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Toppel Peers Blog

the inside track to your career

The 3 Rules of References

By Carly Smith, Associate Director, Career Readiness

This summer, I have been thinking a lot about references. Being at the same company now since 2011, it’s been a while since I’ve had to think about who I would use myself if asked to provide a list of 3-4 people who can speak highly about me to a future employer, grad school, etc. However, this summer reminded me why I should always be thinking about who these people might be. In my position at the Toppel Career Center, I have both given many references to those who have worked for me or with me. I have also been on the other side, calling references for those I am considering hiring. I had the opportunity this year to serve as a reference for someone who I admire and love working with, and it felt wonderful to know that my positive endorsement might help support that person in their goals. However, there have also been a few situations I encountered recently that made me realize that finding a great reference is tricky, and not everyone may know the best tips and strategies for finding the right person. So, here are my three major rules for finding the best reference for you.

#1. Make sure the person you are asking to be a reference knows you well enough to speak well of you.

I learned this lesson as a college senior. Not knowing who I wanted to write me a recommendation for graduate school, I chose some faculty members that I had taken classes with recently and performed well. Everything seemed all great, until one of those individuals turned me down. I was caught off guard. Why is this person saying no to me when I took the time to ask for a recommendation? Well, it was for one huge reason. This individual was a lecturer at my university and the course that I had taken with her was only a one credit course, so she felt her recommendation would not be as well received as from someone who I knew better and spent more time with. In the end, she was right, and I chose a professor who I had a better relationship with. I have carried this with me into my current job, and will sometimes turn down a reference request if I don’t feel that my recommendation will be able to be as great as I know it should be. These people usually agree and find someone much more knowledgeable about them. Continue reading “The 3 Rules of References”

The Art of Interviewing

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By Anna Kenney, Assistant Director, Internships

Over the last few weeks, your trusty Toppel staff have been interviewing candidates for some of our vacancies. As luck would have it, we have interviewed a ton of truly qualified people. This has proved to make our job that much harder in trying to identify the best candidate to join our staff.

It got me thinking about the nature of interviewing and the fact that it is a learned skill. It takes a lot practice to get to the point that you are comfortable talking about your skills, accolades and yes, even your weaknesses.

You may be thinking, but Anna, I do not need to worry about this now, I already know what I am doing this summer. However, you would be incorrect, you should worry about it now, before the pressure of a potential interview for a job or internship hits you.

As I reflect on individuals I have interviewed over my career, I wanted to share with you the top traits that I feel you should work to master.

  • Being well prepared: It is so important to do your research on an organization before you speak with them. Take the time to read over their mission, goals and/or strategic plan. If possible, learn more about the people who will be interviewing you. Also, make sure you have an understanding of the position you are applying for. An informational interview with a current employee there can never hurt!

 

  • Dressing for the role you want: Please show up for your interview dressed appropriately. Find out what works for your specific industry. For many roles, a full business suit is the most appropriate, however for others it may not. If you are unsure of the “dress code”, PLEASE ASK! We advisors at Toppel are always here to offer you a second opinion if you are not sure. Sometimes students will come in or will email us a photo of what they plan to wear, and we are more than happy to provide feedback. The best rule of thumb however is, do not wear something for the first time on an interview! The last thing you want to do is stress over ill-fitting clothing a few hours before an interview. For inspiration, check out our Pinterest boards with suggestions or come in and see what is available in Sebastian’s Closet.

 

  • Concise in presenting answers: It is pivotal that you prepare ahead of time to how you might answer questions in an interview. You do not want to ramble your way through and then realize you never actually answered the question. While you may not be able to anticipate every question that could be asked of you, you can prepare by knowing what types of questions will be asked of you. Generally, in interviews, you will be asked resume-related questions or behavioral based questions. The goals of these types of questions are to learn more about your experience or how you would handle things. Variations of behavioral based questions could be things relating to culture/fit, situational scenarios and/or case studies. Depending on the field, you may get questions that are more technical. There are two main ways to practice this. #1: Schedule an appointment with a Toppel advisor for a Practice Interview #2: Utilize Big Interview as a way to practice online whenever you would like.

