For current (or impending) graduates, the job market continues to be a brutal and hyper-competitive landscape. My suspicion is that job seekers continue to generate their greatest advantage via word-of-mouth and the friends/family network. In fact, the Wall Street Journal claims this may be increasingly true -- check out the recently published article on the rise of the “hidden” or phantom job market if you care for evidence.
So, it seems the immediate question for job seekers and career development officers that support them becomes: how do you activate and amplify your pre-existing network?
Focusing on that interior, one-to-two degree network is a fantastic place to start. Even if there are no jobs of interest in your immediate circle, it never hurts to begin learning how to network and grow your list of genuine, professional acquaintances.
1. Prepare to Put Your Best Foot Forward
2. Pursue Aggressively
3. Be Available
4. Whenever Possible, Show Instead of Tell
Managing Appearances and Your Professional “Brand” (ugh.)
We know it’s unpopular to use the word brand in the context of people - it’s tied too closely with marketing, advertising and, well, dishonesty or manipulation. But, it’s unfortunate because what “brand” is meant to convey, is extremely apropos for job seekers.
A good brand communicates a genuine message – tells a story -- clearly and concisely explaining value to potential customers. Brands don’t need to be sold. They need to be positioned in front of the right people.
So what does this mean for students that are looking for a job? To start, make sure you can clearly and concisely demonstrate who you are, your experience and why you are a fantastic hire. Spend time thinking about this instead of just slapping a headline on your resume. If you go for an interview or send an email, make sure it reflects a standard of work that meshes with that industry and your own professional expectations.
Obviously, this holds for all digital interactions.
Susan Brennan works for Bentley University as the Managing Director of University Career Services. She helps spearhead a 4-year career development program that is attentive to students’ self-discovery and the “branding” process that is inherent in job searches. “A key tool for selling a brand is social media,” Brennan notes. “Students are leveraging social media to develop an advantage with potential employers.”
Social media is an excellent way to make “soft touches” with acquaintances and friends that may be able to introduce you to someone that can get you in the door.
With this in mind, here is a quick checklist for your online presence:
- Scrub Facebook, Twitter and Instagram albums and updates for anything that you’d be embarrassed to have a potential employer (or your grandmother) see. Also, it would probably be wise to remove egregious grammar. You don’t have to be perfect, but please make sense. Good communicators are increasingly important in this fast-paced, noise-filled world.
- Get on LinkedIn, if you aren’t already. Synch the service with your email and social media accounts to automatically populate your network of first-degree connections.
- Create a consistent bio or headline for your social media channels and make sure you have an appropriate avatar.
- Create a professional e-signature for the email account you will be using to conduct your search. Consider a brief headline and definitely include links to your public profiles.
- Check out how you rank in Google searches. Tools like BrandYourself can help bump your name up in search queries. Rochester, Syracuse and Johns Hopkins are just a few universities that are actively helping their students engage with reputation management tools.
The name of the game is to make it exceptionally easy for referring acquaintances and HR managers to find what they need when they find you online: create a one-stop overview of your professional “brand” and make it extremely easy for people to link, tweet, email and otherwise share.
Proceed, And Be Bold
It’s a tough job market. Networking comes naturally to extroverts, but all of our introvert friends – that have a tremendous amount of value to offer this job market – are going to need to get out of their comfort zone. Steel your nerve and start talking to everyone that is remotely close to an industry you want to be in.
Keep your outreach messages brief and to-the-point. And think outside the box! Start with simply building your network and getting several conversations going, before you go in to ask for a favor.
- Watch LinkedIn’s newsfeed for updates from employed friends and colleagues. When they post a job change or publish an article or list an achievement, drop them a line to congratulate them and see how things are going!
- Reach out to old friends that you’ve lost touch with and extend a genuine mea culpa. Most folks are just happy to hear from old friends and professional Q&A is a great starting point for a renewed conversation.
- Contact people that are in your industry of interest, but not necessarily the specific company or role you are trying to snag. Talk to them about their day-to-day and the industry, on the whole. Find out who the players are in your target zone and see if you can get an introduction.
Availability is a biggie. As a current student and an un/under-employed individual, you have a fair amount of time on your hands. On the flipside, you are asking busy (to extremely busy) people for their attention and maybe even their help. Here are a few tips from Verge Pipe Media – and we welcome more from our friends in HR and the business world!
- Embrace email. As much as we all hate it and as infrequently as students check it, email is still ground zero for business communication. There may be a few industries where you can get away with tweets and DMs, but those are few and far between. So, be on your game if you start engaging with a professional over email. And remember who needs the favor! Most business men and women want to help, but they may drag their heels getting back to you. If and when they do, be ready! If they ask you a question via email, most folks are used to responses within a half-day to a day. Beyond that, and you start to lose your place in line.
- Be respectful of people’s time. If you are asking for a general Q&A and this person isn’t a potential hiring agent, ask them to block off :15 to :20 minutes over the phone. If they seem receptive to the conversation, bow out and ask to schedule some time to get together in-person over coffee or lunch – when they have some time.
- Be flexible. Companies have all sorts of preferred methods of interviewing and screening potential hires. Some like several rounds of Skype interviews before they will bring you in the office. Some go straight for the face-to-face interaction. Be prepared for any scenario and approach each one with the same degree of professionalism.
- Take advantage of cooked-in networking. Most colleges and universities host networking events and career development workshops – but not all of these events are well publicized. Make the effort to check out your school’s career counseling office. You are paying tuition; so take full advantage of those resources!
Show, Try Not to Tell
College is a really fantastic forum for teaching analytical thought and well-constructed argument. What college is not so great at, is preparing students for an action-oriented business environment. The greatest idea in the world doesn’t mean much, unless you can help bring it to life. Words are cheap. Execution is where you make your money.
How does this translate to you and your career search? You win an automatic advantage over other applicants, if your “application” includes demonstrable working knowledge of the industry and you include a “value-add”. Show us exactly how you are going to generate money for the business’s bottom line. You aren’t expected to move mountains as an entry-level applicant, but this approach communicates an understanding of the business world's realities to your potential employer.
If you are web developer or designer: develop a kickass portfolio. There is no reason you have to be employed to make one. Go above and beyond the student assignments you are given. If you are a future on-air journalist: study your idols, emulate them, learn the production skills and get a demo reel put together. Get friends in the industry to critique you and refine your skills. If you want to work in social media, PR and communications: you better be on top of your writing portfolio and social profiles. There is just no excuse.
If all else fails and the ability to “demonstrate” is out of your reach due to the nature of the industry, you should definitely consider interning or shadowing someone within the field to generate an experiential case study.
Pro-tip: don’t worry if you are going to get paid or have buckets of fun in the process. All of that will come in due time, but you need to be employable first. While valuable, a college degree doesn't guarantee you anything these days.
Author: Meredith Singer is Head of Ops & Co-Creative at Verge Pipe Media. Verge Pipe Media assists public institutions, enterprises and the non-profit sector with Imaginative Inbound Marketing strategies + campaigns. We also have a development team chock full of Marvelous Mobile Migrators, poised to help transition our clients into a mobile + social world with custom software, iOS and Android mobile apps.