Heart of the Matter

Andy Chan's Blog for Parents, Mentors and Teachers

Tips for Students

College Senior Mistakes

This job market is unforgiving.  For the college senior who is job hunting now, there’s no margin for error.  Here are five common mistakes made by college seniors.  Knowing these will help you advise and guide your students to a more direct path to a successful job search.

1. Overusing the Internet – Students in this digital age think if they only apply to enough jobs online then someone will eventually want to hire them. But it’s actually quite difficult to obtain a job on the Internet due to the high volume of resumes submitted. The number one method to obtain a job is by networking. Still apply for the jobs online, but also find ways to network into the company so that you can ask to be introduced to the hiring manager. Your persistence and creativity to get in the door will make a difference.

2. Being Too Choosy –Many students get so focused on a specific job or organization that they don’t realize there are other roles and other types of organizations that might be really good opportunities for them. Check out anything that looks interesting, as there could be a diamond underneath. Of course, don’t take a job you know you’ll hate.  And remember that a first job is just that: a first job. You’ll be somewhere quite different in 5-10 years… ask anyone who is 5-10 years older than you.

3. Giving Up Too Early – Some students think that given the poor job market, it’s not worth the time to search for a job. This means that these less competition! And many organizations are now recruiting students this spring and through the summer. Our career office has more job postings and interviews going on now than last year. Our biggest problem right now is getting students to pay attention to these opportunities and apply for these jobs. Just like doing regular exercise – once you stop searching, it’s hard to get started again.

4. Mis-using the Grad School Option – For some people, grad school is a great option, but if you’re just doing it as a back up because you can’t find a job, it’s a very expensive back up. Grad school does not necessarily increase your job prospects – and the pressure can be even greater if you took on loans or don’t like your area of study and the types of opportunities it provides. Grad school can be intense, so it’s challenging to make time to “find yourself” or having time for self-reflection and job search. If you’re unsure, understand what the typical career paths are for graduates of the program you are considering and see if they appeal to you. If you’re under pressure, it’s best to take the time to get the information you need and make a well-considered decision.

5. Not using the college’s career office – Students don’t realize that their career office can help them develop a job search action plan, identify networking contacts, learn important job search skills, and significantly improve their resume and cover letter.  It’s amazing how out of every 10 resumes, only one or two are very good, but 8 out of 10 are terrible. Even if you had a poor experience with the office before, it may have new staff and services and most importantly, you’re in a new situation. What do you have to lose?

Job Search Tips for Seniors

It’s a challenging job market, but don’t give up. There are still jobs out there and more come through our career office every day. Some tips to help you succeed…

1.  Prepare your pitch. Put together your story for why you’re the best candidate for each job opportunity. Make sure your cover letter and resume are effective. Practice your interview answers – out loud with another person, preferably a career coach or counselor. Go to the career office for guidance and feedback. It’s OK if you’ve never gone there before.  They see hundreds of students just like you every year.

2.  Get off campus. Employers hire people, not paper. The best way for a potential employer to get to know you is to meet you in person. Your internet application or email with your resume attached won’t be nearly enough. Informational interview a lot and meet lots of new people. Ask your friends, family, professors and career office for people to meet and learn about organizations and career paths – even ones you’ve never heard of before. Find out how to tap into the alumni network via the college’s alumni directory, LinkedIn and/or Facebook.

3.  Don’t give up. Most students are not aware of the time required to get a job. It will likely take 6 months of active job searching, over 100 informational interviews and 30 formal job interviews. Most seniors get their jobs AFTER graduation – even in a strong job market. So, don’t give up too soon. Otherwise, you may miss out on the one job that’s waiting for you.

4.  Grad school is not a great back-up option. It’s an expensive option. If grad school aligns with your long term vision AND you are motivated to go, then it’s a good option. But it’s a dangerous option if you’re thinking that you’ll go there for “safe haven” to figure out what you really want. If you had trouble figuring that out in college, it’s likely that you won’t in grad school either (it’s pretty all-consuming). Take a break from school, explore your interests, and if grad school makes sense, reapply next year. You’ll be more motivated and have a clearer sense for why you’re really there.

