Archive for August, 2009

Ask an Intern: What did you do this summer?

August 26, 2009

If other interns are like Jackie Witkowski, they are going back to college with stories to tell – beyond their expectations.  Jackie is completing a twelve-weeks’ stint at the National Museum of Women in the Arts in Washington, DC, and will be heading back to DePaul University in Chicago.

What did Jackie, a twenty-one year old from St. Louis, actually expect?  Well, she expected that she would do whatever she was asked, that maybe she would get involved in a special project, and generally enjoy her first visit to the nation’s capital.

True, she enjoyed herself.  But her 40-hour work week quickly progressed from all-around helper in the Education Department of the museum to, well, running a few things on her own.  Here’s the short version of how her responsibilities rocketed upward:  the already-small department was depleted by job changers, including the Intern Coordinator and the Volunteer Coordinator.

  • Suddenly, instead of assisting the intern coordinator, she was organizing other interns in all the departments for training, sharing, and socializing.
  • Instead of assisting the volunteer coordinator in continuing education training,  she was herself  coordinating a special tour at the National Gallery of Art for the museum docents.
  • Instead of reporting to coordinators, she suddenly reported directly to the Director of Education.

As one of the weekly volunteer docents at this museum. I noticed Jackie early in the summer.  She introduced herself to one and all, asked to sit at the information desk and began to learn the answers to questions posted by visitors.  She remembered names from week to week.  She kept on smiling as her workload shifted in responsibility.

Jackie’s performance did not go unnoticed.  The chairperson of the Department of Education, Deborah Gaston, describes Jackie as a rock star.  Ms. Gaston, who has seen many interns, says you can tell early in the summer who will be capable of increasing responsibility and ownership of projects.  She cites evidence of the high quality of Jackie’s work:

  • She wrote enthusiastically, prolifically, and  professionally for the new blog on the museum’s website (
  • She displayed an excellent work ethic.
  • She had a fine grasp of the basics of art history, as shown in her blog postings.
  • She asked for help when she needed it.
  • She continually showed a fine sense of humor, something needed in an art museum in these tight times.

As Jackie returns to her senior year in college, she reflects on the lessons learned during her internship:

  • You need to immerse yourself in your work as soon as you arrive – there is no time to lose.
  • You need to meet every single person you can and learn as much as you can about the work of the whole organization.
  • You can leave your internship with vastly increased confidence in your own ability.
  • There are many career paths that lead to your goal, not just the ones that professors tell you about in the classroom.
  • You can stay in touch with your new friends and associates, because you’ll be looking for a job very soon.
  • You can plan a return visit as soon as possible because it will keep your network alive.

Ms. Witkowski has set a high standard for interns at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.  She is to be congratulated for  recognizing  opportunities and for creating solid accomplishments to carry back to college.  Other interns, please take note!

Time for a Job Change

August 24, 2009

How do you know when it’s time for a job change?

I am not talking about the obvious – being laid off, being told to start looking.  Those painful situations have the advantage of clarity – you know what you have to do.

For others, the situation is not clear.  I think there is an art to knowing when it is time to take steps.


  • Your role in staff meetings comes under fire,
  • You become identified as a problem when you raise a concern,
  • You are not given the tools/authority/assistance/space  you need to do your job.

I know one person whose job included bidding on contracts for continuing education.  He consistently told his superiors that there was increased competition for a major contract, and he needed to come in with a lower cost.  They refused to let him do this.  To no one’s surprise, the contract was awarded to someone else.  I mentioned that yes, it was time to look for another job before people started noticing that this was a highly-paid individual without much to do. The loss of the contract could be blamed on him.  Yes, he started looking, and now has a very responsible job in a major university.

Are you getting an uneasy feeling that nothing is going your way?  I suggest that you take a few steps now:

  • Update your resume,
  • Set up a few lunch meetings,
  • Get on an ad hoc committee to solve an industry-wide problem,
  • Get your financial affairs in order for a time of transition.

