Sunday, October 25, 2009

For College Graduates and their Parents

This economy has us all feeling a bit vulnerable when it comes to employment. Media headlines tell us that unemployment rates may be in double digits by 2010. While there are jobs available in many markets, laid off or experienced professionals along with newly minted college graduates are competing for the same entry-level jobs. As our December graduation approaches, I regularly speak with parents and college seniors who are thinking about what they will do after graduation. I've noticed that parents have a great influence on student behaviors and expectations during a job search. Here are a few concepts that both parents and college graduates should consider to avoid a meltdown in your relationship (and in my office) during these trying times.

Start early.
Many college graduates wait until the last moment to address their future. Recent research indicates that if you are not in accounting, engineering or nursing it can easily take up to six months or more to find a job after graduating. If you have waited, there are no quick fixes now. There are jobs in every market and industry, it just takes longer to find them and may require some flexibility. Avoiding a conversation about the future because the economy is bad, will not make it go away. A parent may have contacts that could help the new college graduate secure a job. If so, make sure it is the responsibility of the graduate to initiate and follow-up with the contact. Is the new college graduate willing to relocate? That may shorten the time it takes to find a job. While it may be scary at first, relocating to a new city, state or country can be a growing and exicting experience. It may also make the graduate more marketable if they return home after a year or two. A word to parents: Do not allow your graduate to blame the economy or anyone else for not finding a job. Resist the urge to whine and complain with the job seeker. Love, pray and encourage the job seeker at all times. The first professional job may not be your forever job, but your graduate must start the search and gain experience.

It’s a different world.
If you are a parent or adult coaching a new college graduate through a job search, you should be aware that many things have changed since you last applied for a job. What worked for 5 or 10 years ago may not work for today’s job seeker. The internet and social media now require nuances that you may not have had to consider. Online applications are common. If the employer does not have the option of attaching a resume then cut and paste from your resume into the application. If your new college graduate uses Facebook, MySpace or other social media, encourage them to be aware of the image portrayed to potential employers. Yes, 40% of recruiters say they are looking at social media to evaluate integrity, maturity and make hiring decisions. Blogs that have meaningful, interesting content or demonstrate technical knowledge are a useful way for an employer to get to know what you are capable of doing. Just make sure the blog is not a political, religious or social ranting about a controversial subject. and are good places to follow employers and join groups where you can be in the know about who is hiring and recruiters can contact you about an opportunity.

A one page resume is still preferred.
Employers are busy. On average, they are receiving 60 resumes for every one position available. To be sure you get noticed, keep the resume to one page as a courtesy and especially if you have less than 10-15 years of experience. Avoid using fill-in-the-blank resume templates because they may lose their formatting when emailed and are difficult to edit. Create a Microsoft Word document and also save it as a PDF. As a PDF, if you email it to employers it retains its formatting. Which leads to my next point, one size does not fit all. Customize your resume by highlighting skills and using words that relate to each job for which you're applying. Create two or three versions that highlight skills and interests that are valuable to an employer. Use verbs, (yes, action words) to describe what you’ve done in previous roles. Job and career objectives on a resume are optional. Recruiters and other employment professionals tell me that few people write them well. If they are too specific, a job objective can do more harm than good by shutting you out of potential opportunities. Summary statements are better. These are two-three bulleted sentences at the top of the resume that clearly state what you have accomplished and what you bring to the table. Community service, mission work, student government, sorority/fraternity leadership and other non-academic activities that indicate you are a well-rounded person should also be included on the resume. Checkout this resume mistakes link:

Don’t overthink cover letters.
Typically, a cover letter should accompany a resume, but the cover letter can also be the body of an email with the resume as an attachment. Some employers may call this a letter of intent or a letter of interest. All are the same thing. A cover letter/email should be no more than two-three very short paragraphs. It should indicate where you found about about the job, who your mutual contact may be, highlight a few skills you possess relevant to the job, close with an action step and a thank you.

Good manners matter.
A few things that have not changed and still get noticed by employers: politeness, follow-through, a positive, energetic attitude and good (verbal and written) communication skills. Rudeness, arrogance, impatience and entitlement attitudes look ugly on everyone. You know who you are and what you do...stop it or better yet, start it: be kind and polite during your job search. While a job search can be stressful, there is no reason to be rude or arrogant.

Today’s job search requires the skill, patience and follow-through of an elite athlete in training. Cultivate your desire to find a job and stick with a plan until you accomplish your goal. Do one thing each week to keep your job search moving forward and your skills fresh. Send that resume, make that call or research an employer. A decision to do nothing is simply false expectations appearing real, hmmmm...that’s an acronym for FEAR. Brian Tracy says it best,"The key to success is to focus our conscious mind on things we desire not things we fear." And Dale Carengie reminds us, “Most of the important things in the world have been accomplished by people who have kept on trying when there seemed to be no hope at all.” There is hope and you must keep trying. Never give up and most of all don't be afraid to ask for help. Meet with your college or university's career service professionals for help with resumes, interviewing and creating a job search plan. It really is possible to cut through all the noise and get that first job experience you need. Oh yes, don't forget to get some exercise to release stress and so your interview suit will fit!