Some advice to new college graduates about getting their “foot in the door.”
Before I had even graduated from college, I constantly was given the advice that I had to get my “foot in door” and start somewhere with a job even as I had grand plans to take over the world with my sheer drive and genius.
However, unfortunately, I was often given less than useful advice from the college career counselors on resume writing and how to really prepare for an interview. There were also many important things that I had to learn the hard way. The hard way included working long hours for low pay at jobs that I did not like and that did not have any career potential. Don’t let this be you.
So how do you really get a job, especially since most job listing require “experience.” And as a recent graduate all you have to offer is (hopefully) a good brain and education and a desire to be at least successful enough to hold down a job to pay the bills. Before I give you some ways that do work, first I will discuss some that did NOT work for me.
Conventional ways of finding jobs that in my experience did not work:
1) Applying to jobs listed on job boards like Monster.com, Careerbuilder.com or Craigslist.org
This was never effective for me. Now, this might work if you have a degree in a hard science or computers or engineering where your education correlates closely to your degree. Or you have some special work experience or training which is in demand, once again if you are young often engineering or IT related.
Perhaps you have noticed that unless you have at a least a few years of experience or special skills most of the jobs listed turn out to be in low skill high turnover professions like entry level sales or they are actually a front for network marketing companies. In all honestly most of the listings for a new graduate with a liberal arts degree really SUCK!
The only jobs that I actually got from these sites did not come from my direct application to a specific job listing. The jobs came after a recruiter contacted me and then helped me tailor my resume to a specific job and then coached me for the interview. So, if you have been getting down because none of the jobs you submitted your resume for turned into an interview or a job, the good news is you are not alone and it’s not your fault.
2) Applying directly to companies without it coming from an employee referral.
In 10 years I also never got a job that was not sales, customer service or retail related from directly applying to a company. One company I used to work for, a well known management consulting firm told us during our employee orientation that 10% of the resumes submitted for jobs came from employee referrals but those resumes were used to fill over 80% of the jobs! I don’t know if these numbers are true at all companies, but I am confident that referrals generally comprise a large share of the employees that are hired.
So now that we’ve examined a few common methods of finding a job that DON’T really work in my experience, here are a few options that have helped.
1. Temping or staffing firms.
If you are just out of college, some of your best paying jobs might come from temp agencies. This includes companies like Kelly Services, ManPower and Randstad. In Washington, DC especially, government agencies, trade associations or companies use many temps or “contract” employees. Why are temps and longer term non-permanent employees so popular?
Benefits to the employer include:
- Speed and flexibility: In many government agencies or private associations there are often rigid and complex laws, rules and budgetary restrictions in place. As a result of these restrictions, managers often rely on hiring temps or “contract” employees to meet shorter term staffing needs. Even though they are called “temporary” or “contract” jobs, the contract or term can oftentimes be extended much longer than the original term, sometimes indefinitely.
- The ability to avoid paying significant benefits on top of the base salary.
- The chance to hire you on a trial basis and fire or not renew your assignment if they are not satisfied with your work.
Benefits to the prospective EMPLOYEE include:
- Hiring starts with temps during an economic recovery. In a slowly recovering economy, hiring sometimes takes awhile to pick up. Therefore many businesses will hire temps and sometimes those positions can turn into permanent positions after a couple of months. Once permanent hiring takes place, temps have already been accumulating experience and proving themselves desirable enough to be hired as full time employees. Temps can also have an easier time getting hired during an economic downturn or expected downturn because they can be let go easily.
- Temp agencies also help to educate and prepare you to be an employee in a practical way that most colleges do not. Since the agencies make money when you are hired they often help write your resume and give you interview coaching so that you will get hired. In my experience recruiters and temp agencies gave much much better resume advice and interview coaching than the college career services office.
- Another benefit with temp agencies is that they can help you develop more marketable job skills. Most of the larger companies have computer training software. Being able to have at least proficient knowledge of Microsoft Office is almost a pre requisite for most office jobs. Often if you test as being “advanced” you are eligible for the highest paying, longest lasting assignments that are also more likely to be “temp to perm” assignments. You can usually retake the tests as many times as it takes to get to the “expert” level. So each time you don’t make the highest score, you just run through the tutorial software again and then retake the test. It actually doesn’t take very long to become an “expert” in Microsoft Word, Excel or PowerPoint if you are generally good with computers.
