Toppel Peers Blog

the inside track to your career

How to Nail UShadow

By Mia Lama, Junior, Industrial Engineering

As a two-time veteran of the UShadow opportunity, I have learned a few tips and tricks to really get the most out of the experience. Here are the crucial things I’ve learned:

Step 1- Make a Great First Impression

When first reaching out to your UShadow Host, you want to share some insight about yourself with them but also demonstrate eagerness and knowledge about their company and position. Add them on LinkedIn and read through their biography. Google search their name and see if they have been featured in any public writings or have co-authored a book. Learn as much as you can from the internet and start developing questions you have for them. In your initial email, show personality and enthusiasm. You want them to be just as excited to meet you as you are to meet them!

Continue reading “How to Nail UShadow”

Ways to get Ahead this Spring & Summer in Your Grad School Application Process

By: Alexa Lord, Ph.D.

Use Spring & Summer (1)

Each grad school application has many components. Multiply that out by however many schools you’ll be applying to, and it can be a dizzying amount of information to keep track of. If you plan to attend grad school, you typically need to apply in the fall/winter one year before the fall that you’d like to start school. So if you’re reading this as a current junior in college who would like to go straight from undergrad to grad school, now is the time to start the “application process.”

The application process is more than just filling out some forms and writing an essay or two. Once you’ve decided that grad school is a good route for you and you’ve narrowed down the type of degree/program you’d like to pursue, you’ll need to carefully curate the list of schools you’d like to apply to, do research on those schools to make sure they’re a good fit, write and revise (…and revise and revise….) your personal statement and/or statement of purpose, and more. Use this spring and summer to get ahead in the ways mentioned below. The more time you give yourself, the easier it will be to manage all of the application details, especially while still taking undegrad classes.


1. Create a list of schools that you’d like to apply to.

The number of schools you apply to depends on many factors, including the number of programs that exist for what you’d like to study (for some highly specialized degrees, there may not be that many schools to choose from), how competitive the type of degree/program is that you’d like to pursue, and the amount of money you have available to pay for application fees and the other costs of applying (although sometimes these can be waived). Consider asking current UM grad students in the field you’re interested in how many schools they applied to. For Ph.D. programs, 8-15 schools is a fairly reasonable amount. When you’re first curating your list, don’t worry about the amount, you can tailor the list as you go. That’s the benefit of starting to prepare in the spring/summer.

Look for schools that have renowned programs in the field of study that you’re most interested in. It’s not just about the school’s reputation as a whole. Talk to UM faculty in the field to get their take on a particular program’s reputation if you’re not sure.

Consider the program’s faculty. Quality of faculty and the number of whom are experts in your area of interest should be a deciding factor. For some programs, you’ll need to be prepared to identify which faculty you wish to study under as part of the application.

See if the program/campus meets your needs. Do they have adequate resources, labs, libraries, funding opportunities (e.g., assistantships, fellowships)? It can be somewhat difficult to tell just by looking online, hence #2….

2.  Do research! Email faculty AND graduate students of each program on your list.

This will help you narrow down your list a bit. For some programs, you’ll need to ask faculty if they’re going to be taking on any new students in the first place. If they are, you should be able to get in contact with their current students (or past ones) listed online. Conduct an informational interview with those students about why they chose that program, would they choose it again, and why. They are the experts.

Tip: Emails should be professional and make a good first impression. Clearly and concisely state who you are, what you’re interested in studying, and what questions you have. Remember, they’re doing you a favor by answering your questions.

3. Look at each program’s requirements and other qualifications you’ll need to be accepted.

Make sure you meet them and if you don’t, participate in additional experiences as soon as possible so that you can meet them in time to apply. For example, do they prefer that you’ve done independent research? Do you need a portfolio?

Consider taking time between undergrad and grad school to gain any additional experience needed. What that experience looks like depends on the field of study. For business school, you’ll likely need work experience to be a strong candidate. For doctoral programs, you’ll need research experience (e.g., posters, publications, research assistantships, independent study, thesis).

4. Keep track of the application requirements and deadlines in an organized way.

Spreadsheets are very helpful for this, and you can find some online that others have already created. One strategy is to have a separate row for each school/program and a separate column for each application item required (e.g., personal statement, statement of purpose, exam scores, number of recommendation letters, application fee, application deadline), putting a yes/no in the cell depending on if that item is required for that school. That way all of the information is in one document that you can easily refer to and update (adding additional columns where you keep track of whether you completed each requirement or not).