 

Do not forget that Toppel is still open over the summer. We are here Monday – Thursday from 8:30am-5pm. All our services are available just as they are during the academic year. For those of you that may not be physically on campus or in Miami, do not fret, you can schedule phone or Skype appointments as well. Our staff is committed to serving you, so please keep in touch and reach out over the course of the summer. August will be here before you know it!

Dear College Graduate,

By Sterlie Achille, Peer Advisor

I hope this letter finds you well. First off, congratulations on accomplishing your goal of earning a college education! You came, you learned, you conquered. These 4 years as a Hurricane have flown by and formed a stronger and wiser version of your freshman identity. You’ve earned the degree, aced your job interviews, and landed that great job. You may be asking yourself: What’s next? Well, now a new journey awaits…the real world.

When you are out there living your best life, I hope you remember to:

1. Keep up with your fitness

Unlike in college where you walked to get to and from class, most workplaces involve a lot of sitting or limited mobility. As difficult as going to the gym may be, it might be essential for your body’s upkeep. If not through exercise, manage your fitness by eating better and removing unhealthy choices as often as you can.

2. Practice smart financial decisions

It can be as small limiting your eating out to 1x a week (put in the effort to bring your own lunch to work as much as you can since eating out can add up quickly), or creating a budget, or even removing the unnecessary bills like cable (especially if you’re never home).

3. Continue networking

So you found the perfect job? That’s great! However, it is still very crucial for you continue to build professional relationships and meaningful connections at your workplace. This isn’t only good practice to get a reference or referral when moving jobs. It can also benefit your advancement within the company.

4. Ask for help, when needed

In the real world, we don’t always get things right. This is perfectly normal and you are not alone. Whether you need help in your personal life, or in the professional world, there are many knowledgeable people who would be more than willing to help guide you. It may feel uncomfortable at first, but once you ask for help the first time, it gets easier. What’s more important than a few awkward minutes? Your confidence in your ability to tackle the problems you will face!

 

The real world may not only be all fun and games, but there is something exhilarating about making your own decisions and having the freedom to manage your time. In addition to the things above, I hope that you find everything you are looking for. I hope that you roll with the punches, never stop aiming for excellence and continue to show up, and never give up! Carpe diem graduate, and congratulations again!

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Stressed Out

By Jackson Pollock, Peer Advisor

Finals are quickly approaching and stress levels are about to reach an all-time high. This stress that builds up while studying or thinking about finals can be alleviated with a few easy methods:

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Breathing Exercises

Personally, I have really grown to enjoy taking a break and practicing some breathing exercises. The simplest and most productive, one in my opinion, is to just sit with you hand on your stomach and breathe through your nose, slowly and deeply, so that you feel your lungs fully expanding, then slowly releasing your breath through your mouth. I usually do this technique for about two minutes. I would recommend doing whatever you feel comfortable with, just don’t get too comfortable that you fall asleep in the library. This will lower your heart rate and lower blood pressure. This is a very easy and quick way to bring yourself back to a good mental state. It’s very easy to do this in the library for a couple minutes to relax.

Talk to People Close to You

Talking to friends about what is going on in your life is a great thing to do to lessen your stress level. Doing this will allow you to truly understand why you are stressed out and with their support it will motivate you that you can in fact have it in you to accomplish your finals (in this case). You’ll also get to hear what is on their mind, which may show that you are both going through some tough mental times. Whenever I get stressed out, I like to talk to friends I’m close with at school, but also reach out to distant friends that are completely detached from my current environment.

Laugh Out Loud

On one of your study breaks go online and either watch your favorite show (The Office works well) or some funny videos. Laughing out loud will make you feel mentally lighter and realize that there are things other than Biology and Calculus.

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Listen to Music

This might be my favorite way of reducing stress. There are two ways you can approach this. This first is to listen to some relaxing music in the form of something like white sound, or classical music. This can calm you out. My personal angle on this is to start jamming out to some of my favorite songs, making sure the volume is fairly high (but not too high to affect the studying of other people in the library)

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Move.

Although the chairs in the library are actually pretty comfortable (@ me), during study breaks you’ve got to get out of that place. Take a walk around the library and get some fresh air, go for a run around campus, go workout in the gym, go take a yoga class. Just do something that will get you moving.

