Career Planning

Self-Assessment

Meet with a career counselor - Whether a student is trying to decide on a major or choose a career, s/he can meet individually with a career counselor for help in identifying interests, abilities, and values, and to clarify career goals. In addition to individual advising, students can benefit from a self-assessment inventory (Myers-Briggs Type Indicator) and a computer-assisted guidance program (FOCUS 2), as well as career-related panel discussions and presentations.

The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) is a personality assessment that describes different consistent behavioral patterns that result from how individuals take in information and make decisions. In answering questions about behavior patterns, an individual presents preferences in interpreting and understanding information, as well as in decision making. These preferences then are used to help a student self-direct to a particular learning or work environment.

The key is to help a student determine his/her strengths and then find an environment in which those strengths will be best utilized. The MBTI is just one tool we use in assisting with the self-assessment process.

FOCUS 2 is an interactive, computer-based guidance system that provides career and educational planning services. The FOCUS 2 system enables users to discover and learn about career options related to their personal attributes. Users of FOCUS 2 learn to make realistic decisions about their goals and plans, how to self-manage their careers and the importance of adaptability in times of change. FOCUS 2 guides users through a process enabling them to:

  • Assess their interests, skills, values and work experience.
  • Explore and analyze occupational and educational paths compatible with their personal attributes.
  • Map out realistic occupational goals and educational plans to support their goals.
  • Identify training and development needs.

You will need an access code to navigate the FOCUS 2 program.  Please contact Career Development at careerdevelopment@smcvt.edu for the access code.

CareerSteer offers free online career tests to help you with your career choice.  You can also look at career options in other countries.

For links to career options for a wide range of majors, visit the following site, courtesy of the University of North Carolina-Wilmington:

What can I do with a major in...

This booklet is designed to introduce you to specific skills which will be critical to you in your career development: writing your resume and preparing professional letters.

Four Year Plan for Career Development

Starting early is the best way to prepare for a career. Using your 4 years of college to test out different career goals and build experience can speed the journey from student to professional.

First-year

Meet with a career counselor. Do some self-assessment (MBTI, Focus 2, other online free assessments) and become familiar with career development opportunities and resources at SMC. Begin to explore various majors and/or minors.

Second year

Consult with faculty advisors and career development staff to finalize major and minor decisions. Register for SMC JobLink to access database of job and internship opportunities. Explore experiential learning such as targeted work-study placements, student activities, volunteer and leadership positions, community-engaged learning opportunities, summer internships, research opportunities with faculty, and study abroad. Conduct informational interviews with alumni to explore career possibilities. Develop/update resumé.

Third year

Meet with career counselors and/or faculty advisors to explore graduate school options and research opportunities. Study for graduate school exams. Apply for/participate in academic internships or non-academic internships. Review the option of pursuing a minor if this has not been considered already. Continue to explore career options through research in career library and informational interviews. Update resumé.

Fourth Year

Apply to graduate school. Update your resumé and your profile on SMC JobLink. Do an internship, independent study, research with a faculty member, or study abroad. Research companies and develop cover letters. Attend networking events such as the Career Symposium and the Boston Career Seminar. Secure letters of recommendation for graduate school and/or work. Meet with career staff to develop interview skills and job-search strategies, including networking skills. Do a practice interview. Attend job fairs and participate in the on-campus recruiting program.

Budgeting and Financial Considerations

Salary/Wages

This is the amount you are offered to do your particular job – a fixed annual sum paid at regular intervals. Salary includes all the time you will spend to do your job, which may include overtime. Wages are usually hourly, daily or weekly, and will be paid according to the number of hours you work.

Deductions

These are amounts deducted from your salary to cover federal and state (and sometimes local) income taxes you will owe, plus FICA, which includes both Social Security (what you pay in now to – hopefully – get back when you retire) and Medicare.

