Make a Lasting Impression with an Elevator Pitch

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So you’re finally attending that career fair, or maybe you even ran into the perfect networking opportunity out of the blue. How will you dazzle that recruiter or hiring manager? By having an ‘elevator pitch,’ a 30-90 second speech that highlights who you are, your strengths and why you’d be ideal for the job (or internship).

Develop a hook. Try to grab his or her interest right away with an interesting opening line. While it’s essential to give your name and major, try to find an unusual angle. This goes double for events such as career fairs where recruiters are talking to dozens of job seekers over the course of several hours. You’ll want to make the extra effort to be memorable.

Highlight your strengths and passions. After your hook, go on to talk about your skills, experiences and interests. Be sure to back up your claims by providing examples and accomplishments from coursework, jobs, internships, student organization involvement and volunteer work.

Do your research. Be sure to mention a specific fact you looked up about the company or position. This shows how interested you are in working there and that you’re a highly motivated applicant. An example would be mentioning you saw their recently developed company Instagram account and then bring up your experience with social media and photography.

Close with a request. Lastly, end your elevator speech by asking to set up a time to discuss the position further. If a request isn’t appropriate, you can also close by transitioning into a question you have prepared for the recruiter.

Practice, practice, and you guessed it, practice. After you have a draft written down, practice reading it aloud to make sure your speech flows properly when spoken. To build your confidence, practice in front of a mirror so you can see how you look while vocalizing your speech. Next ask family, friends and mentors to let you practice with them and critique your performance.

Be flexible and ready to improvise. No matter how well you may have rehearsed your speech, the conversation may take an unexpected turn. The recipient of your speech may jump in with his or her own questions and comments. So be ready to answer extemporaneous questions while working highlights of your elevator pitch into the conversation.


Benefits of Beginning at a Community College

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Brittany FlackThis week’s blogger is Brittany Flack, who started her college career at Western Iowa Tech Community College. Brittany earned an Associate of Arts degree and an Associate of Science degree. She is continuing her education at the University of Iowa with the goal of becoming an optometrist.

While researching colleges as a senior in high school, I was torn between where to go. I knew that I could save money by attending a community college prior to enrolling at a 4-year institution. Western Iowa Tech Community College (WITCC) turned out to be the best opportunity for me. With a few scholarships that covered book fees, residence hall expenses, meal plans and tuition, it was practically free. I knew upon graduating high school that I wanted to pursue my dream of being an optometrist and that it would take eight years to attain that goal. I had taken a few college credit classes during high school and therefore I could graduate from WITCC in one year with an Associate of Arts degree and an Associate of Science degree. All of my classes would easily transfer to the University of Iowa.

From the first day at WITCC, I felt comfortable in the environment. I knew I wanted to get involved right away. I joined the Student Leadership Academy, Phi Theta Kappa, became a Student Ambassador and tried out for the dance team. As a student ambassador, I was able to inspire people through my experiences and inform them about how to prepare for college. Through Phi Theta Kappa, I became the president, raised money for the backpack program and started the C4 challenge program to complete a degree at a community college. I talked to the students and faculty about the importance of earning a degree and the benefits that will come of it. I was also selected for on the All-Iowa Academic Team and considered for the All American Academic Team that ultimately earned me a scholarship at the University of Iowa. On the Student Leadership Academy, we discussed ways to make the college a better place for students and implemented a program to provide free bus passes for students without vehicles. On the dance team, we performed at the State Dance Competition and received second place in our division. We performed during the Sioux City Bandits’ football games and were featured in school commercials.  I also met a lot of people by getting involved in intramural sports on campus.

By far, the relations I developed at WITCC will my classmates, teachers, advisors and the staff are the biggest benefits to starting at a community college. There was never a moment I had to show my student ID to be recognized, everyone knew me by name…and still knows me by name. My teachers and advisors went above and beyond to create a path for my future. My memories from community college are indescribable because they are so unique. I have grown so much from the potential that the WITCC community saw in me. They really made me realize that my dreams could be reached.

After graduating from WITCC, I remain involved with the college. Over breaks I have gone back and talked to high school classrooms about my experience. I have also taken extra summer classes and winter term classes during my breaks at the University of Iowa. My pictures are still used in brochures, commercials and banners.  After two years I am still in contact with some of my teachers and classmates. I have even applied to teach a summer Biology course at WITCC since I will have by bachelor’s degree from the University of Iowa. There are unlimited possibilities when you begin at a community college and the opportunities are growing. I would not be in the position that I am in today without taking this path. I am three years out of high school with an Associate’s of Arts Degree, an Associate’s of Science Degree and soon a Bachelor’s in Health and Human Physiology—all in pursuit of my dream of being an Optometrist.

