Making Yourself Marketable: The Frustrated Graduate's Guide to Waiting Out the Storm
But you can't change America's economic situation on your own, and you can't change your own situation by complaining. So turn off the TV, grab some cheese for your whine and put all that pent up energy into making yourself marketable.
Taking an Internship or Volunteer Position
Start by adjusting your attitude. You are your own marketing tool, and that means putting yourself out there. Whether it's taking an internship or doing volunteer work, now is not the time to rule out any opportunity, even if you thought your days as an unpaid worker were over.
Meg Stow Crowley, a recruiter at Talent Ad Group in Houston, recognizes that for many recent graduates, accepting an internship means waiting even longer to start paying back student loans. "However," she says, "by being out in the corporate field, you're gaining knowledge, experience, contacts and the ability to further network, and you're keeping your résumé going, versus having a huge gap in it."
Consider signing up for a temp agency or donating your time as a volunteer. In this current recession, organizations are starving for an extra set of (free) hands, and Meg believes volunteering, in addition to letting you be a Good Samaritan, lets you show a fresh side of yourself as a job candidate.
It's opportunities like these, she says, that will help you meet people, which never hurts in a job search. Keeping busy is half the battle, so "get up, take a shower and have a plan," Meg says. Show employers some initiative. If you're lucky, an internship could even turn into a full-time job.
When you're straight out of college, it's important to keep your résumé to one page. There's no need for a laundry list of your extracurricular activities. They can be overwhelming to an employer.
Ross Baltic, of Mercury Partners Executive Search Advisors in New York, explains that most executives are really just taking a quick glance through your credentials, so do your best to remain concise while still providing the necessary details.
If you end up with gaps between jobs, Ross says to fill those lulls with opportunities you might have normally overlooked, and definitely include them on a résumé. "If you're working on a startup company or trying to get something off the ground, it shows you were using that time. It also shows you weren't watching The Flintstones all day," he says.
As for including your grade point average and test scores, there's really no hard and fast rule, but consider which academic achievements best allow you to shine. If your GPA is slightly over a 3.0, Ross says the choice to provide it is up to you; however, he says, a 3.5 and above from almost any university speaks volumes about the academic worth of a candidate.
Also, consider including exemplary test scores. In certain industries, like finance and consulting, having a 1400 or 1500 on your SATs can help you stand out.
"At the end of the day," Ross says, "be honest. Don't leave anything off."
Perhaps even more important, though, is having an up-to-date résumé. You never know when an employer will be sitting next to you on the train. Meg suggests carrying a résumé at all times. If not, make sure you have multiple versions accessible—tailored to different angles of your field—to be sent five minutes after you get off the train.
In this era of rapidly changing technology, take time to make sure you're a fluent user. "[Social media] is a marketing plan for yourself," Meg says. "Ask yourself, 'How am I going to get out there?'"
Start by using job boards such as Monster, HotJobs and CareerBuilder as search engines to see what opportunities are available and where your experiences might fit. Often, she says, you can't reply to the job listings without becoming a member. But, for all you semibroke college grads, joining these sites is free.
For safe social networking, Meg says to make an e-mail address solely for your job search. Providing your professional information should not be a window into your personal life, so be protective of your identity. You can follow up with more contact information after you've spoken to an actual human being.
Meg also suggests creating LinkedIn and Plaxo accounts so your résumé is available to a wide professional audience. In some fields, such as sales, the ability to effectively use these social networking tools can even be a marketable skill.
However, Ross says you need to be careful of how you network on sites like Facebook and Twitter. Steer clear of posting anything that portrays you in a negative light. "A prospective employer seeing choices you made in college can be a big hindrance in you getting a job," he says.
In plain English: Take down any and all inappropriate pictures immediately. You know what drunk looks like, and so does your employer.
Use Personal Connections
If you haven't already, explore your social circle and use personal relationships as a marketing tool. Ross says there's no real downside to letting "friends of friends and colleagues of colleagues" know you're looking for employment.
However, avoid putting your friends and family in an uncomfortable position. "The personal network is a great place to start," Ross says, "so long as it's done in a tactful manner."
Like a résumé, an interview is a chance to sell yourself in a limited amount of time.
If you're a "people person," it's a chance to connect with your interviewer and show how well you'd fit in, and also to highlight the skills you bring to the table. Meg says the three most important things to keep in mind are to be clean, polished and straightforward. Listen to the questions, look your interviewer in the eye and directly answer what you're asked.
She suggests being proactive and up front about your intentions. "If it's something you really want to do," Meg says, "ask for the job. People are looking for some enthusiasm."
Bring a handful of questions that demonstrate thorough research into the company and the job description. Since you'll likely be speaking to a human resources representative, Meg advises tacking on a question that's directed to HR, such as when your start date could be, should you be offered the position.
Never ask about benefits, she says. An interview is about what you can do for the company, not what the company will do for you.
Ross cautions against losing sight of the meeting's purpose. "You want to remember that they are interviewing you," he says. "Don't turn the tables."
Additionally, he emphasizes the vitality of putting a positive spin on past work experience, no matter what. "Speaking negatively about a former employer or your experiences there never bodes well," Ross says. "Always be upbeat."
Ultimately, a little effort goes a long way. To reiterate your appreciation for the opportunity, Meg suggests sending a note or e-mail saying: "Thank you for your time. I'm really interested in this position. Please let me know what the next step would be."
Phone interviews, for many, can be more challenging than meeting face-to-face, especially if you're not listening closely for social cues.
As though you're getting into character for a stage performance, Meg says you should dress up— even for a phone interview—sit up straight and pretend your potential employers are looking straight at you the entire time. However, since a blank wall won't clue you in to their reactions, make a mental note if you haven't heard an "uh-huh" for a while. To keep them on their toes, and yourself from rambling, ask the interviewers if they'd like an example of what you've done in the past.
To stay on track, make a list of talking points in advance. If they cover most of your questions early on, Meg suggests saying, "You've answered a lot on my list, but I just have one more." Let them know you did some homework.
An interview is snapshot of your character, so check your attitude at the door and put your professional skills to the test.
It isn't fair.
But ultimately, the same persistence that got you through college will help you find shelter in this thundering recession. So buckle up and get ready to ride out the storm. After all, it's better than waiting in the rain. Right?