Tag Archive | "Job Search"

Job Search

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What we are talking about here…
So you have decided to let someone else pay you (as opposed to starting your own business). That is good – they will hopefully train you, give you the opportunities you seek and allow you to develop in those areas you want to.
Why it is important…
It may sound obvious – but not every employer has your needs at the top of their list – they may well have their needs first – which means you may end up doing something you do not enjoy.
What you need to know…
Here are just some of the things you need to think about:

  1. How long has this organisation been in existence – what is their track record of success
  2. What sort of culture has it got – aggressive, meritocratic “you’re as good as your last result”, “mistakes cost”, excellent or archaic, not up with the times at all, in need of a major sort out – or somewhere in between?
  3. What is it like to work there – talk to someone of your own age and experience there.
  4. Do they have a plan for developing you over the next 1 – 3 years at least?

In other words – don’t let some smooth talking executive con you into a lousy job you will want to get out of in two months time!

The next steps…
Start looking!

The Job Outlook

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It ain’t pretty, but it ain’t hopeless either. Fields like accounting, public service and education are still courting grads. Sure, you will have to work harder to find something, and you may have to accept a position that’s not your dream job, but any experience in your field is a valuable career stepping stone.

Finance

While many banks, venture capitalists and stockbrokers have had to shed staff, there are still strong opportunities in finance. With so many corporate failures and financial scandals over the past twelve months it means that opportunities abound in areas such as financial control, planning and audit. Specialist career sites to help get you started include jobsinthemoney.com, financialjobnet.com and youngmoney.com.

Education

Due to a critical lack of teachers, many school systems are desperate for help. Plus, over the next 10 years, a large number of teachers are expected to retire, particularly at the secondary school level, presenting strong career opportunities for grads. In fact, the nation will be hiring more than 10 million teachers in the next 10 years. You’ll never be a millionaire, but you get great vacation time and other benefits. Some useful sites to check out include educationamerica.net, k12jobs.com and teachersatwork.com

Non-Profits

Recent grads with lingering collegiate idealism are flocking to non-profits to lend a hand, gain some on-the-job experience and take the time to do something truly productive while they deliberate what to do with the rest of lives. Idealist.org is a website with lots of useful links, information, and job opportunities both in the US and internationally.

The Government

For some reason, recent grads seldom check out openings with government agencies. The pay may be a little smaller, but the benefits and job security is unrivaled. Particularly since September 11, there are thousands of positions being created in the security and defense sectors, with numerous government contractors. Many are planning to hire those versed in IT, project management, engineering and more. For more on government openings, visit www.ourpublicservice.org

Online Job Searches

Useful online career services for grads include Monstertrak.com, careermag.com and getthatgig.com. Internships can also be a useful stepping stone – try wetfeet.com for listings. And don’t forget to look up resources with your campus career center who often list local jobs, internships and lots of useful links on their web sites.

The Lowdown

Of course these are just a handful of fields in which you may choose to seek work, but they’re certainly more secure and offer the most opportunities than most at this point. Most importantly, be patient. Job competition is fierce, and there are enough experienced unemployed people drifting about to make it extra hard for green grads to find work. Keep your spirits up and you’ll find something soon enough.

Mining Alumni Organizations

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Not only does a college education provide you with some vocational training, knowledge, social skills, personal maturity and maybe even some vague direction for the years following commencement, it can also function as training wheels for your first job search – in the form of alumni organizations.

Alumni organizations can be invaluable for any recent grad. They provide that sense of community most grads miss terribly after school ends, and lend members a much-needed sympathetic ear, a support group and a well of empathetic career advice, and, best of all, reliable connections to the world.

The world of alumni organizations is packed with people who have been through the ordeals you’re experiencing, sympathize, and want to help you along. A shared alma mater lends an air of familiarity and kinship that you won’t find through other career-oriented organizations, and is thus inestimably more reliable. Your fellow alumnus can connect you to friends and colleagues for interviews, information and guidance. They can give you honest, unselfish feedback on your possibilities. Some may even be able to get you a job.

