Pounding the fresh pavement: tips for job searching after graduation
By Christi H on Tuesday, June 21, 2011
It may come as a surprise to many of us, but those all-nighters we pulled and 30 page papers we wrote do not automatically earn us our dream career. Oftentimes they don’t even land us a clue as to what this dream career may be.
As experienced by most undergraduate students, my career aspirations have changed drastically and frequently over the past four years. Coming upon my final year of undergrad I decided that before I committed myself to another degree having no idea what I wanted to do with it (or even which one to take) I would first explore some different careers. Entering the job-market with a degree means you are likely going up against seasoned professionals with years of job-experience and superior interviewing skills.
I have gone through this process and was lucky enough to acquire two executive ‘mentors’ along the way. They helped me overcome the obstacles often plaguing recent graduates, and offered me valuable insider information integral to a competitive candidate, which I will now pass on to you.
1. Informational Interviews.
These are the most important part of the job-search, in my experience. This is your opportunity to ask as many questions about the industry, in as many different industries as you want, in order to find out if it suits your interest without the pressure of being on a formal interview. It also ensures that if a position becomes available you are already at a huge advantage over other applicants having had face-time with someone on the inside.
Your job is to run the conversation, YOU are the interviewer here. Have more questions prepared to ask than you think you will have time for just to be safe. These questions may include:
- What kind of experience/skills do you look for in an applicant?
- What are the most important personal characteristics for success in the field?
- What is a typical day like? How much travelling/time spent in the office?
- What opportunities for advancement are there?
- What are you favourite/least favourite aspects of the industry/job?
Even if the company tells you they ‘aren’t hiring,’ they may think of you when a position becomes available, or even pass your name along to another contact that is hiring.
Bring a nice notepad and pen, take notes.
Before any initial contact is made, do some basic research on the company in question. Recent mergers, major departments, new products, biggest clients, even a little bit of company history goes a long way. It’s also pretty much guaranteed that you won’t get the interview if it’s clear you know nothing about the position you’re applying for. Many interviewers ask, “how did you prepare for the interview,” and research on the company should be part of your response. Going into an interview unprepared is a little like going into an exam without studying – except it’s in person, you’re the only one writing, and the professor is doing you a favor by being there.
3. Name names.
When appropriate, always include the name of your referring contact in an initial email or phone call. A “Referred by...” in a subject heading or phone call can mean the difference between deleting and returning your email or voice mail. Also, make 100% sure you always use the right names and spell them correctly.
4. Test drive a career
If you’re not sure about a certain industry, look for a maternity leave position. These positions are shorter and non-committal if you decide the job isn’t for you. If you decide it is, work hard to impress during your stay and you could end up with a full-time offer.
Ride-alongs or job-shadows are also a great way to gain insight into an industry without committing to an interview while also developing relationships within the company.
Be sure to send an email (or card when appropriate) about a day after every informational interview and interview, thanking the person for their time and insight.
6. Keep track of your accomplishments
If you currently have a job, you may not be thinking about applying elsewhere just yet, however this is an important time to be updating your resumé. Keep track of your accomplishments and achievements at school, work and volunteering. I found that although I had been working for the same company for three years I had a hard time remembering the different assignments and tasks I had completed while I was there. If possible, keep a record of these things as they occur, that way you will have a list of useful accomplishments to choose from when it is time to rewrite your resumé and apply elsewhere.
7. Cater your resumé to the position
Do not make the mistake of sending out a generic resumé. Most companies have software that searches for keywords in the cover letter and body of your resumé and discards those that don’t meet this requirement. If you are applying for a sales position, highlight accomplishments and personal attributes that display your success in or aptitude for sales. Searching online for keywords of your industry of interest is also helpful when writing your cover letter.
Your cover letter should assert what you will bring to the desired position, not just be a summary of your resumé. Also, include the specific name of the person and position you are applying to/for on your cover letter.
8. Be persistent
The past 3 months I have been pursuing a job in the Pharmaceutical sales field. In order to get my first info interview with a Rep from the Pharma company I was most interested in, I had to send six emails, make four phone calls, and have it rescheduled three times over the course of three weeks. Six emails and two phone calls later I got a response saying I should contact them once I had graduated – in a month.
Nearing my graduation I re-connected with these Reps, and one FINALLY granted me an interview – for 3 weeks later. I have recently completed this interview and been passed on to the second round, and am up for a second position on a new team developing in a different department in the fall.
Yes, there is a difference between being persistent and annoying, however if someone says they will call you within a specific period of time and they don’t, it is completely acceptable to send polite reminders. After all, as recent grads with limited experience, we need to claw our way into interviews and opportunities or else end up being forgotten or ignored. Also, after leaving a voicemail, my advice is to follow-up with a brief email restating the purpose of your call and your contact information.
9. Never say no! (to a meeting)
Meet with as many different people as you can. Even if you aren’t interested in their industry or you don’t think they’d be particularly useful, they may connect you with someone else who is. I once met with a Rep from San Francisco I thought would be a complete waste of time because his company was solely in the U.S. However, he happened to have hired a Rep I had been trying desperately to get in touch with, and sent her an email telling her to get back to me, which she finally did! You never know where someone has worked and whom he or she knows, even if you live on opposite sides of the continent.
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