This topic doesn’t fit in with my usual posts about do-it-yourself sparkly projects, fashion guides or LGBTQIA activism, but it’s one that’s near and dear to my heart. Because I am a recent graduate, and I was recently on the job hunt.
If you’re like me, you like stability. You like the feeling of knowing: when this step is over, I have a plan for the next step. You go to college directly out of high school, and to graduate school directly after college. You don’t like taking time off, and you don’t like uncertainty.
But the job market is anything but certain. And with all the recent press about difficulties faced by recent graduates looking for jobs, all of us are more than normally anxious about the process.
That’s why I’m here to offer some honest, truthful tips for my fellow recent graduates. I’ve been out of school for a little over a month, and I’ve had 15 job interviews and 3 full-time job offers. My resume is still floating around out there to the point where every few days, without fail, I’m contacted by an employer or a recruiter about an interview.
1. Start early.
This may be news that’s too late for our class of 2015 May graduates, but don’t wait. Start your job search early. While I don’t recommend starting in September when you won’t graduate in May (because most employers post an opportunity right around the time they want to actually consider hiring someone), I do recommend starting in March, or even February. There are many reasons to do this: one, you may have the chance to interview with a few places. Two, you may actually be hired by a job with a flexible start date, or a job that’s not even ready to hire you anyway. Three, even if nothing comes of applying early, you’ll get used to the process, and any contact you have with potential employers will only benefit you as practice.
Real-life example: I applied for a position in early April. I was contacted about an interview in mid-June, because although they’d filled the position I applied for, they had a new opening and my resume was still on file.
2. Don’t be afraid to reach out to recruiting agencies.
Recruiters, often known as ‘temp agencies,’ get a bad rep. Why? Maybe because people, even young people, don’t want temporary work. We don’t want to work a job for two months without knowing where we’ll be at the end of it. Not most of us, anyway. But don’t be afraid to reach out and apply to recruiting agencies, because for the most part, the bad rep is unwarranted, in my experience.
There are many benefits of recruiting agencies people don’t consider:
Not all their jobs are temporary. Many are contract-to-hire, which means you’ll be a temporary worker for the first six months and then the company will hire you. Think of this like a paid internship – it’s a way to get your foot in the door at a major company.
They work with you. Recruiting agents’ job is to seek out great prospective employees, and make them look even better for the clients. If you’re nervous because, hey, you think you won’t hack it an interview with Google or Pearson, no worries. Your recruiting agent will walk you through the process: edit your resume, speak about your experiences with you, and prepare you for the actual interview.
You have a better shot of getting employment through an agency. Think of it like taking the road test to get your license. If you take the road test in your mom’s car, you just look like any other teen or young adult trying to drive – maybe you practiced, maybe you didn’t. If you take the test in a driver’s education vehicle, with your instructor in the back seat, that signals something to the tester. It shows that you went out of your way to take lessons, and probably even had a practice test right before the real deal. It makes you seem more prepared, and that can’t hurt. (By the way, I took road lessons and booked my test with a driver’s ed car, in case you couldn’t tell. I passed on the first attempt.)
Real-life example: I’ve been placed in three different positions through recruiting agencies: a one-day freelance gig with great pay, a paid summer internship in marketing, and a full-time on-site position.
If you happen to be in the Boston area, check out these recruiting agencies: Randolph Associates, The Creative Group, John Leonard, PSG, and KForce. I’ve worked with all of these agencies previously, including being placed in positions that I accepted by both Randolph Associates and The Creative Group. I’ve had interviews with the others and either been offered interviews at clients, or been offered positions that I had to turn down due to prior engagements.
I recommend that you look at each company website and see what their specialization is in. Staffing agencies vary depending on experience level, pay rate, length of positions, and fields the positions are in.
3. Don’t be afraid to check Craigslist jobs.
Craigslist is scary. We all know that. It’s a strange site, and strange things happen there. And so do plenty of job scams and creepy jobs, like being someone’s ‘personal assistant’ if you’re a hot 18 year old. But real jobs happen there as well. It’s worth looking to see what’s out there. And it can’t hurt to apply and then realize it’s a scam or not fit for you, rather than miss out on an opportunity because you didn’t want to try it.
