By Jill Randolph
May 10, 2010
The following is an interview transcript with Burke Maxted, Career Counselor at Metropolitan Community College - Longview in Lees Summit, Missouri. Mr. Maxted has been a counselor at MCC-Longview since 2003, and also previously worked at Santa Fe Community College as a counselor. His transition to career counseling evolved from his past work in a psychiatric hospital, a home for the mentally disabled, and as a MCC student recruiter. Mr. Maxted's professional interests and specializations include career counseling, addressing first-year college transitional issues, math anxiety, and how to study for math and sciences.
MCC-Longview, founded in 1960, is one of five campuses operated by The Metropolitan Community Colleges. The campus provides a rich college experience to its 7,000 students and was the first community college to earn TIME magazine/The Princeton Review's "College of the Year" honors. In addition, MCC-Longview has gained recognition for its ABLE program, which serves students with learning disabilities and brain injuries. Additionally, MCC-Longview is home to one of the finest automotive technology programs in the nation and offers an award-winning Forensics program.
Jill Randolph: Which social media services are most useful for students who are looking for jobs?
Burke Maxted: Facebook is the most popular, but I don't think students are looking for jobs there. I recommend LinkedIn, which allows job seekers to build a network, invite people into their network, and post a longer resume than they send to an employer. They can also add letters of recommendation from others that employers can easily access.
The more students are aware of technology and the growth of social media, the more comfortable they will be using it. Employers are looking for employees who are tech-savvy, because young people who know how to use social media and other technology can offer a lot to a company when they have these in-demand skills.
Jill Randolph: I think it is important to convey to students that their technological skills are in-demand because stereotypically, younger people are shy, don't want to toot their own horn, and are unaware of the value they bring to the table. However, their demographic group is valuable even simply from a consumer point of view. Companies target a lot of marketing dollars and products to traditional students' demographic group; consequently, just by being a certain age, students are able to provide valuable market intelligence about what is in demand with their peers.
Also, students today generally have good technological skills and can market that they can help other people within a company become well versed in technology as well.
Burke Maxted: Yes, and students need to highlight their enthusiasm, energy, motivation, and problem-solving skills. I see this attitude as important whether it's for students, alumni, or individuals who are age 50 or older looking for work. Their enthusiasm for the roles they apply to needs to be conveyed to everyone they talk and write to. Hiring managers have been cited as seeking particular traits such as enthusiasm, the ability to multitask, show initiative, and solve problems creatively. Showing these traits is helpful when job searching.
It's also important for job seekers to remain positive. Negativity is a turnoff, including to possible network connections. Even when job seekers only share some negativity with their friends, it sets up an attitude in oneself that is likely to come across when the job seeker is talking with employers.
Students also need to emphasize that they offer fresh talent. We have to work hard with our 50+ students because they come out of the workforce having made a certain salary, and some expect to be compensated for the experience they have had in past roles.
We teach them that they still have to show as much energy and enthusiasm as a new person to the workforce so they don't appear jaded, and also present themselves as strong candidates who also offer fresh talent.
Jill Randolph: For older students in particular, how has searching for a job changed from the past and how has it stayed the same?
Burke Maxted: The basic steps of job searching are the same. Careful attention needs to be paid to the application and resume, and of course thank you notes should be sent when appropriate. However, the job search process is not as linear as it used to be. In the past, people were able to find a job by searching in newspapers or online, submitting a resume, and waiting for an interview.
I see some students spraying the Internet with resumes and then sitting back and waiting, which is a very passive approach to the job search process. While this may possibly be a viable strategy, the job seeker has many other ways to find job leads, including with job fairs, networking, company websites, or social groups including in chat rooms.
Therefore, it is beneficial to job seekers to create a more focused and persistent strategy, rather than sitting back and waiting for employers to come to them.