In other words, they’re an “in:” a preexisting network for recent grads whose greatest hindrance in the job hunt isn’t necessarily a lack of experience, but a lack of connections. Alumni organizations assuage the anonymity of the average green grad and delight in inserting grads’ feet in various doors, in various industries worldwide, simply for the sake of school spirit, and out of a desire to help fellow alumni attain the level they themselves have attained.

These organizations can come in many forms. There is the standard one: a broad association for anyone who has graduated from a particular institution, but there may also be others bound together by a city, graduation date or area of study.

The first order of business is to find out what is out there. Proceed to (or call) your alma mater’s alumni office, give your grad date, city of residence and career plans. They’ll be able to give you a comprehensive list of every organization available that may be of interest to you. Go through the list, make some calls, and see which ones will better serve your needs.

Finally, and this is important given the sense of isolation many grads feel after their collegial social groups disband, bear in mind that alumni organizations can be valuable not only as career connections, but also as social connections. You’ll make new friends with shared interests – or perhaps get back in touch with old ones – and have a sympathetic group with which to watch football games or just reminisce about old times.

Conquering Career Fairs

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Career fairs, though they’ve dwindled in proportion to the number of jobs, offer good opportunities to learn more about an industry, make some new friends and contacts, and maybe even get your foot in the door of a choice firm.

First, take some preparatory steps:

1. Do your homework. What industries will be represented? What skills are they looking for in an employee? What positions are open? If you’re interested in breaking into one specific field, get a handle on which relevant firms will be in attendance and tailor your resume to their needs. If your interest is more general, research companies that might be of interest, and tailor several resumes. Never go in cold; you won’t be able to fudge a conversation with a company rep when you haven’t a clue about the company itself.

2. Resumes. Tailor them to whichever firm you’re interested in. Once you’ve done your homework, you’ll know which skills to play up and which to bypass.

3. Draft a list of specific questions, so as not to waste the employer’s time. This will convey your courtesy and focus – two highly marketable traits. Additionally, ready some answers to general questions employers will expect you to answer. Think along the lines of:

  • “So, tell me about yourself.”
  • “What can you contribute to our company?”
  • “What makes you interested in this job?”

4. Dress nicely. Except perhaps for Major League franchises, no one wants to hire an adult in a baseball hat. Business attire is the way to go — clean and sharp. Try to look more like a professional than a college student. Leave the backpack at home and replace it with a portfolio, or even a briefcase, if you have one. Stock it with notepaper, pens, resumes, business cards and, if need be, work samples.

Once at the fair, employ all the stuff you’re supposed to employ in an interview. Be direct, give a good handshake and proffer a polished resume and cover letter. Sell yourself. Take notes on every conversation for future reference, and to keep all the representatives in order. In other words, do everything you can to stand out in the mind of the employer. This includes following up afterwards. Be sure to ask for contact information during the talk, and send a note to thank the employer for his/her time and to restate your interest in the job.

Choosing Sanity Over Security

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Last fall, I was working for a large university, doing computer security and wondering where my life was going. My job was fine – uninspiring, though often fairly interesting. I’d taken the position straight out of college, mostly because it was available and I was overwhelmed by the idea of choosing a career.

There wasn’t anything wrong with my job. Computer security is a growing field, and I was pretty good at what I did. I loved my coworkers and enjoyed the office environment. Working for a university had it downsides (particularly bad institutional politics) that were more than balanced out by some attractive upsides (like flexible hours). I had a good apartment, many friends in the area, and more than enough money.

The problem was, I wasn’t satisfied. When people asked if I liked what I was doing, I had to think about it. I didn’t dislike it – but did I like it? I wasn’t sure. I’d end up saying something like, “I like it, but it’s not where I see myself in the long term.” Work seemed detached from the rest of my life; I kept thinking of the daytime hours as what I did until I could get back to my real life. Gradually it occurred to me that eight hours a day is a lot of time to spend doing something I considered separate from my life.

That summer I turned twenty-three, and it got me thinking. Twenty-three seemed too old to be set in a career track I didn’t plan on staying with, and too young to be settling for a job I wasn’t passionate about. I started looking for other options.

The first big step was applying to graduate school. Not everyone enjoys academic work, but I loved it -everything from looking for things in libraries, reading books, taking in huge gulps of information and sorting it back out into papers. I also missed the research work in history I’d started doing as an undergraduate, and realized that I still talked about it all the time, over a year after leaving college.