Your career as a chess board

Look at your career as a chess board, not a dart board. In chess, you cannot win the game in one move. It takes multiple moves to achieve your objectives. It takes patience. You don’t control how long you must wait before you move again. Each move opens up new opportunities, some you don’t see until after you’ve landed on the next space. After you move, the game changes so you must be creative, nimble and flexible to adjust to the new environment. Sometimes, you need to go backwards before you can go forwards.

You may wish that your career was more like playing darts. See the bullseye, aim and throw. You have immediate feedback. If you don’t like your throw, you pick up another dart and throw again. Be careful if you treat your career like a dart. Your resume won’t look too good.

Think chess, not darts – and you’ll set yourself up to win the career game.

De-stressing the job search

Are you feeling stressed? Unable to get motivated in your job search? Feeling futile and saying to yourself, “Why waste the time looking for a job if no one’s hiring?”

You are not alone.

But you, as well as I, know that succumbing to these feelings will not improve your odds of getting a job. And they won’t help you feel any better. So what should you do?

1. Focus on what you can control. The interview process is much like the dating process. Don’t take the other person’s lack of interest personally and don’t let it drive you crazy. You cannot control them.

2. Complete discreet tasks. Write a To Do list for each day or for each 2 hour period. Then, just do it. Repeat. Reflect on all you accomplished and be satisfied. These small wins add up.

3. Take breaks. A break is most rewarding after completing a set of tasks or achieving a goal. Walking, meditating, listening to music, being in nature, exercising, playing with the kids – do things that bring you joy and energize you.

4. Practice breathing deeply. Breathing with attention and consciousness can bring you peace and serenity. Give it a try.

5. Compose a positive mantra and use it. Try one of these: “I only need one job” or “It’s a new day and a good day” or “I am thankful for all I have and who I am”.

6. Blast some tunes. Music is food for the soul. Just make sure it’s music you like.

7. Exercise. Don’t you feel great after exercising? Start slowly and build up your stamina and capabilities. In no time, you’ll feel unstoppable.

8. Sleep. Sharpness, attentiveness, perceptiveness, charm, improvisation are particularly important when searching for a job. You’re much more likely to exhibit these when you’re rested.

Special thanks to Margot Carmichael Lester. I developed these tips after reading her article, “Anxiety for Fun and Profit”.

Scared to network

In this job market, everyone knows that networking is the best way to get a job. But many really hate the idea of networking. In fact, they’re scared to network.

Here are a few tips to overcome your fears and have the correct expectations about networking:

1. The worst thing that can happen is to be told “Sorry I don’t have time and can’t help you.”

2. The second worst thing is to not get a response.

3. Don’t expect everyone to respond.

4. Don’t expect a speedy response. Everyone is busy. Try following up with a phone call. Offer dates and times when you are in town and/or are available. Tell them “I’ll be in town all day on [name the date]” before any meetings have been set.

5. Don’t expect a job opening.

6. Offer something of value. For example, relevant research or academic/professional work that you’ve done OR an update on any shared affinity for which you have current and/or insider information (like your b-school, college, sports team).

7. Ask for others that they’d recommend you talk to.

8. Go to conferences. Many conferences need volunteers in exchange for manning the registration table (where you can meet all the attendees).

9. Thank them. Set a follow up date and offer information based on your conversation. Then actually follow up on your commitment. (The few who actually do this are most remembered and most likely to be helped in the future).

As an unknown author said, “You don’t drown by falling in the water, you drown by staying there.” Get networking.

Why look now

Job Seeker: The market seems really bad. Everyone I talk to says that companies are not hiring. I was wondering if I should even be trying to look for a job. I mean, why should I look now if no one is hiring?

Andy: Although it may seem like no one is hiring, some actually are (see my post: We’re Not Hiring). Take a look at some online job boards and you’ll see many job openings. (BTW, don’t be intimidated by the job description. Many companies write up descriptions for the “perfect” candidate and often never get any “perfect” candidates to apply. You could be the best of the rest. But you have to apply.)

Also, the terms “job search” (or “job hunt” which is even more appropo today) means that you’re searching, or hunting, for a job. This means that you’ are proactively looking for, or aggressively pursuing, opportunities, not just going on job interviews with companies who are hiring.

Job Seeker: OK. I get it. But won’t I just be spinning my wheels?