Students also need to become good at networking, through both traditional methods as well as social media. Online networking has become more important in the way people search for jobs today. Since a job seeker is more likely to be invited for an interview if someone recommends him or her, a strong network can help a candidate's resume be pulled from the stack so that person can be invited for an interview. Online resources offer excellent ways to build a network, let others know that the student is looking, and provide details about his or her skills.
Jill Randolph: How has the job market has changed over the past year? Have you seen any signs of improvement, and if so in which areas?
Burke Maxted: I don't think the economy is losing as many jobs as in the recent past, and we are seeing a slowdown in layoffs. At our college we've been very fortunate to have only had budget cuts and not layoffs.
We are seeing the first two signs that the job market is recovering, and that hiring will soon take place. One, companies are starting to hire temporary workers, which they often use to test the water before bringing on additional head count. Secondly, we've heard that companies are finding higher productivity in their current employees. This productivity and new temps are signs that may link to new hiring in the future.
A couple of areas that have done well, and will continue to do so are healthcare, automotive technology, computer technology, and business. There has been a surge of interest in training for CNAs, especially home health aides. Our physical therapy assistant program is also large, as well as our radiology technology program. Nursing, veterinary technology, and medical records clerking are also popular.
The computer technology programs are strong, including the areas of networking systems, data communications analysis and data programming. They continue to be popular because they help answer the questions many companies are asking, such as, "What does this data say?" "How do we create software that targets the needs of our specific clients?" and "How do we keep all of our data safe?" These are huge needs.
The business programs will continue to thrive as well, because of the importance of being efficient and reducing costs. Companies are bringing on and creating positions for tax accountants, compliance directors, cash credit managers, financial analysts, security managers, and certainly customer service representatives. All of these positions are important to a company's success.
Additionally, freelancing and contracting have also surged, as these are good ways for job seekers to earn additional income, in a variety of areas of expertise.
Jill Randolph: On the subject of contracting, if a person has been laid off or is out of work, he or she can call him or herself a contractor on a resume, to avoid looking unemployed. I've heard that a contractor job title is not very well respected with employers.
However, some people are able to make an excellent living as a freelance contractor. In that instance, do you recommend that contractors give concrete examples of the projects they've successfully completed in order to demonstrate their contribution to a variety of different companies?
Burke Maxted: It is so important to have experience to backup one's credentials, as well as work references. These are especially important if a person calls him or herself a contractor or freelancer, because companies look for proof of the experiences. Employers perform a background search and find out about the contractor's experience and which companies he or she has worked with.
Contracting can be a viable and productive career. I had one client who cooked for a living and decided to try something new. Now, she is a freelance worker and educates people about how to green their kitchens. It's a very unique niche that she has created from her experience as a cook. By progressing in an area and gaining experience, a person can carve a niche to meet the needs of society and the economy.
She is a great success example, and is also very highly motivated. Freelancing is not for everyone though, as these jobs require a high attentiveness to sales, marketing of services, and being disciplined enough to seek out clients in order to market to them directly.
Jill Randolph: Perhaps this is where someone's network comes into play. For example, if freelancers are apprehensive about marketing or are unfamiliar with the process, they can start within their network and use their connections as a test market.
On this topic, what advice do you give to your students regarding traditional networking and social networking? Do you think that face-to-face networking plays a more vital role than digital networking, is it the other way around, or should they both be equal?
Burke Maxted: I believe in the importance of both, but I first listen to students' reactions and their comfort level with networking as a job search technique. For many, it's unfamiliar and it's uncomfortable for them. Many are shy and have difficulty reaching out and talking with people, whether it's in person or online. Others are more comfortable online, which makes it advantageous for them to build their network that way.
I encourage students to make new friends and not be timid when talking about themselves. Like Warren Buffett says, "Your best friend is public speaking." Students need to learn to market and speak about themselves, even if they think it's egotistical to do so. And they also need to learn to be specific and brief when describing their skills.
Traditional informational interviewing is also very beneficial for students as it provides a safe place to ask questions. I mentor students about how to create a networking list and how to reach out and talk to people to learn more about others' career paths and potential job opportunities.
