The one thing…

If you had one piece of job search advice to share with college seniors who are entering the job market in a few months, what would it be?  I’m working with a large group of college seniors next week to help them focus in on their career planning and job searches.  These are liberal arts students with likely majors in business, communications, the sciences and English lit.  What’s the one thing you’d tell them as they gear up for their job searches?  Please leave a comment below.  Thanks!



Filed under Career Planning, Principia, Student Job Search

67 responses to “The one thing…

  1. r.e.ruble

    Tell your students–regardless of their skills and experience, or lack of–it is of paramount importance to “differentiate” themselves. They should have a “story” that will accomplish this end. Further, they should not tell the prospective employer what they–the applicant–are looking for; rather they should tell the employer what they can do for that employer–what need they can fill. Like a good book, as they proceed through the interview they should be creating in the mind of the interviewer an image of them performing in the interviewer’s organization.

  2. I know you’re done with your session. But here goes.
    When you go to a job interview you go there for an opportunity to earn. Not for an opportunity to learn.

  3. @NextJenHR

    Great ideas above.

    I’d add: Your resume is your marketing tool. It’s function is to get a hiring manager or recruiter to contact you. Make it easy to read, neatly formatted and succinctly worded. Don’t overlook the cover letter. If you are open to relocation, have some connection to the company or any other related piece of info, make sure you mention that.
    Make sure you complete and properly format (proper nouns, punctuation and grammar count) your name, number, email address etc in applications. Nothing worse than not being able to contact a candidate and first impressions count.

  4. Kathy Claytor

    Hi China,
    My wise colleagues above have covered alot of ground….
    I would add, when you are in the interveiw say “I want this job” . This is pretty basic but often goes unsaid. I am looking for folks who truly want to work for my company.

  5. Franny Oxford

    Don’t turn your nose up at a referral or a job a family member helps you get a leg up on. If you’re fresh out of school, whoever hires you will be taking a chance on you. The people who are most likely to do that are people who already have some frame of reference for you – a family member, an alumni group, whatever. You are a completely unproven entity, whether you like it or not. So, if someone offers to introduce you to a friend, or sets up an informational interview, follow up on it, whether you think you’ll like it or not. And show your gratitude to your friend or family member by making them look good – be awesome in the meeting/interview, and if you get the job, make them proud to have been the person to refer you. Remember, it’s not just your reputation on the line, it’s theirs, too.

    • As usual, Franny, you bring a really important view to the question. Everyone says “network” but remembering that the reputation of the person who intro’d you is also on the line is essential! Thanks.

  6. Research the job and the the company you are interested in – call the incumbents in the role to get the ins and outs of the position and see who you know/can get to know in the company. Nothing kills an interview faster than an applicant asking, “So, what is this position anyway?”

  7. Sit down and figure out what you want to do. Not what’s available, what your mom wants you to do, what you think would make you look good. What do you want? It’s not forever and not what you have to be when you grow up. It’s what you want to try first.

    When you know the answer to that question then it’s much easier to focus on people and companies doing that, and to start to take steps and use the tools and advice to get there.

    (left same answer to Steve Boese on g+)

  8. My comments are not traditional as most of the students you will be speaking with either don’t have a job, have a job they know is temporary or haven’t a clue about what they accepted.
    So, my advice is two fold:
    1. If you do not speak another language and haven’t spent serious time in another country DO NOT accept a job before taking at least 1 year and going somewhere, anywhere outside this continent. Find a job teaching English, mucking stalls or getting people to subsidize your hostel. Join the military Service, Peace Corps or anything that gets you a global mindset. Do it now. Learn to speak another language but, more importantly, learn to think in another culture. If you do this, when you return, you will be set for life.

    2. Whether you have a job or not, go to Linkedin or your School’s online Alumni directory, type in your college in the appropriate field and type your major and the following numbers into the keyword field: 2011, 2010, 2009, 2008, 2007. The idea here is to find people who went into the post-school world during the last 5 years with exactly what you are leaving with – four/five years of relationships and content. Have trouble doing that? Ask a geek to help. It is really easy. Write to and call the people you find. Ask to Interview them about their journey. They will almost all respond yes. Then do it- at least 20 interviews. Thank the ones who give you advice you can take. Thank the ones you won’t take advice from. They gave you their time. In 2014 do it again but seek the graduates who are 10 years out…and don’t forget to tell the graduates of 2013 and 2014 what you learned.

