You’ve achieved a major life milestone. You earned a college degree and are ready to join the workforce. Congratulations!
As you begin searching for your first career position, keep these insider tips in mind.
Make a Schedule & Show up Daily
Looking for a job is much like having a job. It requires commitment, dedication and perseverance. Create a schedule and stick to it. Get up each day knowing what you need to accomplish and prepare a list of things-to-do for the next day. Part of those tasks should include networking, prospecting, completing applications, going on interviews and creating and updating a spreadsheet to keep track of all activity by employer.
Try not to get discouraged. Finding a job is hard work. Finding a job that fits into your ideal career path is even harder. Put in the work for the best results.
Do a Personal Inventory
You’ve likely taken a career-ready course in college. There you identified your strengths and weaknesses. Maybe you listed industries or companies you’d be interested in as a career. Sit back for a few moments (not days) and do another personal assessment. Think about a career, not just getting a job. Reflect.
Are you pursuing a certain job because it’s your passion? Or, did your parents guide you into this career field? Is money your primary motivator? Should it be? Are you only looking in a particular industry because you completed an internship there? What job functions excite you enough to hop out of bed each morning looking forward to work? You must know yourself, your interests and your skill set well before you can realistically sell yourself to an employer. Don’t use the excuse that you’re too young or inexperienced to do this inventory or you will be hopping from job to job rather than settling into a focused career.
Understand Your Brand & Review Your Public Image
Understand you’re marketing yourself to prospective employers as a brand. What kind of impression are you making online? Quickly check. Do a Google search on yourself. What will an employer see? What photos of you are on Facebook and Instagram? Do you have endless juvenile sounding or drunken rants on Twitter? Do you participate in high risk activities that a recruiter or company will see as a liability?
You’ve graduated. Now it’s time to clean up your social media sites. Remove all party, beach and prom photos. Put a professionally dressed image of yourself on your LinkedIn profile. Don’t shut down your sites. Employers want to see that you have personality and creativity and know how to use these marketing tools. Just keep them clean and professional. Read everything. Make sure you don’t have grammar and spelling errors and that all content and dates are consistent.
Brag about It
Today every employer will log on to see if your public profile is a good fit or match for their organizational culture. Keep or put things on these social media sites that don’t necessarily fit on a resume. Did you win a huge award or invent something remarkable? Post a photo and description. You know they will be looking. Let them see how great you are and what an ideal fit you’d be with their company.
More people network today online than in person. Add connections to your LinkedIn profile. Search out professionals who have a job you’d like to have. Connect. Ask them about their job and seek their guidance on how to be successful in that job and industry. Maybe they will invite you to visit with them at their office or on the telephone. Depending on how well you relate, this LinkedIn connection could become a career mentor.
At a certain point, it might be appropriate to ask for introductions to hiring managers within the company. Usually referrals from employees within a company are given greater weight than unknown candidates. Find someone to advocate for you within the company you want to work with. LinkedIn is a great way to achieve this.
Customize Your Resume
Most college students graduate having written a resume. If not, there are plenty of online sources for help. Take yours and review it and update it with these tips:
- You have 6 seconds to make an impression on the first person reading your resume.
- Think like the boss. What part of your work or internship history would (s)he be most interested in or care about? Feature these.
- A boss cares about meeting company goals and objectives, first and foremost. Focusing on what you can do for the organization will make you stand out.
- Get to the point quickly with a summary of your tops skills and achievements. Highlight what you’ve done that matters most to the employer and how you’ve been recognized for that skill or achievement.
- Read each job description carefully and make a list of keywords. These are words you see repeatedly in the posting under “qualifications” and “requirements.” Make sure you meet all of the job requirements. If so, include these keywords in all documents (cover letter, email, resume, online application, etc.) submitted to the company.
- Customize your resume to the position. This requires extra time but shows you know what an employer is seeking from a qualified candidate. Remember, you have 6 seconds to make an impression.
Write an Impressive Cover Letter or Email
Most companies require you submit a cover letter and resume through their website. Fewer ask you to send an email and resume. Either way, make a great first impression with a cover letter. Keep it to one page. Do not repeat what is already on your resume. Instead, highlight the skills and talent you will bring to the company on the first day. Make these stand out by using 3 or 4 bullet points on the page. Always check your spelling, grammar and punctuation. Research and find a name to address your communications to. It shows initiative and greater interest.
Create and Practice an Elevator Pitch
An elevator pitch is a 30 second commercial about you. Remember, you are a brand. Sell yourself like you see a product being sold on TV. Write your pitch out. Rehearse it enough so you can recite it in a conversational manner. Avoid being cutesy or folksy.
Stick to the facts. Focus on skills that set you apart. List what value you’d immediately add to the company. Add a line about why a company should hire you. Like your resume, this pitch needs to be tweaked by organization. Anytime a friend, family member or referral source asks, “What are you looking for?” or “Tell me about yourself,” you should be able to readily give your rehearsed pitch. Be clear, concise and focused.