When I applied, I didn’t entirely expect to be accepted. I was looking at some fairly prestigious programs; the acceptance rates for graduate programs in history are usually fairly low, and I wasn’t sure that I looked qualified on paper. I wasn’t honestly sure that I was qualified. But I took the leap, sent all of the admissions materials off, and spent a few long months waiting.

The answers came in the spring. Some programs said no, but miraculously, some (including my first choice) said yes. Then, of course, I had to face another set of choices. Computer security was not only stable but lucrative, and history graduate students don’t exactly bring in the big money. Did I really want to give up a sure thing to enter a Ph.D. program and eventually face an uncertain academic job market? I was living at the time in Boston, and the program I wanted to attend was in California. Was I ready to leave all of my friends on one coast and start over on the other? What if I didn’t like graduate school? What if I wasn’t any good at it?

They weren’t easy decisions. I can’t say, even now, that I’m absolutely sure I did the right thing. I’m watching my money more carefully than I have in years, and doing without a lot of the treats and toys I’d gotten used to. Every day I miss my friends back in Boston, and sometimes I get very scared when I think about the long road between me and my degree (not to mention what comes after the degree). But every day, I love what I do. My work isn’t something that I have to get past before I can start enjoying myself; I honestly take pleasure in the work that I’m doing (even when I complain that I have too much of it). And that’s the only truly important thing.

Applying for a Job Online

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The problem with job search engines is similar to the advantage they present: ease. Such engines make it easier for you (and all other job-seekers) to submit applications at will, which is certainly a good thing — one of the better advances the human quest for work has seen in some time. However, with the increased ease of applying comes the increased number of applicants to each and every job posted online.

Now a hiring manager faced with twenty resumes will pore over each carefully. A hiring manager with four hundred will look for anything, anything that will disqualify as many applicants as possible in the shortest period of time. In other words, with the skyrocketing amount of responses, a significant part of the hiring manager’s job shifts from finding who is qualified, to finding who is not qualified.

Among the better sites…

New sites (Thanks to James Carnes)

And you’d be amazed to know how seemingly petty hiring managers can be while sorting through resumes. But who can blame them? They post an ad seeking an editor in advertising and they get responses from everyone looking for any position in advertising, most of whom are blatantly unqualified for the slot.

But that’s another problem with online job searches. They are so easy to use that they inevitably invite more “Hail Mary” responses, which flood inboxes and test the patience of hiring managers.

The point is, while sending a resume is easier, getting the attention of hiring managers is exceedingly difficult. Here are a few pointers:

  • First impression is key to not getting your application summarily deleted. Don’t necessarily assume that a strong resume is good enough. It has to stand out visually first — to catch the eye of the hiring manager. Once interest is piqued, back up the good layout with your solid credentials.
  • Don’t apply for a job you’re not qualified for. While throwing up the Hail Mary is enticing, it is the equivalent of a long and hopeful pass thrown to absolutely no one. Simply put, due to the number of qualified applicants, you won’t get any job you’re unqualified for. Stick to the jobs you would apply for without the convenience of the Net. If it’s not worth a stamp, and envelope and a resume printed on nice paper, it’s not worth hitting “Apply Online.”
  • Put as much into your online resume as you would your hard copy resume, if not more. Just because it’s easier to respond doesn’t mean recruiters/hiring managers have become more lax in their standards. If anything, they’re standards have become more stringent, for the flood of applicants. Use the job description as a blueprint for your resume, emphasizing the skills you posess that will be of greatest value to the company you’re applying for. Also, avoid excessive capitalization for the purposes of conveying your excitement about said position. It makes you look like a teenage girl writing in her diary. Spell and grammar check every piece of correspondence.
  • If you do apply online, you must make every effort to set yourself apart from the hundreds of others likely vying for the position. If possible, instead of sending your information directly through the job search engine, get the email address of the manager and send a personalized email complete with a formal cover letter and a resume. Personalize it. If it looks generic, as though you’re sending out fifty of the same letters to fifty different companies, your chances will plummet.
  • Follow-up as you would had you sent a hard copy resume. It looks good, and shows that you are serious about the position and not just blindly angling for a bite. Remember, the old rules of the job search still apply.
  • Remember that there may be hundreds of people applying for every position, and don’t get disheartened if you don’t get a personal response to your application or follow-up. Be patient and professional and you’ll be working soon enough.

