It may be hard to imagine yourself searching for a job—after all, you’ve just begun college—but the strategies discussed below can also be applied to an internship or part-time job. In addition, some preparation requires you to plan and prepare early. Here are a few things to consider:
Learn the names of the major employers in your college’s geographic area: manufacturers, service industries, resorts, and so on. Once you know who the major employers are, check them out and visit their Web sites. If you like what you see, visit your career center to arrange an informational interview or job shadow opportunity.
Check the Web site for the agency in your state that collects and disseminates information about available employment opportunities. Find out whether this agency has an office in the community where you are attending college.
Visit employment agencies, particularly those that seek part-time, temporary workers. It is a convenient, low-risk (for both you and the employer) way to “shop” for a job and obtain flexible, short-term, low-commitment employment.
Visit online job boards and look at the classified ads in the local newspaper, either in print or online. Don’t forget the classifieds in the national press. Some national firms will have jobs that can be done part-time in your area or even from your own living space.
Check your campus student newspaper. Employers who favor hiring college students often advertise there. Be cautious about work opportunities that seem unrealistic, such as those offering big salaries for working at home or those that ask you to pay an up-front fee for a job. When in doubt, consult your career center for advice.
Be aware that many jobs are never posted. Employers often find it easier to hire people who are recommended to them by current employees, friends, or the person vacating the position. Faculty members often hire students for their research labs based on performance in the classroom.
Realize that who you know is important. Your friends who already work on campus or who have had an internship can be the best people to help you when you are ready to search for your job. In fact, nearly 50 percent of all student jobs are found through family and friends.
Some think that marketing yourself is what you do when you need a job, but that’s not the case at all. It’s actually about developing a presence on campus and within your industry. Marketing yourself is about creating a name and reputation that will shape your future. It is important to start building your brand now and looking at it as a personal challenge with no end date. Here are a few points to consider:
If you don’t do it, no one else will. Taking control of your own image is your responsibility. There is no one better equipped to portray you as accurately as you.
Actions speak louder than words. Professional documents, such as a résumé and a well-written cover letter, are important to develop and continuously build; it is more important, however, to have a professional voice. Remember to share your career aspirations with faculty, advisers, friends, and family; they can’t assist in marketing you if they don’t know you. The more others know about your professional goals, the more they are able to help you make professional connections.
Got ideas? Share them. People are often hesitant about sharing their ideas or providing direction to others, but guess what? If you don’t, others establish themselves as the go-to person, and you may be left with a good idea that no one else knows about.
Get an edge over your competition. The world of a new college graduate is cutthroat. If you want to go far in your career, you really need to stand out from your peers. Think carefully about what you are doing to advance yourself professionally outside of the classroom, such as completing a co-op or internship, studying abroad, or working to gain experience. These experiential learning opportunities are necessary to keep up with your competition.
It isn’t all about you. Really, it isn’t. Sharing the accomplishments of your peers is one way to promote yourself indirectly. The smartest way to market yourself is actually to make it not about you. In turn, your peers will do the same for you and your accomplishments. In the end, everyone wins.
A well-crafted résumé is an excellent and necessary way of marketing yourself. Before you finish college, you’ll need a résumé, whether it’s for a part-time job, for an internship or co-op position, or to show to an instructor who agrees to write you a letter of recommendation. Typically, there are two types of résumés. One is written in chronological format, and the other is organized by skills. If you have related job experience, choose the chronological résumé; if you can group skills from a number of jobs or projects under several meaningful categories, choose the skills résumé. Your career center can help you choose the format that is right for you given your experience and future goals. The average time an employer spends screening résumés for first round pick is 7 to 10 seconds. As a new professional, a one-page résumé is usually appropriate. If you have a number of outstanding things to say that won’t fit on a single page, add a second page, but consult with your career center for guidance on this point.
A cover letter is more important than a résumé and is much harder to craft effectively. When sending a cover letter, first personalize to whom you are writing. It’s not the same in all fields. If you were seeking a marketing position at an advertising agency, you would write to the director of account services. If you were approaching General Motors regarding a position in the engineering department, you might write to either the director of human resources for the entire company or a special human resources director in charge of engineering. Your academic adviser or career counselor, or even the Internet, can help you address your letter to the right person. Never write, “To whom it may concern.” Use the proper formats for date, address, and salutation. Hiring managers pay attention to these details, and if not done accurately, they may cost you an interview.
A cover letter is an excellent way of marketing yourself to a potential employer, but it is not a story about what you’d like to get out of the position. It should be written in such a way as to explain how your hire will benefit the organization. When writing a cover letter, focus directly on what you can do for the company and why you would be a good fit. It is important to review the company’s Web site and determine what skills and experience make you valuable to the organization. Use the cover letter to demonstrate your qualifications for every requirement of the position. Your career center can help you craft a cover letter that talks about your education and experience related to the qualifications of the position. Spending quality time on writing an excellent cover letter also prepares you for the interview because you are reflecting on how your background aligns with the needs of that position and the company.
