Career-Finding Advice for College Graduates

“Justin” is 22-year-old recent college graduate without a job. Not only is Justin unemployed, but he will remain that way because he lacks the skills essential to a successful job search. Like many college grads entering the workforce for
the first time, Justin feels that the high school way of doing things, such as submitting half-completed applications, using friends and family as references and telling prospective employers that he may leave at the drop of a hat, will
work for the drastically different post-graduate adult world. Over the next few months, Justin’s job search will be scrutinized, analyzed and finally, presented to the readers of the Capital City Free Press. While the hope is that the column will evolve from a “what-not-to-do” segment to a supportive pep rally for recent college graduates, it will be Justin’s actions that determine
the focus.

Justin graduated from college in late November with a degree in computer art. One of the necessities to a job search in his field is the demo reel. While many students work on their demo reel during their senior year of college, Justin hasn’t even begun his. While he did make an effort to coordinate with a professor to get it completed after college, the fact is that Justin wasn’t prepared to graduate. The lesson here is that college students need to use their senior year to prepare for the “real world.” For careers in art, animation, film and acting, among others, have that portfolio, reel or audition tape ready by graduation at the latest. To have a job lined up by graduation day, those items are especially important to have ready earlier in the final year in college.

What is also important is the resume. Justin admits to not having a resume. He feels that he has nothing to include because he lacks a relevant work history. The fact is that Justin has skills he never thought to apply to a job search. He has taught
martial arts, initiating and developing classes on his own, in both one-on-one tutoring and group sessions. That means that Justin has the ability to coordinate, supervise, manage, teach, concentrate and lead a group to a successful outcome. If Justin was confident about his abilities, he could apply for entry-level management positions instead of limiting himself to entry-level
stock and cashier positions.

The problem gets worse with Justin’s job search. He had a lead for a job that would provide him
some financial security, free health benefits and vacation pay. A good word was put in for him with the employer and Justin immediately went to complete an application and interview with the store manager. What Justin did correctly in
this situation was to stop everything, shower, wear clothes that are at least one step above the position he applied for and follow up for the interview as soon as the lead came his way. What Justin did incorrectly, however, was tell
the store manager that he may in fact quit at a moment’s notice for a better position, that this was not a permanent job but he would stay at least a month. Justin doesn’t have a demo reel or a professional resume. Justin hasn’t
researched prospective employers for his career. Justin will be working whatever job he does find for at least a year, so why did he tell the interviewer that he might leave at any time? And it was nice that he promised to stay at least a month, but the word “month” should never come up in an interview when talking about length of time to be employed.

At the insistence of his personal career coach, Justin followed up with the interviewer and made it more clear that he would
remain in the position for a longer term and that he plans to work very hard and be a reliable employee if hired. He made it clear he really wants the job and doesn’t just “need” it. He followed up a second time and was told that his application was sent to the corporate office for approval along with a couple of other choices. Now Justin is discouraged and hasn’t applied to any other employers. The lead Justin got for this job has encouraged him that this is not just a line, it is the method used for hiring by this company, but he needs to realize that he can’t put all his eggs in one basket. The lesson learned here
is apply to a number of positions so there is a chance to weigh job offers.

I spoke with “Justin” at the end of January, after a week of no contact, to get a feel for where his job search was heading. By that point I had preliminarily wrote a somewhat bashing portrayal of where things were at for the March column. Being as he mentioned bringing his girlfriend along on an interview and by the fact that he thought that the Department of Labor was a temp agency, I had become somewhat concerned that he may not find a job in the near future. I was shocked to learn that during the week I lost contact with Justin, he had applied for 11 jobs! I had no idea he had such gusto.

I asked Justin a variety of questions about how the search went. Among the companies he applied to there were restaurants, retail clothiers and bars. The most shocking and wonderful part of the conversation was Justin proud exclamation that he
found employment. Though inexperienced, a new upscale restaurant hired him to train as a busboy. The pay is decent and includes tip share so that he may actually be able to pay the rent next month. Justin explained that he remembered to follow up immediately after applying by phone and he was immediately scheduled for an interview. At the interview, he did not mention his future plans and now knew not to tell the manager he may leave at any moment. He was hired right then at the interview.

What Justin did correctly in this situation was to follow up. If you don’t follow up and the manager simply became very busy, therefore not calling you, another potential employee may snag that job right from under you by making a quick call. So make
your calls!

There will always be more to this story. Yes, Justin is now employed, but he may not stay employed. He always runs the risk of being fired or laid off, or quitting when he realizes how hard it is to bus tables at a busy restaurant. He is also not
in the career path he had intended, so his next step is to now build his portfolio and begin employer research. For the past few months, Justin’s future has been on the back burner. He explains, “I just wanted to focus on getting a job here so I could get myself straight before I did all that.” Okay Justin, now get straight and get a career. Justin is following the advice of his career coach, working on a major project for his portfolio.

Sometimes it can be a frustrating experience trying to find a career after college. With all the industry choices out there,
just having a major or job description in mind doesn’t always provide a narrow enough path and industry choices become overwhelming. “Justin,” my faithful test subject, has found himself at a crossroads with his
portfolio nearing completion and an ultimate goal of moving to California this summer.

