referrals, and opportunities that are so new they haven’t been advertised. TheRiley Guide cites a recent report that found over a quarter of external hires where placed as a result of referrals.

Networking can take place in a variety of ways and result in both helpful information and assistance.

Hopefully you’ve already begun to engage in these kinds of activities, but if not, now’s the time to do get started. Not every networking contact will result in helpful information, but you will continue to build skills through active participation in the process. Select several ways in which you are comfortable interacting and add these networking activities to your schedule and job search strategy.

As an online student, you may have different opportunities to network during your program. Traditional students may benefit from on-campus events that feature alumni and employers. Similar opportunities may be available for you, via online interaction and communication. Take the initiative to seek out these opportunities through your school advisors, as well as those sponsored by organizations in your local area. Remember that networking is an ongoing process beneficial in the job search and throughout your career as you face work-related challenges and seek continued advancement in your field.

JOB SEARCH SKILLS

“The job search process” is a commonly used term that may include a wide range of steps and tasks related to securing employment. There are other requirements you will need to address as you submit your application for the opportunities you discover from the professional networking tasks listed above.

RESUMES

There is a wealth of advice on how to write resumes and cover letters available online, at your career center, and through private resume writing services. The function of the resume is to attract an employer’s attention to your qualifications, show how you fit their needs, and hopefully prompt them to invite you an interview so they can find out more about you. There are several key considerations before moving forward. Take a look at these guidelines and plan for how you will proceed with your own resume.

Your resume will be unique to you. While it may adhere to accepted practice in terms of organization and format, you should ensure that it is accurately reflecting your qualifications.

COVER LETTERS

Cover letters, also known as letters of intent, letters of interest, and job search letters, work with your resume to help you get an interview. Your cover letter should be your introduction to hiring managers and persuade them to read further.

JOB INTERVIEWS

Once you’ve received an invitation to interview, you should begin preparing for the meeting in multiple ways. Again, you’ll find a lot of advice and guidance through your career center professionals, but here are a few of the basics to get you started.

As an online student, you should prepare to answer questions about your online learning experience.  A 2009 review of research conducted to identify employer perceptions of online academic degrees found that employers often cite the following reasons for their reluctance to accept online degrees in the same way that they accept traditional degrees: perception of a lack of rigor and more limited face-to-face interaction, potential for cheating and plagiarism, perception of online programs as diploma mills, and a questioning of the overall commitment of online students to their education as compared to students that attend on-campus programs.

The review also found that there are specific conditions that could make an employer view an applicant with an online degree more favorably. If the applicant received the online degree from a school with a positive reputation and the right accreditation, that could make a difference. Applicants with previous, related work experience, in addition to the online degree are also viewed more positively. While employer acceptance of online degrees is growing, there is still a general perception that online courses do not have the same educational value as traditional face-to-face courses. Anticipate how will you respond to interviewers who ask about the value and quality of your online degree.

Be prepared to discuss how you chose your online program and the value and quality you experienced as a student. Provide feedback about how the program was accredited and the qualifications of the faculty. Be prepared to describe the ways in which you interacted with your instructors, your classmates, and the course content. Explain to interviewers how the skills you gained through your online studies complement any related work or practical experience you have and qualify you to work in your field.

JOB OFFERS

Many employers extend offers over the phone and follow-up with an official offer letter. It is important to thoroughly evaluate a job offer before making a decision, no matter how tempting it may be to accept or decline on the spot.

There’s a lot you can do to put your best foot forward during the job search process. Maintain a focus on helping each employer realize the ways in which you are a good fit for their organization.

PERSISTENCE SKILLS

There’s no doubt that today’s job market is challenging. What if a job offer doesn’t come right away? According to the Career Services Center at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, you can expect your job search to take anywhere from 8 to 23 weeks. It could even take longer depending on your needs and the economic conditions surrounding your field during the time of your search. What can you do to survive a long search?

THE FUTURE OF WORK

Today’s job market and its influences are dynamic. All sectors of employment are responding to global factors, economic uncertainty, and high-level industry changes. Remember that hiring trends change over time, so while some occupations become obsolete, others are emerging as new fields.

The nature of work itself is changing. Technology now plays a major role in both how work is accomplished and in how positions are being filled. Your experience as an online student may provide you with essential skills related to completing collaborative projects, working independently, and communicating efficiently in virtual work environments. Be ready to market that type of experience and education in multiple ways, and stay flexible to meet the evolving needs of employers.

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