Saturday, March 29, 2014

More than a One-Trick Pony

Whether you hate Gen Ed at NU (the lineup of general education courses that everyone must take at Niagara University), or love it, or perhaps feel "meh" about it, it's there for a reason.

Niagara remains a "liberal arts" university. That means when you graduate, you're not a One-Trick Pony with a specific set of job skills, but not much else going on between the ears. Yes, the Pony may get a first job a little faster than you do. But 15 years down the road (and 20, 30 years too), you'll be far better prepared for changes in the work world if you are not a Pony.

If you have room on your curriculum card (that is, if you're not a double major and triple minor), here's a great article on some of the other courses you should consider taking:

Accounting, business, computing. Know something about the business world! I would add: a foreign language.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

What English Majors Do

Here's an overview of the various possibilities for English majors--careers, ways to pursue various directions, perhaps some new ideas.

Thanks and a tip o' the hat to Joyce Tesar.

$60 worth of Budgeting Software Free!

You Need a Budget -- that's the name of the organization -- is giving away its software to students. All you have to do is supply some minimal information in order to receive a free copy of this personal budgeting software.

I am neither endorsing nor warning you away from this commercial product -- rather, I am passing along this information because it seems relevant to Niagara University students.

Happy budgeting!

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

MicThaPoet is coming Friday March 28!

First Job Jitters

If you don’t want to ask “would you like fries with that” on your first fulltime job, here’s an article that will help you put your new degree to work. After all, you piled up (on average) $30,000 in debt to get that degree, right?

The strategies here aren’t rocket science or time-consuming, but some practical moves nevertheless.
  • Think laterally. 
You may have targeted a specific kind of writing in a specific industry… but is that all that’s out there? With some digging at NU’s Career Services, you might find opportunities in closely-related industries you didn’t even know existed. Or you might find job descriptions you had no idea sounded so appealing and aligned with your interests.
  • Your application is going to be screened by machine; get human. 
That’s a given these days; a single advertisement may get waaaaaaay too many responses for any sane human being to read. If you’re sure you’re a great match, reach out to a person. This article suggests phoning, but you might also consider networking on LinkedIn or other social venues.
  • Expand your info without expanding space on your letter, resume.
Finally, if your resume and letter must be short, sweet, to-the-point. But that means leaving some bits on the cutting-room floor. But you can set up a website, or even a blog, with additional information about you. After all, a shortened link (run through something like or —both very easy to use) takes up next to no space at all, and allows you to offer a wider range of your employability goodness for view.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Are you Disabled?

Here’s a question that used to be totally illegal for prospective employers to ask, unless it had a specific bearing on the tasks an employee would be performing. It will soon become mandatory. “Are you disabled?”

According to The Wall Street Journal, “U.S. regulations going into effect next week require for the first time that federal contractors—a group that includes Boeing  Dell and AT&T—among some 40,000 others—ask their employees if they have a disability. Those that don't employ a minimum of 7% disabled workers, or can't prove they are taking steps to achieve that goal, could face penalties and, in the most extreme cases, the loss of their contracts, according to a government official. The target applies to contractors with 50 or more employees or more than $50,000 in government work.”

The good news: if you have a documented disability, you may become prime material on the job market, rather than someone struggling to be perceived as a viable candidate for a job no matter how good your skills.

Thanks and a tip o’ the hat to Joyce Tesar!

Bard MAT

No, it’s not a “mathematics course in Shakespeare.” Rather, I’m passing along information from the the Recruitment Coordinator of the Bard College Master of Arts in Teaching Program. (Ah! “Bard MAT”!) Bard College is located in Annandale-on-Hudson, NY, between Albany and New York City.

Students interested in teaching may want to know about this one-year Master of Arts in Teaching Degree and New York State Initial Teaching
Certificate for grades 7-12 in mathematics, biology, history, and English.

For more information, see, or contact Roberta Flaherty, Recruitment Coordinator; 845-758-7151 or

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Interview Questions from Hell

Monster calls this list "stupid interview questions." But with the exception of the ones noted as illegal for an interview to ask, I think they're actually pretty smart interview questions.

When you get to the last stages of interviewing, prospective employers want to see you think on your feet. Or at least, they should want to dig and test. If all the interviewer seems to care about is whether or not you're breathing: run, don't walk, to the nearest exit. (Why? Because your would-be employer is either, 1, some combination of unprepared and incompetent, or 2, not legitimate--is a con-artist.)

So: why would I ask these "stupid" questions? Because you have to answer relatively quickly. You should, of course, allow yourself a moment of silence to really think before you open your mouth. And you should prepare for some off-the-wall stuff. But the point is you cannot give a "canned" response to any of these.
  • Questions 1 to 3 are variations on "tell me about your weaknesses." How do you respond to setbacks, negativity, tripping over your own feet? We all do dumb things, or land in sticky situations. The real question is, how gracefully do you learn and recover from problems?
  • Questions 4 to 6 are designed to find out where your head is at: in the gutter? focused on your career? off in la-la land? Keep your eyes on the prize: the career!
  • Questions 7 and 8 are flat-out illegal. Ask yourself: are you being interviewed by a well-meaning dinosaur who somehow didn't get the memo issued 30 years ago that one's family and reproductive status are simply not part of job qualifications? Or are you being interviewed by a jerk who wants way too much information? Either way--the article suggests good answers for an "on the spot" response. But if you're pretty sure the employer's attitude is going to continue to be a problem, consider withdrawing your application. You may want a job badly, but it's easier to say "no" than to spend the next year trying to extricate yourself and your good name from an abusive work situation.
  • Questions 9 and 10 demonstrate a key to all of the above questions: spin. That is, the "right answer" most often isn't about the answer, but about how you talk through your reasoning about the answer.