Andy: No. Far from it. There are several reasons to be networking now, even if it seems like no one is hiring:

1) You can get significantly more information meeting someone in person than by reading a website.

2) By asking the right questions, you can find out if you’d like to work there, if you’d be qualified, what you’d need to do to be one of the top candidates, what the hiring process is, and any tips to be informed about and be considered for future openings.

3) Every person you meet should lead you to a few other valuable people to network with. But you have to ask.

4) The more connections you make now, the more potential offers in the future. Once you get an offer, you can re-connect with the top networking contacts you met previously and try to get an offer from them. You can’t do this with anyone who you have not met before.

5) You could find out about a job that isn’t posted anywhere. And may never get posted if you’re the right candidate.

6) They like you so much that they create a job for you.

7) As you learn about their goals and needs, you could offer a consulting project to get your foot in the door (and get paid while doing it).

8) And if you haven’t yet defined your job target and are exploring a variety of options, meeting with people to understand their job, company and industry will provide you with important information to help you get focused.

The sooner you start networking and the more contacts you meet wtih, you are more likely to find a job sooner – even if it seems like no one is hiring. With every contact you make, it will get easier and easier to do.

I like the quote from Bill Keane, the cartoonist for The Family Circus, “Yesterday’s the past and tomorrow’s the future. Today is a gift – which is why they call it the present.”

Get going. Make networking your top priority and use the gift you’ve been given – today!

Accelerate the hiring process

Job Seeker: I need some advice. A couple weeks back, I met with the head of a company (A) who told me that he liked my resume and background, but that it was premature to be interviewing with them as they did not yet know their staffing needs for the year. He suggested that I get back in touch in a couple months to set up an interview at that time.

Subsequently, I have interviewed with another company (B) and received an offer with a decision deadline of two weeks. But the role is not exactly the same and to be honest, I would prefer the other job if I could land it. Company B has given me a few weeks to think things over, so I’m wondering if there’s any way I can encourage company A to bring their process forward.

Andy: First, congrats on the offer with company B! That’s no easy feat in this tough job market. Now, call your contact at company A. Tell him that you have received an offer from another company and they want your decision within two weeks. Explain that you’re very interested in his job opportunity and would like to discuss if accelerating the hiring process is at all possible.

Job Seeker: There doesn’t seem to be any downside risk in this approach. Should I call or email? I don’t want to appear invasive. I honestly have no idea what the protocol is in situations like this.

Andy: No worries. Email is a safe way to set up a short phone call or meeting. I would recommend an in-person meeting (even if it’s short) because you can make your case more persuasively, it’s more difficult for him to say “No”, and he might be willing to turn your conversation into an interview process right there (you should be prepared).

If he doesn’t reply to you within 2 days, call him and speak live, or leave a voicemail with your request and the urgency level. If necessary, ask his assistant to help get your request in front of him.

Job seeker: What if he’s not willing to accelerate the process?

Andy: Find out if their hiring plans are solid and if you are really the top candidate. Ask, “I may be willing to pass up on the offer I have, but I need your candid feedback. Are you definitely hiring for this job and when does this person need to be on board? Where do I rank relative to the other candidates you’ve seen?”

If he’s uncertain about the hiring plan and timetable, it may not happen – especially in this economy. If he isn’t clear or enthusiastic about you as one of the top candidates, that’s a sign (and not a good one). No matter how big your last bonus was, or your title, or what school you go/went to, be careful to not overestimate your odds at securing an attractive job. There are lots of qualified (and over-qualified) people out there – who are all honing in on these attractive jobs. In this buyer’s market, the employers have the power and lots of candidates banging on their doors.

Then let go of it and have no regrets. This opportunity just wasn’t meant to be.

If you decide to accept the less-desirable job, know that this next job does not have to be, and will likely not be, your last job. The market will someday turn and new opportunities will come.

What things have you done to accelerate a hiring process?

Not even halftime

I recently met with our first year MBAs to discuss their job searches. I explained that they could think of the process as a four-quarter game.

The first quarter ended when on-campus recruiting interviews finished in early February. For those fortunate students who received offers that they will accept, the game has finished.