- Learning software also goes beyond general office software like MS Office. Oftentimes this is a great way to learn specialty computer programs for web design and development. This can include programs like Adobe Flash for example. Learning these programs through a temp company’s educational software saves you the time and money of buying the software and the training software for yourself. Also when you complete one of their tests it can be just as good as if you already have experience using it in an office job already. Of course in retrospect now that you have polished your skills, maybe you really did learn more at your last job than you had previously thought…
Recruiters are another great way to get hired. Recruiters are professionals who make their money by placing people at companies. Therefore you, the job seeker are their product. They will help you polish your resume in general as well as help you tailor it to the specific job before submitting the resume. They will also often coach you before as interview, sometimes even role playing a mock interview before your “real” phone and/ or face to face interviews with the hiring client.
Many companies rely on recruiters to do most of the initial screening for them, knowing that they have a direct financial incentive to actually supply candidates that are likely to get hired.
Finding these recruiters can sometimes be a challenge, however here are some good ways to find them:
- Contact recruiters directly, they can often be found through internet searches for recruiters, headhunters or staffing firms. Even if a recruiter can’t help you, they can often refer you to a recruiter that can.
- You find them or they find you through professional networking sites like LinkedIn.
- You get referred to a recruiter by someone they have placed in a job. This could even be a former co-worker, a college or high school classmate or even a friend of a friend. Once again, LinkedIn is a great tool. Also letting anyone and everyone know that you are looking for a job is very helpful. Recruiters often pay a bonus to the person who refers you if you are hired and the recruiter gets their bonus.
- A recruiter contacts you after seeing your resume on job boards like Monster.com or Careerbuilder.com. This is where “refreshing” your resume, or resubmitting it is helpful. This way your resume stays at the top of the pile. Perhaps the best times to resubmit a resume are on a Monday morning, or the morning of the last day of the month.
- You use a resume distribution service. Most of these you have to pay for, but usually the fee is less than $100. This is where your resume is emailed to possibly hundreds of recruiters. Recruiters then pick out resumes that they think they can work with and then contact you.
3. Employee referrals
Many companies prefer and actively encourage employee referrals by offering generous bonuses, oftentimes well over $1,000. This is because employees are likely to pre-screen the candidates. They don’t want to look bad by submitting someone who is obviously not qualified. Also candidates that are referred may be likely to stay longer because they have some personal connections and relationships before they have even started to work for the company.
Employees can also be a great ally, because of the financial incentive as well as the possibility that they are a personal friend. In my experience they have helped me prepare for interviews, edit my resume and advise me on which jobs I should apply for from publicly available job listings from the company’s website. Then they helped me tailor my resume to the job description. Sometimes an employee can even get a hiring manager a “heads up” and extra kind words that could make the extra difference.
How do you find employees to refer you, especially if you are just out of college and don’t have a large professional network?
- Your college or high school alumni network. Volunteering at or going to alumni events either before or after graduation is a great way to network.
- Some colleges even have a database searchable by company name or industry. I did this once to land a job: I searched for a company I wanted to work for and then copied and pasted the same message to every person. Basically it said that I was interested in working for the company and wanted to discuss their experience working for company x. In my experience this worked with 3 out of 23 people that I contacted, contacting me back. And I got a job working for that desired company.
- Any volunteer organizations that you or any friends or family members are associated with or have been associated with in the past can be useful. Volunteering and interning are great ways to make contacts. Therefore, consider the caliber and types of contacts that you are likely to meet from your volunteering or internships. Often you are better off being at the lowest rung as a congressional intern, or for a large or prestigious company than you are having more responsibility working for a local politician or an association that is not very well known.
- LinkedIn – This is very helpful because in addition to the job listings on the site you are also able to contact people within 3 degrees of separation. For example you can search for the name of a company and then you will see everyone who is your contact, and your contacts contacts, i.e your contacts + your contacts contacts = your network
Then you can contact anyone in your network and use the same informational interviewing strategy, knowing that the person you are contacting stands to gain a generous bonus for helping you.
I have also had recruiters that were contacts contact me directly just because I updated my status, or resume or changed something on my profile.
Those are a few ways to get hired that have really worked for me in my 10 years of experience in the working world. Even as I transition into being running my own business full time, I have learned very valuable skills about networking, marketing and selling while looking for jobs as a prospective employee. In my experience, once I learned what I have shared with you, I have always been able to find a job, even in the middle of perhaps the worst job market in a generation: the economic recession starting in 2007 followed by the current slow and tenuous recovery.