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Top Things Every College Student Needs to Do Before Graduation

college graduation

A few weeks ago I had the pleasure of working with some Penn State undergrads to mentor them on the steps they should take right now to better position themselves for a career in the field of communications.

I will tell you that the post-graduation job hunt was rough when I was in school, and it’s just as challenging, if not more so, now. Especially for students who dream of moving to a big city and working for a big name brand, the competition is fierce! I was encouraged to see how seriously these college students were taking their studies and internships and how eager they were to learn more about polishing up their personal brand to make them a desirable hire.

Whether I was talking to a freshman or fifth year senior, studying public relations or film and video, I found myself repeating the same core piece of advice. Here’s what I told my mentees, and here’s what I want to tell you to. Building your personal brand, at every stage of your career, is highly important. It’s one of the few things you can control and actively improve each and every day.

So while you furiously continue to send out those resumes and cover letters, scour the internet and refresh your inbox – here’s what you can be doing to make the most of your time spent waiting for a call-back.

Polish Your Resume

Just about every college or university has a dedicated “career services” office that offers some great advice to get you started in the right direction with building a professional resume. That being said, many of my colleagues and I have run into the issue of career services’ advice being slightly different than what we know to be current best practices.

The bottom line here is to first seek initial help from career services, but don’t stop there! Do your own research for resume advice from respected online sources. Also ask alumni or family friends who work in your field (and who will know what information and formatting the industry wants to see on your resume right now) to review your resume. You are likely to encounter differing opinions, and will need to seek balance, but use your best judgement as to who best understands your industry.

Create a Linkedin Profile

Most college students are on Linkedin. If you’re not, well start there. If you are on Linkedin already, how polished is your profile? There are countless articles on best practices for creating a professional Linkedin profile, so again, do your research!

If I had to quickly prioritize the main areas that can make or break a good Linkedin profile, they would be having a professional-looking profile picture, using your personal summary to really “tell your story,” fully and accurately listing your education and job history and prioritizing your list of skills to increase your SEO.

Treat it like any of your other college projects, giving it your attention to detail, creativity and technical know-how. After all, building your personal brand is likely the most important project you’ll ever work on!

Build (and Organize) Your Contact List

Growing your personal brand is similar to growing a business’s brand in that you need to establish a quality list of contacts (potential leads, referrals or employers). Throughout your high school and college career you have made quite a few professional contacts, whether you realize it or not.

It’s important to take the time to capture these contacts and organize them in an excel spreadsheet. Take an afternoon and list out anyone of influence that you know, or know through someone else. These could be local business owners in your hometown, contacts from a past job or internship, your professors and faculty, or friends’ parents. Don’t discount anyone! Even if they do not work in your career field, think of how many people they know. A contact two or three degrees removed from someone you know personally, just might help you land your dream job.

How you choose to use this list of contacts is up to you, but I suggest sending them a professional email, preferably through Constant Contact or Mail Chimp, announcing your upcoming graduation and highlighting your skills and education. Make a direct ask for these contacts to pass on your resume to anyone they know who may be hiring in your field. Be sure to attach your resume! By making it easy for your contacts to forward this email, you have the potential of reaching hundreds of people who just might be looking to hire someone like you!

Create a Portfolio of Your Work

Now more than ever, college students have all the tools they need to quickly and easily create an online portfolio of work. Especially if your major is one that has great visual components (graphic design, landscape architecture, art, etc.), you simply must have a professional online portfolio of work to be a top competitor in your field.

Wix, Squarespace and WordPress (and many, many more) offer free websites that you can customize and launch in a few, easy steps. Sure, it’s not going to look like a $50k+ website, but that’s not necessary! What’s necessary is showing a potential employer that you are a professional go-getter who is tech savvy and who goes the extra mile. Be sure to link out to this online portfolio from your resume and in email emails you send to potential employers/contacts.

Hone in On Your Career Objective

Does your resume include a clear objective for what you’re looking to get out of your career? If you want to stand out, it’s so important to clearly communicate your “why.” Work to define your career objective, or you can call it your professional mission statement. In about two sentences you should be able to describe your drive to work in the industry and the unique skills you bring to the table.

Best of all, with a clear objective, you will have a strong and polished answer to provide to any potential employer who asks you the common, but often challenging question of “So what do you want this job?”

Scrub Your Social Media

This is a hot topic for our current generation of college graduates. You’ve likely built a robust collection of social media posts and pictures throughout your college career. While the archive of memories are ones you don’t want to forget, they’re better saved offline. You’ll want to dedicate quite a bit of time to carefully “stalking” yourself on social media to remove anything that could even remotely be a red flag for a future employer. Look at your profile through eyes. How do you want to be represented?

Do keep in mind that simply deleting posts and images is by no means a guaranteed they won’t appear elsewhere. You’ll want to also search for your name and any other distinguishing characteristics (such as your college’s name, hometown or major) and see what comes up. If you need help scrubbing some less than desirable search results, or you simply want to move favorable search results (such as awards or honors) up in ranking, I highly recommend Brand Yourself. Seriously, check it out!