Practice Answering Interview Questions
You can find endless lists of interview questions online. The following 10 questions have been trending recently. Practice succinctly answering each question aloud. Ask a trusted friend, parent or mentor to give you feedback. Recent college graduates should use group project, internship and part-time work experiences to answer questions.
Many interviewers use the STAR method when asking behavioral based questions. They want you to first describe the situation and task(s). Then identify the actions and give the results when you answer their questions. If this concept is new to you, practice it. Knowing how to answer questions in this manner is expected of new graduates.
- Name one function you’d like to do every day at work for the remainder of your working days.
- Describe a time you failed, what you learned from it and how you made life or work changes from that failure.
- Explain Twitter to your grandparent in 140 characters or less.
- Describe the story of your career to date.
- What 3 metrics do you use to measure your own success?
- What 5 things do you expect from an employer?
- On the first day of work, what value will you immediately bring to this organization?
- If you had to do college over, what 1 thing would you change?
- Give an example of how you react when a team member isn’t doing his or her fair share of the project work.
- Describe your proudest moment in life to date.
Nail the Interview
Each interview method and process may be different. Some companies have a human resources staffer call and ask screening questions before inviting you to meet in person. Some prefer video conferencing as an initial screening. Others will invite you in to meet with the team you will be working with.
Treat all interviews with respect. Dress professionally for video calls. Don’t sound like you are sleeping when on a telephone screening call. Smile when on the phone and walk around, if it helps project more energy. You must make a favorable first impression to be invited for an in-person interview.
Always get the name and title of the person or people you are speaking to. It may seem dated, but it’s still appropriate to send a thank you note after each interview. Express your appreciation of their time and interest and remind them again why you are the best candidate for the job.
You may follow up with the employer after the interview, but do not send endless emails or make dozens of phone calls. Employers hire based on qualifications and interviews. Being a pest will turn off an employer.
Be sure to:
- Research the organization and the people you will be meeting with.
- Prepare questions you’d like answered. For example, is there a leadership training program? Do you pay for advanced education? Will I have to travel? How often? What do you like best (and least) about working here?
- If it’s an out-of-town interview, ask about travel reimbursement before going. If they don’t offer reimbursement, find out how serious of a candidate you are before agreeing to travel.
- Eat a nutritious meal before the interview. You don’t know how long the interview may last.
- Try to get appointment scheduler to explain the process to you. Many companies now ask candidates to take personality and aptitude skill tests. Some interviews are progressive, meaning if you pass one test you proceed to the next part of the process. This can take hours, or even a full day. Be prepared before you go.
- Dress appropriately. If in doubt, overdress. Never show up with pet hair on your clothing or a smoke odor.
- Take your time answering questions. Pause. Ask for clarification. Speak clearly and loudly. Don’t become so long-winded the interviewer becomes bored. Think about the question and how your work history, skills and experiences can best benefit the organization.
- Show interest. Ask questions throughout the interview. Remember, interviews are a two-way street. They are assessing your fit and readiness and you are determining if you’d like to work there.
- Show some personality. It’s okay to laugh and to get to know the people you are meeting with. Afterall, you want to spend at least 8 hours a day with them.
- End each interview knowing what the next steps in the process are and when they will be making a hiring decision.
Address the Elephant in the Room
The loudest complaint of recent graduates is employers want someone with experience. You must address this head on. In your personal inventory make a list of reasons you are prepared for the work place. Prove it by submitting a strong resume and cover letter. Deliver a polished elevator pitch and show up fully prepared for your interviews.
Extrapolate specific college group project experiences that relate to the work environment. Be able to describe the specific situation, action or task and the end result. Then relate this experience to the employer’s environment, keeping in mind they care more about what you can do for them and how you will advance their company.
Don’t be afraid to sell your soft skills like writing, communication and organizational skills. Highlight your technical skills like Microsoft Office Suite, statistical analysis, etc. and identify if you are advanced or efficient in each. Prove how you are a great team player and give examples of your learning style and business acumen.
Ask college professors, volunteer organization advisors and work supervisors to post a reference for you on your LinkedIn page. Be sure they highlight your work readiness and professional skills.
Keeping it Real
If you have no prior work or internship experience and only a college degree, you are at a definite disadvantage. Your resume will rank low. You won’t have key words to use or real life experiences to share. Always be truthful on your resume and in interviews because employers will verify your information before hiring you.
If this is your situation, do not infinitely prolong the job search. While searching, secure a job of some sort and prepare yourself for your ideal job. Use the workplace as your laboratory of learning. Keep notes of examples you can use when talking with future employers. Ask for greater responsibility and prove you are workplace ready for your next job.
Share with recent college graduates seeking their 1st career position.
Linda Leier Thomason is a former CEO who has hired and developed teams of professionals, including interns. Her work experiences include a Fortune 500 corporation, federal government and small business. She is the mother of a December 2016 business college graduate who just landed his first career position.
Have a question about finding a job, writing a resume or drafting an elevator pitch? Need coaching?
©Copyright. April 2017. Linda Leier Thomason
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