Thanks and a tip of the hat to Joyce Tesar!

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Liar, Liar, Pants on Fire

People lie at work. All the time. And they will lie to you as a job seeker. 

That may or may not come as a surprise. After all--you've lied to your professors. Aw, come on, don't deny it... do you really think we believe "the dog ate my paper"? Or that sometimes your absence for "illness" wasn't a mental health day? (Which may not be an entirely bad idea--since one mental health day may help you avoid many more "genuine physical illness" days.)

And then there are those lies you tell when somebody asks "does this make me look fat?" (Clue: "yes" is never the right answer!) Likewise: "let's do lunch." (Get a date commitment, or chalk it up to good intentions never to be realized.)

In that spirit, here's a guide to common statements you may hear when you're looking for a job, and when it's not advisable for a middle manager to tell you the truth--but they've got to tell you something.

Learn to read between the lines. Some of these statements (in addition to covering a middle-manager's a** with wording that is acceptable to the Big Boss) may suggest trouble spots in what looks like a pretty desirable job on the surface.

(Thanks and a tip of the hat to Joyce Tesar!)

Monday, March 17, 2014

Don't Shoot! Bullet Points and You

Bullet points and your cover letter: should you dare? According to this article, it’s okay to make limited use of bullets in your letter:

Bullets are dingbats—a typography technical term, meaning a bit of type that is neither letter nor number. Bullets visually set off lists of elements, including the kinds of lists you are more likely to reach for as you compose your resume. Business writing tends to work better in short, bite-sized bits rather than the “wall o’ text” style you’ve been working with in essays about literature.

And here is another article with information on how to develop a tightly-structured bullet-point list, including concerns such as
  • parallel grammatical structure,
  • visual page composition, and
  • length of bulleted text items.

Yup, that was a bulleted list!

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Pay College Debt with Service?

Who knew? There are organizations that will help you pay off your college loans in exchange for the kind of service activities that Niagara University students have been doing all along--and are likely to want to continue doing after graduation.

Here's one that started me digging for more information: They are on Facebook and LinkedIn.

I cannot say that I've vetted the organization thoroughly. That is, I'm not endorsing it (nor am I warning you away from it). But I have done a bit of further digging, looking for reputable news or blog outlets that have something to say. And I am pleased that they seem to check out on these reputable sites:

Further, I tried Googling the organization's name along with keywords like "complaint," "reviews," "scam"--and did not find anything negative (although my search was, I admit, brief).

These folks seem interesting too; from their website: "TakePart is a place for people who care about the world and want to live their lives accordingly. We feature original articles by journalists, activists, and experts about everything from climate change to LGBTQ rights to whether Big Macs should technically be considered food."

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Interviewer: So, What Do You Do?

English majors, as you head out the door this spring, you'll be hitting a tough job market. (D'uh!) You'll be selling yourself to the kids who majored in Business just a few years before you graduated, and who are now sitting on the other side of the hiring table.

If you get asked about your skills (or as you draft your cover letter), how do you sell what you've got as applicable to business? Hint: unless you are applying to an archaeological center with plentiful old manuscripts from the British Isles, your response "I can read Old English in the original thanks to Dan Pinti's class" is (at best) going to earn you a blank stare.

I don't generally tout for-sale products, but here's one with a modest price tag that might be worth your while: Susan de la Verne's Sell Yourself! Liberal Arts Skills Employers Want, Price: $2.99 for 48 pages, through e-publisher Smashwords. First 9 pages available for preview online.

I've followed Ms. de la Verne's writing since I began writing this blog for Niagara University English majors. I very much like what I have seen. She's an English major herself who had a successful career in IT (computers, geekery) before launching herself as a consultant "teaching and coaching communication, emotional intelligence, mindfulness, and leadership" (

She also has a series of books for English majors, and for other majors & discipline-specific professionals who could learn a thing or three from us English folk, here:

What's Grad School Like?

Here's an article from one of the key resources for anybody in academia, or thinking about a Ph.D. leading to an academic career, The Chronicle of Higher Education:

The description here was very true to my own experience; difficult, sometimes disheartening, a crap-shoot in terms of getting a good job. I looked the writer up in the directory for the college that hired him, and found that he may be a lot like you (or where you want to go), Niagara English undergrads:
  • Got his B.A. at St. Joseph's University (Catholic, Jesuit, Philadelphia).
  • English professor, with some interesting new-fangled stuff: "Digital Humanities, Higher Education, American Literature and Culture."
  • And got his Ph.D. from Harvard University (bow down 3 times! The premiere name in higher education! Far above my humble alma mater Indiana University).

And even with these credentials, had trouble getting a job.

The moral of the story: Beware. Be very 'ware. Grad school can be great. A life as a college English professor can be great. But remember that what you see when you see your own professors is the survivors of a system designed (I sometimes think) to crush the human soul.