  9. Kristy

    Remind them that they need to articulate how they will add value to the organization. To do that, they need to do their homework on the organization, ask relevant questions and provide insightful ideas on how they might tackle the problems or have resolved similar issues in the past. Find a way to communicate transferable skills. And, I always suggest asking the interviewers what they like best about the organization.

  10. Dwane Lay

    Always remember that the person interviewing is most likely really, really hopeful that you will be the answer to their problem. They are on your side. Don’t be afraid of them.

    • I like this a lot! And it’s so true! Most hiring managers don’t like to interview — they’re not good at it. So if the perfect fit is in front of them they will want to end the process and make the offer!

  11. jim

    Place your ladder on the right wall & do something you love doing because life is forever.

  12. Trish McFarlane

    In addition to all the good advice already given, I’ll add to never utter the words “that’s not in my job description”. All the best learning in my career came from doing and trying things that were not in my job description.

  13. You’re hired to increase revenue, decrease expenses, or both. Everything else you do is detrimental to your employer and therefore your career. So before taking out time to do something that you think may be enjoyable, think about whether it will increase revenues, decrease expenses, or both.

  14. 1. Prepare to work harder than you probably feel you should.
    2. Be empathetic to those in the workplace. Especially those you feel may be older. You may know more about recent technologies but those who are boomers know more history about the politics, products, ins and outs of the company. Appreciate and show your respect for that.
    3. While you can keep your hands clean, be prepared and ready to get them dirty. Understanding the front line employees motivations and technical aspects of their day to day jobs (especially in manufacturing) is just as, if not more, important as the office.
    4. Always be willing and ready to learn!

  15. Great suggestions so far. I would add:
    No one will show you the career path. Blaze your own.
    Look for opportunities to learn.
    Make suggestions.
    Ask questions.
    Get involved.
    Don’t be too shy to ask for feedback.
    If you get passed over for an opportunity – ask what you can do to demonstrate the skills, behavior or experience to be ready for the next one.
    Push outside of your comfort zone every chance you get.

  16. When I recruited full time I always would look for “intellectual curiosity”. To me, it showed a capacity to learn new things and the ability to think outside the proverbial box. So I would say don’t ever lose it.

    That and always always always be learning about what internal and external factors affect the business. You may not be calculating or creating the balance sheet or other financial statements, but you should know how and why they have an impact on your company or business.

  17. Lee C. Shapiro

    Many good tips above… so, I’m going in a different direction. First impressions matter — a lot. Be professional — whether in a written letter, an email, a telephone conversation, or an in-person meeting. Remember, there are a lot of applicants trying to get the attention of the hiring manager. I used to receive hundreds of resumes for entry level jobs at the networks — my rule, I discounted any letter/resume combination that had three typos or grammatical errors. They didn’t even get in the door.

    One of my best hires stumbled badly on a key content question. She got home, did some research, and immediately emailed me with the correct answer — and asked for the job. She got it.

    Remember to breathe, smile, and listen. Be yourself — but, be positive & confident. That conversation you’re having — it might be the one that leads to a fabulous opportunity!

  18. Echoing Corey here, be willing to pay your dues. In college, I dreamed of being a writer, and submitted a novel in my early 20s. When it was rejected, I floundered a bit, drifting into dead-end jobs in the corporate world. Finally I mustered my wits, took a (nearly 50%) pay cut, and went to work on the lowest rung of the ladder in a newsroom. I delivered papers to busy editors; I fetched coffee; I sorted mail. But I also watched and listened and learned, and it wasn’t long before my byline was appearing in print. Most importantly, I was insanely happy. I’d found my tribe. 20 years later (yes, that’s not a misprint, two decades later), I’d honed my craft and was ready to submit another novel. This one was accepted, and so were the dozen others that have since followed!

  19. I’ll agree about the networking advice. So many people told me that knowing people would help me get a job elsewhere and I was resolute in doing things on my own merit. But sitting in the HR role, I get it now – I’m more likely to act on a recommendation from an employee I know than an unsolicited resume from out of the blue. It’s hard, but find people who are connected with what you want to do and maintain the relationship.