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Zoom Out

This is the most important one on the list. On one of your study breaks pick up a newspaper (if you don’t know what this is, it’s a series of papers put together with text and images on them telling the national and world news) and read through some of the national and world headlines. In this newspaper you will see all the bad things that are happening in the world, and all the things that you need to worry about. Through this zooming out and seeing the whole world, you will realize that these finals are not going to have substantial impacts on your life. This zooming out will allow you to be grateful for having the privilege to attend an amazing institution such as the University of Miami and much more.

You’ll be fine…

Building a Personal Brand

By Tina Humphrey, Peer Advisor

What is Personal Branding?

Personal Branding is a unique story that others recall when they think of you.

Why is it Important?

It’s important in the workplace because it helps it allows you to s123tand out. When you need a promotion or a referral, your supervisors and or colleagues should have something positive to say when they think about you.

What should you be doing now to build your Personal Brand?

Think about what makes you unique, relevant, differentiated, and special. Reflect on your strengths, skills, values, and passions. How do you STAND out?

How you see yourself is how others see you

Keys to build your personal brand

Be Authentic

Be known for something specific

Get your personal brand in check

Take steps to build and own your personal brand online

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“Your personal brand is what differentiates you from others”

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Workplace Etiquette

By Kim Wilks, Peer Advisor

The end of the semester is quickly approaching and this means that students will be moving into their full-time jobs and summer internships. Whether the position is short-term or long-term, you want to be sure to leave a good impression on everyone you encounter. Every day will be a networking opportunity. Keep a positive attitude and stay motivated. Here is a list of 10 professional etiquette tips to remember as you enter the workforce.

  1. When introducing yourself to someone for the first time say your full name and stand up. The higher-ranking person usually initiates the handshake. Handshakes are generally three seconds long. Keep a firm but comfortable grip.
  2. Maintain eye contact and good posture. Remain confident.
  3. Men nor women should not cross their legs.
  4. Arrive on time and be prepared! To be early is to be on time. This way you can do any last minute preparation that may be necessary.
  5. Respond to emails in a timely fashion. Address the person(s) receiving the email and say please and thank you. Check your grammar and watch your tone.
  6. Keep phone usage to a minimum and keep your phone on silent/ vibrate.
  7. It is usually better to be overdressed than underdressed. However, try to follow the dress code.
  8. Try your best to remember names, but admit if you have forgotten.
  9. Follow directions and ask questions if something is unclear.
  10. Avoid controversial topics with co-workers inside and outside of the workplace.

These ten tips are just some of the things to keep in mind as you enter “the real world.” Beyond all of this, remember to have fun and be yourself.  Take every day as a learning experience. Admit your wrongs and take responsibility. Then, move on and improve with every passing day. You’ll do great.

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Good Luck Canes!

End on a High: Productivity

By Sterlie Achille, Peer Advisor

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The semester is coming to an end faster than we think and soon finals week will be here. Ever wondered about the ways you could you improve your studying and productivity?

 

Well, read on for some tips!

1) Do not take on unnecessary tasks

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Time is the one thing money can’t buy.  While it is tempting to go through every problem in the book or read every chapter listed on the syllabus, it is important to prioritize and narrow down your studies. Every exam will test on a specific set of materials. Make sure to focus on the areas your professor advises so that you are not overwhelmed. Focus helps to make a study session productive!

2) Create reasonable to-do lists

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To-do lists help you keep in mind the things that need to get done and can help motivate you to be productive. However, to-do lists of more than 10 items are counter supportive to helping you reach your goals.  Large lists set a large expectation that can be overwhelming or discouraging if everything from this list isn’t accomplished. Instead, attempt to limit your to-do lists with no more than 6 items at a time. That way you can prioritize your tasks even further and set realistic expectations.

3) Keep an organized working area

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An organized workspace will help remove distractions and make for a more productive study session. The last thing you want to happen when motivation hits is to have to search for space to set down your work or fight back the flood of stuff on your desk.

