The ultimate job search guide: 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 this past year was tougher than she had expected. With a polished resume in hand, this double major (English, media and society) interviewed with six different companies during her senior year, but by May she had no offers.
“It was a tough time,” she remembers. “It was like, ‘I’m graduating, I don’t have a job lined up, and I’m going home to my parents.”‘ 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. According to a survey by WetFeet.com, an online recruiting company, undergraduates had an average of just 1.2 job offers by Match of 2001, down from 3.5 offers in March 2000.
“A year or so 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. Companies that have had substantial recruiting efforts in the past have put them on hold.”
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 resume, 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 Wetfeet.com. Rothberg suggests discussing your job search with every single human being you come into contact with. “Very often, a family member or friend will know of an organization that’s hiring,” he says, “but won’t think about your needs and the organization’s needs an put two and two together.” That’s why you must alert people to your qualifications.
To expand your networking beyond your inner circle, explore these sources:
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 a fair in the fall and spring. Structured like a convention floor, the fair allows students to visit booths and talk one-on-one to company representatives in a variety of industries. “The fair was a great platform to begin the whole job hunting experience,” says Tony Hawkins a 2001 Harvey Mudd graduate. “I was able to get my resume our to about 15 companies as well as sign up for interviews, all in one afternoon.” One of those resumes went to SRI International, a nonprofit corporation based in Menlo Park, California, that, after several interviews, ended up hiring Hawkins as a research engineer.
Only about 12 percent 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 resumes in a special database that counselors can sort through and then forward appropriate resumes 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 resume and cover letter-writing services. Counselors can also put you in touch with graduates who may be working in your field.
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 CollegeJournal.com. Most job boards also post resumes, which employers scan when searching for applicants.
Besides the larger, better known boards like Monster. corn and HotJobs.com, there are thousands of smaller ones that specialize in particular fields like science (newscientistjobs.com), publishing (mediabistro.com), or health care (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.
Because 40,000 job boards currently flood the Internet, there’s no way to search through every single one. Instead, Rothberg suggests choosing half a dozen boards geared toward college students or general employment and a half dozen industry-specific sires. Just male sure you search the sites’ job listings periodically–posting your resume does not guarantee that you will automatically be considered for every job listed.
And don’t forget about the Internet’s value as a research tool. If you pinpoint a company you would like to work for, you usually can get a summary of what a company does, read its latest annual report, see how they might be expanding-all from your home computer.
If you love your college internship, it could become a permanent gig. According to the WerFeet.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. When John Shabe graduated from Syracuse University in New York, he took on a post-grad internship at a local daily paper. As a general assignment sports reporter, his duties were far from glamorous. He remembers spending a day covering a 60-year-old man who was trying to break a record by swimming the length of a 22-mile lake. But his story was so well-written that it made it onto page one the next morning. That quality-in-the-face-of-drudgery attitude scored the sports reporter a full-time position by the end of the summer.
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 email. And make it known that you’re interested in continuing at the company full-time.
Sending out unsolicited resumes may not be the most effective way of finding a job–especially with companies on the alert for anthrax in the mail, 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 resume 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 resume directly to him or her as well.
ACE THE INTERVIEW
“People don’t hire from resumes–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 fir 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. You may also try to get an annual report or advertiser packet. You’ll score more points, says Horowitz, if you familiarize yourself with several different projects the company has completed and consider how you might have handled the situations.
* 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–think of those things and make sure you get them across.”
* Have questions ready. “Asking questions shows your interest and expertise,” says Cohen. 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? You might even want to ask about the interviewer: How did you start at the company? What are your 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–preferably someone who’s not a nice person–and role play it,” suggests Horowitz. “By going through a practice run where someone’s asking the worst things an interviewer can throw at you, you’ll have answers for them.” It’s often helpful to videotape your role playing session, as it allows you to catch 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.”
Tracey Randinelli is a freelance writer who found all her full-time jobs through the classified ads.
RELATED ARTICLE: Tool # 1 THE COVER LETTER
A survey by Accountemps found that 60 percent of employers feel the cover letter, which accompanies your resume, is as-or more-important than the resume. The cover letter allows you to target your application more specifically by addressing why you are a good candidate for a particular position. “A resume says, ‘This is why I’m a great employee,”‘ says professional resume writer Shel Horowitz, “and a cover letter says, ‘This is why I’m a great employee for this position.”‘
If the position comes with a certain requirement you don’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 Steve Rothberg. “The student can add that because of his extensive work experience he would still be a perfect candidate.”
Idally, your cover letter should contain three paragraphs:
1. An introduction containing the specifics of the job you’re applying for:
2. A synopsis stating why you are a good fit for the position;
3. A closing with a request for an interview, contact information, and thanks.
TOOL #2 THE PERFECT RESUME
If you want to get part-time work or a full-time position, a knockout resume is key to opening doors. A resume 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 is a foreign language. Don’t think of a fast-food job as just flipping burgers. “You will have learned about quality management,” says resume 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 resume.
Before you write your resume, you should review possible styles in a resume book or online. The sample here teaches some important universal lessons.
(a) A capitalized bold-faced centered name gets your resume off to a great start.
123 Amsterdam Drive
Lubbock, Texas 79413
(b) A “non-jokey” e-mail address proves that you’re living in the new millennium.
(c) An objective is not always necessary but if you are targeting a specific job, it can help your cause.