While he is beginning to enjoy his current profession as a busboy, including the discounted food, increasing tips and
respect from his peers for his hard work, the time has come for Justin to put his resume on the Web and figure out where he would like to work. Justin came to me for advice on what his next step should be. I asked him what he is looking for in an employer. He responded, “the kind that pays me.” That is where Justin was going wrong. It can be a daunting
task narrowing the options from such a vague point of view.

The first thing to do is to make a list of the attributes of your dream job. What benefits do you want, how much would you
really like to earn? Other things to consider include the dress code of the office, the personalities of employees you’d have close contact with and the potential for advancement. Next to this list, make another one that includes where you would like to be at that dream company. There are so many ways to advance a career, what is the path that you want? Is management in your future? Are you a designer, a people person, interested in sales or marketing? These are all potential
considerations in most any field.

When you have your lists, develop goals to get to that point. Where do you want to be in one year, in two years, in five
years, in ten years? Where does your dream job or company fit in that plan? Justin explained that he’d like to stay away from management and continue to work as a designer, possibly delving in to animation. He’s always up for learning new things. With this in mind, he can research companies that really focus on artistic freedom, maybe finding one
that also offers a strong tuition reimbursement benefit so he can take animation classes.

Justin will work on his Web portfolio and resume, make a list of potential employers in California and research openings
and job descriptions at those companies. He then can create individual cover letters and start making contacts to get a foot in the door. Before long, he’ll be ready to score a few interviews and begin to make his final choices. But that’s for another day.

Hopeful job hunter, “Justin,” has been very busy this past month. Because he is engrossed in portfolio completion, researching employers and working double shifts as a busboy, this month’s Job Diary will focus on resume preparation.

Before you even pick up the newspaper or log on to, you should have at least one final draft of your resume. For many people, writing a resume can be a daunting task. What information do you include? What order should the information be in? The great thing about resumes is that they are unique to you. Begin by listing each relevant job you have
held in the past ten years. Write a few sentences about your responsibilities in each position. Then list your accomplishments, awards, honors and recognition you received. Really take the time to think on this. Use empowering
descriptor words. Did you MANAGE several projects? Did you SUCCEED or act SUCCESSFULLY in a particular area? Did you EXCEL in your position or EXCEED the expectations of the job? Did you DEVELOP a new way to handle a situation?

Now that you have your experience on paper, think about what your qualifications are in your career field. These will change as you apply with different companies, but it is good to have a basic idea in case you need a general resume in a pinch. Why are you uniquely qualified to hold the job you want? What makes you special? Later, when you send out your resume, make sure
to tailor this section so it reflects the needs of the company. If the position you want calls for some who is highly organized, or can type 80 words per minute, this is a good place to mention that. Know what the company is looking for. Show them that hiring you would meet their requirements.

The objective can be tricky unless you know exactly for what you are applying. If you want to be a nurse, but don’t know where yet, at least make sure your objective says directly that you want to be a nurse. If you have a specialty or desire work in a certain sector such as a nonprofit, hospital, educational or even a certain industry like technological, computer or science,
specify this here. Let the prospective employer know you want to work for them. As soon as you know what company and position you are applying for, be that specific in the objective. Lastly, in this section, do not state your objective as “to look for a position” or “to apply for a position.” Your objective is to hold that job – to be employed by that company.

With the education section, keep it simple and easy to read. From where did you get your degree? What was the degree and major? What year did you graduate? If you have a high GPA, it is okay to list that here. While some experts suggest including a GPA of 3.3 or higher, I think it is safer to only include a GPA of 3.5 or higher, but that is something to feel out based on
the potential employer’s needs.

Now that the general content is developed, layout needs to be addressed. Begin with your name and contact information. Keep the font simple and readable, but make sure your name is big and bold so it sticks in the reader’s mind. I don’t recommend going any larger than 24pt font so you don’t loose space for the content. The contact information should be larger
than the body of the resume, but smaller than your name.

Next, list your objective. Remember to be specific when you have your prospects narrowed down. Only keep it general so you have something available in a pinch. Follow the objective with your qualifications. Again, remember to address the employer’s needs.

When it comes to deciding whether to include employment or education next, think about which is more impressive. Did you just graduate from a top university with honors? Is your experience a little weak or are you
changing career fields? In those circumstances, put that education first. If you are a Harvard grad with a 3.8 GPA who worked at Fashion Bug in college, that will catch the eye of the employer quicker than the cashier job would. If you didn’t attend the greatest college, or maybe you didn’t graduate, but your employment record is stellar, put the education section after your career section. Keep in mind that you should take the time to determine which situation would be right for you. It’s not black and white. Organization of this part of the resume falls into the hazy grey area. When in doubt, have unbiased people review your resume in both formats and tell you which part stands out more.

If you are a writer or artist, you may wish to include a list of published works or exhibitions to emphasize your achievements in these areas.

A few notes:

– Don’t include references on the resume. You don’t need to include employer addresses and phone
numbers – the city and state are sufficient. Order your educational and work experiences from most recent
to the past.
– Proofread the document several times and have a few people read it before you consider it “done.” Don’t rely on a Spell Check program.
– It’s okay to flow onto a second page if you need.
– Use nice, clean, white paper. Don’t bother with pretty colors and patterns. In most cases, stick with black font.
– If you are emailing your resume, send a PDF version, not a Word document. (It may accidentally get deleted as possibly having a virus)
– Always include a cover letter

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