Dear Liz (and the rest of the class of 2010)

Dear Liz,

After four years of seemingly insurmountable volumes of reading, term papers and theses delivered through overnight marathons and lifelong friendships born as adolescents bloom into adulthood – it’s over.  You’re a college graduate.

You’re starting your post-college life in a new city, luckily with good friends and some family close by.  The world awaits you with – what???  Record levels of unemployment, wars raging in the Middle East, a rising federal debt burden you’ll have to pay and an oil spill of epic proportions in the Gulf.  It’s hard to get a job right now if you have years of experience.  As a new college graduate you’ll have to work extra hard to find full time, professional and paid employment.

What a fantastic time in your life!  (Hunnhh???)  That’s right.  You have so many choices in front of you.  New industries will bloom around the very problems that seem so intractable today – clean energy, improving healthcare, assisting an aging population, the list goes on.  Government and non-profit organizations need your talent and your passion more than ever.  Your international education has prepared you better than any generation before you to pursue opportunities across the globe.

But the first steps are yours to take.  You’ll have to pursue those opportunities, as the labor supply and demand dynamics are working against you right now.  For you, and your classmates, I offer a few hard earned coaching tips about looking for a job.

  1. Networking is grueling, but it will accelerate your success. Tell people what you’re looking for (industries, roles, target companies) and ask for their help with introductions to people who can help you connect to these targets.  Tap your alumni network, your parents’ friends, your professors, and the people you interned for (they owe you!).
  2. Job boards are just the tip of the iceberg. Job boards are a great way to find out what types of positions organizations are currently hiring.  They are principally designed, however, to screen out the majority of candidates who don’t appear to be a perfect match on paper.  Many positions are filled without ever being posted on a job board (see #1 above).
  3. Finding a job is a job. The more time you invest now in researching options, making networking calls, preparing for interviews, and following up after interviews with articulate WRITTEN thank you notes, the sooner you’ll find that job.  Keep a spreadsheet of the contacts you’re given, the actions you’ve taken with them, and the leads they’ve provided.
  4. Social media is changing the game – learn the rules. You know and love Facebook.  Your life is catalogued there for everybody with an internet connection to see.  Revisit those posts and pictures and clean up any content you wouldn’t show a recruiter or hiring manager.  They’ll find it if you don’t.  Get to know LinkedIn and Twitter.  Know that many companies are using these channels to advertise job openings.
  5. Leave everybody you talk to with the best possible impression of you – as a potential employee. You’re not trying to prove you’re a good kid.  You’re trying to help potential employers (or those who can lead you to them) envision you as an effective and dependable asset in the workplace.  Research the organizations and people you’re going to meet before you meet them.  Prepare insightful questions.  Dress and act the part.  Manners count.  Written (on paper, stamped, delivered by people with mailbags) thank you notes are still important.
  6. Think hard about how you want to spend your work life. Life is short and you’ll spend a lot of your waking hours at work.  All jobs are a mix of interesting and not-so-interesting bits.  When you are a serious candidate for a job, make sure that you assess that potential employer as a fit for you, just as they are assessing you.

Go for it, baby.

7 thoughts on “Dear Liz (and the rest of the class of 2010)

  1. Excellent advice Joyce! Recent grads who think that a job search is as simple as posting a resume on one of the mega job board sites are woefully misinformed. Job seekers MUST network through their contacts and actively seek new contacts. Contacts can include faculty, those you have met in the community, etc.

    Here are a few more tips to add to the list:

    7. In your correspondence with an employer, make it clear that you know SOMETHING about the company. Also, make it clear that you are applying for THAT position (not a mail merge that sends the same info in exactly the same format to numerous employers).

    8. Take a few minutes to tailor your resume to the specific position—your resume should specifically reference competencies and/or skill sets listed in the job announcement. It will be evident to an employer if you have or have not done this.

    9. Do SOMETHING beneficial while searching for a position. What volunteer work can you do now that directly relates to your chosen field? Employers will take note that you aren’t sitting home in front of xbox or facebook and eating your parents’ food!