4) Take Study Breaks

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Studying for long hours is actually hurting you more than it is helping.  If you spend more than 8-10 hours at a desk without moving around much, then you will notice that you have less energy.  Productivity is not measured by the number of hours you sit at a desk.  So take breaks! 10-15 minutes is usually a great refresher for going back to your task with a clearer mind!

5) Set Self-Imposed deadlines

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(AVOID situations like the one above as much as possible)

Set a personal deadline and hold yourself as accountable to it as you would any other important cut-off date. Deadlines are often stressful. Unfortunately, they’re a necessary evil. You may not always meet them but, it will help you to avoid procrastination and get as much done as possible.

College is what you make of it! As the semester comes to a close, best of luck (and preparation) to end strong. Happy studying!

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You’ve got this!

Tell Me About Yourself Question

By Kiera Adams, Peer Advisor

Spring time. It’s the time that interviews are being done for summer internships or jobs. There’s one question that is asked in all of these interviews: some people’s least favorite question, Tell me about yourself. This question can be one of the hardest for some to answer. Here’s a guide to help you answer the question:

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People either say too little or go overboard when answering this question. Your answer should be focused and short, about a minute. You don’t want to go over 2 minutes because it’ll start seeming like you are rambling. You don’t need to fit all of your skills and experiences in that minutes that’s what the whole interview is for.

Present-Past-Future formula

First you start off with the present: what you’re studying, level of study, etc. Then past: briefly go over some key experiences and skills from those experiences (again-make sure this isn’t too lengthy). Then the future-what you hope to get from the internship/why you’re excited about it.

*Tip: Make sure when you are listing experiences and skills that they are relevant to the position you are interviewing for!

Practice

The tell me about yourself question is a good question to practice ahead of time. Using the formula above, you can create a little script in your head. That way you won’t be as nervous when the interviewer asks the question. It’s important not to try to memorize it word for word because you can end up sounding robotic and rehearsed.

*Pro-tip: This YouTube Tutorial by Antony Stagg is a great tool. It uses past, present, and future as the formula; however it does a great job of explaining! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OW-yxxPMtro

Cover photo acquired from: http://turningpoint-academy.org/job-interview/interview-question-article-on-the-topic-tell-me-about-yourself/

Good Luck on Interviews!

 

 

Asking the Right Interview Questions

By Tina Humphrey, Peer Advisor

Congratulations, you’re at the interview! You’ve prepared so much to come this far and you’ve already grabbed the employer’s attention. Now it’s time to seal the deal. When you come to the end of the interview, your interviewer(s) ask if you have any questions. It’s always important to ask a few questions to show your interest in the company. Remember the interviewer will most likely remember not what you said but how you made them feel.

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https://www.entrepreneur.com/article/249028

According to Ashley Stahl, a career coach, here are the right questions to ask:

  1. What does success look like in this position?
  2. What would you say are the key challenges that the person in this role would be facing?
  3. What are the qualities of a person who you see excelling in this role?
  4. What is the employee culture like here?
  5. What do you enjoy the most and the least about working here?
  6. What does a day in the life look like in this position?
  7. How do you see this sort of position evolving over time?
  8. Do you have any reservations about my qualifications?
  9. How has this role evolved since it was created?
  10. What is the top priority for this position over the next three months?

Here are the wrong questions to ask:

1) How much do you pay?

This is like asking about marriage on the first date.

2) How much time off do you offer?

You want them to be focused on what you’ll give to them, not the paid vacation time you will take from them…

3) What’s your company mission?

4) What does your company do?

You should know this!

5) Are employees able to work on their own schedule?

6) What are the benefits in this position?

Don’t let them assume you’re going to be a diva!

7) Do you do background checks?

8) Do you monitor employee internet use?

Now they’re worried…

9) How quickly to people get promoted in this role?

They want someone who wants the actual job.

10) Do you pay for relocation costs?

You’re already making them see money coming out of their pocket! Don’t cover this until you have a job offer.

11) I’m actually even more interested in your marketing team—how long until I can be considered for those roles?

They want someone excited about the job they’re interviewing for, not someone who clearly sees it as a stepping stone (Although, let’s be honest… Everything is a stepping stone!)

Good luck interviewing, Canes!

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