If you’re a college graduate that can’t seem to get your foot in the door, these practical tips should help.
Landing your first job out of school can be tough. Oftentimes, coming up empty doesn’t mean that you’re not qualified or that you don’t have the potential to be a great candidate for a position. Instead, it could be a matter of standing out among peers in a competitive and fast-moving job market.
In July, employment rose by 157,000 and the unemployment rate fell to 3.9 percent according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. While there are new jobs created every month, employers are still looking for the very best candidates to fill their open positions. Therefore, getting that first chance with an employer requires that much more creativity in order to get their coveted attention, especially any big Fortune 500 companies.
Here are a few things you can do as a recent college graduate to connect with potential employers and get them interested in what you have to offer.
The Lost Art of Networking
According to Investopedia, networking is “a process that fosters the exchange of information and ideas among individuals or groups that share a common interest. It may be for social or business purposes. Professionals connect their business network through a series of symbolic ties and contacts.”
Networking is building relationships with the hope of adding or creating value between the participants. I spend a fair amount of time speaking with recent grads on how to go about networking, meeting people, and finding opportunities. This is definitely a lost art, but these soft skills are so important to your ability to find a job.
As a new grad, it’s not a way to ask someone for a job but instead a way to start building a relationship. The goal is that if an opportunity arises down the road, you would be kept in mind as a result of your relationship. Who you know is just as important as what you know, and in many respects perhaps even more so today. I also believe that the best jobs and opportunities are not posted in the paper or put online. They are shared through word of mouth.
Having grown up with technology at your fingertips, you may be more comfortable communicating via your smart phone than grabbing lunch or drinks after work to connect with the professional crowd in your city. Yet, it’s the face-to-face personal connection that can make you known. And when you are known by the right people, doors can open and opportunities can find you.
Where Do You Start?
Ok, so networking can help you meet the right people and hopefully connect you with job opportunities. Where do you start?
· Reach Out to Friends, Family, Professors, Past Employers: Start with the people you already know. These are folks who like you and know what you’re capable of and can be your biggest advocate. Too often, people forget to let their existing network know they are in the job market. But by letting those closest to you know you’re looking for a job, they can help you (and tend to be the people most motivated to help you).
What Do You Do/Say?
· Invite People for Coffee: Whether it’s a professional contact, someone new you’d like to meet, or both, coffee is a great point of connection. Just inviting someone to meet for coffee is a big step. Once they accept your invitation, use your time with this individual to be gracious for their time, ask intelligent questions, and listen. This is an opportunity for you to learn and show genuine interest, so try not to dominate the conversation about what you want. Instead, take in any advice you are offered.
· Ask the Right Questions: Rather than making an encounter feel like an inquisition, position your questions as you would if you were asking for advice from a close friend. Ask them about them, what they would do in your situation, how they got their break. You can benefit so much from the experience of others. Therefore, be thoughtful to focus the conversation on your audience and learn as much as you can.
Don’t’ Forget To…
· Respect Their Time: Don’t be late or just not show up. Nothing will leave a lasting bad impression than someone who disrespects someone else’s time. This also includes canceling or rescheduling (unless it really is an emergency). If you don’t show that their time is a priority, they will never make you a priority again.
· Always Show Gratitude: Recognize that this person is being generous with their time and thank them for taking the time with you. Ask them if there is any way you could help them out. Most people genuinely like to help other people, but not if it’s taken for granted or underappreciated. Say thank you and send a follow-up thank you email or even better - a handwritten note. This speaks more to your character and will make the other person feel appreciated.
I am passionate about this because all it takes is one person to give you a chance to get started. In my case, my chance was given to me after interning at a small brokerage firm on Long Island, NY in the summer before my senior year of college. I earned this opportunity by knocking on doors, literally. I sent out my resume and cover letter to dozens of potential employers and when no one responded, I followed up by showing up in person to see if they had received my inquiry. And guess what? Only one place called me back after the drop in and gave me a chance. They hired me because they liked the initiative I demonstrated.
Once I was there, I didn’t relent and worked hard. They liked how diligent I was that summer and the founder wound up referring me to his son who worked at Morgan Stanley in NYC. Because of my first job, I got an interview for my next one. From the interview, Morgan Stanley brought me on as a temp and after three months I had a full-time job.
You never know where your break will come from, but it is likely to come from someone. Therefore, make yourself available to be known. Be someone worth knowing, and then prove how qualified you are every chance you get.
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