Tips for the job search season

College students around the country are approaching graduation with anxious anticipation. This time of year is a busy time supporting not only recent college grads, but also those who may hear news about graduation and reflect on where they wish they were professionally.Whether you are embarking on your first job search post-graduation or in step with the season and eager to branch out at explore new horizons, this nice recent article, “9 Tips for College Seniors Looking for That First Job,” from the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development inspired my own list of tips for the job search season.

1. Make a plan.
I typically tell clients it can take 6-9 months to find a job. Sticking with it and being focused in your search is key to success. It can be challenging to find energy for the sometimes tedious aspects of the job search process, especially for college students who are just coming off of stressful finals and commencement activities. My advice: Make a plan for yourself with clear goals.

  • How many jobs per week do you plan to apply for? It is better to set a smaller goal, but put in application materials that are tailored to each position to which you plan to apply.
  • What steps must you take to be ready to apply for jobs? For example, do you need to revamp your resume or have a career consultant review your materials and offer feedback?
  • What time-frame is reasonable for each of these small tasks? Plotting out your goals and milestones on a calendar can really help you feel confident in knowing which tasks to handle first, and it can give you an idea of whether you are on track with the timeline that feels comfortable to you.
  • You can also take time to document your goals or vision for a happy work life now. You can look back on this if times get stressful or if you seem to lose track of your center in the stress of the job hunt.

Finally, you may also want to set up a job search spreadsheet where you can keep track of all the positions you have applied for and the dates so you know when it would be appropriate to follow-up. Having your goals and timeline determined, and having your organization systems in place will help you start your search on a strong foot.

2. Use all the resources available to you.
Many college graduates assume that because they have graduated they no longer are eligible to utilize the career services offices on their campus. This is true in some cases, but not all. Be sure you are taking full advantage of your resources as an alum in addition to seeking out private career consulting support, if appropriate.

Also consider the resources and career support available to you through groups you are a member of, such as professional associations or faith communities, for example. Stay in touch with faculty members who know you well – they hear about many openings. Also attend to your network and be sure you are leveraging your relationships to help put your network to work for you.

3. Balance your search across the visible and invisible job markets.
Speaking of networks – balance the amount of time spent on applying for posted jobs vs. investing energy in cultivating your own network. I teach a networking class at the University of Minnesota and it is always surprising to me how few students realize the full power of networking. Up to 70-80% of jobs may never be posted, so be sure you aren’t just competing with all the other job seekers for that visible job market.

To network effectively, you should be prepared to let people in your life know:

  • A bit about who you are
  • What you are interested in
  • The skills and strengths you bring
  • And where you see yourself headed

Through formal and informal connections, seek out opportunities to tell people that you are a recent grad or that you are job searching, and offer them enough detail about you so they can ascertain how they can help you in your search. This allows you to tap into the invisible job market. In your job search plan, be sure you set goals related to how many networking meetings you hope to have each week or month in addition to focusing on applying for open positions.

4. Pay attention to your online life.
When job searching we typically spend a lot of time and energy on our resume and cover letter. It is great to tailor these to specific positions, but it is also becoming increasingly important to attend to your online presence:

  • Linked In is becoming more of a norm across industries, which is a great thing because you can oftentimes highlight your strengths and skills in more interactive and interesting ways online as compared to in a formal resume. Spend time getting acquainted with Linked In, not only as a tool to collect contacts but also as a tool you can use to mine for potential networking contacts who may know about positions that are “invisible” to the general job search scene.
  • Depending on your industry or field, you may also want to develop your own personal website you can link to from Linked In or your resume where you are able to showcase more about who you are and what you are seeking in your next position.
  • Finally, “Google yourself” to see what prospective employers may discover about you online when they do a quick search. Clean up any privacy settings on social media and make adjustments as needed. Again, a career coach or career consultant can help you think through all of these aspects of your job search and candidate profile.

5. Be present to the process.
Job searching is stressful one day and exhilarating the next. There are a lot of ups and downs in this process and it can start to feel pretty disorienting after even a short time in the thick of it. My last tip is to be present to the process.

Try to take a step back and keep that big picture in mind:

  • What is your ultimate goal?
  • What are your values?
  • Are the kinds of positions you are applying for still in alignment with who you are and what you desire next from your work?

If you get to feeling low about your prospects it can be tempting to just begin applying for any open position. Stay focused on your goals and interests, and review that purpose statement or vision you crafted for yourself at the start of your search so you ensure you are staying true to yourself through the process.

