So you’ve graduated from college, now what?
With many professionals now starting to look for a job change after hiding out the last couple years through a nasty recession, today’s college graduates face a tough challenge finding good jobs. New grads compete against both those unemployed with experience and the pent up demand related to those who have been riding out the recession in unsatisfying jobs. This challenge has left a lot of grads questioning their post-college plans.
So how do you make sure you don’t wind up in the catch-22 of no job, no experience, no experience, no job? What strategy can you employ to help ensure you start your career off on the right foot?
Step 1: Recognize that starting now looking for work is your full time job. This means no more staying out late during the week and waking up at noon. Finding a job takes effort, and you need to spend time making sure you execute your job search strategy, not just wait and expect a job to find you. There is no formula for figuring out about how long it will take to find the job you want – some opportunities come by quickly and others take time. So getting serious about your search as soon as possible is key. I can’t stress that enough because many don’t realize that although you might start applying for open positions and networking today, almost all of the efforts you expend take a month or so to start yielding results. Time is also of the essence here because the longer you’re without work, the harder it’s going to be to find it. This is true from a marketing standpoint (those who are available due to unemployement are less desirable than those who are unavailable due to current employment or school), and also because the longer you go without success the more desperate you become, and that translates into how you present yourself.
Step 2: Figure out what field you want to go into and why. Now that you know you’re serious about finding a job, you need to focus on what you want. Knowing what you want will help you network but will also influence how you market yourself. It’s a little counter intuitive, but it’s easier to find someone a job who says they want to do Staff level Financial Accounting for an Oil and Gas company than it is to help someone who says they want a job in accounting or finance. Figuring out what you want will also help you focus your efforts towards those opportunities you know are worth your time. When it comes to interviews you can also market yourself as someone who “is only really looking to do…” whatever the job entails. This tells the hiring manager that you’ve really thought out your options and know you want this specific job, not just because it’s a job. Remember hiring managers are worried you’ll be gone in a year or two and communicating this will help resolve that fear. That is also why you should have at least three reasons why that field / industry is what you want. Communicating this will seal the deal as few candidates even take the trouble to communicate why they want any job, must less why the already pre-selected that field and industry before the opportunity even came along.
Step 3: Find a mentor who can guide you through the process. Mentors are so important. They possess the wisdom you only gain with experience and the desire to develop you – for your own good. What more crucial time exists where this relationship can benefit you than when you’re fresh out of school and trying to figure out what direction to go with your career. If you’ve already chosen a direction, great. Find a mentor in that area and ask for guidance in your job search. You can get advice on what job opportunities are in-line with your ambitions and get coaching on how to market yourself in interviews. Meet with your mentor periodically and don’t be afraid to ask for help. Develop a plan together and then hold up your end of the bargain and work hard to impress your mentor. Depending on how well your mentor knows you, you might find them willing to market you to their contacts and help you network. Even if they don’t get this involved, it will be key to have someone to provide support along the way.
Step 4: Update you marketing materials (resume, business cards, etc). You have chosen a direction, you have support; now develop your marketing materials to highlight your value. Update your resume. You can review my thoughts on resumes here. Create business cards. You can do this even if you don’t have a job. The point is that you want to make sure you have an easy way of giving your contact info, a short list of your skills, and a line about what you want to any random person you might run into. Don’t be that guy who makes a connection then can’t secure it because they have to write their name and phone number on a napkin. Honestly… I’m not going to keep that napkin in my wallet, but I will keep a business card. You also need to update your online presence. Take down (or at least secure) all those party pics on Facebook. Get on LinkedIn and make sure your profile is complete and highlights what you want. My current job came from LinkedIn. Also get on CareerBuilder and Monster (I don’t like Monster very much but I won’t knock it if it works for you). Indeed also has some good stuff on it. Check it out.
Step 5: Apply for jobs and register with HR departments and recruiting firms. Notice I waited until step 5 to even start applying for jobs. Without the focused effort, support, and concise marketing materials, applying is just a beating. You’ll have to decide how much effort to put into writing a cover letter, or filling out lengthy applications. If you have your direction set out, that decision is much easier. The job search is a numbers game, and your goal is to get your information in as many people’s faces (that matter toward your goal) as possible. You don’t have time to waste filling out applications for jobs you don’t want. The same goes for company’s HR profiles. If you have a list of the top 25 companies you want to work for, even if they aren’t hiring, go ahead and fill out a profile with your information on their HR Careers page on their website. If a job becomes available, you’ll already be in the system. Finally, fill out an application at every recruiting firm you know of in your area (like Robert Half). You’ll want to stick to those who place the kinds of jobs you want – but most of them are quite general (all accounting and finance, all IT, etc). The key here is to be able to concisely communicate to a recruiter what it is you’re looking for and why you’re a good fit for it. Remember, recruiters get paid a commission by the hiring company. They are often in competition with other recruiters at other firms and they are looking for efficient placements. If you prove to them you’re hirable and you know what you want – and can efficiently educate them on that – they will start working for you, and that is huge. Recruiters are the few people out there that really will work for you if you find the right ones, so don’t overlook that avenue.
Step 6: Network… never stop networking. Most jobs even today are still filled through word of mouth. Networking, person-to-person, is still the best way to get a leg up on the competition for an open position. Sometimes when connections are strong enough, positions can be created specifically to fit the candidate. Get involved in a professional networking group. I will highlight some of them on my blog – but IMA is a good example. Go to the events (most of them are free for students). Hand out your cards and learn about what others do. Connect with people and build relationships. Follow up on your contacts and add them to your LinkedIn network. To get deeper with those who really have potential to help you out, consider asking them to go to lunch or happy hour. Lunch during the work week can be a nonthreatening way of connecting and communicating what you’re looking for. You’ll be surprised that they will naturally want to help you succeed. You can prospect for potential connections on LinkeIn by searching your contacts connections, but be careful not to creep too much online – if anything try and ask them to lunch and meet them face to face as soon as possible. Because you already have a list of companies you want to target, keep an eye out for anyone connected to anyone at these companies. Ask for advice on how to get into the industry or industry specific groups and events. Once you start to build your network, don’t stop. Too many people don’t network until they need to and networking isn’t something you can turn on and off like a light switch. It’s like growing a tree – watering it every day and nurturing it over time will produce huge results, but you have to remember to take care of it.
Implement these things and keep at it. Looking for a job is work. It’s payoffs are highly irregular and unpredictable. Invest in all places with the understanding that you never know which application or connection will be the one to lead you to your dream job. Keep your confidence up and find someone to guide and support you.