About Peer Career Advisor (PCA)
I worked as a Peer Career Advisor for the last two years at my alma mater Reed College, Portland, OR. PCAs are the student employees who work at the school's career center to connect students to opportunities and resources. As PCAs, we receive in-depth training and we work closely with the staff at the career center to keep a working knowledge of job search strategies and various opportunities. We assist our peers with writing resumes, cover letters, and personal statements, preparing for interviews, networking, searching for internships/jobs/opportunities, and helping with various applications.
One of the main reasons why I worked as a PCA at my school was to make career resources as accessible and equitable as possible. From my own personal experience, finding the right opportunity and resources at the right time makes all the difference, so as a PCA that was my main goal: to learn and share various opportunities with my peers. I must admit, in this particularly difficult time of the global pandemic, working as a PCA was the most gratifying thing for me. Getting to work with my fellow peers (the majority of whom were freshmen) on jobs/fellowships/projects they are passionate about was a huge source of inspiration to me. I made friends with so many of my advisees and I got to be a part of their various career adventures. I have learned and grown so much through all the interactions I have had with my advisees and through the job overall. So this post is all about sharing all those useful resources/skills I learned through the position that has helped me navigate various professional endeavors.
Resume: A resume is a one-page tailored document that summarizes your experiences, skills, and qualifications for the position you are applying for. My rule of thumb is, make sure the resume is clear, concise, and communicative, both in terms of content and formatting. There are certain “rules” that a standard one-page resume is supposed to follow; so I usually have a recyclable template ready to go. Here are the templates, they only differ in appearances so it’s up to your personal preference which one you use. Feel free to make your own copy and use it. I recommend having a master copy (length does not matter) with all the experiences and selecting a few relevant experiences to tailor it towards the jobs/fellowships you are applying for. This document is helpful to get started.
CV: If you are in academia or are applying for graduate schools, CVs may be preferred/required. A CV is similar to a resume in that it contains your experiences, skills, and qualifications, but a CV differs in that it is not as tailored and contains the full history of your academic and work experiences. So, it is usually longer than a resume, usually 2-4pages. Similar to the resume, I use a template that follows all the “standard” rules for a CV and edit it as I go. Here is the template I use, feel free to copy and use it.
Cover Letter: A cover letter is commonly submitted along with a resume/CV during a job application to outline one's interest and qualifications for the position. If there are set prompts for the cover letter, stick to the prompts and make sure you answer each of the questions/prompts clearly. If there is no prompt, use the cover letter to answer these three questions: why you? why that position? why that company? Make sure the cover letter is not just an elaborated version of your resume. I think of a cover letter as a chance to make a personal case on why I am interested in and qualified for the position, so I often approach it as my chance to add the personal touch to the otherwise mostly technical application process. Here is the template I use while writing cover letters and this document is helpful to get started.
LinkedIn: I think of LinkedIn as social media for professional purposes. I mostly use it for networking, it's easier to find people and message them on LinkedIn, and in my experience, the response rate is higher and faster. I would recommend putting some time in the beginning while setting up the profile; I used this video to get me started. Also, look at a bunch of different people's profiles (within your network or simply google it or check pages like this) for reference. Remember you might not be able to send connection requests to just anyone, so try adding a person you know who might have connections you might be interested in, that way you can eventually send a request to them. Look out for your school's LinkedIn alumni directory (like this), I use the LinkedIn directory more often than the one on the school's website. In terms of content, it can be intimidating to get started, so feel free to test and decide what kind of content you feel comfortable sharing on this platform; everyone has a different comfort level so do not feel pressured to post as much or as little as someone else. Also, like with any other social media, it can get overwhelming at times, so take a break when you need to.
Canva: Using Canva to make presentations can really make your slides stand out. There are so many good free templates on Canva and once you get a hang of it, it’s pretty easy to make your own template as well.
Meeting Notes: My rule is when in any kind of professional meeting, take notes. It really helps me remember what we discussed in the last meetings and if we had planned any agenda for the ongoing meeting. It is also a great way to stay focused during meetings. On that note, if you are applying for multiple jobs/schools/fellowships, I always make a master doc like this to keep track of my progress in the application process. I use google docs to take notes and google sheets to make a master tracking sheet.
Drive: This might be a very me thing but every time I start a new project (for class or job or personal projects), I start a drive folder. I am a very visual learner so having all my relevant files in one place really affects my motivation and focus to work on projects. It is also great for backup; I can’t emphasize this enough, having some form of online backup of all the projects I am working on is super important, both for easy accessibility and retrieval. I use google drive and dropbox.
Career Advising Resources: I realize that it’s my privilege to have access to a career center and career advisors anytime I am applying for something, so I do not want to assume that everyone reading this has that. But the good news is, most schools’ career advising websites are public. Throughout my undergraduate, along with my school's career center, I extensively used other schools’ career advising websites/resources. Most of the websites have detailed information about document templates, different fellowships, tips, and resources; I would highly recommend browsing through some top schools’ career websites (you can just google “xyz career advising center” and go from there.) I have also used LinkedIn Job Search Engine and Handshake. Also, the websites like Vault and Goinglobal (great for international opportunities) have some really useful resources.
Calendar: Again, this might be my organization freak brain speaking but I try to put everything--my schedule, reminders, tasks, invites, etc.-- on my google calendar. It really helps me to plan my days and stick to it. A very important note here, please make sure to block out some time for yourself in your calendar, just write busy or explicitly plan things for yourself. No matter how busy it gets, always make some intentional self-care time for yourself. I use Google Calendar as my everyday calendar.
To-Do-Lists: I call myself “a bullet points person”, I love being able to see everything I have to do in bullet points. From my job tasks to grocery shopping, I use lists pretty extensively to keep track of stuff I need to do; it is also really satisfying to me to cross things off my list. I use Microsoft’s To Do.
Thank you notes: Every time after a professional meeting or an interview, sending a brief thank you note (either over email or via postcard) goes a long way.
Talk to others: This is the step I never skip while applying for something: talking to someone who has done or is doing what I want to do. When applying for fellowships, I look at the past proposals and talk to the past recipients and when applying for jobs, I try to find a current employee to talk to; that way, I always learn things I would not have learned otherwise.
I think that’s all I can think for now. Feel free to contact me if you have any questions about any of these things or if you have anything I can add to this blog. Much appreciate your time.🌻🌝