Like a lot of people, I struggled to find work after completing my degree. I remember one low point in particular. A job ad promised an opportunity to join an expanding “marketing agency.” After a quick phone interview I was invited down to spend a day with staff and a couple of other candidates. My naiveté was such that when they explained this was a door-to-door sales operation (and that I was being sent out with a star performer and a hockey bag full of merchandise), I was too surprised to object. I lugged that bag around all day, watching the remarkable young woman I was paired with try to talk her way into various office and apartment buildings. It was humbling in more ways than one.
What I didn’t understand at the time was just how poorly I was conducting my job search. My wasted day – and the back pain that came with it – was a direct result of a lack of research, a non-existent networking effort and much else. It goes without saying that job hunting is difficult early in one’s career.
I called Jayne Simpson, a manager at Youth Employment Services, to talk about how to do this right. She shared 11 tips:
- You need a goal. What do you want to do? Who do you want to work for? Or at least, what sort of organization do you want to work for? This isn’t about limiting your options; it’s a refinement process that will ensure you’re focusing your time and effort on opportunities you’re well suited for. Prospective employers will recognize that, and respond favourably.
- Build your network. It’s bigger than you think. Your parents know people, your aunts and uncles know people. Never hesitate to ask for a hand. “At some point, we’ve all been in the position of needing help to find work,” Simpson told me. “People are really happy to help.”
- Book informational meetings. This is a must. Once you’ve decided on an industry you’re interested in, start reaching out to people who work in the field. Ask them for a bit of time to discuss the industry. Tell them you’d like their advice on how to break in. Again, more people will say yes to this request than you might think. These are not job interviews, they’re simply opportunities to develop a new contact and learn more about the field. But don’t treat them casually. Come prepared with informed questions. What you ask demonstrates your knowledge and commitment to the business. Take notes. Also, be respectful of your new contact’s time. These meetings are usually half an hour long, and they often take place outside the office (coffee is typical). When booking the meeting, ask how much time the person can give you. Stick to that schedule; don’t go long. At the end of the meeting, ask if the person has additional contacts in the industry he or she could share with you. Repeat the process. This is what people mean when they say looking for work is a full-time job.
- Don’t forget the thank-you note. This is too often overlooked. Always follow up a meeting with a thank-you email. This applies to job interviews and informational meetings.
- Keep a journal. Record who you’ve met and what they’ve told you. If they’ve referred you to someone, it’s important to keep track of that connection. Did your contact suggest staying in touch? Make a note of your next steps.
- Make the cold calls. Identify people you’d like to invite to that informational meeting, and call them. Email works too, but sometimes a phone call is more impressive. “We really encourage our clients to make the cold calls,” said Simpson. “That’s the way you can develop a human connection … They will be impressed by the amount of research and gumption you’ve shown to get to them and make an impression.”
- Target your resume and cover letter. This is especially important for young job hunters. Your relative lack of experience is a disadvantage, so make sure employers see that you’re focused on the industry you’ve applied to work in. Even if you lack experience in the field, draw a connection between your education, background, etc., and the job opportunity. Your cover letter should include an introductory paragraph that relates directly to the job and how you heard about it. The letter should summarize your qualifications. And it should make a specific point about how the opportunity aligns with you and your strengths. Demonstrate clearly that you’ve done your research about the organization and that this isn’t one of 50 resumes you emailed out last night.
- Prepare an elevator pitch. You should be able to describe your capabilities and why you’re right for the job in about 30 seconds. This is a critically important presentation skill that few practise. It demonstrates confidence, clarity of thought and an ability to speak in an organized manner.
- Always be honest. Large organizations usually have human resources people to conduct the first round of job interviews. That means you need to decide whether to reach out to the hiring manager in addition to submitting your resume. This is a tricky one: Use your judgment. If it feels appropriate, see if you can get a referral from someone in the company. If not, go through reception. And always be honest about why you’re asking. “You would never want to try to be sneaky or lie in order to get through to the right person,” said Simpson. “You have to be up-front … These are my intentions. It’s regarding a position that’s available.”
- Don’t give up. “It’s easy to say, and it’s difficult to do,” Simpson told me. “What we recommend to our clients is to join a job search club. Once a week we have a workshop where clients can come and discuss how their job search is going, relate stories to each other and just feel like they’re not alone.” This is one of the reasons it makes sense to hook up with an agency like Youth Employment Services. They can help.
- Ditch the purple resume paper. Everybody wants to stand out. The trick is to not be superficial about it. “Standing out might mean you have a breadth of experience that puts you above the competition or your cover letter is extremely well written and relates to knowledge of the actual company itself,” said Simpson. “The problem is some people hear “stand out” and they think of Lady Gaga. That’s not the kind of standing out you want to do.” Always be professional. Simpson once saw a resume that included a picture of the candidate posing with a tiger. “It stood out, but for all the wrong reasons.”
For further reading: Check out Nailing the job interview.