Your Social Security Tax Rate is 4.2% (taxed on up to a maximum income of $106,800 in 2011 – anything you make over that amount is not taxed for Social Security purposes), and your Medicare Tax Rate is at 1.45% (there is no maximum income at which this rate stops). Your employer will also contribute an additional 6.2% for social security and 1.45% Medicare on your behalf. Be aware that if you choose to be self-employed, you will pay at the above rates combined – an additional 7.65% (that’s an additional 6.2% for Social Security and 1.45% for Medicare), or total of 13.3% of your income - as you are also considered to be your own “employer”.

The federal rates will reflect your income tax bracket (the more you earn, the more you’ll be expected to pay in) and the state/city taxes will be determined by where you live and work. For example, in Vermont, you will pay a state tax; in NYC, you will pay both a state and a city tax.

There may be other deductions taken out of your pay check before you receive your take-home or “spendable” pay. These may include any amounts you may pay in for medical/dental/disability/life insurance coverage, your retirement contributions, any planned charitable giving, money set aside in a medical/childcare reimbursement account, or automatic savings.

If you are granted benefits as part of your compensation package, the company may be paying you a great deal more than just your salary. Benefits alone may be worth 30-35% of your salary figure. In some cases, you may not receive any benefits. In others, you will need to contribute part of the cost while your employer contributes as well. Some packages may be more complete than others. Always review your benefits package with the human resources department and ask questions to make sure you understand what is covered, and what you might pay out of your own pocket.

Reading your Paycheck Stub

Educating yourself on how to read your pay stub and understanding the information it contains can play a vitally important role in effective money management and proper budgeting. Knowing where your money is going can help you stay on top of your finances and make the most of your hard-earned paycheck.

What’s Included?

Although every company prints paychecks that are unique in their own way, there are some aspects of the employee paycheck that employers must include by law. Some paycheck stubs can be extremely detailed including such items as retirement plan contributions or accrued vacation time, and others will only detail the required information. The following items will appear on every paycheck stub:

  • Gross Pay: Includes the total amount of income that you earned during a particular pay period. A pay period is determined by your employer, but is typically weekly, bi-weekly or monthly. This figure does not factor in tax withholdings.
  • Net Pay: Includes the amount of income that you actually take home after all withholdings have been applied.
  • Federal Tax Amount: When you were first hired by your employer, you were required to fill out a W-4 form. This form covers any tax that you may owe to the Federal government come tax time. It is deducted incrementally from each paycheck, and can vary depending on the number of exemptions you chose to claim – for a single person, usually 1 or 0 exemptions.
  • State Tax Amount: Depending on your state of residence, you may or may not be required to pay a state tax. Most states however, do participate, so this amount is deducted from your paycheck (the same way as Federal tax) to cover the amount of tax that you may owe to the state when your tax return is filed.
  • Local Tax Amount: Although rare, a local tax is sometimes applied to employees of certain cities, counties or school districts.
  • Social Security: The Federal government requires every employee to have a certain percentage of their paycheck withheld for social security purposes. This entitles you to receive a monthly social security payment upon retirement. The amount is currently 4.2% of your earnings (see above). Under the Federal Insurance Contribution Act (FICA) your employer will also contribute another 6.2% toward this for a total of 10.4%. The annual percent withheld and the maximum earning is subject to annual change.
  • Medicare: Like Social Security withholdings, Medicare withholdings are also mandatory. Every employee pays 1.45% of their paycheck toward Medicare, and every employer contributes an additional 1.45% on behalf of the employee. Upon current eligibility for Social Security, an employee is entitled to coverage for a majority of their medical expenses.
  • Year-to-date (for pay and deductions): The year-to-date fields on your pay stub show how much you have paid toward a particular withholding at any point in the calendar year. This can be useful when budgeting for monthly expenses or long-term goals.

Additional Items that May Appear on Your Paycheck Stub

Although not required, the following are items that may appear on your paycheck stub and are useful to money management and relevant to your employment status.