5. Prepare for any exams and take them early!

This will give you time if you need to retake the exam to boost your scores. Don’t underestimate the importance of regularly taking timed practice exams.

Obtaining high exam scores, along with a high GPA, is great and can help you “make the first cut” when grad schools are reviewing your application. However, high marks alone do not guarantee that you’ll be accepted into grad school. To make the second cut and get offered an interview, you’ll need strong application materials that demonstrate your fit with the program in other ways (e.g., relevant experience, passion for and knowledge of the field, desire to learn more).

6. Start writing/creating your other application materials (e.g., personal statement, statement of purpose, resume, transcript, portfolio).

Start drafting these early. Expect them to go through several rounds of edits to the point where the earlier draft is no longer recognizable. Good writers know that earlier drafts are often of poorer quality anyway.

Just start. It can be difficult to write about yourself. Get something on the page. Even if it is absolute garbage. Staring at a blank screen doesn’t get you anywhere. Let your thoughts flow onto the page — don’t worry about sounding smart or professional at first. You can revise that later.

Be yourself. The faculty reviewing your application materials don’t expect you to be an expert in the field — that’s why you’re applying to grad school to learn more — so don’t try to act like you are one. Instead, be honest about what you do know, what piqued your strong interest in this field, what you’d specifically like to learn/research more about while in grad school, and the overall impact you’d like to have with an advanced degree.

Get help. Ask people to proofread your documents. By people I mean professionals. Go to a professor’s office hours and ask if they can give you feedback on an essay or two. Schedule an appointment at the UM Toppel Career Center. We’ll help review your materials, including resumes. Read up on and attend workshops about writing application materials. Toppel hosts these every semester and a career advisor can help you determine whether certain resources or pieces of advice are legitimate or not. Maybe that blank screen has gotten the best of you and you’re not sure how to even start — Toppel can help with that!

7. Decide who you’d like to write recommendation letters for you.

Your letter writers should ideally be professionals in the field. Grad schools not only look at the content of the letters but also who wrote them. That said, you shouldn’t walk up to a professor you’ve never had, asking them to write you a letter just because they seem important. You want to choose people you have a relationship with, that can write you a strong letter. They don’t all have to be professors either. In their letters, these people will hopefully be vouching for your ability to do well in grad school. So choose people who can speak to that.

Reach out to these people early, asking them if they can write a strong letter for you by a specific date (a date that’s in advance of the application deadline but still gives them a couple months to write the letter).

If they agree to write you a letter, provide them with all of the information they’ll need (e.g., drafts of your essays and other application materials, school/program information, links for letter submission). Provide this information in a very organized fashion (remember, spreadsheets are your friend and theirs). You might also consider asking your writers to provide feedback on your essays. Send them gentle reminder emails as the deadline gets closer.

8. Come to Toppel!

No one said you have to do it alone. The Toppel Career Center is here for all UM students, at any point in the grad school application process. Perhaps you’re not 100% sure that grad school is the best route for you. A career advisor can help you see all of the options you have and discuss the best ways to get to where you want to go. You can also check-out the great assessment tools we have that show you the different career opportunities for your major/interests (click here to take the Sokanu test).


Overwhelmed? Even more of a reason to start earlier. Putting one foot in front of the other and breaking the application process down into more manageable pieces can help to ease that feeling of anxiety and keep you on track to meet the deadlines. Make the most of this spring/summer. You got this.


About Alexa:

Alexa is the Associate Director of Assessment & Communication at the University of Miami Toppel Career Center. She oversees the development and implementation of the Toppel’s stats and marketing.

Alexa earned a Ph.D. in psychological and brain sciences from Washington University in St. Louis and a Bachelor’s degree in psychology and political science from the University of Michigan. Her research focused on social-personality psychology, specifically on personality and achievement (e.g., how people’s self-perceptions and beliefs influence their coping, relationships, and goal attainment). Alexa’s background in statistical analyses and passion for personal and professional development brought her to where she is today—helping the Toppel Career Center and UM students reach their goals!