Always listen to your gut. If you notice you do not have energy or enthusiasm for a specific position or industry, for example, maybe you should really listen in to what might be going on. Be present and reflect on what you are learning through the process. Sometimes we discover that the job search reveals our goals or priorities are a little different than we first anticipated they would be.

If you are looking to make a job change, reflect on whether you are running towards something or running away from something that isn’t working – and if the thing that isn’t working in your life is really your work at all?

Being this mindful in your job search process can sometimes feel uncomfortable, but staying in touch with yourself during your search is key to finding longer-term happiness and meaningful work that satisfies. 

I wish all the recent grads and spring job searchers out there good luck in the search!

Article: Stymied on the cusp of college

A look at what happens to the 10 to 15 percent of college-bound students annually who do not end up starting college in the fall.

During the summer before college, students must complete complex tasks often unrelated to the academic skills and abilities that earned them college admission in the first place. These tasks include verifying income information on financial-aid applications, evaluating supplementary-loan applications, reviewing health-insurance options, and scrambling to cover the costs of attendance not paid for by financial aid. Students from college-educated families have parents, if not private consultants, who help them complete these tasks. Low-income and first-generation students, on the other hand, more often must navigate these hurdles on their own.

Stymied on the cusp of college, from the Chronicle for Higher Education (10/6/14)

Are we asking the wrong questions? (Part I)

s-LOST-largeFrequently I find myself sitting across the table from a college student who is anxious and eager to have me help them answer burning questions about major and career choice. The conversation is different depending on the student, but many of them have similar struggles finding their path:

  • What is the “right” major?
  • What jobs can you actually do with this major?
  • Would this major or that major be better?
  • What about a minor? Which will make it easier for me to get a job?
  • And the dreaded… My parents want me to do this, but I am not sure. What do YOU think?

At the heart of all of these questions is a longing to know: How will I decide? Will I be okay? 

I have great compassion for students struggling to find their place. I remember not long ago sitting in a career coach’s office with similar questions, although mine were maybe a little different. My struggle to find career satisfaction was less about not knowing what inspired me, and more about figuring out how I could get paid to do work that I enjoyed. In many ways I still struggle to feel like I am fully able to realize all my professional potential and interests through my day job. More on that another day.

Yet recently, I find myself pushing students and prompting them to consider whether they are really asking the right questions at all? Could it be that we aren’t even close to the target? 

The world of work has changed dramatically and traditional-aged “millenial” college students face an uncertain and thrilling new terrain. Regrettably many of their coping skills are not sufficient to help them weather the challenge. (For more on this see Brooke Donatone’s recent Slate article: Why Millenials Can’t Grow Up).

So what are we to do? Shouldn’t we push these students to ask tougher questions? The kinds of questions that will help them find their place, clarify their purpose, and contribute their greatest gifts in service of the world?

Of course we should.  

Frameworks for pushing students to consider bigger questions abound, yet one particular initiative has captured my attention this week. The Association of America’s Colleges and Universities (AACU) has launched an initiative called Liberal Education and America’s Promise (LEAP). What intrigues me about LEAP is that it brings together educators and employers, challenging both groups to consider what skills and qualities are most needed to meet the demands of our global community and economy in this time. Consistent with other surveys, LEAP suggests that the skills needed to thrive in this new landscape extend beyond narrow professional training.

By defining Learning Outcomes, High-Impact Practices, and Assessment strategies, the LEAP initiative outlines a framework that career coaches, academic institutions, families, employers and other concerned groups can use to challenge our nation’s young professionals to consider bigger questions about what meaningful work will mean to them.

Further, they highlight successful partnerships between colleges/universities and employers that demonstrate how mutual interests can be achieved through careful planning. One of the most interesting results of this effort found that “93% of employers say that a demonstrated capacity to think critically, communicate clearly, and solve complex problems is more important than a candidate’s undergraduate major” (Source: Association of American Colleges and Universities- Liberal Education & America’s Promise (LEAP) Employer-Educator Compact, April 2013).

If undecided and exploratory students (and working adults, for that matter) are struggling to figure out how to decide, wondering if they will be okay, trying to sort out who they are and who they wish to be… Is the question really, “Which major is right?” Absolutely not.

So what questions should we be asking? And where can we find the answers that students, families, and our communities truly need to thrive in this uncertain space? 

Stay tuned for a future blog post as the conversation continues in Part II. In the meantime, I welcome your thoughts.

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