Your dream job is out there somewhere, but a successful expedition takes time, a thorough exploration, and the proper tools.
Sarah Shumway, a recent graduate of Hobart and William Smith Colleges in Geneva, New York, found that job-hunting was tougher than she had expected. But with perseverance and a positive attitude, Shumway landed a position in a children’s publishing firm in New York City. “It took a lot along the way to get this job,” she says, “but I’m where I want to be.”
Shumway, like many new job seekers today, found out that opportunities are harder to come by than in previous years. “A few years ago, companies would do anything to try to hire talented people,” says Tony Lee, editor-in-chief and general manager of CollegeJournal.com, an online arm of The Wall Street Journal. “They’d pull people off Daytona Beach during spring break. Now, opportunities are disappearing.”
Still, opportunities exist; job seekers just have to try harder. Whether you’re looking for part-time work now or planning ahead for your post-college job hunt, preparation pays off, and knowing the strategies and tools (a dynamite résumé, an impressive interviewing style, the right clothes) can set you on course for a successful job quest.
Finding the job
Classified ads and job postings at a school’s career center can still uncover some employment jewels, but today’s search requires casting a wider net. “Students who rely only on campus interviews and responding to job ads are missing 80 percent of the opportunities out there,” says Steven Rothberg, president and founder of CollegeRecruiter.com, an online job board targeted to students and recent graduates. Most jobs are filled through referrals or internal resources. Your mission should be to leave no possibility unturned by exploring all the major employment sources.
Nearly every expert puts networking at the top of the job-finding list. “Most students know—within two degrees of separation—someone at a large company they can make a connection with,” says Steve Pollock, president of www.Wetfeet.com. Rothberg suggests discussing your job search with every single human being you come into contact with.
Expand your networking circles
Professional organizations—See if your campus has a student branch of a professional association related to the field you’re pursuing, such as the Public Relations Student Society of America or the Professional Photographers of America. Or find out if a professional association in your industry accepts junior or apprentice members.
College alumni—Talk to graduates of your college or university in your field. Most alumni offices have names of former students willing to be contacted.
Career fairs—Career centers often sponsor events that match employers seeking to fill entry-level positions with students looking for jobs. At Harvey Mudd College in Claremont, California, the career services center organizes fairs in the fall and spring. Structured like a convention floor, the fairs allow students to visit booths and talk one-on-one to company representatives in a variety of industries.
Only about 12% of jobs come to students by way of on-campus interviews, according to William Cohen, professor of marketing and leadership at California State University, Los Angeles, and author of Break the Rules: The Secret Code to Finding a Great Job Fast (Prentice Hall Press). Still, the career office is often a good place to start your job search.
In addition to coordinating on-campus recruiting visits from major corporations, many college career centers offer special programs to help match students and employers. For example, the referral service at Hobart and William Smith’s career center places students’ résumés in a special database that counselors can sort through and then forward appropriate résumés to employers looking for workers in specific career fields.
Not only are most college career centers free to use, they are stuffed with job-search-related aids—from career assessment tools to résumé- and cover letter–writing services.
Internet job boards
Call them the classified ads of the new millennium. Internet job boards allow you to search through thousands of job opportunities and target positions you’re interested in. “You can type in the type of job you’re looking for and see all the jobs that meet your criteria in one second,” says Lee of www.CollegeJournal.com. Most job boards also post résumés, which employers scan when searching for applicants.
Besides the larger, better known boards like www.Monster.com and www.SimplyHired.com, there are thousands of smaller ones that specialize in particular fields such as science (www.newscientistjobs.com), publishing (www.mediabistro.com), or health care (www.healthcarejobstore.com).
Online job ads tend to be much more detailed than classified ads; they often include information on the company itself or a link to the company’s Web site.
If you love your college internship, it could become a permanent gig. According to the www.WetFeet.com survey, 45 percent of interns were offered full-time positions at the companies they worked for last year.
The simplest way to turn your internship into something full-time? Do a good job—no matter how mundane or silly the task. Also, during your internship, periodically ask for feedback from your supervisor or other employees. Network like crazy—at least a few times a week, try to go to lunch with a different person from the company. Stay in touch with employees after you finish the internship, even if it’s just dropping them an occasional e-mail. And make it known that you’re interested in continuing at the company full-time.
Sending out unsolicited résumés may not be the most effective way of finding a job, but Shel Horowitz, Director of Accurate Writing & More, tells the story of a client who wanted a job in New York City’s fashion industry. “She blitzed the industry—sent letters to everyone she could think of saying, ‘This is why you need me.’ In six months, she had the job she always wanted.”
Although you might find a position sending a résumé to human resources, you’re probably better off contacting the person who actually hires people in the department you’re interested in. Three or four days later, phone that person’s office and confirm that they’ve received your material. Once you’ve made it that far, inquire about job possibilities and hiring procedures.
For new graduates, the majority of employment agencies and headhunters can be a waste because most agencies don’t handle entry-level positions. On the other hand, obtaining a short-term assignment through a temporary agency can give you and a company the chance to check each other out.
They may be old-fashioned, but don’t ignore the want-ads in your local paper or in your industry’s professional journals. They can still lead to the golden job. Be sure to customize your cover letter for the advertisement you’re answering. If it’s not a blind ad, call the company and find out who’s actually responsible for hiring that position, and, if it’s a different person from the ad, send your résumé directly to him or her as well.