Students also need to be careful with phone messages. Some have musical ringtones or cute messages on their voicemail. However, they need to keep these as professional as possible, and avoid email addresses that are questionable as well.
Secondly, I encourage job seekers to expand their network beyond their casual friends with both a traditional approach, and also expanding to social media sites, but judiciously. Students need to be sure to keep their Facebook and Twitter sites clean.
Many of our students are moving from an academic and social setting mentality, to a professional persona as they start their job search. There is so much information available online that students need to diligently monitor their online presence and create the best profile to suit them professionally. Students want their best activities to be the first things that pop up when an employer does a search on them.
Companies do look to see what their potential employees are doing and whom they are associated with. Students should ask themselves if their online information is appropriate for potential interviewers to view. If not, they need to review, revise, and improve their profile, and use the privacy settings, especially on Facebook, as that seems to be a very popular social site.
However, social media can be a great networking tool. For example, on Twitter, people can search a particular topic, including chat groups and discussion boards, which can lead to fantastic new networking groups. This can also introduce students to people who might be able to share information that may be very valuable in their job search.
I can't say enough positive things about social networking and the added potential it has over traditional networking. Students can network from their living room or from their couch, be very comfortable in the process, and network whenever they want to. This can also be a downside though, because many students expect quick responses.
Jill Randolph: Earlier, you had touched on how it's important for students to participate in informational interviews. Do you recommend that students invite a potential employer to campus to make a group presentation, so that it's not quite as intimidating for the student, or do you think it's okay to reach out and ask for one-on-one advice?
Burke Maxted: Being part of a larger informational interviewing group might make it more comfortable for the student than one-on-one. I push students to meet and talk with people, or become part of community groups that support students in their job search. For example, job clubs or other groups can help them be more confident and comfortable in reaching out, talking to people, and developing a network.
Jill Randolph: What are the most common mistakes students make in their job search?
Burke Maxted: Some students don't move quickly enough; they are very passive and wait for an opportunity to approach them.
However, completing an internship or volunteer opportunity that shows leadership - especially in a field related to the student's career - can help him or her find a job more quickly after graduation. It is important to very clearly show the connection of the student's skills to the new opportunity. This should include using the same buzzwords a company uses in the job posting that the student is applying to.
Jill Randolph: Do you have any career-related books or websites that you recommend to your students?
Burke Maxted: "What Color is Your Parachute" is always a good choice and I continue to use it with students.
I also recommend a local author and columnist, Diane Stafford, with the Kansas City Star daily newspaper and website. Ms. Stafford shares fresh information in her weekly column about "How I got the job". She provides unique information about how people found their job opportunities in an active way. She also writes articles related to other avenues of the job search.
I also recommend that students look for online professional organizations, discussion groups, and blogs where people share job search tips and suggestions. No matter which niche a job seeker is interested in, there are online groups for everyone.
Jill Randolph: Regarding online groups or a potential networking contact, do you think it is ever advisable for an applicant to reach out directly to a hiring manager after applying to a posted job opportunity, or is that tacky?
Burke Maxted: That's an interesting question. I do think there is value to reaching out directly if first, the applicant has gone through the appropriate channels of the job search process. I also think it's appropriate to call the hiring manager and tell him or her that the candidate will be sending or has submitted an application and then share highlights about his or her qualifications with the hiring manager. This approach is memorable and may get the applicant's resume pulled from the stack and then lead to an interview.
Jill Randolph: Do you think it would be more appropriate for a student to contact a second-degree connection on LinkedIn and ask for a recommendation? Or, should the student contact the hiring manager directly and send a note about why he or she is a great candidate, along with a connection request?
Burke Maxted: I think it's always best for the job seeker to take as much action as they can, so it may not be enough to rely on others to submit a reference. Rather than waiting for a recommendation from a peer, the job seeker should call the hiring manager directly and let that person know he or she is interested in the position and was recommended by a peer - with the peer's permission, of course. It is a good idea to use a proactive approach in a job search.
