Job seekers take note
What you did in your dorm room determines your professional future.
Better stated, it could, especially if you did the right things. In today's hyper-competitive job market, there is no quick fix that will guarantee recent graduates or seasoned alumni the job of their dreams. It is the accumulation of practical experiences and the ability to effectively communicate them that makes the difference. Oh, and the ability to throw all that experience right out the window upon request.
Current job hunters should take heart. Hiring professionals say today's job market often proves better than people expect, and much better than the media portrays.
"Employers are always hiring," said Denis Collett '86, associate director of human resources for the Harvard Business School. "For the right person, they'll figure out a way to hire."
So, how to be that right person?
Crossing the T's and Dotting the I's
Saint Michael's alumni who work in human resources, as well as members of the college's Office of Career Development, all offer the same somewhat obvious advice. Yet all of them say they cannot believe the frequency with which it is ignored.
"When we consider candidates, one of the most important things is to do the basics well," Collett says. "That means including a cover letter, no typos on resumes and following up when appropriate."
That last piece, especially, is where some applicants shoot themselves in the foot. According to Collett, knowing when not to make that extra call to a busy human resources contact can be just as critical as knowing when to reach out.
"Candidates have to be patient. When someone doesn't hear the timing in the process and contacts us repeatedly, it starts to call their judgment into question," Collett says.
Ingrid Peterson, Director of Career Development at Saint Michael's, echoes Collett's thoughts, saying students and alumni should avail themselves of college services like interviewing skills and resume workshops, to best prepare themselves for the search. She should know what works: 74 percent of the Class of 2011 was employed full-time as of February 2012, while another 17 percent attended graduate school.
"One of the primary things students can do for themselves is to be prepared," Peterson said. "You need to have thought through where you want to go and what you want to do, to the extent you're ready to. And you need a good, solid resume, and cover letter, and multiple people to look at it. And I'm not talking about roommates."
You also need to do some research.
"The candidates who have been successful in our process have done their homework," Collett said. "They come in with a body of knowledge already and they form some strategic questions to ask throughout the interview process. By doing their homework, they stand out."
"You need to have researched the company you're interviewing with," Peterson said. "If you can't answer a question about that, the interview's over."
Know That You Might Know Nothing
One of the biggest revelations of the current job market may be that often the majority of knowledge acquired after years of college study in one's major is of little professional use. Recognizing that you'll be starting fresh can be difficult after all those hours studying, but sometimes it's necessary.
"The [specific] skills that [students] get in whatever major they're in, unless a company is looking for some really specific things, it probably doesn't matter all that much," Peterson said. "Companies look for people who are adaptable, flexible, well-spoken, show up on time, represent their company well."
Fortunately, most Saint Michael's students are prepared in those areas.
"I think our students do well with their liberal arts background," Peterson said. "They really can do a wide range of things well and fairly quickly. I always tell students that there's not one thing in particular that they're learning here that's going to get them by the rest of your life. The fact is that they've learned how to learn. So it doesn't matter if they have all the facts and figures. They don't have to know everything. But they just have to be able to figure it out."
"We're looking for someone who is open and is willing to learn and take direction," Collett agrees.
Recent graduates have found it is was extracurricular professional and academic pursuits that set them apart and helped land jobs. Tyler Machado '10 was hired as the Deputy Online Editor of Burlington's Seven Days newspaper because he spent his free time furthering what he learned as a journalism major.
"I was really involved in social media and coding outside of class," he said. "We did a lot of multimedia stuff in class, but there wasn't a lot of social media in the journalism curriculum. And that ended up becoming a big part of my job. So, that extra work can be a huge help in getting you where you want to go."
Because most contemporary jobs will have technical components, it's important to keep as current on them as you can, Machado says.
"It's a hard thing for a professor to teach because it changes so quickly," he says. "You might develop a lesson plan at the beginning of the semester and it might be obsolete by the end. But you can use social media, for instance, not just to tout your own work or your own journalism, but to learn. The biggest thing is getting on it and experimenting.
"From what I've seen among my friends, I feel like you have to have self-motivation and be willing to go beyond what you did in college. Not because what you learned is irrelevant, but because you're graduating with 40 other people who have the same degree and the same resume. The people I know who went out and got jobs quickly were way more motivated and just pushed harder. People shouldn't feel entitled to anything just because they got a degree. Times are tough and you need to differentiate yourself."
Community is Key
Something Saint Michael's graduates, in particular, will be pleased to hear? Knowing how to work as a member of a community, and as part of a team, is paramount.
"I come back to the fact that St. Mike's stresses community," Collett said. "I think that brings a unique candidate to the hiring table. They're good young adults who have shared a common experience and work well within a community. The workplace, after all, is absolutely a community. The fact that [students] have had to live together, work together, study together. That bodes well for coming into an environment where you have to adapt and embrace change."