Ace the interview
“People don’t hire from résumés—they hire from interviews,” says Cohen of California State in Los Angeles. During that hour or so, interviewers are judging your interpersonal skills, dedication, curiosity, and enthusiasm—and you’re determining whether or not you would be a good fit with the company.
It’s not surprising that experts say preparation is the key to a successful interview. The best preparation is four-fold:
Research the company. “People are far more impressed with a candidate who’s obviously done his or her homework,” says WetFeet’s Pollock. At the least, you should have a basic knowledge of the company: its mission, its key products or clients, its annual revenue, where it’s headquartered, who its competitors are. All of this information is often available on most companies’ Web sites.
Be ready to sell yourself. You need to clearly state why you want the job and what you can offer the firm. Pollock suggests listing three things you want the interviewer to remember about you when the interview is over. “Maybe you have great analytical capabilities or a passion for the semiconductor business—make sure you get those things across.”
Have questions ready. Asking questions shows your interest and expertise. Focus on the job itself: How does my position fit into the organization, what qualifications does it require, what are the day-to-day responsibilities? Also, listen closely to what your interviewer is saying so you don’t ask questions that he or she has already answered.
Practice, practice, practice! You wouldn’t think about participating in a marathon without a few training runs. Similarly, before you do a real interview, you need to put in some practice time. “Find an adult who has some experience with interviews and role-play it,” suggests Horowitz. It’s often helpful to videotape your role-playing session, as it allows you to catch a physical faux pas such as fidgeting and not making eye contact.
In terms of keeping your sanity during your job search, this is probably the most important tool to maintain. “A lot of people approach the job search as something that’s going to be a horrible undertaking,” says Pollock. “People who do best approach it positively—as a world of possibilities, and they’re going to find a job that’s exciting for them.”
Interview tips and tools to help you land the job!
- In an interview, turn off your cell phone and make eye contact.
- Sending out unsolicited résumés is usually a waste of time. Most companies don’t have time to review them and dump them in the trash.
- When e-mailing a résumé, keep it plain. No fancy typefaces. Although you may send the résumé as an attachment, some files can be difficult to open, so paste it in the body of your e-mail as well.
Tool #1: The cover letter
A survey by Accountemps found that 60% of employers feel the cover letter, which accompanies your résumé, is as—or more—important than the résumé. The cover letter allows you to target your application more specifically by addressing why you are a good candidate for a particular position. If the position comes with a certain requirement you can’t fill, you can use the cover letter to try to remedy that. “Maybe there’s a 3.0 GPA requirement, but the student only has 2.9,” says CollegeRecruiter.com’s Steven Rothberg. “The student can add that because of his extensive work experience he would still be a perfect candidate.”
Ideally, your cover letter should contain three paragraphs:
- An introduction containing the specifics of the job you’re applying for;
- A synopsis stating why you are a good fit for the position;
- A closing with a request for an interview, contact information, and thanks.
Tool #2: The perfect résumé
If you want to get part-time work or a full-time position, a knockout résumé is key to opening doors. A résumé showcases your education, job experience, and talents, and it has to jump from the pile that an employer will scour to fill an opening.
For many students, the greatest challenge is completing the “experience” section. They haven’t had a real job, so they feel they don’t have any skills to brag about. But fresh-faced job-seekers can highlight other experience or skills, such as volunteer work or proficiency in a foreign language. Don’t think of a fast-food job as just flipping burgers. “You will have learned about quality management,” says résumé expert Shel Horowitz. “You will have learned about producing large volumes while maintaining identical product.”
The point is that many of your experiences have given you qualifications that are important to employers, and it’s up to you to bring those out on the résumé.
Before you write your résumé, you should review possible styles in a résumé book or online. The sample here teaches some important universal lessons.
- A capitalized bold-faced centered name gets your résumé off to a great start.
- A “non-jokey” e-mail address proves that you’re living in the new millennium.
- An objective is not always necessary, but if you are targeting a specific job, it can help your cause.
- Employers want smart candidates—list your education, including any awards and your GPA if it is higher than 3.0. (As you gain experience, you should list “education“ below “experience.”)
- Show specific responsibilities and accomplishments. Numbers tell a lot (e.g., How many did you supervise? How much money did you save a company?).
- Noun-heavy résumés are in, especially when posting on the Internet, where employers search with keywords. Use nouns that highlight specific skills, such as relevant computer applications.
- So-called “soft skills,” such as leadership, communications, and teamwork, are in demand. Plus, you may be surprised at how many of your interests translate into valuable skills.
Tool #3: References
For most serious jobs, you’ll be asked to provide names of people who can vouch for your merit as an employee. Although the ideal reference is someone you’ve worked for at a job, internship, or volunteer position, don’t feel limited to that category. Professors, advisors, and others in the academic field make great references.
Once you’ve got a reference on board, don’t be afraid to coach him or her. Tell the person specifically: “This is the type of job I’m looking for, and these are the type of skills I want to promote.”
Tool #4: The thank-you note
A short note thanking an interviewer for seeing you is more than polite—it can give you an edge. A thank-you note can also give you a chance to make a point you may have left out during the interview. The note doesn’t have to be more than 150 words or so. Unless you’re in a high-tech industry, send it out snail mail rather than e-mail—and send it within 24 hours of your meeting. It’s helpful to personalize the letter by mentioning something you discussed during the interview, preferably something that will reflect positively on you.