Looking for Your First Job? Here’s What to Focus on.

Originally published by Kelsey Alpaio, Associate Editor at Harvard Business Review. View original post at https://hbr.org/2021/01/ascend-1-25-advice-for-2021-graduates

“Yeah, I actually already got a job offer! I start in May!”

These words still haunt me to this day. When I was a senior in college, it felt like everyone else had their lives together except me. My friends were getting job offers months before we were ready to graduate, while I was stuck trying to decide what I wanted to do with my career. Should I start applying to roles immediately, go to grad school, try for a fellowship? The possibilities seemed both endless and limited.

What I didn’t know back then is that it’s totally normal to feel this way. Graduating is a big deal, and feeling some confusion or jitters about what comes next is natural. Even the end of grad school can feel like one big question mark.

And of course (sorry to bring it up again), this year is different. It’s harder than ever for soon-to-be graduates to find jobs, network, or even celebrate their hard work.

If you’re graduating this year, first of all, congratulations. You’ve accomplished something amazing, and you deserve to take a moment to reflect positively on that.

Now, I’m here to tell you that what comes next isn’t as scary as it seems.

To help you navigate this next chapter, I asked five professors and career services professionals for their advice. Here’s what they think you should know.

Applying to Jobs is a Skill

Cory Labanow, adjunct professor at Columbia University and Baruch College

Applying to jobs is a probability game. In a typical job market, the hit rate for getting an interview is maybe 10%. Today, it will probably be less than that. It’s going to be tough. The thing to remember is, it’s not that there are no jobs. It’s just, there are fewer jobs than usual.

When you apply, plan on sending out 200 resumes, not 20, and focus on what you can control: being the absolute best job candidate possible. Getting a job is a skill. If you’re playing basketball, it’s not just shooting, it’s also dribbling, it’s passing, and it’s rebounding. How do you get better at those things? You practice them, and you get feedback.

It’s the same with job searching. Building a resume is a skill, and you need feedback to get better. If you’re the only one who has seen your resume, that is one of the biggest problems in your life right now. That is a crisis that you need to remedy immediately. Get your resume in front of four or five people who you respect and who can tell you how to make it even better.

Interviewing is another skill. You need to practice interviewing. You have to prepare your pitch. Have five to seven “hero” stories that you can whip out depending on the question. Research the company ruthlessly before you even go into the conversation.

Finally, yes, you should be networking. Don’t view networking as, “I just want to use this person to get a job.” Have informational interviews and build connections way before you even need a job. Get coffee with people who do the thing you might want to do, or work at a company you might want to work for. You need to plant those seeds.

A Job Search is a Job on its Own

Amy DiGiovine, assistant director at the Office of Career Services at Harvard University

Ever heard that cliché, a job search is a job on its own? Well, it’s true.

Finding a job takes a lot of emotional energy, and there is inherently a lot of rejection involved. That’s why it’s so important for you to think about self-care as you start your search — though what exactly that self-care looks like will be different for different people.

It might mean taking time away from screens, going for more walks, cooking, or playing with a pet. Across the board, it can be helpful to set a schedule and dedicate specific time frames to applying for roles, as well as editing your cover letters or networking.

Tell yourself, “I’m going to apply to five jobs a week,” and keep doing that, even as you begin to get interviews. Interviews are obviously a great sign, but it can be easy to get too excited too soon. You want to stay in a rhythm and set goals. At times, things will seem to be moving very fast. Other times, they will seem excruciatingly slow. It’s good to have multiple plans or ideas at your fingertips.

Keep in mind: Your first job will almost certainly not be your last job. You may be thinking, “Am I going to make the right choice? Am I going to have to stay on this path forever?” Absolutely not. Most people are in their first job for a year or two. Get out of your head. What you really want to think about as you decide where to apply is, “Can I grow and learn skills in this position or in this industry?”

Every job that you take can help you learn more about yourself and where you want to be professionally.

Never Let Your Resume Speak for You 

Bill Peterson, lecturer at McCombs School of Business, University of Texas at Austin

The wrong way to look for jobs — which, unfortunately, too many students do — involves visiting a company’s career page, looking for available openings, blasting out your resume, then waiting for a response that almost never comes.

The problem with this method is two-fold:

  1. By the time a job is posted is on a career page it’s going to be flooded with submissions from your competitors.
  2. The best jobs never show up on job boards. They are either recruited for independently or don’t exist until the employer meets the right candidate.

A better approach? Be proactive and reach out directly to the companies you have an interest in. This does several things. First of all, if you can find a decision-maker in the area of business that interests you, you can avoid HR. We need HR people, of course, but their job in the recruiting process is most often to filter resumes, not seek out new ones. Instead, look for a leader or manager at the company that has a title you may want one day.

The best way to meet this person is through a referral. Your professors have big networks, and we love making connections between students and businesses. The reason we teach is to help you meet your career goals. That said, if you can’t get an introduction to someone, the next best thing is an email worded in the right way.

Don’t say: “Hey, will you interview me for a job?”

Say: “Hi [name], you don’t know me, but I’m a senior at [so and so] University. I’m studying [this topic]. I read on LinkedIn that you recently got promoted at [company]. Congratulations! As I plan the rest of my academic career, I would really appreciate a few minutes of your time. I’d love to hear your story and see what advice you have for me.”

The benefits of reaching out directly are numerous. You can learn a lot just by talking to someone at the company. Additionally, the job you want may not exist, and until the right candidate (aka you) shows themselves, it won’t.

By taking that extra step of reaching out and making a connection with someone at the company, you will inspire them to put that together. You’re demonstrating exactly the skills and attributes that many companies want to hire for: initiative, proactivity, action orientation, and results orientation. That says a lot more about you than a resume ever could.

Suddenly, you’re no longer just a resume. You’re the kind of person companies think might be able to help them improve their business.

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By W. P. Carey Career Management
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