  2. Joyce, this is such an important topic that I hardly know where to start. However let me just share my own bullet points:

    * Universities, especially graduate schools, are doing students a real disservice in not better setting them up to find work when they graduate. The purpose of university is not to groom employees for the workforce, but leaving graduates with critical thinking skills, high personal debt and a chance to work part time in 7-11 is not enough. (P.S. If you finished your Phd you may not be able to get the part time work at 7-11 unless you lie on your resume and say you spent the last 8 years in prison.)

    * Students need to start preparing themselves for finding a job long before they graduate; it should be a high priority even in the later years of high school/lycee.

    * If networking is really hard for you, try concentrate your networking on people you like; people with common interests — then it won’t feel forced.

    * Networking can include chatting to someone at a bus stop. You never know what will turn up in a random conversation.

    * Recognize that the skills you were taught to value in university are not necessarily the same skills valued by an employer. Smarts per se are not a big deal. Employers just want the job done. Imagine if you were hiring a plumber to fix your toilet. All you care about is that they can get the job done in a timely manner. Employers feel the same way about you.

  3. I teach a class of college juniors and seniors each semester, and this is the kind of advice I always seem to be giving or harping on them about.

    Joyce and Andy Brantley pretty much covered all the basic advice for graduates here, but I would also add this — get some experience and/or show that you are already trying to work in your given field.

    How does a graduate do this? Through internships or unpaid stints that may yield experience if not a paycheck. Or, through a blog or website that you have started, or that you frequent, that show you are passionate about your given field.

    I want graduates who show passion and exuberance for their chosen field. In my experience, that translates to someone who want to work, learn, and grow on the job and develop their craft. And THAT is most important to me.

  4. Great comments. One other tip to consider:

    10. Differentiate. You need to find a professional way in which stand out from an increasingly large crowd of applicants who are trying to do exactly the same thing as you are. Networking and some of the other tips given above will help materially but will often not be enough in isolation. I’ll share two recent examples of approaches to differentiation that worked:

    * Ask for an informational interview. I recently hired an MBA for a HR position based primarily on her request to meet and learn more about how the function operated at my company. Her questions during the brief meeting were intelligent, insightful and provided insight into how she would show up if she were hired. Note that she was not applying for a specific position… we found one for her. She was that good… primarily because she was that prepared. Sending these request to decision makers that have attended the same college / university that you have probably will increase your chances of success. However, this was not the case with the example I’ve referenced.

    * It’s a piece of cake. An applicant for a marketing spot sent his resume to the responsible recruiter in the form of a cake. This might not have worked for a non-marketing role but it again demonstrated future potential and resulted in the person getting his foot in the door.

    In the end they way you choose to differentiate needs to be reflective of who you are and how you’ll show up.

  5. Not much to add to the already excellent comments that have been generated. Clearly, a it is also important to remember that the first three minutes of your introduction to anyone and in this case especially, a potential employer, is the longest and most lingering impression they will maintain of you over the subsequent course of time they spend with you. So remember, how you dress, how you greet, your personal sense of confidence are the entrée impressions that will linger through the subsequent interaction you have with a potential employer.

    Just a peripheral consideration regarding use of social media. Increasingly, your contribution to social media is also part of the presentation of yourself in the public forum. Employers are increasingly accessing available personal contribution to social media as another vehicle of candidate assessment. So, just be wise and careful how you use social media, what you communicate and just what it is you want to be generally available to your various publics.

    With all of the good counsel suggested above I simply can’t imagine that you won’t find an opportunity that is just right for you. Good luck with your search

  6. A couple of other suggestions.
    1. Build a networking/mastermind group of all of the people you know who are looking for job. Meet weekly, support each other, market each other, review each other marketing materials, practice your interviewing skills. You used teams in college to complete projects now do the same to get a job. It is just one more project.

    2. Once you get a job (and you will) don’t forget the network you spent time and effort building. Stay in touch. In today’s world you will need them again.

    Remember when all is said and done it is not what you know but who you know that will make the true difference.

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