6 Things College Grads Need to Know

625px-Get-a-Job-IntroI recently spoke to the Marketing Society at Villanova University about landing a job in marketing. It was a group of roughly 25 students. I have spoken at other Universities in the past as well. Since this was a marketing society and not a class, and their participation was totally voluntary, and they appeared interested in the topic. I gave them what I believe was some valuable advice about the tough task of landing that critical first professional job.

Landing a good job out of college is not a lay-up, even for a smart Villanova student. A college degree, while statistically critical to enhancing one’s lifetime earnings, is not a guarantee of success. In fact the last few years have been a humbling experience for many college graduates who are still seeking employment or are “underemployed” in jobs that did not require a college degree.

In landing a good job in marketing it’s important to think like a marketer, and differentiate your  ”brand” from others. There are a few ways to do so and to increase the likelihood of landing a good entry level job. Candidates need to think beyond the obvious digital job boards and applying online for a position. The odds of landing a job by solely applying to postings online are really small. It allows little opportunity to differentiate oneself and the flood of resumes are quickly sorted into two piles—the vast majority in the toss pile (with no notification to the sender), and perhaps a small handful into the let’s see pile, and usually those are tagged with a note that they were referred by someone of importance inside or outside the company. That’s the reality that job seekers miss. Totally blind online applications are a very low odds game, and in today’s harsh economy, alas they are a path to “underemployment” in positions that didn’t require a college degree in the first place while waiting for the opportunity that never comes. With that cheery thought what ways can you differentiate yourself?

1. LinkedIn

LinkedIn is a professional resume machine allowing the person an opportunity to write a terrific resume, have a professional picture and highlight your knowledge and accomplishments. But most importantly, if you build a network of contacts from internships, jobs, family friends etc. it provides the key info you seek—who you know who knows a person you want to know (2nd level connections). This is gold for a job seeker who is willing to ask their first level connection to pave the way & ask the person to see you. Don’t be bashful.

2. Clean Up Your Social Media Accounts

Obviously your LinkedIn account will be pristine, but how foolish to have stupid Facebook or Twitter posts with slang, curses and worse. WTF? (good news is that I am not looking for a job). Clean it up. And clean up your Facebook photos. I know how proud you are that you were standing next to Michael Phelps in the famous photo of him & the bong. But it won’t get you a job. And yes while you’ve consumed your share of drinks in red Solo cups, best to bury these photos too. HR folk are zealots in digging and finding out stuff about you, particularly when you a serious candidate. A good lesson in life at any point is that The Internet Never Forgets!

3. The Solicitation Letter

People don’t write letters anymore, do they? Aren’t applicants just supposed to look for online job listings and cut and paste and send a PDF of their resume? As I said, online applications are the hardest way to land a position. In today’s digital world the old fashioned letter actually has impact, or maybe it’s a combination of letter and online application. But be sure you can spell and your grammar is perfect. And this is really obvious—if you send a letter, spell the person’s name correctly. How many interviews did I give to someone who addressed a letter to me as Ms. Loni Strom? (answer: zero)

4. Homework

This is the most important test you will ever take. Do tons of homework. That’s easy to do in this digital age.  Do homework about the company and also about the person you will be meeting with (remember LinkedIn—check their profile). Ask them questions about the company and something interesting about their background—that says you are paying attention. Do  mock interviews. Practice answering questions. Practice is important. Allen Iverson was a great talent, but sorry AI, you were dead wrong about practice.

5. The written thank you note

Every meeting, whether a “courtesy” one or not, should be followed up with a thank you. Email is OK but has little impact. Buy a bunch of cards and mail it literally that day. Nicely hand written, and reference some point discussed in the meeting. It doesn’t have to be long. If you think you want to respond in a more lengthy form, that’s OK. A letter works here too. But do this fast and mail that day too.

6. Ask for the Job

If you do nothing else and pay no attention to any of the prior comments, pay attention to this one. At the end of a real interview say this (or some variation), “From everything I’ve learned before today and everything we’ve discussed, I want to tell you how interested I am in xyz company. Moreover, I promise you that if you put your confidence in me, and select me for this position, I will do a great job. I would really love to work here”. Don’t be bashful—Go for it!

Good luck! Push hard and don’t get discouraged. Success is the reward for those who persevere.

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