  • Insurance Deductions: Monthly payments for such types of insurance as health (medical and dental), and life insurance.
  • Retirement Plan Contributions: Plans such as 401K or 403(B) retirement savings plans.
  • Leave Time: Including vacation hours or sick hours. Most employers will detail how many hours have been used to date, and how many hours are remaining for the calendar year.
  • Other Deductions: Each employer has benefit options that you may participate in. Always make sure you understand your benefits package.

Be Proactive about reviewing your paycheck

If you need further explanation on any portion of your paycheck or if a particular calculation doesn't seem correct, consult your Human Resources Department for assistance. Don't procrastinate, as an error can be repeated every pay period.

Sample Pay Stub

Creating a Budget

Budgeting is a direct way to make sure you stay on track when managing your money. It’s essential to insure that you are not overspending your income or becoming mired in debt. It opens your eyes to what you are spending and where your money is going.

The key to budgeting is to write down your spending EVERY DAY. In this way, you capture even the smallest outflow of cash which can add up quickly. There is a budgeting worksheet attached below for recording your income and expenses to help you stay on track.

How do you prepare a budget? First, figure out your net income – your spendable cash after your employer takes out taxes and benefit costs. It is essential to become familiar with your paycheck and the deductions that are processed each pay period (see section above). This income, plus any interest from savings, bonuses, or other sources, becomes your total income for the period (weekly, bi-weekly, monthly, or yearly, depending on how often you are paid).

The second factor is to “pay yourself first.” Arrange to have your pay automatically deposited into a checking account rather than having a check issued to you. Then plan to have money taken from your paycheck to go toward your retirement and any savings (rainy day/nest egg, vacation plans, holiday spending, saving for a home or vehicle). It’s easy to have a percentage or specific amount automatically deducted and stashed away in other accounts so that you don’t have the tendency to access it for routine spending.

The third factor is to record your expenses. It’s relatively easy to figure out your fixed spending amounts. These can include rent or mortgage payments, car payments, insurance (health, home or renter’s, car), parking or commuting costs, monthly amounts for phone, cable, and internet access. Variable expenses include utilities which may vary month-to-month, clothing, entertainment, gas, cleaning/dry cleaning, and groceries/food. Incidental expenses and impulse purchases can add up fast – a $3.50 latte three times a week can be over $10 per week, $40 per month, almost $500 per year. This is why it is important to begin tracking all of your spending on a daily basis, closely watching your habits.

To finalize, plug your numbers into the attached spreadsheet. Make sure they are all on the same timing basis – for example, if you are paid every two weeks, you’ll need to double that amount to make it comparable to a monthly rental payment. Add it all up, and hopefully you will have a bit left over at the end. If not, you’ll need to take a hard look at where you might be able to save or do without to make ends meet.

Financial Literacy Budgeting Worksheet

A reference file contains letters of recommendations/reference which you have requested from people who know you well. You will typically need three to five letters in your file.

The Office of Career Development maintains files for up to ten years for students and alumni. As a service to you, we will hold copies of reference letters and send them out to potential employers upon request. There is no charge to undergraduates for this service. Upon graduation, a one-time fee is required if you wish us to continue to maintain your file for the next ten years.

Should you choose to take your references with you when you graduate, you are welcome to take the "open" letters, but we are unable to provide you with copies of the "closed" (confidential) ones (see below).

Reference Forms and Open/Closed References

The Office of Career Development has blank reference forms for you to use or your reference writers may write a letter on their own letterhead. You will also need to review and make a choice about the confidentiality of your references as follows:

  • Open letter: Choosing this option means you are free to read letters written about you and allows you to take a copy of the letter. Most students choose to keep their letters open.
  • Closed (confidential) letter: The reference is confidential and you may not see what has been written about you under any circumstances. If you choose this option, we will not be able to provide you with a copy of the letter.

Letters of Recommendation for Employment

Letters of recommendation written by professors, supervisors, coaches, or past employers can play an important part in improving your chances of getting a job. The people you choose to write letters on your behalf can make the difference in your selection as an employee.