Yes, tough times make it challenging even to consider leaving a job with a steady salary.  Take the time you need. You will feel better knowing that you are moving in a direction of more respect, more opportunity for success and recognition, more real satisfaction.

If you would like to share some signs that it is time to look for another job, I invite you to post a comment.  This will be of help to other readers.

The Power of your Online Presence

August 19, 2009

According to a study by, 45% of employers are now searching social networking sites for information about job candidates.  Their searches are almost evenly divided among Facebook, MySpace, and LinkedIn.  In addition, some are reading blogs and following candidates on Twitter.

What does this mean for you, the job seeker?

The study goes on to summarize a few reasons you might be accepted or rejected based on what you have put out there in cyberspace.  Employers may reject you if:

  • You have posted inappropriate, gross, drug-influenced material,
  • You communicate poorly (spelling, grammar, overall appearance),
  • You lie about your qualifications for the job.

On the other hand, your online presence can work for you if:

  • You seem to be a good fit for the company,
  • You show creativity,
  • Your entries support the qualifications you claim to have.

This is a fascinating study, and I urge you to read the whole story.  You will see that your online identity cannot be ignored in your job search, but rather it can be a real plus to you.  Don’t self-destruct by careless comments or unwarranted bragging.  Ask a friend – call a career counselor – be your own most severe critic.  Clean up that site now!

To read the whole story, go to:

To get help in repairing or enhancing your online presence, please contact me through my website:

Basic career message with a light touch

August 14, 2009

If you know someone who needs to brush up on the tools of the job search, yet dreads the process of slogging through all those steps, here’s a suggestion:  pick up a copy of Courting your Career by Shawn Graham. This paperback book draws parallels between courtship and the job search in a way that should be appealing to job seekers, especially the young ones.

  • What to include/leave out in your resume?
  • Why should you write a cover letter?
  • Why fill out these tedious forms?

Well, let’s think about it.  When you are going out on a date, or arranging to meet someone,

  • does it matter what you wear?
  • why take a shower?
  • why did you choose that shirt?

I find this analogy not only fun to think about, but persuasive .  According to Graham, the first characteristic in effective resumes is to be attractive.  Easy to read, lots of white space, not too much detail.  And no typos, no spelling errors, no misplaced apostrophes (my personal campaign).  Easily related to no ketchup stains on the shirt or spinach stuck in the teeth.  We get it!

If you have a recalcitrant job seeker in your life, this just might help.  Congratulations to Shawn Graham, who has combined very basic career information with an easy-to-digest, funny metaphor about the quest for romance.

The Enemy of the Successful Job Search

August 2, 2009

If there is one thing than can defeat even the most talented or experienced job seeker, it is inertia.  Call it boredom, depression, discouragement, frustration, I am referring to the condition of doing nothing.  Nothing.  No phone calls, no neighborly chats, no research, most of all, no human contact.

Remember the lottery slogan, You Gotta Play to Win? There is such obvious truth in it that we need to consider it here.

The small mistakes that people can make while looking for a job (not sending a thank-you letter, not asking references for permission to use them, not doing adequate research on a company of interest) pale beside the error of doing absolutely nothing.  If you are in this situation, Couch Potato, it is time to take a step forward.

(Well, hey, I’m reading a career counselor’s blog, doesn’t that count?)

Reading a blog or a website only really counts if you take the effort to write a comment, follow up on the advice you gained, read a suggested book or article, or otherwise show that you gained from reading the item.

What are you going to do today?

  • But it’s Sunday and nobody’s at work…
  • I have three applications out there.
  • Haven’t you heard about the high unemployment rate?

I’m not impressed with the above-listed whines.

  • Yes, it’s Sunday. And tomorrow, people will be checking their email and listening for phone messages.  Will yours be there?
  • You can leave messages about those applications, restating your interest.
  • Yes, unemployment is climbing.  And I could name you a few clients of mine who just got good to great jobs.  Why?  Because they worked at it.  They aren’t really any smarter or more experienced than you.  They’re hard workers.

Need more of a nudge?  Feel free to contact me through my website,  I’d love to help you recover from your inertia.