Charlotte Ashlock

A Job Search Guide for Recent College Graduates

April 19, 2011 My Life 3

Most job search adv ice on the internet is disappointingly obvious. I know that graduation is coming up for a lot of my friends, and I want them to have something a little better. So I’m creating my own guide. Please comment on this article with your own job-hunting tips and tricks, and I will update it according to your suggestions. Since Americorps ends in August, I have started applying for jobs, so I could use advice too.

A Job Search Guide For Recent College Graduates

Preparing Your Resume

  1. Brainstorm experiences. Don’t limit your resume to places that have paid you money. Think about all the experiences that taught you something, and find a way to represent them. Long-term volunteer commitments can often count as “internships.” Or something you did just for fun might fit into “volunteer experience” after all.
  2. Deciding what to include. Consider making a separate resume for each industry where you are applying, so you can prominently feature experiences that are similar to your desired job. You should certainly have separate resumes for applying to blue & white collar jobs; fancy internships and high G.P.A’s can actually count against you if you are applying to be a server or cashier.
  3. Formatting. You need three versions of each resume: a pdf, a word doc, and a plaintext. The pdf does the best job of preserving your formatting, but the word doc is a good backup if they don’t accept pdfs. However, the plaintext is the most important, because so many websites ask for a copy and paste. Creating a nicely formatted, readable, .txt resume can be a challenge: you can differentiate headings by using all caps and * works as a bullet point. Save them to your desktop for a fast upload.

Finding Places to Apply

  1. Don’t waste your money. Ignore job sites’ bullshit offers to “upgrade to premium membership” and improve your resume exposure, get your resume critiqued, etc. Buying your resume a place in the “top spot” is not likely to impress anyone (don’t you always skip the “sponsored hits” on Google?) If you want someone to edit your resume, ask a family friend who’s done hiring to help you out. Some job sites are subscription-only, but before you pay for your own membership, see if your college subscribes. You may get a free password.
  2. Using job boards correctly. I find the big, generic sites like Jobs.com and Careerbuilder very annoying because they tend to give you large numbers of irrelevant hits no matter how finely you tune your search. Don’t waste your time applying for jobs that aren’t a great match for you, or waste hours filtering. Look for job boards that are specific to you area or industry, for example Pittsburghjobs.com or bookjobs.com. When you view a posting, read “requirements” first, just in case you are grossly unqualified.
  3. Go straight to employer websites. The most desirable employers and positions don’t post on job boards at all— they don’t need advertising to get applications. So brainstorm and google a list of employers who do what you’ve always dreamed of doing. Go to their website and look for the often cleverly hidden link to “jobs” “careers” or “employment.” Even if they don’t have a position open, you can always save their address for later or send a copy of your resume for their files. If you like them enough, consider one of their unpaid internships.

Writing Cover Letters

  1. Tuning your letter to the employer. Some people advise making a generic cover letter you can use over and over simply by changing the names. This is a bad idea; when I was watching my boss try to hire a new intern, he tossed away in disgust any cover letter which sounded “generic” to him. He was looking for someone who had really researched the company and understood how special it was. So I do have generic cover letters that cover the basic stuff, but I modify them SIGNIFICANTLY each time I submit them. I begin each cover letter with the reason why I like the company, and I conclude on a similar note, explaining how my skills perfectly compliment their unique mission.
  2. Showing yourself in the best light. Another thing I do when I am modifying cover letters is copy and paste the job description and check each bullet point to make sure I am covering it. For example, if one bullet point says, “Time management skills a must,” I add a sentence which says, “As a student my excellent time-management skills allowed me to maintain a G.P.A. of 3.75 while routinely taking a number of courses in excess of the recommended load.” Every time you talk about your personal qualities, be sure to offer specific examples; just saying “My time management skills are great!” is not as convincing.
  3. Sound like a person. A mistake I made for a long time in both cover letters and interviews was emphasizing my skills and intelligence rather than my interpersonal abilities. I didn’t realize that the number one qualification for ANY job is the ability to get along with other people. If all you talk about is how qualified you are, you run the risk of seeming like a nerd or a know-it-all. It’s hard to make a personal connection in a document that begins, “Dear Human Resources,” but give it a try.  (Of course, if you CAN find out the name of the person who is reviewing your application, you should use it.)  I’m still struggling with the best way to show my personhood; sometimes I try to include a cute story about the teenagers I mentor for Americorps. 

Networking Strategies

  1. Quit being shy and proud. The hardest part about asking for help is… well, asking for help. In American culture, we have it engrained into us that it’s somehow shameful to ask for a favor. Forget it. No man is an island. Start with the people who supervised your internships or volunteer work; after all, they owe you for all that free labor. Email your older relatives explaining what you are trying to find and what kind of help you need. Usually aunts, uncles, and grandparents are already trying to help, but unless you talk to them, they will be looking in all the wrong places, based on some misguided rumor they heard from your mom. So TALK to them! Make a list of friends that have connections in your desired industry or area. Consider asking a friend’s parents for help; young people have limited resources.
  2. Make friends outside your age group. Forget clubbing; attend social events where you will meet older people. Religious organizations are great for this; I have a friend who got a job through a friend’s synagogue, even though she herself was not Jewish. If you are a committed atheist they will still welcome you at the Unitarian church. Meetings about local politics also have plenty of older people, and these active citizens will likely know about job opportunities in their community. Joining a professional association is also something to consider, although the fees may be a little high for the unemployed.
  3. Informational interviews. Until a year ago, I had never heard of an informational interview, but apparently it’s a pretty normal thing to do. You email someone in your desired field asking very politely for a fifteen-minute meeting to find out more about what they do. It can be a good way to build relationships and hear of opportunities. My boss told me, “It’s very hard for someone to refuse this kind of request, because they remember all the advice and help they got when they were young.” I still am terrified of setting these up though; calling strangers takes guts!