OBJECTIVE: An assistant editor position on a national magazine, preferably about science.
(d) 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.”)
EDUCATION: UNIVERSITY OF TEXAS, LUBBOCK 2001-
Expected graduation date 2005
Intended degree: BS in journalism
* Recipient of the 2001 Dow Jones Journalism award
* Grade Point Average: 3.2
(e) Show specific responsibilities and accomplishments. Number tell a lot (e.g., How many did you supervise? How much money did you save a company?
EXPERIENCE: EDITORIAL INTERN Fall 2001
Get Ahead Publishing Houston, Tx
Performed editorial and administrative duties part-time at Graduate magazine, a monthly publication with a circulation of 750,000
* Prepared table of contents for each issue
* Assembled letters-to-the-editor column: answered reader mail
* Devised online reader survey that generated more than 30,000 responses
* Proficient in Microsoft Word, QuarkXpress, and Photoshop
(f) Noun-heavy resumes are in, especially when posting on the Internet where employers search with keywords. Use nouns that highlight specific skills, such as relevant computer applications.
(g) 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.
West Texas Science Fair
* Coordinated project to build model steel bridge
* Made project schedule and assigned tasks to group members
* Wrote final report and gave final presentation before judges
INTERESTS: * Fluent in Spanish
* Volunteering with children in reading programs
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, advisers, and others in the academic field make great references. Cohen suggests asking the three most important people you know. The only real no-no: asking someone you’re related to or someone who hasn’t dealt with you in a supervisory way.
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, these are the type of skills I want to promote.”
Once you’ve identified your references, don’t put them on your resume. Instead, prepare a list of their names, affiliations, and contact numbers and submit it separately. If possible, Horowitz suggests asking each reference for a “To Whom It May Concern” letter containing a short evaluation and contact information. You can then photocopy each one and include it with your application.
TOOL # 4
How you dress can kill an interview as soon as you walk in the door. “If you want a job, you have to show up as if you want it,” says Allison Hemming, president of The Hired Guns, a freelance talent agency in New York City. “If you look like you mean business, you might get more responsibility, and with this flat economy, serious dress is in. Wear a suit.”
A touch of individuality — like a red tie or a scarf — may help an interviewer remember you, adds Hemming. But never go to extremes. As a recent issue of JD Jungle, a magazine for law students, says, “Think J. Crew not J. Lo.”
Because firms uphold different dress standards, you should check out codes before interviewing, according to Marjorie Brody, coauthor of Help! Was That a Career Limiting Move? (Career Skills Press). For guidelines on dress, visit CareersAndColleges.com and click on “Current Issue.”
TOOL # 5
THE THANK-YOU NOTE
A short note thanking an interviewer for seeing you is more than polite-it can give you an edge. “A well-done thing-you can be an effective way to move forward in the interview process,” says Wetfeet’s Pollock. 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.
10 Job-Hunting Mistakes and How Not to Make Them
1 Applying to positions you’re not qualified for. The fact is, all the nailed interviews, glowing references, and over-the-top GPAs in the world are not going to land you jobs that require degrees or experience you don’t have. “You may need to ask yourself, ‘Is this a good time for graduate school?'” says College Journal.com’s Lee.
2 Expecting Job opportunities to come to you. About 80 percent of available jobs go unadvertised, which means they won’t be posted on a job board or waiting for you to circle them in the classifieds. It’s up to you to hunt them down.
3 Not taking your job search seriously. You should expect to spend a significant amount of time on the process. “It’s amazing how many students will study for 30 hours for a mid-term, but won’t spend more than three minutes posting their resume to a job board,” says CollegeRecruiter.com’s Rothberg.
4 Not doing your homework. According to an Accountemps survey of corporate executives, 44 percent say the most common mistake student interviewees make is lacking knowledge about the company. At the very least, know the company’s products/services, its main competitors, and the current issues it’s affected by.
5 Addressing items “To Whom It May Concern.” Before you mail a resume or cover letter, call the company and ask for the name of the hiring manager or division head of your area of interest. If you’re answering a blind ad, at least address the cover letter to “Hiring Manager” or “Human Resource Staff Member.”
6 Being too modest. If ever there was a time to toot your own horn, this is it. Don’t be afraid to talk up everything you’ve accomplished. “Students will feel like they’re bragging or boasting, but that’s the whole point of an interview–to explain why they should be hired over someone else,” says Brandi Baran, career services coordinator at Hobart and William Smith Colleges.
7 Being overconfident. “Many students believe themselves to be pretty smart,” says Lee. “They’ll walk into job interviews and think they can handle anything; that if they’re witty, they’ll impress the inter-viewer.” That’s not the case. “If you’re not prepared, if you haven’t found out about the company,” Lee warns, “You’ll get blown cut of the water.”
8 Not following up. You certainly don’t want to bug a company on a daily basis. But a phone call to find out the status of your application after sending a resume or interviewing with an executive is perfectly acceptable.
9 Not presenting yourself professionally. That’s true not only in person, but on paper, too. An address of “Kappa Kappa Gamma House” may not connote professional job seeker. “And if your e-mail address is something like Superstud.com.” says Accurate Writing & More’s Horowitz, “get a new one.”
10 Being unorganized. Keep a log with an entry for each potential employer showing information on the company, when you applied, what materials you sent, any follow-up calls you made, and, if the company responded, when you met with them.
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