  20. Eben Beierle (@eben_be)

    Best advice I got when I was coming out of college came from Jim Smith, the GM of the Columbus Crew (MLS Professional Soccer Team). He told me to volunteer for anything and everything that I could. It was a great way to get to know people in a neutral setting and network. In the end it led me to a once in a lifetime coaching opportunity with Ted Nolan (google him) and eventually to my current position in one of the greatest companies I’ve ever known! Wish them luck from me….

  21. The recent grad should know, understand, and be able to articulate their value-add to the job AND the organization and why they seek employment there.

  22. My advice is to “find something you love.” First jobs/roles are always developmental in nature, so a lot of what young graduates should do is find a great fit. Employers talk with lots of young people – and what they look for is passion, some sense of knowing what you want to do, and willingness to roll up your sleeves and learn.

    • Hi Josh! Thanks for weighing in. Recognizing that “first jobs/roles are always developmental in nature” is critical at this point in their careers. Good point. Hope to see you soon.

  23. Hi China,
    I teach graduate school HR (in an MBA program) after my regular job, I frequently have students come to me for advice and the one thing I stress is “Learning opportunities” in their first job (or next job). Adversity is the lead for opportunity. Students must be flexible and learn to accept what ever their experience brings them. A new job is like a canteloupe, looks great on the outside, never know what your actually going to get. Ok, enough with metaphors, they need to make the most of whatever that first opprotunity brings even if its not the perfect job…
    see you soon,

  24. Identify 10+ companies you want to work for. Follow them on Twitter, Linkedin, Facebook and learn as much about them as possible. Learn about culture and how you can contribute and then apply directly via social media (see Geoffs response above). See if you can connect to an employee through your connections on Linkedin to get them to refer you (most people would be happy to because of referral programs that pay $$$). Be different.

  25. Network. Get on the phone, go to events with people in your targeted industries, get online and connect with the people there. If the only thing you’re doing is applying for job after job, you’re rolling the dice that someone will notice you rather than creating real opportunities for people to know you.

  26. Jenny

    Don’t be discouraged if you don’t know what you want to do with your life. Few people do when they’ve recently graduated from college. Don’t be afraid of other people’s perceptions or expectations or your own and don’t let them determine what your first jobs are out of school. For example, parents and friends may expect you to get a “professional” job right out of school, but working at a book store or in a pre-school or something off-beat may lead you to a career you hadn’t thought of, but truly love.

  27. Sue Meisinger

    Remind them that, while it may seem harsh, no one cares about their job search but them. (well, perhaps their parents, too…) That’s why they have to own the responsibilitiy for the search, the follow-up, the drudgery, the self doubt, while still continuing to cheerfully network while they’re looking.

  28. Sarah White

    Look less at the “job” and more at the boss. You won’t be there, doing “that”, for very long – but the lessons and growth will last a lifetime!

    Having a mentor in a not so hot first job totally changed my future!

  29. radicalrecruit

    Don’t apply to jobs online…use the Social Networks to reach out to the employers directly so that you don’t get lost in the sea of applications.

  30. There are many things, but the most important, I think, is to seek out and apply for as many positions as you possibly can, and keep it up for a sustained period of time. There are many more applicants than there are jobs, so setting your heart on one is not wise. If you do not get selected for the one you want, it is probably more about the number of people applying than it is that they did not like YOU. Keep trying and trying and trying and work every possible network you can.

  31. Shirin Patwa

    Internships are a great way to get the much needed experience – even if its unpaid. And if you are a promising talent, the organization will do all they can to retain you.

  32. I’d say one thing would be to remain curious and open in their thinking. It can be pretty tempting to want to focus in on one type of job, one industry, or location at that age since there is often pressure to do so. But the freedom to try new things, to experiment, and frankly to fail, diminishes pretty quickly over time.

  33. I hate it when people are self referential… that said… here’s a post I did a while back… 20 Tips… use what you feel is appropriate…

  34. Don’t be afraid to muck stalls. If you going out their with only a BA/BS, your not likely to have a specialized skill to put you ahead of everyone else. Don’t be afraid to roll up your sleeves and do the dirty work. If oyu can find away to learn specialized skills, do it…

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