Empowering your Job Search: 10 Things College Graduates Should Do Now
Having a successful interview isn’t rocket science, but it does require that you take action and focus your energy on the right things. Often college graduates forget that they are empowered adults, and that with a little bit of effort, they can go after, and get, a job that will launch their career in a great direction.
In The Defining Decade: Why Your Twenties Matter and How to Make The Most of Them Now, Dr. Meg Jay talks about how your 20’s are like an airplane just leaving LAX, bound for somewhere west. Right after takeoff, a slight change in course is the difference between landing in Alaska or Fiji. However, the longer you wait, the harder it is to change destination. It is incredibly difficult to have the career you want in your 30’s if you don’t start now.
So let’s start now!
Here are 10 things I think every college graduate should do now, and every time, they are looking for a new job.
1. Get on LinkedIn Today
LinkedIn is your social gateway to the professional community. Take the time to create a quality profile that highlights your work, education, volunteer, fundraising, and leadership experience. If you don’t have experience, look at ways to get experience.
Your profile picture is important. It is often the first thing recruiters and interviewers see when they are considering you for a position. Because of its importance, you want to make sure that your face is clearly visible, that you are making eye contact with a pleasant smile, and that you are dressed professionally.
Once you have created your profile, connect with everyone you know and respect. Start with your teachers, family members, friends of your family, classmates, and anyone you have worked with. Make it a habit to continually grow your network; continue to socially connect with people that you meet going forward. Once you start to grow your connections, ask them to endorse your skills and write recommendations for you. If they are struggling on what to say, don’t be shy about offering to help them with the content. They may not know what it is you are trying to highlight about yourself. If you can help them help you, you will get much further.
2. Use your Network
A network is your biggest asset. Leverage it to get interviews. Ask your network about suitable jobs, internships or volunteer opportunities. Remind them about what you have done and what you are looking for. Ask them to ask their network to help you and provide them with a cover letter that explains who you are and what you are looking for so they can easily forward it along. Again, make it easy for others to help you. It may require you to do more work upfront, but it is your career and your future you are investing in. Don’t leave it in someone else’s hands. Trust me when I say the effort is worth it!
3. Do your Homework
Once you have an interview lined up, do your homework! Research about the company and its employees using LinkedIn, press releases, social media and the company’s website. As the information is readily available, companies no longer spend the time to educate candidates about their business during the interview. They expect that you have done your research beforehand.
Beyond general background information, try to understand the culture and tone of the company, who their key employees are, and personal details about the people you will be interviewing with. The goal is to make a personal connection with each person you meet. Do you have anything in common with the company or those interviewing you? Do you share a connection on LinkedIn? Do you have similar hobbies? Did you go to the same school? Have you volunteered with the same organizations?
The more able you are to show that you have done your research and connect on a personal level, the more likely you will make a good impression and be remembered during the interview process. Not only will this work help you stand out from the crowd, but it will also help you decide if this company is a good fit for you.
Every job in your career is an investment of your time and energy. It is important to realize that you are trying to find the right opportunity that moves you forward in the direction you want. Doing your homework is another way to put yourself in the driving seat.
4. Dress like an Employee
As much as we all like to wear jeans and fuzzy slippers, an interview is time to look your best. You are transitioning out of college life and your wardrobe needs to reflect this. Employers know that when they see you in an interview, this is as good as it gets and you will not dress any better once you are hired, so take the time to dress well and make a positive impression.
Being dressed well means that your clothes are professional (collared shirts, blouses, suits, ties, dress shoes), clean, pressed, and they fit you. Borrowing your sibling’s outfit when they are not your size doesn’t work.
Why not smile? Even if you are stressed or nervous, or your interviewer seems annoyed and impatient, remember to smile and breathe. Your life will not end if you do not get this particular job. Relax, be yourself, have fun, stay positive and smile.
Your interviewer is giving up their time to meet you, and see if you are a right fit for their organization. Remember to be grateful and appreciative of their time by listening. There is no need to interrupt them. People like to be heard. Try to understand why they are taking the time to explain something to you. What they say is important to them. If it doesn’t make sense, don’t be afraid to restate what they are saying, and ask if you understood it correctly.
7. 30/2 Rule
When it is time for you to respond, remember the 30/2 rule. Your response should be somewhere between 30 seconds and two minutes. If your response is under 30 seconds, you stand the risk of not contributing anything of value to the conversation. A simple “yes” or “no” does not help your interviewer learn about you. If your response is over two minutes, you are most likely repeating yourself, or not clearly stating your ideas. If you need to take a moment to think about what you want to say before you say it, go ahead. It is best to say something well and be understood, than to talk randomly and have your listener tune you out.
Employers are evaluating you for Attitude, Aptitude, Professionalism and Experience. Are you enthusiastic, a pleasure to be around, and open to the job opportunity as well as your chosen career? Are you able to listen and learn? Can you problem solve? What is your work ethic? Although you are right out of college, have you shown initiative, and do you have any experience through volunteering, side projects, community service, internships, fund raising or summer jobs?
By understanding what employers are looking for, you can make sure you demonstrate your abilities and past successes in these areas. If your experience is a little light, now is a great time to change that.
9. Know who you are
Employers want to know who you really are. When an employer asks you to tell them about yourself, be prepared. This is your opportunity to sell how your unique skills and talents will help their business.
People often answer this question by explaining what they do. What you do is not who you are. What do you see is your purpose? What excites you about your future career? What is important to you? What are your strengths and differentiators? What are you good at and how does that relate to this opportunity?
10. Ask questions throughout
Questions are your way to participate in the journey of getting to know both the company and those who are interviewing you. What is important to you in your new job? Does this company offer help with mentorship, furthering your development, or career progression? Does this company have a purpose for their organization and actively give back to the community through volunteer work or donations?
People like to be heard, and they like to give advice. Find ways to get your interviewer to talk about what is important to them as it relates to the job opportunity. Ask them what advice they would give you in your career search or to improve your resume. By combining what you learned from your research and what you heard through listening, you will be able to ask relevant and interesting questions that shows your interest and enthusiasm in the position, while helping you to determine if it is the right fit for you.
These ten points are actionable ways that you can take an active part in defining your career, and your future. What is important to realize early on is that although people will help you, no one will do the real work for you. At some point you will get a job, and your career will move along. The question is, who is driving it? You or happenstance? The career of your dreams does not often happen by happenstance.
I hope these steps help you feel empowered about your career, and enable you to land the job you want!