Career Advice: Interview with Career Discovery and Personal Development Coach, Alissa Carpenter

Alissa Carpenter founded Everything’s Not Ok and That’s Ok (NOTO) Coaching after over a decade in higher education. She has advised Millennials and GenZ students at institutions such as The Wharton School and Penn State, and she saw a real need for greater career preparation and team development.  After earning multiple coaching credentials, she decided to take her training full time. Now, she offers professional development and career exploration to companies, alumni groups, student advising units, and individuals across the country. She works to enhance team communication, teamwork and interpersonal skills with an upbeat personality and true passion for working with others to set and achieve goals.  Alissa has an MEd in Social and Comparative Analysis in Education, is a Gallup-Certified Clifton Strengths Coach and is certified in the Strong Interest inventory.

You can find out more about Alissa at notokthatsokcoach.com and feel free to email: Alissa@notokthatsok.com  


Let’s kick things off more generally. When I graduated in 2014, we were still hearing the horrors stories of the job market. How does the job market look in 2017 for graduates?

The job market is much better than it was then. Actually, the unemployment rate in May was around 4.3%, so it is really low and the lowest it has been in quite some time. At this point, the job market has shifted much more in favor of the job seeker. In some ways, corporations and organizations are trying to fill niche positions and having difficulty finding the right fit for those positions. That means that when they do find the perfect candidate for a position, and that candidate is you, you really have an advantage in terms of your salary and work contract negotiation.

Obviously, this is great compared to the several previous years where people were being laid off even in sectors like education that you thought would be safe but really weren’t safe at all. But we are on an upswing which is great.

That is good for those people who want to work abroad then! The job seeker has some negotiating power to say “I am interested in working at one of your international locations after a year or two working in your domestic offices,” right?

Yeah, I agree. I work with a lot of clients who at first feel like if they get a job offer from a company in their hometown, they will end up stuck there forever.

In reality, with so many companies expanding their presence internationally, there are some great opportunities to request a year working abroad or relocating to a different office in a different city.

I think people see the opportunity to move locations within a company as a much safer option than trying to make a big leap and suddenly just leaving to take a job abroad.

How are people, especially young graduates, approaching their job search in 2017?

Before, most people were just shooting off resumes online through online job boards. I think that is a mistake people still make; they don’t realize that most jobs are never posted or advertised.

Now, you are seeing more people utilizing Linkedin, going to networking events, and taking advantage of their social networks. Things are shifting back a little bit to people wanting to meet employers or hiring managers face to face, or at least applying to jobs in a more personalized way.

One way to make the search more personalized is by having a professional presence online where potential employers can learn more about you and read or listen to your ideas related to your industry. What are you telling people about personal branding?  

Yes, that is great advice. Personal branding has really become “hot” in the last couple years. When I was in college, “personal branding” really wasn’t even a term people were using.

With the changes that are going on in the digital space, companies are absolutely looking to see what your presence online is. What that means for the job seeker is that they have to decide what they want their professional identity online to be, and how to leverage it. Whereas a resume is likely to be more professional and written in the 3rd person, your Linkedin profile should be a little more first person and conversational. It should reveal a little more about who you are as a person.  

If, when an employer puts your name in Google, they find that industry-related content and see you making that effort to be a thought leader, that can be a huge advantage over other applicants.

But Linkedin is just the bare minimum. Being active in your industry by writing industry-related posts and guests blogs also helps get your name out there. If, when an employer puts your name in Google, they find that industry-related content and see you making that effort to be a thought leader, that can be a huge advantage over other applicants.

And if you are in college already doing hours of research and writing thousands of words worth of papers on your industry, you might as well share those ideas and thoughts online.

Absolutely. And it can be as simple as sharing industry-related content on Twitter or Linkedin. Having that professional presence also can help provide you an “in” to a quick conversation with a potential employer as well. You would be surprised how many people have 15-minutes to chat. People know what it is like to be in your early 20’s trying to figure life out and also, people love talking about themselves! So having that exposure online to show that you aren’t just a random person calling them begging for a job is so helpful.

And contacting those industry leaders and potential employers with a specific inquiry and not just a “can you please get me a job!?”

That’s right. And you shouldn’t be asking for informational interviews to get a job, you should be asking out of genuine curiosity and with a genuine question. You should be asking them things like, “What was your career path into the industry?” or “I am really interested in X part of the industry because Y” or other questions along those lines. If out of those conversations you get a job offer or a lead on a job, that is great, but that shouldn’t be the immediate goal.

Also, while there are of course things you obviously don’t want employers to see, employers do want to see who you are as a person. They want to see that you have friends and hobbies and get a sense of who you are. You don’t have to be in a suit and tie on every social media channel, just make sure that what you are making available to employers is appropriate for the channel you are posting on.  

That brings us to the Millennial issue. This is something I have read quite a bit about, how employers are not thrilled with Millennials, especially older generations being frustrated with younger people. Are millennials really that different from other generations?

I go back and forth on this. People will say negative things about millennials, and I always make sure to at least ask, “is that a product of being a Millennial?  Or is it a product of being young and new to the workforce and just not knowing?” I think sometimes the language gets confused a bit.

One thing I love about your idea of working abroad is the experience of working abroad forces you to develop that grit and resilience and develop those communication and interpersonal skills.

The three things I hear the most from organizations and employers are a lack of communication skills, teamwork, and interpersonal skills. And those aren’t things that you learn about explicitly in a classroom, those are developed through lived experiences. For those people who lack in those areas, it can be really hard for them to get them. One thing I love about your idea of working abroad is the experience of working abroad forces you to develop that grit and resilience and develop those communication and interpersonal skills. You have to develop them, or you won’t survive.

