Looking for a job is an interesting journey. The road is marked with highs and lows, unexpected twists and eventual rewards. For students who are graduating college, the search for that initial big job is the first taste of the challenges and rewards of professional life. Last year, I had the privilege of running a mega job search. In my role running career services for the graduate business programs at Seattle Pacific University, I was given the daunting task of finding jobs for a cohort of students in an 11-month accelerated graduate business program. The months of April through June were a whirlwind of activity as I tested all the strategies and techniques that I had taught to many student and recent graduates. The efforts were a success as 100% of the students landed employment within a month of graduation – with high wages too I might add. As the spring quarter is about to start, I wanted to share the lessons gleaned from last year so that you can accelerate your career:
1) What is your value?
A common concern that I hear from college student’s is they don’t bring any “real-world” skills or experience. The good news is that this is OK! At the end of the day, when a firm is hiring entry-level candidates, they are often looking for three things: interpersonal skills, attitude, and the willingness to learn. Even in a technical position, the employer realizes that the student is not the expert right out of school. They are hiring an entry-level candidate because they can work well with others and can communicate with customers, co-workers, and other relevant individuals. It may seem deceptively simple but people like to work with pleasant individuals – people with a positive, upbeat attitude. Time and again I have seen Eeyor lose to Poo Bear in the job market. Companies also want someone who is hungry. Is the student eager to learn? Is she teachable? Will the manager and team be able to groom him on the technical skills he needs and more importantly the business acumen to be successful? A joyful, willing attitude says, “I am fun to work with, I will be easy to manage and I will grow into a valuable asset for your company”.
2) Timing is everything
For entry-level candidates, there are two major windows for land a job. Fall quarter and spring quarter. Of course, jobs are posted all year long (around 20%), however, in my experience the bulk of entry-level positions are posted in fall (about 20%) and spring (about 60%). While employers are not usually keen on hiring a student full-time while juggling daytime classes, they will hire students in fall with a May or June start date. The most competitive positions at large corporations, accounting firms, and large consulting firms are filled before Christmas with some spillover into January. Alas, if this window is missed, there is no reason for fear. April is when things start heating up again. Many times, after discovering the perfect job for one of my students I would have an excited conversation with a hiring manager only to be mutually disappointed when we both realized that the position needed to start in March and my students were not available till June. I learned to focus solely on relationship building (networking) from December till April and then switch into aggressive job search mode (yes, that is related to but different than networking – see the next tip).
3) The phone works!
Recently, I realized that my phone actually takes old fashioned voice exchanges called “phone calls”. This novel concept has been incredible in terms of placing students in jobs. In a day when everyone and their grandmother’s dog applies online, the students with the gumption to pick up the phone and call a manager (it is easy to find their name on LinkedIn and phone number with Google) have more success and stand out. Despite the fact that the majority of correspondence happens via email, I noticed that the response rate to my emails doubled or tripled when accompanied by a voicemail. Of course, reaching the hiring manager directly was also fruitful and usually led to immediate interviews being setup for my students. Picking up the phone is scary – at least for the first 3-5 times. After that, it actually became sort of fun. At the end of the day the fear of picking up the phone can translate to mediocre job opportunities.
4) Try a broadcast email
After Matt convinced me that a broadcast email was a wonderful, one-time job search tool, I couldn’t wait to try it with my students. Each one crafted a careful message with Matt Youngquist’s coaching and sent it to their entire networks. The results were awesome! One of my students even received around 60 responses including encouraging words and job leads. To learn more about broadcast emails, read Matt’s article here.
5) Expect a lot of interviews
The job market is competitive and I knew that my students would need to interview extensively to land jobs. I expected a 5:1 interview to offer ratio for the students based on my experience in recruiting, however, even though they were highly prepared it turned out that each student had an average of eight interviewers for each offer. Some students landed an offer after only two interviews and some didn’t obtain a job till as many as 20 interviews. If your student doesn’t land an offer on the first interview, don’t worry. Be patient. A recruiter I know says “never count a new hire till the butt is in the seat”. Job hunting is a massive roller coaster ride. It goes up and down and you might feel like you want to throw up. In the end you just need to hold on.
