Photo: j.o.h.n. walker via Flickr
Times are tough for the 2 million students pouring into the job market this year. Despite new reports that Baby Boomers are retiring at record numbers, there still aren’t enough entry-level jobs to go around. What to do? Here’s a survival guide for grads on how to land that hard-to-find first job.
1. Stop Listening
You heard me. Stop listening. Not to everyone. But stop listening to the jobs numbers. Every pundit on the planet is analysing and over analysing every tick in the number of jobs lost, jobs created, number of new applications for unemployment, whether those numbers are going up or down… Who cares? You shouldn’t. So don’t listen.
Companies actually are still hiring. It’s just that the way they’re doing the hiring has changed. You’ve probably seen this. Perhaps you’ve got a friend who’s landed a job working for her boyfriend’s uncle. Or, a cousin who’s now working for his former summer camp counselor. The truth is that the way people get jobs nowadays is completely different than it used to be. In fact, according to recent studies, 50% of new hires come from referral, and 25% come from employees’ social networks. That means that over 75% of new hires come from networking or a direct recommendation and introduction. If this is true, then it is time for you to put those social (on- and off-line) networks to work for you and get yourself out there.
Try to ignore all of the griping about “how bad it is out there”. It’s only bad if you decide it’s bad. So stop complaining, turn off the TV, texting, video game console and get a handle on your future. Oh, and remember, stop listening.
2. Stake Your Claim
Our country has always been about staking claims. Claims were staked during the Louisiana Expansion, the California Gold Rush, and in 1969 when we placed an American flag on the Moon. A year ago, Walt Disney Studios staked a claim by trademarking “Seal Team 6”, the Navy team that brought down Osama bin-Laden. The funny thing about claim staking, is that we rarely do it for ourselves.
But here’s something every job seeker should know. Careers don’t just happen. They are made. And if you don’t stake a Claim in Your Own Career, believe me, no one else will.
This incredibly simple piece of advice is actually not that simple. Imagine that you are a marathon runner, or a Mount Everest climber or a very determined dieter. All of the individuals have made a strong commitment to doing something with determination and tons of effort. No one ever said it was easy to get to the top of Everest. The same can be said of building a career. No matter how much hoping you do, your school’s career counselors and your folks aren’t going to do it for you.
It is up to you to take responsibility for your future. So when you think you’re looking for a job “all day long,” count up how many hours you spent NOT looking for a job. My guess is you’re not as committed as you think you are.
3. Know Who You Are and What You Want to Be in the World
Some of the most iconic branding in the world sits on the back of every car on the road. Those shiny metal words and symbols hold meaning for us. When you see the word Volvo, your brain immediately says “safety, ” or perhaps to the new grad generation “boring”. The four interlocking rings of Audi say superior engineering, and the word Prius just makes you feel like you’re doing something good for the environment. That’s because the car companies have figured out how to make you think and feel a certain way about them.
You need to be a car. Well, not exactly. But you do need to understand who you are and what you want to be in the world. Because getting a job is about selling yourself. And by being clear about what you can offer to hiring managers, you will be able to get people to buy into the brand that is you.
Discovering your personal career brand (http://carryapaintbrush.com/about-the-book/create-your-personal-career-brand) is an essential component of differentiating yourself from other hungry job seekers. Think about what makes you different, what skills you have to offer, what you’re passionate about, and what you can bring to an employer that will make them want to pick you. If you were a car, what would be your best selling points? If you don’t know what they are ask a counselor, a parent, or friend to help you uncover what makes you a great product for employers to buy.
4. Communicate Like a Pro and Say Goodbye to Um, Ah and LOL
It doesn’t matter how smart or qualified you are, if you can’t write, speak, and act like a professional, no one will hire you to be a professional. If you’ve never learned to communicate in a serious and capable manner, it’s going to be very difficult to get hiring managers to take you seriously as a candidate. Here are some critical tips for communicating like a pro:
- Practice conducting conversations in an articulate and confident way.
- Cut the words “um”, “like”, “you know”, and “ah” out of your vocabulary.
- Do your homework. Prepare and research a company, organisation, or person before you speak or write to them.
- In written correspondence, it is never OK to use text-isms (ENUF, LOL, GR8) or other 140-character shortcuts.
- Double-check your written work. Typos and misplaced words reflect poorly on you.
- Follow up from all communications with an email or written note that show your appreciation, summarize the conversation, and suggest a next course of action.
- Be personable. People buy people. If they like you, they are more likely to want to help, and maybe even hire you.
5. Reverse Engineer The Job Market
If you want to surf, you better go where there are good waves. And if you don’t know any good surf spots, chances are you’d find some other surfers and ask them how to find the cool spots.
Now apply this thinking to your job search. If you want to make movies, go to the places where people make movies. If you want to make cool software, you should find places where people are making cool software.
This logic seems simple, but it’s not how most people think about looking for a job. Most people start by pouring through job sites seeking out open opportunities that sort-of-maybe-kind-of fit their skills. Next, so relieved to have found a potential job match, they contort themselves into believing that they’d be happy working at this particular company, even if the company is a widget company and the job seeker intensely dislikes widgets. Unfortunately, that’s how desperate some people feel about their job prospects.
I want you to Reverse Engineer the Job Market. What if instead of looking for job listings first and companies second, you begin looking for companies first and jobs second. This seemingly backward thinking works for getting in a good surf, why can’t it work for finding a good job?