Using Your Time Wisely

  1. Keeping up the flow of applications. You cannot spend all day applying for jobs because it drains the soul and heart. Usually I can only work at them for two hours at a time before I start hating the universe. So instead of doing it all day, do it EVERY day. Even one hour each day still amounts to 7-14 job apps a week; that’s a pretty good outflow.
  2. It’s time to pursue that hobby! The most vital thing is to avoid that sense of low self-worth and lethargy that comes from not being where you want to be. So if you drew pictures in grade school, it’s time to bring out those paints. If you’ve always dreamed of learning the guitar, it’s time to ask your brother to teach you. The most important thing of all is that you keep on learning and creating; no economy can prevent you from doing that.
  3. Volunteering & community involvement. On a similar note, make sure you’re getting out of the house and sticking to a schedule of some kind, even if it’s not a schedule that earns you money. I’m not saying you should volunteer full time, but have enough activities on your plate to feel pleasantly busy. You will network, learn new skills, get additional entries for your resume, and most of all escape watching soaps and eating junk food in your parent’s basement.

I’d like to close with a quote from an article called, “The Youth Unemployment Bomb,” (see http://www.businessweek.com/magazine/content/07_52/b4064058743638.htm) “While the details differ from one nation to the next, the common element is failure—not just of young people to find a place in society, but of society itself to harness the energy, intelligence, and enthusiasm of the next generation.” All over the nation, young people are sending out thousands of letters and not getting a reply to a single one. They are attending hundreds of interviews and getting sent home from each one disappointed. They are asking themselves, “Am I a failure?” YOU ARE NOT A FAILURE. Society is failing us. And once we get our jobs, we’re going to build a better world, and make it so our kids will never deal with this kind of crap, please God, Amen. 

 

3 Responses

  1. Buella says:

    I always address cover letters, “Dear Sir or Madam” not “Dear Human Resources.”

    Another note on directly going to company sites to search for jobs, after finding a good job on a job board, go to the company site. They’ll likely have other positions. Bookmark their career pages and check them daily. Lots of listings are done chronologically. If you check regularly, you can check them all and not worry about a great position slipping through your search.

    I fully agree on always checking requirements/qualifications first. Saves you time and agony.

    Don’t be afraid to call those strangers. The key to networking is not being afraid to talk to the friends of friends of friends/family. Once you get the chance to talk to someone, how fragile your initial connection was doesn’t matter.

    I don’t know about Bard, but many universities have significant alumni networks. Use these people. Eventually you can turn around and help the next group of graduates.

  2. Gretchen says:

    Wow, there’s a lot of wisdom here. Hope everyone is taking notes. I’ve got an Amen and a PS:

    1. Yes, please READ the job description, and then only apply if you have the qualifications. My boss turns away a lot of applicants who thought he was kidding when he said they needed transportation, or a college degree. Please don’t waste everyone’s time that way! On the other hand, I have gotten interviews and offers for jobs that weren’t strictly in my field, but that didn’t *require* things I didn’t have. I was able to parlay my combination of tangentially related credentials and directly related life experiences into a convincing argument that I was worth a look. Don’t ignore their non-negotiables, but don’t shortchange your more unconventional or uncredentialed qualifications, either.

    2. Be open to various interpretations of “working in your field” and “a good job.” When I was certified to teach art, a lot of my teacher friends told me that I should substitute. I hated substituting so much that instead I took two part-time jobs on Craigslist that were both peripherally related to my training. After a while a funny thing happened… I got so good at one of them that I kept getting more hours and promotions, eventually so many hours that I could quit the other job, and, after that, so many hours that I qualified for the benefits program. Now that little Craigslist part-time holding pattern job is my real job. I’m good at it. I like it a lot. I will probably do it till I retire (which okay, isn’t so long for me as it is for most of you, but still). It’s not exactly what I trained to do, but it’s exactly what I was born to do. So be open for life’s little left turns.

  3. Wendy says:

    I like what you said about keeping yourself occupied even when unemployed. I recently watched a documentary called “The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill.” The main character is described as a “homeless musician” in the documentary description. He spends most of his time taking extensive notes on the behavior of a flock of wild parrots (escaped pets and their offspring). He says, “I do lots of work; it’s just not always work that someone is willing to pay me for.” There’s lots of valuable work to do in this world and not all of it is paid. It’s easier to be happy when you have financial security, but it’s also possible to be happy just knowing that you are doing valuable work.

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