Lying on Your Resume: Don’t Do It

By Andrea Trespalacios, Peer Advisor


Oftentimes, we are all tempted to embellish our resumes a little too much, omit some slightly important information, or if we’re struggling, add some strong non-truths. Yes, the job market is competitive, and many other people also want that job you really, really want, but securing a job with lies can be very dangerous. While it’s obvious that lying on your resume goes against the whole purpose of a resume, there could be potential career damaging repercussions.


One of the main ways in which some people alter their resume is by purposefully eliminating any unemployment periods. This is easily done, just extend some dates and it’ll look like you’ve never spent a day without a job. This of course is attractive to employers. However, this easy change, which might seem like a quick fix, could ultimately cost you that job you really wanted and could have gotten without having to lie.


To demonstrate the severity of lying on your resume and that no one who does it is safe, take Yahoo’s CEO Scott Thompson. After five months in the new charge, it was discovered that he did not have a computer science degree, but instead he had graduated with an accounting degree from an institution that didn’t even offer computer science (Stewart 2012). The claim was investigated and after a very short tenure, Thompson was fired.


For students and young professionals, a common area for embellishment is the skills section. Some people get a little carried away with their proficiencies – stating they know much more than they actually do. Taking one semester of French and remembering a string of words does not count as being proficient. Similarly, knowing Microsoft Word and PowerPoint really well does not mean you are an expert in Microsoft Office. While these small white lies may make your resume and application more competitive, the potential consequences outweigh any benefits incurred. The last thing any professional should want is to be hired, realize you cannot do one of your assigned tasks because you do not actually have that skill, and subsequently be fired. These actions will set the tone for the rest of your career, as having a bad relationship with a previous employer or reference can cost you many other opportunities.

What Makes a Great Elevator Pitch

By Kara Davis, Peer Advisor

Let’s say you’re at a career fair, a luncheon, or even in an elevator.  There will be lots of people that you are eager to meet, but what’s the best way to introduce yourself and make sure they remember you? That’s the beauty of the elevator pitch! If you find it difficult to talk about yourself to others, rest assured. An elevator pitch is only 30 seconds.

So, what does this elevator pitch consist of?  First you want to talk about who you are. You’ll want to greet the person you are talking to and then give them your name. Then you mention what school you’re currently attending, what year you are in school, and your major. If you have a broad major, like psychology, feel free to mention what your focus in that major is. If you are working while in school, or you’ve finished school, you would then tell the person your occupation. If the person you are speaking with is a potential employer, you’ll want to clarify the position you are looking for with their company. It’s important to do your research! What jobs are they offering? Do you meet those job requirements? Don’t forget that your elevator pitch is meant to make you stand out to the person you are talking to; you’ve got to include a “WOW!” factor.  What makes you unique? What fact can you mention that will spark interest and help people remember you?

After you’ve given this amazing pitch, you want to make sure that the person you met at this luncheon or the potential employer at the career fair can contact you. If this is a potential employer, feel free to leave them with a copy of your resume. In other cases, you can give out a business card. If you don’t have either, make sure to give them your name and at least one form of contact information (phone number or email).

To make sure your elevator pitch is perfect, practice all the time!  Have your friends, family, or even your pets act as potential employers.  Record yourself so you know exactly how you sound and what your posture looks like. A great elevator pitch helps you get your foot in the door for that dream job and allows you to grow your professional network. Good luck!

“Tell Me About Yourself;” A Trap?


By Qismat Niazi, Peer Advisor

Ah, the dreaded “tell me about yourself.” Many students, myself included, have been stumped by the broadness of this very inquiry. Do I tell them about my dog? Do I tell them I have a very unhealthy obsession with chocolate? All probably extremely interesting points, but it’s not what the employer is really asking you.


One important thing to note is that the employers, although they might have an interest in you as a person, want to know more about how you and your unique traits will be of value to them; your obsession with chocolate might not cut it (unless you’re interviewing for Hershey but that’s a different story).


I have come up with a three step answering process that seems to touch base on everything the employer wants to know while not deterring from the question at hand. I call this the Past, Present, and Future Method.



By starting out with your past, you are giving employers a little background to lead into your current and future endeavors. You can briefly touch upon where you’re from or a monumental life-changing experience that you feel is necessary to mention, but you should really set this up in a way that highlights any past experience you have had in the field of the company you’re interviewing for. This is a good leeway into talking about how you got interested in what you’re currently doing: any research, jobs, even the reasoning behind which you chose your particular major(s).



