Hello again, because of the amount of time the job search took out of my routine this is my first post in about a month. However, I’m happy to announce that as of last week I am officially employed! I took an offer over at SunStar Strategic in Alexandria, Virginia as an Associate Account Executive. I’ve been deep in the job search since about December and throughout the semester I’ve had well over 15 interviews (many within the same companies), applied to many more companies than that, and spent an unimaginable amount of hours preparing. As bad as that sounds, I wouldn’t of traded this experience for the world. I learned about myself, my strengths, and my weaknesses. I learned what I want from a workplace, and what I don’t.
Perhaps the best part of the long job search is that I now have the ability to help whoever may be reading this with your job search. The process doesn’t have to be as stressful as mine was, and if you prepare enough, it won’t be.
Know Your Industry
Before I dive into tips for applying, interviews, or any of that, I can’t stress enough that you HAVE to know your industry. If you’re trying to work in government vs a sports team, obviously the job search is going to be extremely different. The type of clubs you should join on campus, side hustles you should spend your free time on, and books you should read will all be different. There is no be all end all advice that applies to every industry. Spend a lot of time thinking about your ideal industry while you’re in school. The last thing you want to do is enter the wrong one and have to start all over at age 25 or older.
For example, my college career was a lot different than my brothers. I figured out I wanted to go into a marketing agency, while he was focused on cyber security. Ryan’s (my brother) job was extremely technical and required that he was a master behind the technology and had the necessary skills. My job is more about working with clients, selling, and being able to create videos, write press releases, etc. This means that Ryan’s company wouldn’t have cared if he was President of an organization and was extremely involved on campus, if he didn’t have the technical skills, he didn’t have the job. Meanwhile at my job there was no technical test in the interview, they cared more about my experience in marketing and online work. Neither industry is better than the other, but you have to know yours well.
This means don’t listen to everyone who tells you that you have to get involved on campus and you need a top internship in your field. Know what the employer is looking for, and be the master of that. The friend I mentioned in an earlier post that’s looking for a job in the fashion industry needed to have a kick-ass online portfolio to show her design work. This is why career services is weak in my opinion. They are hired to give job advice to every major in your school, what you need to do is talk to someone on LinkedIn who’s in your field and has a job.
The Search Has Already Begun
As soon as you step foot on a college campus your job search has begun. What you do in your classes, in your free time, and during your summers will determine what type of candidate you are. I’m not here to tell you to not play Playstation, hangout with friends, or enjoy life, do all of that. I’m telling you that when it’s time to buckle up and get work done, the type of work you do, will determine the type of job you get. If you spend all of your time in the library, do well in school, and nothing else, you’ll get a job that just cares about GPA (which is not one you want). Chris Sacca said it best in his commencement address “Your GPA only matters to people who have no other reason to find you interesting”. The truth is most places don’t care about your GPA. They care about what makes you unique, something different that you bring to the table. Seth Godin has great advice that I took to heart about how we should spend our times on campus:
The second occurred today at Yale. As I drove through the amazingly beautiful campus, I passed the center for Asian Studies. It reminded me of my days as an undergrad (at a lesser school, natch), browsing through the catalog, realizing I could learn whatever I wanted. That not only could I take classes but I could start a business, organize a protest movement, live in a garret off campus, whatever. It was a tremendous gift, this ability to choose.
Yet most of my classmates refused to choose. Instead, they treated college like an extension of high school. They took the most mainstream courses, did the minimum amount they needed to get an A, tried not to get into “trouble” with the professor or face the uncertainty of the unknowable. They were the ones who spent six hours a day in the library, reading their textbooks.
The best part of college is that you could become whatever you wanted to become, but most people just do what they think they must. – On Self-determination
Treat your time on campus wisely. Take classes that interest you, build something, be different. When time comes to get a job you don’t want them to be in a battle with another candidate over GPA. I spoke about this blog in every single interview I had, and in the end it was what separated me. I had the courage to build something in my free time, to take initiative, and follow through on my interest You can do the same. Once you know your industry it becomes easy to spend time gaining the skills and experience you’ll need when it’s time for the search.
This is the one piece of advice I would have loved to have at the start of my job search. You have to be specific. You need to know where you want to work, and what type of company you want to work at. Once you know both of those, the search becomes easier than you can imagine. When I started I was applying to jobs in DC, Denver, California, Chicago, and Austin. I wasn’t sure where I wanted to live and it made the search impossible. Please please please spend weeks figuring out where you want to live before you start applying. If you are set on Denver, Colorado you can make plans to travel for interviews, network in the area, and potentially move there after graduation before you even get a job. You can focus on one area and one listing of jobs instead of multiple. It’s easy to say I want to move to California, it’s a lot harder to commit and take the steps needed to get a job there. Figure this out before you search so you’ll be able to tell recruiters your plans for moving and when you can interview.
