If you have just graduated and are looking for your first “real job”, there is so much to learn that it can be overwhelming. You’ve come from the world of academia, which has certain values and norms that serve it, and students, well. One of those values is that higher grades are better, with perfection being the target. Flunk a test or a course and it can be a major setback. Unfortunately, what works well in college does not necessarily work in the real world and that is true also for finding your first job. A job search is anything but perfection in action. In reality, it’s a whole host of everything from minor setbacks, to a string of rejections to outright failure. That is, until it’s not.
Below are six job search lessons that will help you get going and get more traction with your job search. And the muse? A Labrador retriever and a paddle board.
Job Search Lesson #1
First, you have to try. For most people, the first time they get on a paddle board can be a bit scary, with unsure balance or less than perfectly calm water. Amp that insecurity up several notches for a dog’s first adventure on a SUP. Likewise, in your first real job search, you may be feeling overwhelmed with where to start or what professions might interest you. If you think a certain profession or job might appeal to you, try starting with requesting informational interviews with contacts in that field. A great place to find contacts is through LinkedIn’s alumni search tool . If you find a job in that field appeals and still aren’t sure, you could give it a try. The worst thing that happens is that you discover it’s not for you and at least you are earning a paycheck and getting great experience to add to your resume. Then again, you might just find you love it.
Job Search Lesson #2
You have to be willing to get wet. If you are like most people learning to paddle board, you are going to fall off. It’s all but guaranteed. Come to grips with the fact that you have to get “wet”, in your job search as you figure it out. What matters is that you get started and that you keep at it. You most likely will make a few mistakes no matter how well you prepare. The key is to learn from those mistakes and not to repeat them.
Job Search Lesson #3
You need to take calculated risks. I recently decided to go paddle boarding with my chocolate lab. He’s pretty well trained and I thought he might enjoy being on the paddle board with me. I also knew that our combined weight was within 5 to 10 pounds of my board’s recommended maximum weight limit. My variables were whether our weight would undermine the stability of the paddle board and whether my dog would sit still on the board. The risk – falling off and getting wet. With your job search, you may find jobs that you aren’t certain that you are fully qualified for. There is no such thing as a perfect candidate even though almost all companies write job descriptions looking for the ideal person. If you have 50% or more of the qualifications and/or experience that the company is seeking, go ahead and apply, ideally through a contact you’ve established inside the company. It’s a calculated risk worth taking.
Job Search Lesson #4
Constantly re-evaluate your plan. Just like paddle boarding, you need to continually adjust to changing conditions. Wind, waves, wakes from passing boats and a chocolate lab deciding to change his position, all present challenges to your plan for smooth paddling. None of those challenges mean that you can’t have a great paddle, it just might not be that smooth, flat water you were seeking. When looking for a job, you continually glean new information on how to adjust your job search strategy or improve your interview performance. You can gain a ton of information, experience and feedback from a variety of sources such as informational interviews, blogs and websites, as well as contacts you get from friends, family or your college alumni. If you are only applying to jobs on line and hearing nothing, you are dumping your resume in the cyber black hole. You’ll need a new plan of attack, preferably one that includes a heavy dose of networking to build your contacts.
Job Search Lesson #5
Keep practicing. You most definitely are not going to get it exactly right the first time but with each paddle, you’ll get better, stronger and more confident. In your job search efforts, continually reassess your cover letters, asking friends and family or trusted advisors for honest feedback. If you are lucky enough to score some interviews but aren’t asked back for a second interview, send the interviewer a thank you and ask them if they would be willing to share two or three suggestions on how you could improve your interviewing skills. Not only will they will be impressed that you are seeking feedback, your appeal might lead to some great tips and possibly even re-consideration.
Job Search Lesson #6
Find a coach or mentor and be an avid learner. Getting advice from experts or taking a lesson dramatically shortens any learning curve. The first time I got on a paddle board, I borrowed one from a friend who had mastered it. He gave me some very valuable advice and tips, including one that was not intuitive – that the board is much more stable when it’s moving. Moving on a paddle board is akin to always being open to learning new things. It’s what keeps you moving forward in your personal development. If you’ve been going it alone in your job search and are feeling stuck, think about getting help from a trusted family friend, your college career office or even hiring a personal coach. It might just be the push you need to get you up and paddling toward that great job you’ve been seeking.
So, get out there and get going on your job search. Remember, it takes time, hard work and a fair amount of patience. Be sure to experiment with different approaches to keep learning, and don’t be shy asking for help. Perfection is not the goal, landing your first “real job” is. It’s the equivalent of standing up and paddling forward…in your career.