Job Search Advice
Last week I put up the following on Linked In:
My son is a sophomore in college, and is currently looking for his first professional job as an intern. He has some good summer experience, but this is the first time he is going through the professional job search process.
What I’ve realized while watching him is something I’ve known for a long time: Our kids do not always have the appropriate skills to look for that first professional job. Being around his parents (both in the business world), he has picked up some of the process – have a solid, easy-to-read, one page resume; search online for internship opportunities, and do a lot of research on a company prior to any interview. He struggles, however, with follow-up emails (“I feel like I’m bugging people”), writing letters when he is more used to texting (just the facts in a few words), and asking professors for help. I think it is safe to say that his struggles are shared by many going through this process.
So in the context of helping my son, and your child(ren) too, what are the three things you would tell someone on how to look for that first professional job? Feel free to share your ideas on resume construction, researching opportunities, networking, interviewing, follow-ups, and other important topics.
I’ll gather this information and share…thanks!
I have received some great advice – thanks to Luke Wyckoff, Dick Haviland, Dziko Thunde, Greg Brown, Scott McClure, John Windsor, Christine Violante Kalacki, Kip Michael Kelly, Garry Duncan, Wanda Vick, Paul Burnett, David Jilk, Kevin Sheridan, Heather Kazemi, Dick Warren and Terry Gold for taking the time to provide feedback!
Here is a summary of the results:
Do Your Research
- Have a target list of companies where you have a really strong interest.
- Research the company you are targeting; try to network with people already working there (start with LinkedIn).
View the Process from the Employer’s Point of View
- Concentrate on what the employer wants, needs, can see and hear from you.
- Always be focused on what you can do for them — in your cover letter/email, in your interviews, in follow-up communications. Help them to see how you can help them.
- Network, network, network – Use LinkedIn to research companies of interest. Know something about the company when interviewing.
- Do volunteer work preferably the individual’s field of study or expertise, if possible, or in an area of interest to the job seeker. This is a good way to get to know people and another opportunity to network.
- Network…call in chips, ask your neighbors, here’s my target list – do you know anyone on it.
- Fully develop your LinkedIn profile. Successful job searches result from 2nd or 3rd degree connections that can get you introduced to potential employers.
- Always be on the lookout for networking opportunities. It sounds crass but include social engagements. You never know who will be able to recommend you or give you a lead.
- “Groom” your network. Send articles that may be of interest, meet for coffee to catch up periodically, send leads, do endorsements. Definitely don’t fall off the grid when you achieve your objective. Is there some way you can reciprocate for help you’ve received?
Cover Letter and Resume
- A cover letter with a resume needs to deliver a message about why you want the position, and how your skills, training and education are relevant to the position. Experience working in the summer as a lifeguard isn’t relevant, however you can make the experience relevant by discussing what you learned while working; responsibility; safety; care for others; how to talk to both children and adults etc. Core skills are relevant in most positions.
- Resumes and cover letters are used to screen out 95%+ of applicants. Even small errors (grammar, spelling, and incorrect names) are enough to disqualify when you’re looking for a reason. Always work to find the hiring manager’s name and write a resume and cover letter that matches the job description. Generic, form letters are a waste of time. Resumes that don’t speak to the company and job, also a waste. Your goal is to get past this stage.
- When sending your resume, include a short cover letter – 1 sentence about how you learned of the opportunity, 1 paragraph about why you think you are a good fit, 1-2 sentences expressing your interest in the organization/position, 1 sentence with your contact information (email and phone, even though it is on your resume). Read it out loud to yourself. If it sounds pompous, artificial, or stupid rewrite it. Have someone else proofread it for typos and spelling mistakes.
- Keep communications as tight as possible. We live in a 140, Snapchaty world, so be concise. In a cover letter/email, try to keep it to three paragraphs (max four, if the paragraphs are short). In a follow-up email, use only two paragraphs. Anything more than those things, and they probably won’t read it.
- Make your job history and education to date very obvious on your resume. Show what skills you can bring to the company and that you understand the importance of showing up on time, every day.
- Have an elevator speech and a concise cover letter and a concise statement in the first section of your resume describing how your education adds value to the job you are after.
- Once you’re onto the interview stage, it is almost always about fit. You could be very qualified, but if there are doubts about fit then you won’t succeed. Be relaxed, be yourself and try to make a personal connection. Listen and ask questions. Read body language and respond appropriately. Come prepared. Bring copies of your resume and references just in case. Bring a note pad to take notes. Write down 3 different questions you plan to ask each person involved. Always have a question or two prepared for the end of each conversation.