  • Think about which people to ask to write letters of reference for you. It is recommended that you choose to have references from people who know you well and who are most likely to write strong letters in favor of your candidacy, including both former/current employers as well as faculty. You should not select personal or character references unless specifically told to do so.
  • Before handing out a reference form, make sure to ask the person if (s)he would be willing and able to write you a positive letter of recommendation.
  • Plan ahead in asking for references. For faculty, the end of the semester is a very busy time and, in other cases, you may find that your faculty members may be away from campus (sabbatical, conferences, vacations, etc.).
  • Provide your reference writers with - a copy of your resumé and a note explaining the types of positions for which you will be applying. Ideally for faculty, give them a list of courses you took with them, specific papers, projects or presentations you completed, the semesters you had those courses, and the grade you received.
  • You may also want to ask permission to provide a prospective employer with contact information for your references (phone, email, address) in case an employer would prefer to contact your references directly. This information would then be provided as a list of references rather than as reference letters. This list is a document you would maintain and would not be included in your Reference File in the Office of Career Development.

Letters of Recommendation for Graduate School

A good graduate school reference provider knows you well enough to comment fully on your ability to perform graduate level work, firmly believes in your desire to continue your studies, and is familiar with your chosen field of study.

Make a list of potential reference writers - faculty, staff, supervisors, employers, coaches - and refine it as you narrow your search for graduate programs.

Let your reference writers know well in advance of deadlines that you will be applying to graduate school, arrange to meet with them about your program, and ask them if they would be willing to write a letter in support of your application. Be aware that your reference writers may not always be available whenever you need them (sabbatical, conferences, vacations, etc.).

Supply your reference writers with all the information they need to write a strong recommendation:

  • Your deadline dates. This does not necessarily mean that the date you give your reference writer is the date the application is due. Give yourself some time to pull your application together and some extra time in case your reference writer just doesn't get to it as promised.
  • A description of the program(s).
  • The application materials - recommendation forms, envelopes, stamps for mailing if the recommendation is to be mailed separately from the rest of your application.
  • Your resumé and a list of qualities you have that would support your application.
  • If the reference writer is a faculty member, include a list of classes taken with that faculty member, grades received, major projects/papers/presentations, and a copy of your personal statement.
  • How to contact you should they have any questions.

The majority of graduate programs will ask for confidential references. This means that you have waived your right to review the letter of recommendation. Make sure you are comfortable with the people you choose to write your letters and this will not be a problem. If you are hesitant about what someone will write about you, perhaps you should choose another person.

Give each graduate program what they are asking for. Don't send too few recommendations. Make
sure the letters are on the forms provided by the school. Don’t substitute other information in lieu of a letter of recommendation without checking with the admission committee.

List of References

Some employers prefer to speak to your references directly rather than reading a letter. If this is the case, you'll want to provide those employers with a list of the people who are willing to serve as your references and their contact information.

Remember to ask your references if they are willing to be contacted, and where to reach them (office, cell, and/or home). An example of a list of references is given below. This list is a document you would maintain and would not be included in your Reference File in the Office of Career Development.

REFERENCES FOR NEWTON B. GRAD

Dr. Ernie Henson
Head of Design Development
Muppet Productions, Inc.
Grover, Washington 98335
(206) 555-1214
ehenson@mpi.com

Ms. Cassandra Wallingford
Vice President for Student Services
Schliemann Hall
Anatolia University
Troy, Pennsylvania 17331
(484) 555-0203
Fax (484) 555-0223
cwallingford@anatolia.edu

Mr. James Bond
Head of Security
Moneypenny Security Systems
007 Undercover Drive
Goldfinger, Wisconsin 53590
(800) 555-2663 (715)532-1064 (cell phone)
bond@hotmail.com

Dr. W. B. Hickok, Professor
Department of Environmental Management
Animals R Us
Wild West, Oklahoma 74117
(918) 555-1234
wbh@bufroam.org

Feeling over whelmed as you approach senior year?  Here’s a complete checklist of tasks seniors should complete before graduation to secure a job.

Senior Checklist

Learn What Matters