Dress for success

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With graduation just around the corner, many students are about to enter the working world. This transition from student to employee can be daunting, however dressing the part doesn’t have to be! Standard advice given by mentors and managers is to dress for the job you want, not the job you have currently. Even in this day of business casual dress codes, your professional image will set you apart from your coworkers who are less concerned about projecting a professional image and serve you well when promotions are available.

More and more companies are turning to business casual dress codes, allowing employees to work more comfortably in the work place. Business casual can be fun because it allows you to put a bit of your own spunky spin on what you’re wearing; however, it leaves a lot of room for interpretation. Since you still need to project a professional image for customers, colleagues and community visitors, here are a few tips for dressing the part.

Fit counts.

Buying items that are too big can make you appear sloppy regardless of your actual size. This is bad news if you’re gunning for that promotion. On the other hand, clothing that is too tight or revealing is unprofessional and inappropriate for work.

Get out the iron!

(Or, if you don’t have one, buy one!) Clothing should never be wrinkled. Torn, dirty, or frayed clothing is unacceptable, as is any clothing that has words, terms, or pictures that may be offensive to other people.

Beyond the clothing.

Looking professional in a business casual atmosphere takes more than the right clothes. Women and men should be clean and appropriately groomed.  The hair on your head and any facial hair should be trimmed and washed regularly. If hair is dyed, it should be a color that appears natural and piercings should be kept to a minimum.  Jewelry must be tasteful and classy, and perfumes should be used sparingly and not be overpowering.

If in doubt, ask!

The fact is that “business casual” dress codes vary and some businesses are stricter than others.  Look around at what your coworkers are wearing to get an idea of what is appropriate at your company or ask your human resources department for the official dress code.

So, what works?

Business casual is generally more traditional for men, including dress or khaki pants, long sleeve collared shirts, a belt and dress shoes.  Short sleeve collared shirts and polo shirts may also work, depending on your employer.  Woman should wear button down shirts (don’t forgot the camisole for the layering effect!), sweaters, dress pants, knee-length skirts and modest heels or flats.  Peep-toe shoes and capri pants are great for the summer, but may not be approved in all offices.

By following these simple rules, the next time you’re meeting new people or talking to your boss about a promotion, you can feel confident that you’ve put your business casual style to work and look the part!

Celebrate Financial Literacy Month

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April is officialliflpy Financial Literacy Awareness Month in Iowa and nationally. Too many       students still enter adulthood unprepared to make large purchases and wise decisions regarding their finances.  According to Charles Schwab’s 2011 Teens & Money Survey Findings, 75% of teens (ages 16-18) say that learning more about money management is one of their top priorities. To celebrate the importance of financial literacy, take a look at these options for fun, creative ways to implement money management skills in the classroom and at home.



  1. Get certified in financial literacy.  Iowa College Aid partners with EverFi, Inc and local financial institutions to provide the Iowa Financial Literacy Program at no cost to Iowa schools. These fun, interactive online modules cover such topics as: credit scores, banking, investing and other finance-related topics. Each module meets the financial literacy essential concepts and skills of the Iowa Core.
    Have your students complete the program to prepare them for budgeting and handling their future finances, such as paying for postsecondary education. Iowa College Aid also provides Vault, designed to teach financial literacy to students in grades 4-6. For more information, contact Iowa College Aid at 877-272-4456.
  2. Take the 30 steps to financial wellness. The experts at Money Management International have provided a list of 30 steps to achieving financial wellness. These 30 steps begin with pledging a commitment to change and cover such aspects as assessing your financial situation, cleaning up your credit report, goal-setting and more.
  3. Utilize free resources. There is a plethora of free financial webinars, worksheets and tools available online. Check out such sites as Nelnet, 360 Degrees of Financial Literacy, and Credit Karma.
  4. Complete the 52 WEEK MONEY Challenge.   This challenge has gained a lot of attention through social media and encourages everyone to save a dollar in the first week, then increase the amount by a dollar each following week. Put your own twist on the challenge for your classroom and make it a contest.