- Accept Every Interview Opportunity; you may not be interested in the job (yet…), but it’s great interview practice.
- Practice/role play interviewing with family members, persons in the recruiting or HR profession. Many questions cannot be anticipated however, many questions can. Practice makes perfect and if not perfect, makes you less nervous and more confident.
- At this point in your career compatibility with the team is critical, but you usually don’t have the privilege of knowing the team style you are joining. Everyone loves a go getter, be one in the interview process (Like HBR says, sucking up works…). This sounds basic, but half the college grads we interviewed last year acted like they didn’t even want to be in the interview…
- Key in an interview: look me in the eye, don’t answer a phone/text in an interview (or even look at your phone), be candid about not being perfect (what is the biggest mistake you’ve made – say it and what you learned rather than blaming others), answer questions succinctly and clearly, send a timely thank you letter (and personalize it – people within a company share these, so they can’t all be copy/paste), be on time to the interview, ask questions about the company/job in the interview, take the time to figure out what the company does and who their interviewer is. Show curiosity.
- Never talk negatively about your last employer and/or manager.
- Don’t ask about number of vacation days in the initial conversation.
- Research the employer AND demonstrate during the conversations/interviews that you have done so.
- Thank you notes! Paper is the best, but even an email thank you helps. I can’t believe how many people ask for my time, I give it freely and even buy the coffee or lunch, and then I don’t get so much as a follow up email. People of all ages seem to have trouble showing gratitude when it is more than appropriate.
- As for follow up, I still prefer hand written notes.
- The hand written note – ask for the internship in a hand written note – make sure it does not look like it was copied 50 times, and sent out – customize each one to the target company.
- In terms of follow up, it is a fine line between being courteous and being a pest.
- This next generation, in my experience is the worst at follow up – Follow up to the hand written note. Yes, that is huge and if you want to stand out in the stacks of resumes and on line response send a written thank-you. That will be remembered more than an email or text (never text).
- Send thank you emails to each individual who participated in the interview process. Thereafter, follow up via phone or voice mail. The job seeker wants the hiring manager to recognize/remember his/her name when it is decision making time.
- Send thank you emails to all individuals you speak with during the interview/selection process. Be specific about what you are thanking them for. Do NOT text. Ever.
- I have been asked 3 times in this last week, what is the biggest mistake that job seekers make when looking for the next career. This is a simple answer for me, and for many other business owners that I asked before I wrote this response. Without a doubt – follow-up. I am not picking on any class (age) of “X” era, Gen Y, or Boomers – all are horrible at follow up. Let me give you three examples. ONE: “I sent them my resume, why have not heard anything back?” – Well my neophyte job seeker, they got 400 other resumes along with yours……. Did you pick up the phone and call someone to make sure they received it, or did you assume that your resume went to the top of the 400 pile? TWO: “The interview went really well, I can’t believe they have not called me?” – Again rookie, did you write a hand written note to each person you met in the interview or did you send a “Thank You” email like the other finalist candidates did because it’s easy….. THREE – You assume that hiring you is the number 1 issue on my desk, because it is on your plate – My Jedi trainee, this might be shocking to you, but I met 60 new people last week – and I’ll meet another 60 new people this week, what did you do (Job seeker) to make sure you are top of mind to me….. OK off my interviewing / job seeker soapbox.
- Be Flexible: Have a plan, but be flexible. This applies not only to the interview process, but also to the whole job search and the type of work you’re interested in doing. Opportunity may lurk in the most unlikely places . . .
- Be Patient: The hiring process can take longer than you might expect.
- Find Your Advantage: You have an advantage that other students don’t. One example, is a person who can’t wait to be near/watch planes. That’s a hunger that you can’t teach; build on it because being able to articulate that passion really does translate in interviews and casual interchanges.
- Find Mentors: My primary advice is to learn how to do it without the assistance of your parents. Get a few mentors who are not your parents and have them advise you on the process. At this stage and age it is much less about substance and much more about self-determination.
- Focus on Your Character: Throughout the process, focus on your work ethic, tenacity, initiative, reliability and consistency, and learning ability since companies know they have to teach you their business. Stress those things.
- Don’t Get Discouraged: Never get discouraged. It is a numbers game. The more attempts that are made, the higher the likelihood that he will be successful. As Wayne Gretsky said, “you miss 100% of the shots you DON”T take!”.
- Practice: If you don’t have experience interviewing, networking and following up, get it. Practice, role play, do it. Before you gain ’employment’ experience, you have to gain ‘get-a-job’ experience. Getting a job IS your job.
- Think about your “brand” on the internet. Are those pics from the frat party and witty political comments really helping you market yourself? Does the world need another kitty video?