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A Graduate’s Guide to getting Hired

(Editor’s note: Last week TAPPI’s PaperCon 2014 concluded in Nashville, with more than 1900 attendees, a number of them students who were soon going to be looking for work. A large part of the PaperCon program was devoted to these “Young Professionals.” As such, here are a few tips for those in search of a job.)

Ben Carpenter

Graduation is almost here. And while it’s a day you’ve been working toward for four (or more) years, the closer it gets the more your sense of dread escalates. Competition is fierce and 40 percent of recent college graduates are underemployed. So, what can you do to give yourself an edge? Switch from “college” thinking to “real-world” thinking.

You’ve got to approach everything about your search—from networking to targeting a specific job to interviewing—with an eye toward standing out from the hordes of other seekers. It’s not about following a formula. It’s about really considering what employers want and finding a way to provide it. Here are some tips:

Don’t think about what you want to do. Think about what you can do. You’re probably trying to find a job that will fuel your passion and make you happy. I can state that most professionals are happiest doing what they are good at, while pursuing other passions—that their careers give them the means to finance—on the side.

Always ask yourself, What’s my edge? What makes you unique and different? Why should other people pay attention to you? What do you have to offer? What gives you an edge over the competition? Be ready and able to articulate your edge at every step of the job-search process: in cover letters, at networking events, and certainly during interviews. “What’s my edge? is a great question to ask yourself in a multitude of professional scenarios, not just while you’re looking for your first job. It will help you define how you can become your personal best.

Be creative and bold. Long gone are the days of being handed a job just because you have a diploma. There are millions of job seekers with the same qualifications as you, so if you want to receive one of a limited number of opportunities, you’ll need to stand out. A friend of mine, after identifying her dream job, walked right into the ‘big boss’s’ office, handed him her résumé, and told him she’d call him later that afternoon. The tougher the situation, the less you have to lose—so the more radical your actions should be. The worst that can happen is that you don’t get the job.

Aggressively work your network. Your generation has really honed your social connections. You have friends, fans, followers, circles, and more. Now it’s time to put all of them to good use. Put some feelers out and ask, “Does anybody know anybody?” Especially when opportunities are scarce, finding a job is often about who you know as much as what you know. And don’t worry about “imposing.” Keep in mind that everyone has gone through some version of what you are going through. Most people vividly remember their first job search and therefore are likely to help with yours. Finally, most people enjoy doing favors for others and, when the favor entails talking about themselves, they are normally more than happy to oblige.

Make face-to-face connections with informational interviews. Odds are, you’re very effective at connecting digitally. But how are your in-person skills? Even if (especially if!) face-to-face, real-time communication is outside your comfort zone, you’ll need to work on in-person networking. Connecting a face and a personality to your résumé can be a game changer. How many of your peers will potential employers meet (and thus remember) sans computer screens? Not many. Ask for an informational interview, in which you talk to someone within a company about his or her career. This is a great way to get your foot in the door. Plus, informational interviews will help you build your confidence so you won’t be as timid, nervous, and unsure when you finally get a job interview. You can set up informational interviews by reaching out to your network—family, friends, friends’ parents, alumni of your school, etc.

…and don’t be afraid to “ask for the order. Yes, you should absolutely use informational interviews to get a job interview! At some point toward the end of the conversation, if it hasn’t come up already, say, “Your company sounds exactly like what I am interested in. Do you know of any job openings I might be able to interview for?” And don’t feel like you are imposing or being too forward by asking that question. All reasonable and experienced professionals will expect you to be assertive. In fact, they may think less of you if you aren’t! If your interviewer can’t personally recommend any jobs, ask if he/she could introduce you to someone in Human Resources, or whether they know anyone else in the industry who might be willing to talk to you. Yes, it takes courage to ask these things of someone you’ve probably just met, but when you are looking for a job, you can’t afford to be shy! And if you work on developing your assertiveness and tact during your job search, these social skills will help you have an outstanding career in whichever field you choose.

Reach out to a lot of people. At this point in your job search, how many people have you contacted for interviews? How many more do you intend to contact? If you’re like many of your peers, chances are the number tops out around 15 or 20. That’s nowhere near enough. You should prepare to contact at least 40 to 50 people in the industry of your choice. It may take you fewer—or more—interviews to get that coveted offer, but this is a good number to plan for in order to conduct a professional, and ultimately successful, job search.

Practice talking about your résumé. At most interviews, you’ll be asked questions concerning your résumé. You never know what will catch the eye of an interviewer, though, so you need to practice framing everything on your résumé in the best possible light. Also, hone your ability to bring any questions that aren’t about your résumé back around to what makes you qualified for the position. Not all your answers will be jaw-dropping showstoppers…but they all need to be well thought-out and designed to show the interviewer why he or she needs to hire you.

Understand whose problem you’re trying to solve. The key to being offered a job is showing the interviewer that his or her company needs you. Most young people I interview think their goal is to convince me how smart, accomplished, or nice they are, and yes, those are all laudable qualities. But the fact is, I’m not looking for Miss or Mister Congeniality. I’m looking for the best person to help my company succeed! In other words, interviews aren’t about solving your problem (finding a job); they’re about solving the employer’s problem. Every word that comes out of your mouth has to support that goal. Before sharing something about yourself, consider why the person sitting across from you should care.

Get comfortable with rejection. If you haven’t experienced rejection on the job search trail yet, you almost surely will. For most people, this “game” entails a significant amount of “noes” before that “yes” finally materializes. Don’t allow rejection to discourage you. Use it as fuel for your determination and improvement. Most of all, be fearless which will greatly increase your chances of success because you won’t try to avoid rejection by not going after an opportunity or not reaching out to an intimidating, but experienced new contact. Plus, most people respond well to confidence. It’s a great trait to show on your job search.

Show your excitement. Yes, there’s something to be said for staying cool under pressure, especially during a nerve-wracking interview. But don’t take your calm demeanor too far. You must show excitement for the job! Companies don’t want to hire clock-punchers; they want team members who will be motivated, innovative, and solution focused. At the end of each interview, say something like, ‘We’ve covered a lot of ground, and I have really enjoyed our conversation. Most of all, though, I want you to know how excited I am about the possibility of working here. Nobody you could hire will work harder to help this company succeed.”

Follow up. After each interview, stay in touch with your contact. Send an email no later than the next day thanking the interviewer for his or her time. Think of this note as an extension of your interview—another opportunity for you to show why you are a great candidate (hopefully the best candidate) for the job.

Ben Carpenter is author of The Bigs: The Secrets Nobody Tells Students and Young Professionals About How to Find a Great Job, Do a Great Job, Be a Leader, Start a Business, Stay Out of Trouble, and Live a Happy Life.


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