Wednesday, May 2, 2012

NEXT UP: How to Graduate with a Job

Lately, I've been seeing tons of news clips about students graduating with overwhelming debt. This financial issue has made students feel more pressured than ever to graduate college with a paying job in hand.

I feel incredibly fortunate to have secured my job with a month to go before graduation--especially a job that I am SO excited about. However, it was not handed to me. Besides gaining internship experience and exploring different industries as a student, I owe my success to a ton of hard work. I learned a lot along the way, and I hope I can help others by providing my tips for getting set with the job you want before you even graduate college:

1) Start early. You're graduating in May? Well, news flash: March/April is not the time to start looking. You might protest that many companies only post jobs that require immediate hires. That is not an excuse to procrastinate on your job search. Start reaching out to the company early and you'll be at the top of the list of candidates when a timely job does open up. If you are truly interested in a certain employer, reach out early to familiarize yourself with their work, people, job openings, and application process.

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2) Connect, connect, connect! I don't mean simply relying on connections; you have to have solid academic knowledge and work experiences to be a good candidate. But you should also consider if you have any alumni or acquaintances at companies of interest who would be willing to talk about opportunities with you. LinkedIn can help you search. Make the introduction through a kind email. Even if you just contact connections for advice, they usually appreciate the effort and will remember you when a job opening does roll around. Just remember to follow up with a thank you note! At the least, you'll learn about the industry you're hoping to join.
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3) Own a Piece of the World Wide Web. Employers are likely to google your name to find out more about you. Don't you want some say in what they see? Create a landing page for your name so you can show your best self in search engines. I used the host www.weebly.com to post my bio, resume, internship work, writing samples, design projects, and contact info. I would even recommend spending the few dollars to buy your URL so you can have an easy-to-find, professional-looking page (ie: www.YourNameHere.com). Include the URL on the top of your resume, on your LinkedIn page, and in your Twitter bio. Speaking of Twitter...

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4) Twitter is your new best friend. For all you Twitter skeptics out there, swallow your pride and start tweeting! Twitter is an amazing way to connect with companies, learn about job openings, and make yourself a desirable job candidate. Companies often post job openings or search for people talking about them. A little Tweet can go a long way.

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5) Creep, just a little. I'm not talking standing-outside-the-HR-person's-office creeping. I'm talking being aware of a company's latest news in order to have talking points with the employers. My trick: create a Google Alert for the company name. These alerts can be sent to your mailbox or your Google Reader. When you're alerted to something really interesting about the company, you can mention it to your connection, in a cover letter, or in a Tweet.
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6) Narrow down your list of companies. If you blindly send a cover letter to dozens of companies, it's unlikely that your approach comes off as sincere and tailored to the employer. Decide which companies you're truly passion about. Focus on a few companies at a time so you can really understand their culture and work. I was exploring job opportunities at 15 companies, went after seven or eight in the end, and was able to create genuine relationships with three or four of them.

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7) Spreadsheets are your friends. Spend less time organizing your closet of interview clothes and more time organizing your job prospects. I found it very helpful to create a spreadsheet with the following headings: Company, Position, Application (how to apply, application due date), Status (of my application/interview process/relationship with the company), and Contacts (people I have connected with at the company and when). It will keep you from missing deadlines or losing track of your progress.


One last thing: don't panic. Sure, it feels amazing to know you have post-grad job plans when you are being handed your diploma. However, it's not the end of the world to still be searching after you graduate. As long as you start your search early and follow the above tips, you won't walk out of the classroom feeling lost and hopeless. It works out. Really, it does. Try not to think of it as a terrifying, arduous process, but rather as an exciting step in pursuing your passions.


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