This is your chance to, in plain terms, brag about all the amazing things you are currently doing. You want to make sure this ties into what you did in the past or address why it doesn’t quite align (I found my passion to be something completely different). Again, you want to make this company specific; mention characteristics/skills that would be useful in the position you’re applying to and brand yourself.



This is where you can outline your vision of the company in the future. Talk about where you want to take the company, if you have any new initiatives, and where you see yourself involvement wise. This shows the company that they have your interest and you definitely see yourself aligning with their mission.


This three step method has really helped me structure my interview answers and make sure I’m hitting all the necessary talking points, and I wish that it does the same for you! Good Luck Canes!

How to Interview

By Cayla Lomax, Peer Advisor


With Expo ending and summer slowly approaching  many of us have been gearing up for interviews for upcoming jobs or summer internships (or may have already landed the job!).  During this time of frenzy here are a few tips to keep in mind when trying to put your best foot forward for the interview.

Before I go in to the nitty gritty of this article, I do want to mention one key point. According the website The Balance, “the key to effective interviewing is to project confidence, stay positive, and be able to share examples of your workplace skills and your qualifications for the job”. This quote really encompasses the what your main focus point should be when interviewing: Confidence, Positivity, Reliability, and Experience.

I’ve gathered the following tips from The Balance, The Muse, and Live Career:

1.Research the Company and Position

Success in an interview is dependent on solid knowledge of the company and position you’re applying for. You want to know the background of the company, obviously, as well as what the position entails, but don’t neglect researching the company culture and mission statements. By getting a sense of “who” the company is,  you can better structure your answers to fit the what they are looking for and become a more attractive candidate. Find as many resources as you can such as friends, contacts, Google, Glassdoor, press releases, company’s social media, etc. to better your knowledge about the company.


2.Anticipate Interview Questions

First and foremost, you should prepare and practice your response to the typical job interview questions, such as the “Tell me about yourself” question, which though seemingly simple, can trip up those who are not prepared. You also want to ask the hiring manager what type of interview to expect – different firms use different types of interviews, so it’s best to be prepared for anything that’ll come your way. Your main goal when answering interview questions is to come up with answers that are detailed, yet concise, that focus on specific examples or accomplishments.


3.Be Aware of Body Language

Though the content of your answers in incredibly important, employers will also be focusing on what is unsaid – that is, your body language. You want to make sure you have eye contact, good (yet comfortable) posture, and smile and nod occasionally to show that you’re actively listening and engaged. You want to avoid slouching, fidgeting with your chair, or playing with a pen or your hair.


4.The Follow Up

Common courtesy and politeness go far when interviewing. Generally you should send your thank you note or email within 24 hours of your interview.


With these tips you should be well prepared for any interview that comes your way. Good luck Canes!

Gap Year: What’s the Deal?

By Ali Banas, Peer Advisor

So…You’re considering a gap year. This isn’t an easy decision for some, but for others it makes perfect sense. Whether you just need a break and want to gain experience in your field, you’re feeling indecisive about your path, or you know that you need time to gain insight on your career, a gap year might be right for you. There are many things you can do during this time, like traveling, working, or gaining experience. When you’re wondering if this time is right for you, consider a few things. Can you afford to live and complete your goals without scholarships or major funding from the university? Will this motivate you to return to school and help your focus? What do you want to gain from this experience? Here I will discuss a few of the most popular things to do during a gap year.

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Completing lab work while in school can be time consuming, and therefore overwhelming. The best way to get involved on campus is through professors and researchers, asking about faculty-led projects. These do not always have to be completed while in school, so it’s best to reach out and ask for opportunities that would be available to you during your gap year. If there is another research lab you were interested in, it is best to reach out and talk to representatives or organizations that lead the type of lab you are looking for. Gap years can also be a great time for networking. Get your feet wet in different types of research or see if the path you wished to take is one that would fit you well.


If you are in the medical field, you know how important shadowing can be. Use personal connections to spend a few days here and there shadowing the career professional of your choice, to see if this path is one you would be interested in. Medical professionals are not the only ones who offer shadow days, and students in other majors/career paths should be looking for these opportunities as well! Ask around your college, friends, professors, or advisors for helpful connections that may be able to assist you in finding a person to shadow. Shadowing during a gap year could really help you have a realistic view of what the working environments are really like.