6) The job description lies
No matter how well written a job description is, it lies. No document can include every detail about a position. Every job description has a back story. Successful students use their network to learn about a company, a manager, and a position. When students land an interview, they NEED to ask intelligent questions based on their research (assuming they did some) to go deeper than the job description. This is where a good network and a positive, upbeat attitude come in handy. Several of my students landed jobs that “required” 5 years of experience. For grads fresh out of school, they were thrilled. The reality is that personal networks can open doors that appear out of reach and a student can always compete for a position that seems somewhat unattainable. That said, it is the students who use all their resources, dress professionally, network like crazy, and ask really intelligent questions based on solid research that land those jobs.
7) Don’t be afraid of “contract” positions
Increasingly, the landscape of the workforce is shifting to more contract and temporary workers. Despite this, hoards of students shy away from the instability of temporary contract employment. After college I landed an awesome one year contract in recruiting at Microsoft that taught me a great deal about the business world and myself. Taking a contract position is sometimes the best way to get a foot in the door at a large firm and it adds tremendous leverage to a resume for the future. Six years later I still get calls for gigs based on that opportunity. A smart student will leverage contract work by timing their job search in such a way that they plan to contact every staffing agency in town three weeks before their personal deadline. They try to land a full-time, “permanent” role first and then switch gears if they still have nothing in hand.
8) Keep an open mind
Students today have been infiltrated with the philosophy of following their passions. Trust me – there is nothing wrong with the joy of fully using your skills and gifts – I totally dig my job. However, RARELY does this happen in the first role out of school (or grad school if a student went straight through from their undergraduate degree). I encourage students to pursue passions, but to also realize that their first job is just an entry-point into a 40-50 year career. No one will be locked into that same cubicle for life and there will be many exciting opportunities ahead. I have witnessed students acting ambivalent toward an incredible opportunity because they can’t see themselves in the same role in ten years. This unfounded fear can lose an awesome developmental opportunity. One young woman I worked with wasn’t sure about the company she had an offer from but after accepting the position she ended up loving it and realizing that it was an incredible fit. Finding the right company and the right boss is much more important than finding the right position. Dive in!
9) You CAN negotiate… just be careful
Few things are as scary as negotiating your salary for the first time (or anytime). Despite a tight job market, I have been amazed and please to see that entry-level candidates can negotiate their job offer. I have seen students increase their salary from $3-5k REGULARLY in addition to negotiating a start date or a desired weekly schedule. That said, be cautious. While it is totally possible to gain a high salary, it is also equally possible that nothing will change in the offer. Ironically, I have found that medium and smaller organizations are more flexible with their job offers than larger firms. In the end, if a student approaches the negotiating process professionally, the worst they hear is “no” and they won’t lose any respect. Hey, it might net another grand or two!
10) Maintain your connections
Landing that first job is a huge relief. Finally, no more job searching for the rest of my life! Just kidding. The reality is that this is one of perhaps a dozen job searches that students have ahead of them in their careers. I emphasize that students make efforts to follow-up with professors, friends, and professionals who helped them in their search. One student of mine was offered a job six months after she initially interviewed! By this time she had landed a sweet gig but now she has another open door for the future.
Like John Denver said, “today is the first day of the rest of my life”. Encourage the student in your life to search hard and grab a job that will launch them into their career.
Daniel is an expert in job searching, career counseling, and résumé writing. Having worked in recruiting at Microsoft and in career advising through several colleges and universities, he practices everything he preaches as he models intentional career management and personal branding. Currently he is the Professional Development Specialist for the innovative 11-month Master’s degree in Management and Social/Sustainable Business that transforms non-business students graduates into highly polished young professionals. Last year, by building relationships with hundreds of recruiters and hiring managers he placed 100% of his students in jobs within three weeks of graduation. In addition to his role at SPU, Daniel has coached hundreds of students, alumni, and seasoned professionals at local universities and through his firm, Next Step Career Consulting. He is working on his Ph.D. in Industrial / Organizational Psychology at Seattle Pacific University where he previously earned his Master’s degree.