Many college students are in the final semester of their 4-year (or sometimes 5-year) college experience. If they haven’t landed a job yet, they are probably experiencing a feeling of March Madness (emphasis on the word “madness”) in the form of the thrilling and very competitive job search process that includes research, writing cover letters, fine tuning resumes, preparing for interviews, waiting to hear a decision and (let’s hope!) negotiating job offers. Often by the time graduation rolls around, a good number of these students have had at least one professional internship or, at the very least, a part-time job of some kind. Some have experienced a formal job search and interview process and others have gone through a process that could have been as simple as a friend referring them to the restaurant where they work and going in to meet with the manager for a very informal interview discussion. Whatever experiences these soon-to-be college graduates have had, the game changes and elevates to a new level when they are competing for full-time post-graduation positions.
Often, I coach college students and recent college graduates about their goals in the job search process as well as discuss the challenges the job search process throws their way. From those discussions a few themes seem to come up so today I’m outlining a cheat sheet on job search essentials for the job seeker. It is so important to master tactics and techniques that lend to an effective job search. It’s even better to master this as an emerging young professional so these techniques can be repeated and built upon as these recent graduates progress in their careers.
Playbook of Job Search Essentials
- Researching jobs and companies is critical to understand not only the expectations of a role, but also helps the job seeker differentiate similar roles. A project manager role, for example, is going to feel very different at a large, traditional or conservative firm compared to a smaller or start-up environment. Getting clear on what you’re seeking in a company environment and corporate culture can be just as important as the work you want to do.
- Tapping into your network is key in helping you gain valuable information and making meaningful new connections. Often job seekers think job searching involves seeing a posting online, applying and hoping to get some traction. If only it was that easy. Your network can be a source of great insight for you whether it’s providing an understanding of an industry or role, or just giving helpful advice. Your network also has access to contacts that you may not have the opportunity to cross paths with otherwise. Tap into your network of former managers, professors, college advisors, friends, family, social connections and professionals that you know so they can facilitate introductions for you.
- Acknowledging and thanking the connections that you have sought out for advice or for requesting they facilitate introductions is so important. This very thing came up in a mentoring discussion I had with a college student recently. She told me about a very kind alumni of her college that agreed to have an informational interview with her. She gained tremendous perspective from this person who generously gave his time and she asked me “Should I send him a thank-you note or email? I talked to him a few weeks ago.” I emphasized how important is to thank anyone and everyone who helps in any way during a job search. This follow up should happen immediately and not weeks later. Good networking is a community of people helping each other solve problems. If you don’t show gratitude to those who have helped you, they may not be so eager to help you in the future. Your network will be the single most important vehicle to opportunities over the span of your career. Treat that network well!
- Having a well-written resume containing accomplishments rather than listing job tasks and responsibilities will make you stand out and the reader will get a sense of your work contributions. To construct your accomplishment statements, ask the question “what problem did I solve?” or “how did I add value?”. It’s important to also include this information on your LinkedIn profile since profiles are routinely viewed by potential employers.
- Taking the time to write a custom cover letter for each role that you apply to allows you to offer targeted messaging pertaining to the position you’re pursuing. It also allows you to offer some context on information contained in your resume. This is often an optional step in the online application process. Don’t skip this! It’s a chance to show your written communication style, your ability to articulate your employee value proposition and refine your “pitch.”
- Sending timely thank-you communications following interviews is just as important as thanking your network. This communication should be sent the same day as the interview, or the next day at the latest, to thank the interviewer, reiterate your interest in the position and comment on something specific and noteworthy that resonated with you during the interview discussion.
The Big Dance
In March Madness terms, “The Big Dance” refers to the NCAA tournament. As a person who doesn’t really follow sports, I will try to make a decent analogy (I apologize in advance) between March Madness and your post-graduation job search. Look at it as The Big Dance. You’ve prepared for four to five years for this. You’ve learned how to think critically in college, juggle projects, manage deadlines, produce quality work and you, very likely, met people from a variety of diverse backgrounds. All of this equipped you to perform well during your quest to land your first job after you graduate. It’s your “One Shining Moment”.
**Special thanks to this article that educated me on key March Madness terms.