Here’s how it works. Instead of using sites like Monster.com or Idealist.org to look for job openings, use these sites to explore company profiles and see what kinds of companies are out there. See if you can find organisations that are doing things that get you really excited. Don’t worry if any jobs exist right now. That’s not the point. The point is to discover what companies align with who you are and what you want to be doing. This matters because people hire people who are excited about the work they will be doing. Which takes us to the next tip…
6. Enchant people
Do you love your iPod, IPhone or Mac? Or do you just love going into the Apple store ‘cuz it’s so cool? Apple computer has captivated all of us with its inventions. Apple’s former Chief Evangelist, Guy Kawasaki, explains the three pillars of Enchantment—likability, trustworthiness, and a great cause—in his book of the same name.
What’s your great cause? And how can you become likable and trustworthy so that people will want to help you and hire you? In today’s very picky job market, where getting a job is based as much on who you know as it is on what skills and experience you have, you better figure out how to be likable, trustworthy, and a good cause.
Part of your fulltime job to get a job is to meet with and enchant as many people as you can. Use LinkedIn, Facebook, Google+ and other social networks to find, meet and befriend people who already work at the types of companies you want to work for. These “in” people are your ticket to getting a job. Take a look at the team pages on a company’s website. See if you can find someone in your networked-network that can make an introduction, or help you get an introduction. Be a good listener (for Tip #6, please ignore Tip #1), and people will take an interest in you. From there, it’s all a numbers game.
7. Make 5 Your Lucky Number
Most people think that 7 is the luckiest number. I’ve no doubt you’ll change your lucky number once you learn to Network by 5s. When I was a bright-eyed, freshly minted grad, I moved to LA to make it in Hollywood. Through a random meeting in a busy lobby, to a phone interview, to an in-person sit down, I found myself interviewing for a job that wasn’t the right fit. Instead of giving up, this woman and I started chatting. Using some good, enchanting techniques (a shared love of sports or travel can be a great start) we bonded and eventually decided to just be friends. I suddenly had an “in” person.
I turned to my new friend and said, “I’m new in town and don’t know anyone, or what the jobs actually are out there. Do you think that you might have 5 friends who’d be willing to talk to me for 5 minutes about what they do?” My new friend agreed and with each meeting I had, with each new person I met and befriended, I had another “in” person. By the time I had been in Hollywood for five weeks, I had met 54 people at studios around the city. When Disney called to ask me to come in for an interview for my dream job (as a Director’s Assistant), they told me my resume had been submitted to the pile eleven times. No doubt they had come from all of my new friends. If you want to Network by 5s, here’s what you should do:
- Ask your “in” person to give you the names of five people who might be willing to share five minutes of their time to tell you about what they do for a living.
- Whether in person or on the phone, become a genuinely interested listener. Learn everything you can about what this person does, and how they got to be doing their job. Know that this meeting is not about you. Ignore your need for a job and focus on letting the person in front of you tell their story.
- Ask enchanting questions and make a new friend. The funny things is, that if you do this well, they’ll end up thinking you’re wonderful, and they’ll turn the conversation to you.
- Know your personal career brand so you’ll feel comfortable talking about yourself and what you are looking to do. Always have a résumé to share. At the end, if you feel they’ll be open to it, ask them for the names of 5 of their friends.
In no time, you’ll know tens of people doing the kind of work you want to be doing, and your job search will be on the fast track.
8. Be Like Aspirin
Aspirin is a great painkiller, and when a hiring manager is looking to bring on a new employee it is usually because the organisation is feeling a bit of pain. It could be that someone left the company, there’s too much work for the existing staff, or a new initiative needs some additional attention. Whatever the case, when you go in for a job interview, your job is to be like aspirin and make their pain go away. What exactly does that mean?
Imagine you’re going in for a sales job and your responsibility will be to cover a certain territory selling a product. Your interviewer’s pain is that the territory is currently not being covered, therefore no sales revenue is coming in. You need to demonstrate your skills as a sales persons and show that you are ready to jump in, take the reins and get the territory producing again. No, I don’t mean you should go into Crazy Eddie sales mode. But you can relay stories about past sales experience (perhaps you helped sell out all the tickets to a school fundraiser) or about your fearlessness of making cold calls.
Interviewing can be hard and scary. It always feels like there’s too much on the line and you’re so nervous about landing the job that it can be hard to stay calm and focused on your interviewer’s questions. Before the big day, research the company and your interviewer. Put yourself in their shoes and see if you can figure out some of the challenges they might face. And remember this important point: If you can make their work-related headaches go away, you’re going to be a rock star in their eyes.
9. Take a break
Finding a job is a fulltime job. It can be exhausting and demoralizing. Honestly, it’s easy to just want to crawl into bed and ignore the entire thing. Here’s what I want you to do… watch a movie. I don’t care which one. Just go have some fun being distracted for 120 minutes. Give your brain, your ego and your keyboard and mouse a rest. Remember that life is fun and you will, once you Stake Your Claim (#2), be on your feet.
10. Stay the Course
To find out your score at the end of a round of golf, you have to stay on the course for the entire 18 holes. To find out your marathon time, you have to complete the 26.2 miles. And to land a job, especially one that you really want, you have to keep at it. No one ever said this would be easy. And as new grads enter into the toughest job market in the past 80 years, it takes a special something, an extra special kind of commitment and determination and willingness to try when others have given up. You may have finished your final exams, but this is the first test of your working life.
Find people to help you along the way and help you keep focused. My 85-year old mentor is one of the people who keeps me on track. If you can’t find a mentor, buddy up with a friend and hit the library or the local coffee shop together. Keep each other motivated, inspired (and caffeinated if necessary). Just don’t lose hope.
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