If I am a Millennial and I know that employers may be assuming I am entitled or communicate poorly or can’t work in a team, how can I actively combat that?

Use those three terms, communication skills, teamwork skills, and interpersonal skills in your interview, and provide real-world examples of when you have demonstrated those skills. Whether it is from a previous position, or if you are a college student an example from a group project, they are going to want you to demonstrate exactly how you have used those skills in the past.

I have never faced these, but I have heard about larger companies having crazy online job application processes where the company has their own job application platform and you make a recording of yourself answering questions. How do I get around these things and get in front of a real person?

Those are first round screeners and they are really weird interviews to do. The truth is that you have to do those well to get to the next round.  If you know you are going to have to do one of those, you have to prepare as seriously as you would prepare for a “normal” interview. Prepare for the questions, practice your answers out loud, take them as seriously as a face-to-face interview.

I used to be on a hiring committee and we used to watch those videos, and I promise it is as weird on the other end as it is for the job candidates who are recording them. But there is a group of people watching those interviews and they are expecting you to act and talk just like it is a real one-on-one, so be sure you take it as seriously as the screeners do.

There seems to be a lot of buzz around the upcoming gig-economy on the likes of Forbes and Business Insider. What is the gig economy and how should a recent graduate be preparing for it?

For older generations, your work was your life in a lot of ways. I think the gig economy is an attempt to reconcile having a job with this millennial idea that your job is a part of your life, but not all of it. It is really about work-life integration. That is where some of the mix-ups are between generations. We (Millennials) don’t think in strict terms of “9-5.”  Millennials may want to leave the office at 3:00 PM when they are done with their work for the day, but they are still be responding to emails or working from home the other hours they aren’t physically in the office. According to HBS, 87% of Millennials check their work email outside the office.

The gig economy is also similar to what you are doing with 12hourdifference. You have your office job that you work hard at during normal hours, and then you have a passion project on the side helping you bring in a little extra money, but that is fully yours.  That main job helping you bring in some income and get some real work experience, and it gives your side hustle a chance to potentially bloom into a full-time job in the meantime.  

And you mentioned having a passion project on the side. I really feel your “passion” out of college is irrelevant to a large extent in the the sense that you should really be trying to get into a job where you can learn and be challenged, regardless of how “passionate” you are about it.

I think that people should like their job, of course, but every day is not going to be the best day of your life within a job.  Try and find tasks you enjoy and ask your supervisor for professional development opportunities that are in line with your strengths.  This is your chance to grow and learn as much as you can about what you’re even passionate about.

Millennials have to realize that you may not find everything in a job, meaning, your day job may not be a high-paying, passion-infused experience. But if you can get valuable experience at your day job and enjoy it, and balance that with a passion project on the side, that can be a great way to have it all.

What are some of the mistakes millennials are making in their job search?

One of the biggest is not using the networks they already have to their advantage. Something like 20% of jobs are posted online, and that makes who you know really important. Luckily, just having a few hundreds friends on Facebook means you have a massive network when you think about friends of friends.

And like we talked about before, don’t rely on just those anonymous resume submissions. Try to get in front of real people. For example, find an organization you are interested in and volunteer as a greeter for an event they are holding. Getting involved in events or open houses is a great way to meet people face to face.

Does working abroad come up in your conversations with clients?

It does sometimes, and I mention it to clients. I think our generation is more open to it than other generations, not because of the age we are at now, but because our generation has delayed life milestones like getting married and having children later, so people’s early 20s are really wide open for them to explore those opportunities.

I do think that it is still really out of people’s comfort zones, especially if you have never left the country, so the people who are more aware or open to it are people who really just want to explore experiences outside of the country, studied abroad and really enjoyed the experience, or have family or connections globally.

Is traveling after university for six months to a year a killer when it comes to trying to come back and finding a job?

No, I don’t think it sets you back professionally. In your early 20s, when you aren’t married and don’t have kids, that is really the time to do it. I do think that you should have a goal in mind. Is your goal just to travel? Or is it to meet people and make connections in hopes of working internationally at the end of your trip?

You should also have a plan for when you come back as well. You don’t want to take a year to travel and then come back and take another year spent settling in, figuring out where you are going to live, and regrouping.

It really is worth it to think about what you want out of the travel experience and also, what your plan is for when you come back and how these experiences may help you explore those options.

Best piece of job search advice for 2017?

If you don’t have a job right away after college, don’t judge yourself because your friends do and rush into a position that you aren’t really interested in. Because someone else is successful doesn’t mean you are not. It is okay to not have a job right out of college, but it isn’t okay to sit around and not do anything about it.

It is okay to not have a job right out of college, but it isn’t okay to sit around and not do anything about it.

And talk to your connections. Pick a company or group that you are interested in, and see who from that organization is willing to meet you for a cup of coffee or what events they are having you can get involved in. And don’t think you are “bothering” people by asking to talk with them, as long as you do it the right way. Hiring managers are still humans, they know what it is like to be young and unestablished. You will be surprised how willing people are to help.  Step out of your comfort zone a little and build genuine connections.

                 

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Aaron Horwath Written by:

Since graduating from the University of Portland in 2014, I have worked abroad. Currently, I live and work in Da Nang, Vietnam as the Head of Global Training at an international technology company. Through my blog, I share my experiences of working abroad to give others a glimpse into international life and help them decide if working internationally is right for them.