Definitely one of the most common things to do during a gap year is to work. This is a valuable way to save up some money, gain experience, and meet new people that could help shape your career. A bit more of a commitment than shadowing, this is option is great for those who are trying to become more financially stable, or those who are trying to experience their field of choice hands-on. Whether full-time or part-time, working during a gap year can be very beneficial.


There are so many options for volunteer experiences around the world. This can be a great way to experience different cultures while helping a good cause. Volunteering doesn’t have to be in your field, but it couldn’t hurt if it was. Volunteering can be a great resume booster while giving you experience, networking opportunities, and the opportunity for exposure to things you might not get to see otherwise.


There are many options to consider for a gap year, and it is important to pick what will be best for you. Consider your options, and enjoy Canes!

Career Expo Craze!

By Morgan Henry, Peer Advisor

Get Hyped for Spring Career Expo 2018!

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The University of Miami’s Spring Career Expo is Wednesday, February 21st from 1-5pm at the Watsco Center. This event will feature over 100 companies that are eager to make connections with both students and alumni from UM. It’s a great way for you to make connections to strengthen your personal network, discover different potential career paths, as well as continue to develop yourself professionally. With all these benefits on the line, it’s important to stay on top of things and budget yourself enough time to have a great Expo experience.

  1. Use Toppel! Whether your resume needs tweaking or you want to start from scratch, Toppel Career Center has great resources to help you out. Walk-in Advising is Monday through Friday from 9AM to 4:30PM, so be sure to stop by in the dates leading up to Expo. We can also help you develop the perfect elevator pitch!
  2. Research the Companies. After you register for Spring Expo using your Handshake account, there’s a great feature that lets you see a list of every company that’s attending the fair. Go through, pick out your favorites, and learn more about them. Prepare some questions for the company representatives and stand out from the other hundreds of students that will attend.
  3. Make a Strategy. Whether this is your first Expo or you’re a seasoned vet, it never hurts to have a bit of networking practice. MAXIMUS will be coming to Toppel as Expo time nears to give students valuable input on what networking means and how play to your strengths within this setting (February 20th, 5:30pm). Make sure to register for this event using Handshake!

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Remember, there are so many resources out there that want to help you! Take advantage of them, and give yourself plenty of time to prepare. See you at Spring Expo 2018!

Good Luck, Canes!

3 Things Equally as Important as Academics

By Jordan Lewis, Peer Advisor

As students, the pressure is on to get good grades, whether it be in order to maintain scholarships or gain admittance to graduate school or simply reach personal goals, combined with participation to extracurricular activities and possibly even a job can be draining both mentally and physically. We often think we need to prioritize our academic success over our general well being, as if the two cannot coexist; this mentality is NOT a healthy one!

Continue reading to learn more about three things (other than your academics) that deserve some serious attention.



Many students find themselves skipping out on a good night’s sleep to study or put last minute touches on an essay and do not realize the benefits they are giving up by doing so. Mentally, sleep improves learning in addition to helping you pay attention, make decisions, and be creative. Sleep deficiency, on the other hand, negatively effects those things, in addition to being linked with depression, suicide, and risk-taking behavior. Physically, sleep helps heal and repair your heart and blood vessels, decreases the risk of obesity, and supports healthy growth and development.

Long story short, next time you find yourself at 2 AM choosing between pulling an all-nighter and getting some rest, consider choosing the latter; you won’t regret it.



We all know that constant exercise helps us look better, but that’s not why it’s on this list. Yes, exercise is important physically; it decreases risk of cardiovascular diseases and other health problems, including stroke, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, depression, and cancer. What many do not consider, however, is how vital it is in maintain a good mental state. Frequent exercise not only stimulates the brain chemicals that make you happy, but also boosts confidence and energy.

It doesn’t have to be long; a 15/20 minute walk a few times a week can improve your life in ways you never imagined.



This one needs little explanation. Right now, we’re at the time in our lives where we have the fewest responsibilities. Most of us don’t have house payments or children to support, and we should take advantage of that! College is about getting a degree, but it’s also about making memories and growing as a person. Set aside time during the week to enjoy yourself, relax by yourself or with friends, and recuperate before the next hard task you’re given.

Take care of yourselves. Work hard, but remember to play hard too!

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