The Great Race Begins

It’s hard to believe it’s almost April. I graduated from SLU a year early (yes, I know that makes me a huge nerd), so many of my fellow classmates and friends are just now preparing to enter the Real World. The professional, grown-up job Real World – not the MTV reality show.

Anyways, as we slowly defrost into Springtime, my friends are in a mad panic to either figure out what they want to do with their lives… or make a mad dash for grad school, so it looks like they know what they’re doing.

With that being said, resumes, job searches, networking and all things “real world” are on my mind. Since it’s been less than I year since I embarked upon my own grown-up job hunt, a few tips are fresh in my memory:

1. Have It Your Resume
If I see one more boring resume in the Microsoft Word free-for-all template that’s simply a list of job titles, dates and your fraternity… No accomplishments. Nothing that makes you stand out from the stack of 50 other resumes on the desk.

Please. Please do something different – layout, presentation, tone, description. Don’t be weird in a bad way – no crayons, stains, profanity, typos. Make yourself standout. Be professional and consider your resume an opportunity to advertise yourself. If you’re going into a corporate field, think business-to-business language, format and tone. Real estate developers speak differently than financial advisors, who speak differently than accountants. Demonstrate that you have the skills to succeed in your chosen industry.

Don’t forget to tell the HR person why they should hire you – and the correct answer is never “because I need a job.”

2. Network It Out
Everyone has friends in high places – you probably don’t even realize it. Think about all of your friends, their friends, parents, professors, past employers and co-workers. Get the word out that you’re graduating and looking for a job.

Request an informational interview. With anyone who will talk with you. Even if they don’t have a job opening. Even if you’re not sure you want their kind of job.

Put on a suit. I don’t care if they wear swim suits at their office, wear a suit on an interview. Bring a copy of your refreshingly unique resume. Ask them questions about their job. Duties and responsibilities. The career path they chose. The most rewarding part of their job. What skills and knowledge someone needs to succeed at the profession. What they look for in a candidate when they’re hiring.

Before you leave, ask them to review your resume and provide feedback: what’s good, what’s confusing, what should change. Everyone will have their own opinion – but by combining many different perspectives, I guarantee you can develop a resume that is a happy medium – pleasing a wide variety of viewers.

Thank your host for their time before you leave. Reiterate key points in your conversation that you especially appreciated. Finally, and this is key to networking, ask them if they know of anyone else that you may be able to talk with – a coworker, a friend, someone they know who’s hiring. All of a sudden your network has expanded into theirs.

3. Follow Up Yours
Whether it’s for an informational interview or after a resume submission – always follow up.

During the course of an informational interview, if your interviewer gives you other people to contact – do so immediately. Send an e-mail or make a call within 24 hours. Tell them you met with their friend so-and-so and they recommended that you talk to them. Explain your situation – you’re a recent grad trying to decide what to do with your life. You’d love just 15 to 30 minutes of their time to talk to them about their career.

If your interviewer requests additional info – a copy of your resume, your cover letter, writing samples, references… do so within 24 hours.

If you don’t hear back within a week? Call or e-mail again. Make it quick:

Hi Joe,
Just wanted to check in with you. I enjoyed our conversation last Tuesday and remain very interested in the opportunity. Thank you again for your time.

I sent a list of professional references to you last week, please let me know if there is anything else that I can provide.

Sincerely,
Colleen

When I was looking for a resume this fall – I got about 30 resume submissions and maybe 5 people followed-up with me. You can bet their resumes moved to the top of the pile after they demonstrated initiative and responsibility.

4. Say Thank You Like You Mean It
E-mail is easy. It’s free. It’s instantaneous. It’s effortless.

That’s why if you really want to say thanks, send a handwritten note.

It doesn’t have to be long (see my e-mail to Joe for #3). Just enough to remind them of your conversation and why you’re so special while thanking them for their time. Send one to every person you with which you meet. Afraid you’ll forget their names? Ask for a business card. If they don’t cards with them, write down their name on a notepad.

You can buy inexpensive generic stationery at Office Depot, Target or Wal-mart. The post office sells these things called stamps. Bring blank cards with you and fill them out immediately after your interview. Drop them in the mail on your way home.

A little effort goes a long way. And it’s nice to get a real piece of mail every once and awhile.

5. Rinse and Repeat
Not every job is “the one.” Just like every person you meet in a bar isn’t your soul mate. When you start interviewing and sending out your resume, you’ll get rejections.

I know first hand how devastating the rejection letter can be. I cried profusely after four rounds of interviews ended in one of those mass “Thanks, but no thanks” HR letters.

If you do get a rejection, try asking if the employer has any feedback for you. Why didn’t they choose you? Maybe you can identify some areas for improvement. Why did they choose the final candidate? Sometimes you’ll find that it is a reason you can’t control.

But a couple months after the boo-hoo letter, when I was ready to accept an offer – I knew that it was the right one. I wouldn’t have known anything if it wasn’t for the networking, the dead-end interviews and the experience I gained throughout the job search process.

Keep your head up and keep adjusting your approach. Don’t settle for the first thing that comes along simply because it came along. Follow your instincts (and maybe my advice) and you’ll find yourself at the finish line before you know it.

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