Network with Your Professors

This final piece of advice is what I feel is most overlooked by college students and that’s utilizing the network (and knowledge) of your professors. They’re the ones teaching you everything you need to know about your industry, certainly they have a highly influential network. Schedule time to really talk with them about your career goals, ask questions and express and uncertainty or frustration. Office hours are not limited to reviewing class materials.

You will never regret building a personal relationship with your professors who can continue to support you after graduation. On a similar note, be sure to utilize your alumni network. We truly care about you guys and want to see you thrive in the same industry we dedicated our college career to studying. I speak from personal experience when I say it brings us alums great joy to see the next generation succeed!

Do you have other advice to share with college students preparing for life after graduation? Join in the conversation by leaving a comment below!

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Posted by on April 16, 2018 in Career, Education, Life

 

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How Some of the Worst Jobs Have Made My Career Better

how-some-of-the-worst-jobs-have-made-my-career-better

For anyone who has worked summer jobs, internships, entry level jobs and hey, even high-profile, but highly demanding roles within a business, you know this to be true. There are drawbacks to every job you’ve ever worked.

The hope for a happy career is to ultimately find a job where the positives outweigh the negatives and maybe you even learn to embrace the negatives a little. But until you’ve made it to this point, you’re likely compiling a bunch of horror stories of jobs that make you consider moving to a remote island and living off the land.

To offer you some inspiration and encouragement that you’re not alone, here’s a breakdown of some of my worst employment experiences and what I learned from each of them along the way.

The Job: Under-the-table lawn work

The Lesson: It’s no one’s responsibility but your own to make the job enjoyable (or at least bearable). I learned this at the age of 16 when I spent hours in the hot sun, by myself, pulling weeds and moving mulch for a neighbor. At first it sounded great. I could set my own hours, work as much or as little as I wanted in a week and get paid in cash. However, I hated every hour I spent in that gorgeous lawn as the minutes barely crept by. I realized if I was going to survive the summer – and earn my spending money – I needed to find a way to make it more enjoyable.

I started to bring a radio with me, set goals and mini rewards (snack time, anyone?) to breakdown the work day and work efficiently so I could knock projects off in a fraction of the time they estimated it would take. The lesson I learned was if you’re bored or miserable with your job, first think about what you can do to make it more enjoyable. Little changes can make a world of difference!

The Job: The dining commons on a college campus

The Lesson: Everyone needs to share in the sh*t work. At the dining commons, I mostly had the same shifts in the area I enjoyed working the most. But one Sunday each month, I (and every other employee) was assigned to work in the wash room where I would clean the gunk off plates and trays next to a steamy industrial washer. Not glamorous at all. I hated when this shift came up on my schedule and good luck ever finding someone to switch! The lesson I learned here was that in order for the sh*t work to get done, everyone had to take a turn. In the grand scheme of my work schedule, this was such a small fraction of my time, and I got to spend the rest of my work hours doing something I actually felt was fun. Because we all took our turn, it lessened the load for everyone.

The Job: A desk job in state government

The Lesson: Give every job an earnest effort, but if it’s not taking you the direction you want to go, have courage to change courses. This pretty much sums up my short, but life-changing experience in state government. Coming off a statewide political campaign and being dumped into a snail’s pace desk job, felt like falling off a speeding train. At first the set hours, more than manageable workload and low expectations seemed great. But it didn’t take long before I realized I couldn’t do this for another month, let alone another 9 years to get vested.

I realized that this job would waste the precious early years of my life, the ones where you have unjaded ideas, unlimited energy and a mindset to take on the world. I couldn’t risk suppressing the talents I know I had to be an entrepreneur – so I made the leap…and never looked back. God, I’m grateful for that job that pushed me over the edge!

The Job: A virtual writing position

The Lesson: Don’t let anyone undervalue your talent or monopolize your time. This was a gig I actually took on as I was simultaneously running Bennis Public Relations (and working from home with my 6 month old son). I thought it could be like any of my other consulting clients where I had set monthly deliverables, worked virtually and could provide what they needed. Simply put, I was very, very wrong. This client monopolized all of my time and because I was technically on payroll (and not a contractor), it’s not like I was getting paid more for the additional work they threw on me.

It felt eerily similar to my political campaign days and my gut told me it was all wrong. Not more than 6 weeks in, I made the hard decision to give my notice and leave the position. Up until this point I never “fired” any client or left a gig, but in retrospect I am so grateful I had the support of my family and the confidence to get out when I did! As fate would have it, not more than one month later, two awesome clients cold-called me and we’re still working together today!

What terrible job experiences have you had that have actually had a positive impact on your career? Share your stories by commenting below!

 
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Posted by on November 28, 2016 in Business & Success

 

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How to Job Hunt While Working Your Current Job

how-to-job-hunt-while-working-your-current-jobJust because you’re currently employed doesn’t mean you’re done looking for your next opportunity or career move. In fact, it’s smart to begin planning your next steps before you quit your current job to avoid a lapse in pay or a gap in your resume. The downside is it can be challenging to find enough hours in the day to fulfill the responsibilities of your current job while putting forth your best effort to find a new one.

