Here are the six things I share with my former students feeling the stress of the job hunt when there isn’t a clear “hiring track” they can look for.
This isn’t a “network better” or “personal branding” post. It’s a step-by-step guide for any college student or recent graduate struggling to find a way into a job/career when the only door looks like the “Jobs@” email box. Learn to develop your depth (sooner) and show it off (smartly).
“I sent out like 80 resumes and none of them got back to me.”
“I don’t know what to do. The companies I want to work for don’t come on campus to interview.”
“Maybe if I get a Masters degree, then these companies would hire me?”
I am lucky that I develop fairly close relationships with hundreds of college students per year — at least 200 students every school term. Being a college professor offers a unique window into the world of fear and uncertainty of career paths them. And because I teach entrepreneurship and innovation, I see firsthand how students without a clear “career path” wrestle through the uncertainty ahead.
Every school year — especially as the spring semester winds down — I get a couple dozen emails from current and former students asking for help in their job hunt. Usually the notes say something about “not sure where to turn next”, “applied to a ton of places” and “unclear why they don’t even give me a screening interview.”
What do you do when you find yourself feeling “stuck” — you have a different career path in mind then the world seems to be opening up to you? Here are the six things I share with my former undergraduate and MBA students feeling the stress of the job hunt when there isn’t a clear “hiring track” they can look for:
- Find a More Specific Job You’d Want. What is your dream job? I’d taught students for five years before I started asking them that question. Why did it take me five years? Because I simply assumed everyone knew — they just were taking my class as a part of their own personal journey somehow.
Boy was I wrong. Most people have a general view of their future but don’t really get specific enough to help themselves.
Here’s what I tell students now:
Go out and research LinkedIn and find 15–25 LinkedIn profiles of people that graduated 3 years ago and have the job you want at the company you want to work at.
It’s crazy what happens next. This process makes it real for you — you actually start to look at jobs in a way where YOU are in that job. It humanizes the whole process. Start by looking at yourself and the people who you aspire to be in 3 years. That offers you a much clearer look into your own path.
2. Find a More Specific PATH to get you the job you want. Once you’ve gone out and identified 15–25 people that have a job that you’d love to have a company you’d be interested in working at, you’ve got a ton of new information at your finger tips.
Research these people. What schools did they go to? What internships did they do? What clubs and organizations were they involved with? Follow them on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram. Who do they follow on these platforms?
That’s the crazy part… you may discover you *don’t* want to have that job after seeing specifics of these individuals or you may find something else altogether. But until you get specific on what job, role, company you want — and what paths others took to get there — it’s a little like driving somewhere without a map.
And when you talk to them, you’ll be amazed if you ask them “what do you do every day?” Often times we see a job title or even a job description and we don’t really know what someone’s responsibilities are. Learn the real truth can help you determine if this type of position or role is even a fit for you.
3. Network Differently. You know what’s so funny? We obsess about networking and talk about how you need to network to succeed. But the reality is no one ever tells us HOW to network. They just say to do it.
Most of us are terrible at networking. Why? Because we go to a room where a lot of people are and *hope* to meet someone that can hire us.
That’s a terrible idea. That means you basically have to get lucky. AND it means you are asking for something from someone (or expecting something).
Instead, why don’t you meet people that you know can teach you something helpful in your job hunt. You don’t need them to hire you… just to teach you.
Let me share a personal story: I was graduating from law school in May 2006. My wife got accepted to University of Washington for her PhD program in March. That meant we were moving from DC to Seattle… and I didn’t have a job and only knew one person (one classmate) from Seattle. When I looked at the job postings, I saw about 3 in the entire city for entry level attorneys. Honestly, I was freaking out.
So I basically tried to network a little differently — rather than reaching out to HR departments or sending resumes, I tapped into the network of attorneys from my law school. I sent out notes asking for advice about the Seattle legal market.
Of course I wanted to get hired by the firms these people worked for, but even getting a few conversations to help understand the hiring landscape would help. Unfortunately, I also knew it wasn’t going to be the easiest thing to get hired at a top firm…
I got a thoughtful response back in which Sam offers me real, helpful advice, “In all candor, though, I must advise you that your class rank will hurt your chances of being seriously considered by Heller Ehrman.” And yea it hurt to be told that I probably wasn’t a fit for Heller, but at least I got some advice… that itself was worth knowing.
AND, there here’s the kicker… Heller Ehrman did hire me. In fact, even though I didn’t have the #1 class ranking (far from it) and was looking super late in the hiring cycle, I received 6 offers from Seattle law firms when at the time I started looking there were only 3 entry level attorney jobs posted in ALL of Seattle.
Yes sure part of that is good fortune, but the reality was I was able to get on the phone with a bunch of people who took a little pity on the kid who was moving to Seattle 2 months before graduation for his wife to pursue her dreams. And then once I got them on the phone, I turned them into advocates. Even if they didn’t have a job listed, they could get to know me, potentially be helpful and offer me some insights.
Okay, so what should you do to ‘Network Smarter’? Well remember how in #2 you came up with a list of 15–25 people who you aspire to have their job?
Connect with them and have a conversation. Don’t ask them for a job — ask them how they got started in their career. And even better, consider asking if they’d be game to be interviewed for a blog post you’re writing or perhaps something bigger like a book or a podcast.