Rounding Up References

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An effective job seeker learns to gain control of as much of the job search as possible, from applying for a position, to writing a resume, to interviewing. Small wonder, then, that the process of providing references can cause slight bouts of indigestion. For one, you’re not sure if your reference will be called by the prospective employer, nor are you certain of what your reference will say, or what questions he or she will be asked. Finally, you lie awake at night wondering if they’ll accentuate the positive, or bury your chances by citing crankiness, ineptitude, shifty-eyes or worse.

But with just a little due diligence, you can avoid most of the uncertainty/fear/insomnia, and get through the process without receiving any unforeseen jolts.

The Whats and the Whys

References are requested by prospective employers for two reasons: One, to gauge just how well you’ll fit into the company in terms of your work ethic, personality, skills and potential; and two, to see if you’ve shamelessly taken some factual liberties on your resume or application.

Some employers may check and some may not, but regardless, it is crucial that you choose the right references, sufficiently prime them and extend your deepest and sincerest gratitude after the deed is done.

Rounding Up References

Recent grads are not expected to have much related job experience, and for that reason if an employer calls your references, it will be to ascertain your potential both as a person and an employee.

So cover both bases. Get teachers who you worked closely with, or in whose classes you excelled — they’ll attest to your intelligence, work ethic and personality. Get a couple past bosses from your college jobs or internships. Even if the work is completely unrelated to the job you’re applying for, they will be able to attest to your professionalism, loyalty and temperament. If you’ve performed charity work, get a supervisor — he or she will attest to your virtue and sense of decency. This is important, as a person who spent three years in a soup kitchen is less likely to steal computers from work (barring any Robin-Hood-variety inclinations).

You’ll want to round up about five references, and readily provide three at any given time (the stable of five helps you avoid inundating each reference with phone calls).

After deciding on the best references, ask their permission. If they agree, inform them of the positions you are applying for, what qualities you would like stressed, or any helpful anecdotes you would like the caller to know about.

Wait a week after you’ve given the employer the reference’s contact information, and call them to see how it went. If the employer or reference voiced any concerns, get a grip on them, and work to assuage those concerns. The callback will provide you with a very targeted way to dispel uncertainty and convince the employer that these minor faults can be easily overcome.

Still Nervous?

While it is always wise to make sure you only list references that will give you a positive review, there is the occasional exception. For example, if you left a previous job on bad terms, and there is a gap in the work experience section of your resume that your prospective employer comments on, you’ll need to address the circumstances of the parting, and possibly provide your previous boss as a reference.

This is where things can get tricky, and where some ingenuity is key. If you’re worried about getting a bad reference, the simplest thing to do is to speak to the reference ahead of time, and request he/she steers clear of the negatives and focuses on the positives, as much as possible. Or, if the ex-boss plainly despises you, you could just refrain from providing him/her as a reference. If an employer comments on this omission, explain that the ex-boss is not the most qualified to provide insight into your work habits, personality and potential. Avoid lying outright; it could burn you badly later on.

And if the prospective employer still requires a word or two with the previous employer: spin, spin, spin. Put a good face on a questionable situation.

Also, there are many who will tell you that you needn’t worry about a vindictive ex-boss exacting revenge on you for a sour working experience — that giving a bum reference is prohibited by law. While this isn’t entirely false, it isn’t quite true either. A past employer is, like the rest of us, prohibited from making unsubstantiated or damaging statements. However, that doesn’t mean that you’re legally protected from an ex-boss’ telling a prospective employer of any actual illegal activity that resulted in your termination. In some cases he/she is legally obligated to tell of serious infractions, lest they be pegged later for withholding information.

If you’re really dying to know what a reference is saying about you, there are firms that pose as prospective employers, call references and provide you with tape recordings of their conversations. If you don’t want to drop $100 on the service, have one of your friends do it. Be warned though, it’s pretty illegal, and a misrepresentation charge never looks very good on a resume.