The first year of college might not seem like a time to be concerned about interviews, but students often find themselves in interview situations soon after arriving on campus. You might be vying for positions in student government, finding an on-campus job, competing for a second-year scholarship, applying for a residence hall assistant position, choosing a summer job opportunity, or up for selection for an internship or as a research assistant. Preparing for an interview begins the moment that you arrive on campus because, as a first-year student, the interview is about you and how college is changing you. Students who haven’t clarified their sense of purpose or who have taken only a little time to reflect on who they are and how they have changed can feel lost in an interview.
The purpose of the interview is to exchange information. The interviewer’s goal is to evaluate you on your abilities and competencies in terms of what the organization is seeking. For you, the interview is an opportunity to learn more about the employer and whether the opportunity would be a good fit with your aptitudes and preferences. Ideally, you want to find a match between your interests and abilities and the position or experience you are seeking. It is important to research the organization and the people you may be working with prior to any interview. Doing so will help prepare you for the interview and help you know what questions to ask.
Start with the company’s Web site. It is usually the single best resource. Scroll through the entire Web site. Note details you can use to develop good questions to ask in your interview as well as prepare relevant answers to anticipated interview questions. If the company does not have its own Web site, go to other Internet sites, such as hoovers.com, that provide extensive information about companies and industries.
Review competitors Web sites. Gather information on developments in the company’s industry or sector.
Ask for advice. Inquire with faculty or your career center on whether they have knowledge or feedback about the company.
Visit company-specific message boards. Corporate message boards give the opinions of current and former employees and give a different perspective about a company. Vault.com is one example, and many career centers have a subscription to this resource.
Use your library. Find articles in business publications and industry trade magazines.
Note the company mission, vision, and values statements. This information tells you about the company culture and can help you decide whether you would be a good fit.
Research details about the company products and services. Being able to talk a company’s language shows that you have prepared yourself and are versed in the scope of its services or technologies.
Find out the company’s strategic goals, special projects, and new developments. Use this information in your interview to prepare insightful questions to ask about the direction of the company.
Take your research with you to the interview. It is OK to show that you have taken the time to find out about the company prior to the interview.
After you’ve done your company research, the next step is to prepare for and practice interviewing before the actual interview. First check with your career center to find out whether you can participate in a mock interview. Mock interviews help students strategize and feel comfortable in interview situations. Your counselor might ask you for a position description, your résumé, and a company profile prior to the interview to simulate an actual interview as closely as possible. Many career centers also have virtual practice interview software for you to gain experience. InterviewStream is a popular program that allows you to record answers to interview questions asked by the computer for replay and review. The benefits to this type of software are numerous. You can record your answers multiple times, which allows you to practice and perfect your response, and you can send your recorded interview set to faculty members or others for feedback. In addition, because the interview is recorded using a Web cam, not only can you review your responses, but also your body language! Nonverbal communication is often more important than what you actually say in the interview. Even if a mock interview session is not available, the career center can offer tips on handling an interview situation. Check your career center’s Web site for sample interview questions so that you can practice before an interview.
You may face several types of interview situations, but a popular kind is the behavioral interview. In a behavioral interview the interviewer assumes that your past experiences are good predictors of your future abilities and performance. Interviewers want to hear stories about things you have done or are currently doing that can help them assess your skills and behaviors. Often there is no right or wrong answer. Answering a behavioral question can be difficult. A method commonly used to help students think through possible answers is the PARK method, which helps you focus on the most relevant aspects of your experience. The acronym PARK can be explained as follows:
P: Paint a picture of the problem or situation. (What happened?)
A: Explain the actions you took. (What did you do to resolve or fix the problem?)
R: Determine the results or outcomes. (What was the result of the actions you took?)
K: Apply the knowledge that you gained and applied through the experience. (What did you learn? How did you apply it?)
In any interview situation certain things you do might make the difference whether you are considered for a position. Here are a few suggestions:
Dress appropriately. First impressions matter, so as a rule of thumb, always dress neatly and conservatively. If you apply for a position in person, pay attention to the culture of dress within the organization. You can be somewhat casual for some types of employers, but it is better to dress too professionally than too informally. Check with your career center to get advice about proper dress.
Arrive to the interview on time. If your interview is off campus, consider taking a trial run to the location prior to the day of your interview to determine how long it takes to travel to the interview site. Be mindful of traffic volume at certain times of the day and plan accordingly. The interviewer expects you to be on time, regardless of the weather or morning commute.
Follow up. It is important to follow up any interview with a thank-you card, handwritten or otherwise. Many times the person to whom you applied for the job is not the person who you actually interviews you. Prior to leaving the interview, ask for business cards of the professionals who you met so that you have their contact information. Send thank-you cards via e-mail to every person who interviewed you. Use this time to reiterate how your skills and experience match the company’s goals or to mention something you forgot to talk about during the interview. A handwritten thank-you card is also a nice touch. Few people actually use this method, and because it is rare, it always gets noticed!
behavioral interview An interview in which the interviewer questions the candidate about past experiences and how they helped the candidate learn and grow. This type of interview helps assess skills and behaviors.