Once I decided I want to work for a marketing agency in Washington D.C. I was able to see an exact list of openings in the area and every agency nearby. This way I could reach out to professionals from my school in these agencies, tell them my plans of moving, and be able to track my progress. You’ll spend a lot of time and energy applying to out of state jobs that go no where if you don’t know what you’re doing. Once I got specific to a small agency I also knew that they would hire much later than a big corporation. If you want to work at a large company they probably have hiring classes that come in each year and hire much earlier. I didn’t get a job until a week before graduation and many of the ones I interviewed for didn’t even open until a month before.
My freshman year of college I was set on working in the sports industry so I went to talk to an employee of the school who used to work at ESPN. Ironically he told me about informational interviews and how they could help me (which was what I was doing with him but I didn’t know the term at the time). He said when he was a student he wanted to be an Athletic Director. So whenever an opposing school came to play his in football he would email their AD and set up a meeting to get advice and make the connection. Through these meetings he eventually landed his first job in college sports. An informational interview is essentially interviewing a person in the industry you want to work in about their job, the industry, and any advice they can give you.
Once I heard this I began doing as many as possible. Through my years I’ve probably had more informational interviews than actual interviews. I’ve talked to an employee of Nike, the Washington Capitals/Wizards, and many marketing agencies. Simply find someone on LinkedIn who’s job you would like to have (or company you would like to be at) and set up a phone call or in person meeting. Usually they will give you great advice, a lot of times they will refer you to someone else who can help you, and sometimes they can even set you up with a job. You are guaranteed to walk away with something valuable so it’s a win-win.
Once you’ve had this interview you now have a contact at the company and have insight into more than you could find out on the job description. I would always talk about what I learned from said person in every actual interview I had. You also show initiative by reaching out and doing something that most candidates don’t do. You’d be surprised by the amount of people that will talk to you, don’t neglect this. I’ve spoken to both Mark Cuban and Seth Godin this year alone.
- Don’t script your answers in interviews. Have an idea of what you’re going to say and go with the flow. No one wants to talk to a robot who spits out an obvious scripted answer. And if you mess up a word you could have a train wreck on your hands. Be organic.
- Be human. In the final interview I had with the company I took the offer from we talked about college, sports, and good places to eat nearby in the interview. I was able to show them I’m a human and someone they can deal with every day at work. You’ve heard about the layover test, it’s real.
- Use Clearbit. Clearbit is a Chrome Extension that allows you the find the name/title/email of almost anyone you can think of. You add the extension and when you go on Gmail you can search a business and a list of employees and emails pop up. This will help you find hiring managers and easily follow up.
- Don’t compare yourself to other job seekers. I’ve written about this before and I’ll say it again. Your path doesn’t have to look the same as everyone else’s. Some of the most successful people I know had bad jobs out of college or took months to find a job after graduation. Don’t sweat it, here’s a list of things you can do while you are graduated and unemployed
- Spend twenty hours a week running a project for a non-profit.
- Teach yourself Java, HTML, Flash, PHP and SQL. Not a little, but mastery. [Clarification: I know you can’t become a master programmer of all these in a year. I used the word mastery to distinguish it from ‘familiarity’ which is what you get from one of those Dummies type books. I would hope you could write code that solves problems, works and is reasonably clear, not that you can program well enough to work for Joel Spolsky. Sorry if I ruffled feathers.]
- Volunteer to coach or assistant coach a kids sports team.
- Start, run and grow an online community.
- Give a speech a week to local organizations.
- Write a regular newsletter or blog about an industry you care about.
- Learn a foreign language fluently.
- Write three detailed business plans for projects in the industry you care about.
- Self-publish a book.
- Run a marathon
- Have a web presence! It sounds like corny advice you always hear but it’s definitely nice to pop up on Google when a recruiter searches your name. Make a website, blog, or online portfolio to stand out. A lot of people tell you to be careful about social media and how it can hurt you with a company. But it can also help you if you use it wisely and put out good content.
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I’m going to forget a lot people but here are some random shout outs of people who helped me through this stressful process. My lovely parents who have supported me through every decisions I’ve made, I’m happy for your move to Charleston! My brother for checking in on me when I needed it and supporting me as always. Thank you Grandma for the kind words about my job search and your support with the blog. My roommate Nathan who listened in on every interview I had through my door and told me I killed it. Brandon and Dan for rooting for me every step of the way and being there when I finally got the offer. Abigail for stressing with me, now it’s your turn. The homie Joey for giving me pep talks before my interviews. Swan for helping with the blog and Swizz keeping me motivated throughout the whole process. Every single person who has supported this blog and allowed me to express myself and build something on my own. Everyone’s feedback made me comfortable enough to keep writing and I’ll always be grateful.
Stay tuned for a post on graduation later this week.