College Changes Everything VISTA positions available

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An educated workforce is vital for the continued economic prosperity of Iowa communities.  Employers in all industries have an increasing need for skilled and educated workers.  Only 41 percent of Iowa’s 1.6 million working-age adults (25-64 years old) have two or four-year degrees1, while more than six in 10 jobs in the state will require postsecondary credentials by 2018.2 Iowa’s economic future depends on us producing more college graduates—a task more effectively tackled at the local level in our communities rather than by the state as a whole.

Increasing college attainment leads to stronger local and state economies. Iowa’s economic future depends on us producing more college graduates. An increase of one-percent in degree attainment leads to a two-percent increase in a community’s economic growth.3

College Changes Everything is based on the premise that sustained change is only possible through cross-sector coordination. Relationships based on shared responsibility and trust, development of a common agenda, shared measurement of goals, effective communication and mutual reinforcement of activities among all participants are key to successfully increase college attainment at the community level. Building upon the existing initiatives and resources currently available in our communities, College Changes Everything™ leverages the strengths and long-term plans of each participating organization. Ground-level legwork of VISTA volunteers, access to data and training and strategic assistance for community leaders provided by Iowa College Aid and other state and national experts fuel the movement to meet the community’s higher education goals and raise educational attainment statewide.

Initial leadership for the College Changes Everything initiative has been identified in the cities of Burlington, Council Bluffs, Marshalltown and Waterloo. To build momentum at the grass roots level, Iowa College Aid has received approval for six VISTA member positions, to be embedded in organizations in each targeted community. Each VISTA will be responsible for building support of the College Changes Everything movement, coordinating College Application Campaigns and FAFSA Completion projects at high schools in his or her respective community. Other VISTA member responsibilities will be based on the community’s specific needs.

Learn more about these six available AmeriCorps VISTA positions and apply!


[1] Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce (June 2010). The Midwest Challenge: Matching Jobs with Education in the Post-Recession Economy.
[1] Lumina Foundation (June 2013). A Stronger Iowa through Higher Education.
[1] Iowa Workforce Development (2013). Iowa’s Workforce and the Economy.

Finding an internship that is the right fit for you

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Every spring, many employers begin the hiring process for summer interns. Even if your degree program does not have an internship graduation requirement, there are numerous benefits working as an intern provides. Not only is an internship a great way to test out possible careers, it is also an ideal way to take the knowledge you have gained as a student and put it into action. An internship will also provide you access to professional networks and connections that could help you land a job.

Internships can be found be found through online sites such as, InternMatch and Linkedin, or through professional networks and college job boards. However, finding an internship that is a good fit for you and your future career goals can be difficult. Here are a few tips for finding an internship that is the right fit for you.

Determine your future career goals – Deeply consider what work you would like to do after graduation and determine your future career goals. By knowing more definitely where you want to end up, you will be better able to analyze internship descriptions and know if the work with help you get there.

Utilize your network – Tell your network of friends, family and professors about your goals and what type of internship you are looking for. A network is ideal for spreading the word and connecting you with the right people and organizations.

Volunteer first – By volunteering for an organization prior to applying for an internship, you can get an idea of the type of work you would be doing as an intern. If that work is not something you would be interested in or will not help you meet your career goals, you can begin the process of looking elsewhere.

Express your goals to your supervisor and negotiate – In many cases, an internship may not provide you with the opportunity to get involved in every aspect of the field that interests you. In these cases, explain your goals and interests to your supervisor and ask if you can assist or get more involved with projects that involve these interests. Chances are your supervisor will be impressed by your willingness to learn and find ways to involve you more in these areas.

If you can’t find one, create one – If you still can’t find an internship that is the right fit for you, create it yourself! Determine what type of work you would like to do and find an organization that is willing to allow you to do it. While you may have to volunteer your time with the organization while performing this work, the experience and skills you gain from the experience could be well worth your time.

Final Days for Submissions in the IFLiP Video CLiP Challenge

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There is still time to submit a video and win a $1,000 technology grant for your school and $250 for a team of students!

Iowa College Aid and EverFi, Inc. have teamed up again this year to sponsor the IFLiP Video CLiP Challenge! The challenge is an opportunity for students to put their creativity to work and create a short video designed to educate their peers about financial literacy concepts. Video entries may not exceed three minutes in length and must be submitted no later than Sunday, March 23, 2014 at 11:59 a.m. along with the Video Submission Form and Name and Image Release Form. Students who submit the winning video will receive $250 for the team to share and a $1,000 technology grant for their school! Submissions should be sent to

If you have any questions, please visit our website or call us at 877-272-4456.