Jill Randolph: Do you advocate calling a company directly or contacting them digitally?
Burke Maxted: I am a bit older, so I instinctively recommend calling the hiring manager personally as opposed to contacting him or her digitally. Communication loses the personal touch through email, although it's much easier to contact people that way.
There are pros and cons of each approach, however I am not always sure how my tone is coming across in an email. However, I can't disagree with the importance of email and its use as part of a very effective strategy. I think it's best is to use both the phone and digital contacting judiciously in one's job search.
Jill Randolph: What advice do you give to students who still aren't sure what they want to do with their lives once they graduate?
Burke Maxted: Workshops and counseling services offered at area colleges - where they are sometimes free to the public as well - are a great resource that can help job seekers create an action plan.
I also can't say enough about the internship process, whether it's paid or not. Internships provide valuable experience, and show initiative and enthusiasm on the students' part, because they've given the time and effort to gain experience in a particular area. I've read that a lot of students are now seeking internships abroad, which is also very valuable because it gives those students firsthand experience with other cultures.
During a job market downturn, job seekers can also update their weaker skills - computer skills for example - and improve themselves in general. This shows employers that candidates are actively doing something positive and proactive while they are unemployed. It also gives the candidates opportunities to network with classmates.
Jill Randolph: Layoffs are much more common today than they were five or ten years ago, however, people who have been downsized one or more times may look like job-hoppers on their resume. Do you advocate that those candidates include a note on their resume to indicate that the lack of stability was not their doing?
Burke Maxted: I recommend focusing on skills and strengths, and downplaying the number of jobs. These days, having multiple jobs on a resume is very typical. One safe answer is to simply explain that the company had to cut costs and they did it by reducing staff. Candidates should be brief and focus on their strengths instead.
Jill Randolph: So, do you advocate to those candidates that they use a skills-based resume, or should they specifically say that they worked at a particular company and were laid off because the company went out of business?
Burke Maxted: It's possible to do both. Resumes should be succinct, and address the company's needs and details the company is looking for. Many times, employers look at resumes for only three to six seconds, so I recommend the approach of focusing on skills, strengths, and qualifications upfront, and then focusing on the specific jobs later, especially if the candidate has had multiple jobs.
Jill Randolph: Have you heard that employers and recruiters recommend dropping the objective statement and instead providing a summary of qualifications?
Burke Maxted: I've heard advice on the objective statement both ways. One, it's nice to be focused and specific as to what the student is looking for, but on the other hand, it's good to list strengths related to the job description, in order to capture the employer's attention.
Jill Randolph: Do you have any tips to help students prepare an effective "elevator speech" that succinctly demonstrates their skills?
Burke Maxted: An effective elevator speech takes multiple drafts and a lot of practice in order to fine-tune the pitch. It all starts with being very specific about what the student cares about, does well, and values most as it relates to work. This work can be very overwhelming for students, so I encourage them to work with a counselor to zoom in on what is important to communicate.
A good elevator pitch may include talking about the student's background, where he or she comes from, what's important to him or her, and the experiences he or she has been involved with and is proud of.
Jill Randolph: So students should practice their pitch on friends, family and a counselor, and then revise, and throughout their career, revise repeatedly as their objective changes. In other words, students shouldn't put so much pressure on themselves to make their pitch a hundred percent perfect the first time.
Burke Maxted: Exactly. Sometimes it's more important for students to communicate that they are in the job market, even if everything is not perfect. Students should highlight that they bring enthusiasm, energy, and motivation to the table, as well as technological skills. It is important to focus on positives rather than being negative and focusing on where they might not have as much experience as other candidates applying for a job.
If students can effectively communicate their knowledge of the company's goals and what they will do to help the company accomplish those goals, either in a cover letter and or during an interview, that is also helpful in showing that they will be an asset to the employer.