That notion of community extends to being respectful of one's place in the company. Too often, Collett says, recent graduates have overdeveloped senses of where they should be in the work force or how quickly they should rise through the ranks. Being conscious of authority, of others' time, and being self-sufficient will earn respect and promotions in the long run.
"I see a trend with recent college graduates. Once they're actually employed, they struggle sometimes because they're not getting the constant feedback or promotional opportunities they believe they should be," Collett said.
Graduate School Isn't for Everyone
Many consider graduate school a logical next step after college. The full weight of the responsibilities that come with it, however, including the ability to pay back incurred debt and committing to the more specific course of study, are not always fully considered or visible to a student or even a professional trying to take that next step.
"Grad school is an expensive mistake to make," Peterson said. "You don't want to get that one wrong. You shouldn't if you don't know what you want to do. You're better off in graduate school when you know where you're headed. It's going to help your pay scale. It's going to help your knowledge of the industry. And what a great resource to have when you've already worked a few years—you're sitting in a classroom with a bunch of other people who have probably been working in that field for a few years. What an amazing resource. But it's not necessarily for everyone. That's why networking is so good - you can ask alumni or other people questions to help you determine what you're interested in and whether or not grad school would be a good fit."
A Book By Its Cover
Fair or not, when it comes to job interviews, first impressions count. That means not only should applicants look good on paper but also present themselves well in person and sell themselves properly.
Jim Wall '74, former head of human resources for Deloitte Touche, is direct in his advice: focus on the company's needs, not your own.
"I think the people that are going to survive and prosper are those who can demonstrate they have a portfolio of skills, but are also adaptable and willing to learn and approach the job with a can-do, will-do attitude," he said. "Employers aren't interested in hiring you to develop your career. That's your issue. They're interested in hiring you to help them solve their problems. That's why they're willing to pay you. Your frame of mind needs to be from the perspective of the employer. Figure out what the problem is that they're trying to solve and go about convincing them that they'd be stupid not to hire you because you're the best candidate."
Recent graduates are being drawn in large numbers to professional disciplines like marketing, event planning and green careers, alongside perennial staples like education and the sciences. A large part of standing out from the crowd of hundreds or thousands of students vying for spots in these fields is being able to tailor your skill and experience set to the position you're eying, says Peterson.
"You've got to be prepared to convince the employer that you're the best person for the job," Peterson said. "Most students have the skills and experience, they just need to learn how to package them. Write your personal description to brand it in a particular way for a particular job. You have to figure out a direction and then figure out a way to market yourself in that direction."
Personal branding can take the form of describing an experience a certain way; for instance, taking an unpaid volunteering opportunity and talking about the organizational and communication skills it helped you develop. It should also consist of the choices you make along your educational path. Peterson gives the example of a student trying to decide between a double minor or a single minor and an internship.
"Have some relevant work experience. It doesn't matter that it's an internship or a volunteer thing," she said. "It's all important. I'll always encourage students to take that internship instead of a second minor."
You Never Know...
While you're honing your resume and summing up your experience as concisely as possible, be sure not to leave anything out.
A tough task, but, Peterson says, it's particularly important for applicants to represent not only their professional credentials but also their personal interest and activities. "You never know why someone's going to pull your resume out of a stack of 150 of them and say ‘this is the person we want to talk to,'" she said. "It's really important to list all your experiences in some way, shape or form because you don't know what's going to catch someone's attention. Maybe it's that you like to brew beer in your spare time. If they want to talk to you because of that, so be it."
This mindset extends to networking. One never knows when a good first impression and a personal connection can open an exclusive line of communication. Those relationships can be the difference in finding a job in a tough market.
"A big part of the job search is uncovering the job market through networking," Harvard's Collett says. "It's really important because it opens doors, it allows an individual to peek into an environment without committing, and it allows for the applicant to be seen without the employer committing. We talk about using tools like LinkedIn and how to triangulate to make contacts at firms and the like. There are some very passionate St. Mike's alumni who are willing to open the doors for classmates and fellow alumni. Part of a successful job search includes reaching out to them."
Further, job seekers cannot allow themselves to be paralyzed by indecision or discouraging portrayals of the job market in the media. Instead, Wall said, they need to do something not always comfortable for a Saint Michael's student, who is coming out of a small, close-knit community: they need to hustle.
"Their job is to get a job," Wall said. "That is priority number one. So, they should be working networks really, really hard. The St. Mike's network is vast. It's extensive. If someone with a St. Mike's affiliation calls me, I will always respond. If you have a David and Goliath attitude and say "I'm going to go into this job search and slay the dragon'— that's what employers are looking for. They're trying to solve problems and they want somebody that thinks they can actually do it."
Planning for a Career
See the Saint Michael's College approach to career planning and internships for our students.