The second quarter is taking place right now through Spring break. Students should be networking and meeting in person or by phone with helpful people, like friends and former co-workers or young alumni. As long as you have a clear marketing pitch (see examples in your Student Career Guide), these folks are your best starting contacts to refer you to others who work in the organizations that interest you. They may also give you additional contacts at other interesting organizations.

Although Spring break is halftime, it’s no time to rest. With no classes, it’s actually the best time to intensify your networking. If you want to work in a location far from school, it’s prudent to network there over Spring break and get a letter from your career office to visit the local b-school. They will have lots of jobs in the the local region.

The third quarter begins after Spring Break during the month of April and into May. Interviews will take place at this time. In some cases, you may have to propose projects and suggest the appropriate compensation. The fruits of previous networking will come to bear as long as you have determined what your target employers are looking for and how to best position yourself to win the interview process.

The fourth quarter occurs in May through mid-June as the offers begin to flow. Once you get one offer, go to your other top firms of interest and let them know that you are soon to be off-the-market. I am always amazed at the number of students who have no offers going into May and end up with two or three offers at the end of May.

In the last recession, every first-year MBA got a job. I think that will be the case again this year.

So keep playing hard. Don’t give up. The game’s just begun.

Positive mantras

I am in NY this week teaching a workshop for business school alumni called “Strategic Job Search”. I shared the teaching responsibilities with Michael Melcher, an outstanding career coach with NextStep Partners.

25 alums invested an entire day to understanding how to conduct a productive, efficient and strategic job search in this difficult market. In the morning sessions, the participants clarified their Career and Life Vision and defined their job search targets and priorities. In the afternoon, they received resume tips, developed powerful positioning statements, learned how to write effective networking emails, prioritized networking contacts, and answered key interview questions. At day’s end, there was a networking social where the participants and other alumni connected and identified potential new leads to jump-start their job search.

We shared a crucial insight on how to stay positive in this challenging job market: Do not let the everyday news get you down. Think about some of the following ideas to keep you positive and motivated. Post some of these positive mantras in your workspace or on a mirror.

1. There are thousands of companies out there. I only need one job.
2. The world is changing. Change equals opportunities.
3. Firms laid people off. Now they need to upgrade their talent. With someone like me.
4. In this market, there are lots of people looking for jobs. There’s no reason to be embarrassed about it.
5. It’s actually easier to network in this market. People with jobs are more sympathetic and open. Many of them want to grow their own network, too.
6. It’s the beginning of a new era in business. It’s time to find and ride the next wave.
7. The old way of doing business is out. Firms want innovation, creativity and new ways of thinking. And that’s what I can bring to them.
8. Just take it one day, and one person, at a time.

Repeat these positive mantras throughout the process. Carry them with you all the way to the finish line.

What are you doing or telling yourself to stay positive and motivated in your job search?

We’re not hiring

If you’re looking for a job, you’re probably hearing “We’re not hiring” over and over again.

It’s painful. It’s depressing. It’s discouraging.

Enough. It’s time to stop the pity party.

As John F. Kennedy said, “When the going gets tough, the tough get going.” Here are a few thoughts to keep you going the next time you hear “We’re not hiring”:

1. Tell me something that I didn’t know. (Well, don’t say this one unless you really don’t want a job there :-).

2. I am really not looking for a job. I just wanted to learn about your company and get some advice from you.

3. That’s OK. I really don’t want to start a new job until later this year. I’d still like to meet with you if you have time.

4. I understand completely. Have recent staffing cuts made it difficult for you? Perhaps I could do a project to help you.

5. You’re not hiring right now. But, you might be hiring in the future. Let’s talk.

It’s no surprise that the job market is terrible. So why let it ruin your day?

Your measure of a solid networking contact should not be based on the hiring status of your contact’s organization. Instead, view your contact as someone who can help you learn about the company, identify potential roles that you’d be interested in and qualified for, give you advice on how to be well-prepared for the interview process, and be a supporter for you within this organization or with colleagues at other firms.

In sales, it can take eight contacts to close a deal. It could take a similar number to get a job, so treat this first conversation as an opportunity to break the ice and develop a relationship that could eventually lead to a great job. Don’t expect too much from a single call.

Good things take time. Take the time to work the network.

You really don’t have a choice. After all, they’re not hiring.

What keeps you motivated when you receive discouraging news during your job search?