Real-life example: So far, I’ve gotten two actual real job opportunities through Craigslist, and I know someone else who has as well. Both of my jobs were in my field and were very enjoyable. I did have to wade through a lot of strange, scammy ones, but isn’t that true of anything online?
A few basic tips for searching for a job:
- Have several cover letter templates at the ready. Personally, I was applying to jobs in these areas mainly: writing, editing, social media, marketing/communications, nonprofit, and publishing. I had a few different templates I used, and each one jazzed up the parts of my experience that mesh with that kind of job. I’m not going to stress my experiences in marketing research if I’m applying to be a reporter, right? Right.
- Change your resume, or have several resume templates as well. Highlight key parts of each position and experience in a way that works well with what the company/organization is looking for. Again, you want to highlight whatever parts of each experience make the most sense. Use some of the key words that the employer has in their job description, if possible.
When it comes to interviewing, and getting hired, here are some additional tips:
1. Dress professionally, no matter where you’re interviewing. Should be a no-brainer, but hey. Even if you’re meeting a recruiter at an agency, look professional. Speak professionally. It’s still an interview, because they’re pre-screening you to see if you’d be a good match. Recruiters don’t look good if they send out bad candidates to jobs constantly. No matter to what job and what company you’re applying, start out being professional. If they seem to really want to steer away from that, as some do, go with the flow as it’s being presented. I went to my first day at my current position wearing tights, a conservative dress and a fitted blazer. Everyone there was casually dressed, there was beer in the fridge, and people left work to take jogs down the road at their leisure. I started professionally, which didn’t hurt me at all, and then adjusted when I saw necessary.
2. Make small talk during, before or after an interview. Small talk helps you get acquainted with whoever is interviewing you. Remember, an interview is like a conversation that gives the employer a chance to decide if they want you to come in to their office every day and do this work. You want them to see you as a dazzling candidate for the requirements, but also as a generally likable person. Last summer, while I was interviewing for a marketing position, I was told by my interviewer that he had originally intended to hire someone older. But he liked my personality, and that’s why he chose me.
It’s not wise to bring up touchy subjects, anything political, or controversial, obviously. It’s also all about timing. Often, interviewers will meet you in a lobby and walk you to a meeting room for an interview, especially at big companies. That’s a perfect time to ask them about the weather, or to bring up something casual.
Real-life example: At one of my successful interviews, I brought up living in the area, because two of my interviewers lived in the city that I was looking to move to. We discussed the best parts of town and which areas I should stay away from. At another, I talked with an interviewer about our mutual love for cats after she divulged that one of hers had passed away. It’s all about looking for commonality with another person, and turning it into a small conversation like you might with a classmate or acquaintance.
3. Don’t let a bad day get the best of you. Not every time you go for an interview will be a sparkling, 100% amazing day. Maybe your car breaks down. Maybe you’re late. Maybe you spilled coffee on your skirt. The key is to fix the problem at hand as quickly as possible, and regroup with yourself to stop from being frazzled. Don’t let a bad day turn into a terrible interview, because think of it this way: if you do well at the interview, you may get a job offer, and that will not only turn your day around, it will turn your week around!
Real-life example: At my first interview in-person out of college, I drove to the location two hours early to make sure I wasn’t late. But I had a hard time finding parking in the financial district of Boston, and my GPS kept bringing me back out onto the Tobin bridge and in to Boston through different methods. I ended up being over an hour late, and had to reschedule while I was at a gas station because my car was on empty. Another time, I hit a brick wall on my way to an interview I was already fifteen minutes late for because I had gotten lost on the way (again, with leaving two hours early). Both times, I was frazzled, and certain I’d made an example of myself as a terrible candidate. But I remain as composed as possible, and stayed professional, reminding myself that if it worked out, I probably wouldn’t look back on the interview as a horror story anymore, but as a funny anecdote.