College graduation is in the rear view mirror for the class of 2018. The road ahead offers endless career options for recent graduates – perhaps too many. In my work as a career coach, I see daily the paralysis that too much choice brings. Bright, motivated college graduates who are so anxious about what’s next they have no idea where to start.
In his TEDTalk, psychologist Barry Schwarz discusses the “paradox of choice”: why too many options can be paralyzing. Anxiety often results when you think you have to figure everything out alone. Not knowing where to start can be daunting, yet the most important step in any job search is starting. That’s why I created the college graduate’s job search checklist: to ease your anxiety and help you kick-start your job search.
Your commencement speaker may have shared great wisdom, pithy advice, humorous anecdotes and possibly some harsh realities of what lays ahead. In a year’s time, it’s unlikely you’ll recall any of that advice.
My advice is pretty simple: remember that a career spans decades and your first job will not determine your life’s path. Mine certainly didn’t! Jeffrey Selingo, the author of “There is Life after College” advises patience and playing the long game. If you think of your first job as an opportunity to build your skills and learn what you enjoy doing and are good at, your search will be far less daunting.
So, to get you started, here are 9 things you can do to kick-start your job search (and lower your stress).
Explore the possibilities.
Not sure what path is for you? Do some investigative research and take time to reflect on your skills, strengths and interests. The best way to learn about different career paths is to speak with as many people as possible. Hearing first hand what a job entails and what skills are needed will give you a much better feel for whether a certain path is for you.
Finalize your resume.
Edit out anything that is not relevant (this includes high school honors). Make sure you print and proofread your resume, ideally out loud. You only get one page for the first 5 years of your career so use your space wisely to highlight your skills and experience.
Review job descriptions that interest you for key words and be sure to include them in your resume. Most employers use algorithms to screen resumes for key words. If there are not enough of the critical key words in your resume, your application will get fast tracked to rejection.
Unless you are pursuing a creative field, keep your resume format clean and simple. Be sure to avoid fonts that trip up applicant tracking systems (ATS). If you are pursuing multiple paths simultaneously, have a resume tailored to each.
Polish Your LinkedIn Profile.
Use your resume as the basis for your profile and focus on the critical key words (am I repeating myself?) in your summary. Make sure you have a flattering, professional looking photo and a headline that quickly highlights what skills you’ll bring to an employer. Focus on what you accomplished in each of your summer roles. Your future employer wants to know how you made a positive impact.
Learn to write an effective cover letter.
It should be short, no more than 350 to 400 words, and supported by examples of your internships, job and academic experience. Remember that employers hire to fill a need that THEY have. You need to be able to demonstrate how you can help THEM. Check out my blog post on cover lettersfor more great tips.
Do a Social Media Cleanse.
Open an incognito browser and Google your name. This will show you what employers will see when they Google you – and trust me, they will. Also search “photos plus your name”. This last one may surprise you. Delete anything and everything that might cause an employer to reconsider interviewing and/or hiring you. Over 70% of recruiters have rejected candidates because of information they have found online.
Leverage your college alumni.
Use the alumni search tool on LinkedIn. Ask your career office for names of alumni willing to do informational interviews. Your college’s alumni are likely to be among your most valuable connections. College pride runs deep and alumni often are willing to speak with recent grads and offer advice. After all, they once were in your shoes.
Network, network, network.
Nearly 80% of jobs are found via networking. You are wasting valuable time if you are only searching on Indeed, LinkedIn or Glassdoor. Anyone with a computer can find job openings on line. You need inside connections to improve your odds of your resume landing on the desk of the hiring manager.
Make sure that you prepare for all your networking meetings and have a clear agenda and goal for each meeting. Reasonable goals include requests to connect on LinkedIn, review your resume or portfolio, forward your resume to HR or suggesting other people to meet. But don’t ask directly for a job – that’s never appropriate.
Hone your interview skills.
Most entry-level job interviews focus on behavioral questions to assess how you would react in certain situations. Know your strengths, prepare responses and review your resume for examples you can use to support your answers. Just saying that you have great communication skills in an interview won’t cut it. You need to support your answers with specifics.
Spend some quality time preparing your answer to “Tell Me About Yourself?”This question, in one form or another, comes up in everyinterview. It’s an invitation to share stories that show your strengths and experience. You’ll want to have a sticky message, one that is memorable and highlights what skills you’ll bring if hired.
Practice your answers out loud, ideally with a partner. My clients often tell me that the videotaped mock interviews we did prepared them so well that they felt extremely confident interviewing. If a picture is worth a 1000 words, a video is worth a million.
9. Get a coach.
Enlist a family member, mentor or hire a professional career coach to help you with your search. Having an independent, thoughtful and ideally experienced person to assist you will help you avoid the common pitfalls most new job searchers make. A coach’s job is to help you learn new skills, analyze your performance and provide constructive feedback. It’s also to encourage you so that you are at your best even when you’re not feeling it. No one is born knowing it all. Going solo is costly – both in terms of lengthening your search or possibly blowing your dream job from an avoidable mistake.
Hopefully, you can put these tips to use and kick-start your job search. After all, your first college reunion is only 5 years away – how will you write the next chapter of your life?
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