4. Depth Matters. This one may be a little more difficult for you if you’re looking for a job today… but honestly even if you’re looking for a job today, you’re actually looking for your NEXT JOB in 2 years already… so this’ll still apply.
One of the things people fail to recognize is that hiring an early career professional means hoping you actually know what you want to do with your life. The last thing I want to do is hire someone who worked for me for 3–6 months and learned “boy, you know what I’d really rather be doing X — thanks for helping me learn that.”
I want to hire someone who I *know* is excited to work in THIS role in MY company. So how can I know that?
Depth. Yes, I want to be able to know that someone has depth in an area, an industry, a role, a problem statement, etc. I want someone who has written term papers and blog posts on a subject; someone who has gone to conferences; someone who is curious and passionate to learn more. AND, even better is if they see my company and this role as a pathway to get it. That’s depth.
I realize you may be saying, “I don’t know what I want to do — I’m still just 21 and trying to figure out what I want.”
Here’s the thing: you know. You don’t know for certain, but you have a good indication of what excited you more than anything today. And if you forced yourself to choose knowing you could get a job there, then you’d almost certainly know.
You’ll just have to make a choice. No, that doesn’t mean its forever and you’ll very well change careers and paths a bunch of times. But pick something now based on where you are today…
That’s place you choose is the area where you need to develop depth. Focus there, dive in and become an expert. That’s one of the main things we discovered with Signal Class. People knew what they loved and had likely been developing depth for a while… you just have to push them to believe it and show off that expertise and depth.
What do you do? Well, writing a book isn’t a bad idea… we took 15 students and turned them into authors, dramatically changing their careers through Signal Class. But whatever it is, do something that is meaningful and meaty. If you love to code, pushing open source will help. Create a blog. Attend conferences. Organize an event series. Create an organization.
Do. More. Stuff. You. Love. Doing.
5. Build a Trail of Evidence of your Depth. Now you heard me say “Depth Matters” before — the thing I *didn’t* say (but will now) is that potential employers want to be able to see that depth. Not just have you tell me about it — I want to be able to see it.
Most of the time before I meet anyone — but especially a job candidate — I Google you. Yes, I want to see everything I can about you. What you write on LinkedIn, read your prior tweets, see what you post on FB, etc. I’m not looking for “gottchas” but I’m looking for evidence of depth. Can I tell what you love doing… and do you show it off.
That’s why I had my students write a book. Yes seems extreme, but it’s really clear that when someone “looks you up” there is depth if you wrote an entire book on it. But it doesn’t have to be a book — if I see photos of you from a startup conference, that is evidence. If I see you retweeting startup luminaries and offering your own comments on their posts, that means something to me. It’s evidence.
Be aware, the key thing here is evidence isn’t about “personal branding”, which I quite frankly hate. It’s about showing evidence of your depth. Don’t try and “position” yourself for jobs — just be authentic to your passions and purpose.
This takes time. But sustained commitment to something you care about is one of the best ways others can see evidence of your depth.
6. Be Patient. I get it… finding a job is stressful and difficult. Saying to “be patient” is a tough pill to swallow. And in particular you may look around and see others having “success” and it’ll add even more stress. The reality is that if you know what you want, then you’ll need to be patient with finding it. Said another way — the job you ACTUALLY want isn’t going to be the easiest one to get (usually).
I love sharing the story of one of my students Yasmeen. She, like most college students, didn’t really know what her dream job was until she was pushed to really think about it. After a few days of going through the ‘dream job’ assignment she responded: “I know. I want to work for Under Armour, or a similar company in the sports marketing arena.”
The Long Run: Finding Purpose in the Journey
How Yasmeen Sharara is running her own life and career one mile at a time
This was a huge insight for her — something that oftentimes takes people years to find. But she figured it out and in many ways continued to develop her own depth over the last semester of her senior year. Then, as graduation day came, she began to worry… ‘I don’t have a job yet. Did I fail?’
No, the amazing thing is that Yasmeen is probably better off than someone who just takes a job in an area the aren’t passionate about.
Why? Well think of it this way… let’s say worst case it takes Yasmeen 2 months to find a job she loves. That’s two months of stress and then she starts doing what she loves. While another student takes “a job” because they need one when they graduate. They have that job for a few years and *hopefully* figure out what they eventually want to do.
Yasmeen spent 2 months looking for her dream job or career path while the other student may have spent years looking for their dream job or career path.
Be patient. If you have a clear picture of what you want and can communicate it to others — plus have an approach to achieve it — you’re likely able to communicate to others why you’ve taken the patient path.(Don’t get me wrong — many people may need to take ‘just a job’ to make money to pay the bills, but ask yourself is that job your first step in your career or is it just a way to make money while you are currently, actively searching for your ‘real’ first job?)
Remember, getting a gig at high profile companies (Google, Facebook, Capital One, etc.) or in highly competitive roles (VC, sports marketing, sports teams) means you’re competing against many other highly qualified people. How do you stand out? And how can you be patient so that when they are looking, you’re available AND attractive?
All of us get obsessed with a clean, clear pathway in our careers. You submit a resume to some online box and boom, an interview appears. But the reality is life is complicated. Embrace the complexity, discover what you love and develop depth.
That’s the key to turning ‘unanswered’ resumes into conversations that’ll open doors for your career path.
Want to learn more? I teach a class dedicated to helping students discover and demonstrate their purpose. Learn more at www.SignalClass.com or apply for an upcoming cohort at www.SignalClass.com/apply.