From our first-hand experience with this very scenario, we have four helpful tips to make your “working” job search just a little bit easier. Take a look!

Block schedule time for job hunting

Just like you schedule your current work tasks and appointments, you need to also schedule the daily tasks and milestones you need to accomplish to keep your job hunting on track. Treat it like any other commitment on your calendar and make a dedicated space for it. On what day and what time will you check for job listings? When will you update your resume and send to potential employers? When will you schedule interviews? Allow margin in your daily work schedule to accommodate these extra tasks.

Update your Resume

Before you start diving into the application process of your job search, dust off that resume! Take the opportunity to first update your most current employer, if you plan to use them as a reference. Next, research the latest resume template trends and update your formatting, as necessary. Carefully review your content and adjust any areas that may or may not be relevant for the new job you’re seeking. Lastly, add any marketable skills and attributes that would make you more valuable and appealing to your prospective employer.

Take advantage of online resources

With today’s technology, we are fortunate to have instant access to countless resources that can make job hunting easier. First, make sure your Linkedin profile is up to date and professional looking. Next, create a profile on popular job seeker websites. Also browse these same sites for potential job opportunities. Finally, familiarize yourself with your ideal employers’ websites to see if they have listed any job openings or career opportunities – and check back often!

Schedule time outside of work

Working a fulltime job while looking for a new fulltime job is essentially working two jobs. It will require a lot of time and dedication, but the reward is a new career that you love! It’s important to not use hours of your current job to look for a new job. Not only could this get you fired, it can also jeopardize this employer as a future reference on your resume. Basically, this requires you to use your personal time to job hunt, which is fair and reasonable. You will need to sacrifice social time and maybe even a little sleep and relaxation to put in the hours to find your new dream job. If this hard work seems intimidating, you should carefully consider your motivation to get a new job. No matter what, a career change requires a lot of work as well as stepping outside your comfort zone. If you’re committed to making a change, these (temporarily) long hours should seem manageable, given the potential reward at the end!

Are you currently looking for a new job while simultaneously working a fulltime job? Let us know how you balance both responsibilities or ask us a question related to this topic!

 
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Posted by on November 14, 2016 in Business & Success, Life

 

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4 Reasons to Keep an Updated Resume – Even When You’re Not Looking for a Job

4 Reasons to Keep an Updated Resume

If you’ve been settled into your current job, even for just a year, it may be time to revisit and update your resume. You might be thinking “Why would I spend my time on that? I enjoy my job and have no plans to leave anytime soon.” Unfortunately, our economy and personal situations are equally hard to predict and either could land you unexpectedly unemployed or with the immediate need to find another job.

By keeping an updated resume, you won’t be overwhelmed by the task of updating it with a decade or more of new work experience, or worse yet, creating a completely new one from scratch. This is a major time savings when time is of the essence!

Simply put, the power of keeping a polished resume throughout your career can be more valuable than you think. Take a look at these 4 reasons to keep an updated resume, even when you’re not looking for a job.

Resumes are used for more than just job hunting

Keep in mind that a resume serves far more purposes that just landing a new job. If you want to apply for an award, toss your hat in the ring to be a guest speaker or be considered for a promotion within your current position, an updated resume may be required. By keeping an updated resume, you’re that much more prepared to jump on these opportunities as they arise.

It helps you see areas that might need strengthening

Could some continuing education or an industry certification help give you more of an edge in your professional field? As you update your resume periodically, you can see areas that may need to be strengthened in order to keep up with your peers. As much as your resume is a snapshot of your past work experience and qualifications, it can also serve as a road map to your future professional goals. If you take the time to review it frequently, you will see the potholes that need a little filling.

You may not be looking for a job, but a job could be looking for you

Headhunters and hiring managers might see your qualifications (like on social media platforms such as Linkedin) and approach you about a job opportunity. By keeping your resume updated, you’ll be able to quickly act on such an offer without hesitation. This is all the more reason to also keep your Linkedin profile updated along with your printed resume. They duplicate essentially the same information, so it’s hardly any additional work, especially considering the potential gain from doing so.

If and when you start a new job search, you’ll be glad you kept up with it

Updating a resume that is twenty years old is far more overwhelming than one that is updated every year. Plus, think about all the details that are sure to get lost over time. Can you recall all of the responsibilities and achievements from your first job from memory? Not likely. If you commit to capturing this information on a yearly basis, your resume will stay up to date and comprehensive of all the amazing things you have accomplished in your career thus far. Best of all, whenever you find yourself in need of a resume, it will be as simple as pulling up the file and glancing over it for a quick review rather than blowing off a pile of dust and trying to recall details of your job from several decades prior. Your future self cannot thank you enough for this!

When’s the last time you took a critical look at your resume? Share whether you do or do not have an updated resume and why by commenting below!

 
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Posted by on July 25, 2016 in Business & Success

 

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