Thursday, December 20, 2012

What your grandparents knew about job hunting

This article is for all the kids struggling to find their first career jobs right now.

Its hard, I know that.  I don't envy you this economy.  Those of use with more then 10 years of experience are having to settle for longer hunt periods and fall-backs in our careers.  And all that puts a certain degree of pressure on your end, the entry level.  When fewer people are moving up, or even moving backwards, fewer entry positions are available.

The good news at least is that you are post baby boomers, which means you actually have less competition from your own generation then we did. But its IS still a competition.  As boomers, we knew that. We knew that there were going to be many more applicants then positions and we fought for those positions.  Here are some things we knew that you should, if you don't...

(1) Most jobs go unadvertised.
I can't stress how important this first one is.  If all you are doing is sending in resumes in response to job advertisements you are missing most of the  opportunities.

Here's the reality as it always has been:  I graduated in the 80s, a supposed "boom" time, with a degree in computer graphics.  On my graduation, my father handed me a copy of   S Klien directory of Computer Graphics companies.  This was a book that listed every company doing work related to computer graphics in the world at the time.  I went through the entire book and compiled a mailing list of 60 companies that were doing what I wanted to do and sent them cover letters and resumes.  From that, I got 4 contacts, 3 interviews and eventually 2 job offers.

Similar books are available for every industry.  The reference librarian at your local library can help you  find the right one or ones for you.

(2) You need to go where the job is
As a young person this is your most important asset.  You do not yet have deep ties to any community. (You might think you do but trust me, those aren't ties.  Those are just fears of change.  Ties come later when you start having responsibilities to children to keep them in good schools, and such.)

Of the two offers I got right out of college, the one I took was in Milano, Italy and I've never been sorry I had that experience.  During the first decade of my career my wife and I packed up and moved no less then 5 times.  And all but one of those moves we moved ourselves.

Don't just look at the want ads where you live.  Figure out what other communities are centers for your profession and read the Sunday paper for those communities every Sunday at the library.  (Again the librarians can help you find the right ones.  You will find that is a recurring theme in this article.)

(3) The most important document to you is the job advert and your most important document to provide is your cover letter
Lets face it, your resume straight out of school is going to impress no one.  You haven't had enough time to develop a unique career that tells a story so you must tell the story to the person reading it.  Thats what your cover is for.

You should tear apart the advertisement for every ounce you can get from of it as to what they are  looking for.  Your cover letter should then sell you as what they are  looking for by drawing every connection you can between what you have done and are  interested in and what they want to find.

(4) Job hunting is sales
The product you are selling is you.  Your goal in your interview is to get them excited about you as a potential employee.  A good way to do that is to show excitement about what THEY are doing.  I will always chose someone who I believe has a genuine interest in what we are doing over someone who may have more technical skills but seems bored or uninterested in our goals.

A good way to show that interest is to do research before the face to face interview.  The good news is that this has never been easier.  Go on  the web and spend an afternoon googling the company and what has been written by us or about us.  If you don't have internet access... again the library does.

When you do the phone screen, always close by asking the interviewer at least one well thought out question about the company and what you can read between that and your face to face interview to better prepare.  Then follow through and do it.  (For my third job, the only document available was a $100 operating system manual set.  I bought a copy and had them read cover to cover by the time I did my face to face.)

You need to want the job AND you need to have a reason to want it other then the pay-check that you can communicate to me.  We all know you need the pay-check, but that won't distinguish you from anyone else.

(5) Create unique value
What do you do on your free time and how does it add to your employability?

I have always had my own programming projects that I pursue on my own time to add to my skill set and give me things to show and talk about above and beyond my primary work.  In the beginning, this augmented my resume and experience beyond others who just had coursework.  Later in my career, this made me an early expert in all sorts of technologies that became important.

Computer games are great fun, but about the only thing playing them will qualify you for is maybe a game tester position.  And there isn't much difference in someone who plays them 5 hours a week and someone who plays them 50 as far as tester qualifications go.  (Frankly, analysis and communication skills are  more important for a tester so if you really want to be a game tester, don't spend your time playing games.  Play them enough to analyze them then spend your time blogging about them.)

If you can't find a job for pay in your field, can you do something professional for anyone who has a company in return for a good reference?  When I was in college I did some side programing projects for my parents' writing company.  As it happens, my step-dad has a different last name then i do.

Guess who my first professional reference was?  I was guaranteed it would be a good one, and it was perfectly legitimate as I had in fact done the work.

(6) Small companies are easier to get into then big ones
If you have your heart set on Google or Facebook right out of college, reset your expectations.  Most new jobs are created in startups and other small companies.  You also will have a chance to learn more and shine out more as an individual in a small company which will help you build your career.  Yes, you will probably work harder, but it will pay off later.

(7) Big company HR departments are the enemy
The HR people may be very nice.  And when they come to your college you should definitely talk to them.  And send them your stuff.

BUT you need to understand that HR never hired anyone (other then HR people). Hiring decisions are made by hiring managers.  HR exists to take the flood of resumes in the door and throw out as many as possible to create a manageable number for the manager to look at.  The thing is HR generally doesn't actually know very much about what the job really entails so they end up using set formulas and checklists and throw away many viable candidates.

Salesmen know that you need to reach the decision maker to make a sale. Do you want to be thrown out before you ever reach him or her? If not, do everything you can to find out who the hiring managers are and how to contact them and send your stuff BOTh to HR and directly to them.  (Again, the internet can be a big help here.  All you need is a name, title and email and you are golden.)

My older brother has worked for IBM for 35 years.   He still has, framed on his wall, the rejection letter IBM HR sent him two weeks AFTER he had already been hired by his first IBM boss.

(8) Job hunting has always been hard
Your degree is your qualification to enter the race, not a ticket to winning it.   Be smart and work hard and it will pay off.  But don't think its over with your first job.  A career is built out of blood, sweat and tears.

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