Busting into the job market for the first time is a huge challenge for college grads, and today’s high unemployment is certainly not making it any easier. The best way to overcome these challenges is to focus on networking and making great connections with the people who can put you (and your résumé) right in front of the hiring decision makers at your dream job.
Once the tassels are turned, the graduation parties end, and the finality of your college years sets in, there’s little time to waste in taking your first official step into real-world adulthood. For many college grads, that means pounding the pavement to get that first “real” job at a time when many seasoned professionals are also amongst the job-seeking ranks.
There’s good news and bad news for recent college grads looking for work, says Maribeth Kuzmeski. The good news: They’re more adept than their older counterparts at using the Internet and social media to find job opportunities. The bad news: They lack the networking and communication skills that older professionals have honed over the years.
“Thankfully, networking is a skill that can be mastered with the right motivation,” says Kuzmeski. “The first step: If you’re a recent college grad, start thinking of yourself as CEO of Me, Myself, and I, Inc. You need to be doing everything you can to get the word out about your brand. That means networking.
“Great networkers are capable of leaving something behind with everyone they encounter—a thought, a memory or a connection. This is exactly what you need to do if you are in the job market. You need to make strong connections, become a relationship builder. You want to be the first person who comes to mind when someone in your network hears about a great job opening.”
Kuzmeski is an expert at helping businesses and individuals create strong business relationships that will help them get ahead regardless of their profession. Below she offers advice for how you can network your way to a great new job right out of college:
Rejuvenate your résumé. Use your résumé to showcase how great you are. Think of it this way: If you are the CEO of Me, Myself, and I, Inc., you will need some marketing materials to promote your brand. Your résumé and cover letter will serve as those marketing materials.
“Grab the attention of employers by upping the impact of your résumé,” says Kuzmeski. “That might mean bucking the traditional résumé format to include eye-catching (but informative) headlines. Don’t panic if you don’t have any significant job experience to include. Your college years probably yielded more valuable experience than you think. For example, be sure to include information about your internships, relevant class assignments, club leadership positions, etc. Just make sure your résumé is something an employer would want to read.”
Build your online résumé using LinkedIn. According to Jobvite.com’s 2010 Social Recruiting Survey, 83 percent of employers plan to use social networks to recruit this year. If you aren’t already on business-focused social media sites like LinkedIn, take the time to set up a profile. In fact, LinkedIn is especially important because it is the most commonly viewed source for job seekers and employers. Setting up a profile is simple: Just go to LinkedIn.com, add your picture and a summary of your past job responsibilities, and state what you’re looking for. “Again, if you haven’t had a ‘real’ job yet, it is A-OK to include your internship or volunteer experiences and past responsibilities,” notes Kuzmeski. “As a LinkedIn member, you can also join groups, review books and proactively connect with potential employers.”
Get face-to-face with potential employers! Find a way to get in front of your potential employers. These days it is much harder to show potential employers what you are all about and to forge a connection with them because so much of the pre-hiring process is done online and through email. That is why it is essential that you find a way to communicate with them face-to-face. Dropping off a follow-up note or a résumé is a great opportunity for getting some face time with a potential employer. Another great face-to-face opportunity comes after the interview. To show you paid close attention to everything your interviewer said, stop by her office with an article that you think would be of interest to her or a small gift (e.g., a box of candy) based on some key piece of information—what Kuzmeski calls the “remarkable”—you found out about the interviewer during the interview.
“Once you are face-to-face, in an interview or otherwise, focus on having eye contact throughout,” says Kuzmeski. “Lean in, show her you are interested in everything she says, and think before you answer any question. Thoughtful deliberation can be difficult if you’re nervous, but it is critical in answering your potential employer’s questions to the best of your ability. Establishing this face time is sure to set you apart from your job market competition.”
Make an impact by using video. If you really want to capture the attention of a potential employer, record a quick video. Use it to get an interview or as a follow-up after an interview. Here’s how it works: Instead of just emailing a résumé or a post-interview thank-you note, include a link to a video of you. Carefully script your response and record the quick message using a Flip video camera or even a Webcam. Post it on YouTube or some other service and send a link for the video to your potential employer.
Here are some helpful scripting tips for getting the interview:
- The video should be no longer than one or two minutes.
- Introduce yourself.
- Identify the job you would like to be interviewed for.
- Tell them three things about your background that may make them interested in interviewing you.
- Thank them for watching the video and ask them for the interview!
“Here’s my caveat,” says Kuzmeski. “Using a video is not an opportunity to show how funny you are. You absolutely have to be professional. And be mindful of the setting. Not only should you look professional, but so should the room where you are filming the video. In other words, don’t film it with your messy bedroom visible in the background. You want the recipient to focus on you and what you’re saying—not your dirty laundry!”
Become a contrarian networker. The difficult first lesson that many college grads must learn about networking is that it is not the equivalent of asking, “Will you hire me?” The goal of effective networking is, instead, to build a mutually beneficial relationship with someone who may never even be able to give you a job, but might know someone who can.
“It’s what I call contrarian networking,” says Kuzmeski. “Before you start networking, create a game plan. First, think about which contacts are the most important to you and which are the closest to you. Remember, these will not necessarily be the people you think might be able to give you a job on the spot. Of those contacts, consider who the best connectors are. Who knows the people you want to know? By connecting with other great connectors, you are able to widen your reach. You expand your opportunities.”
Network to the people you know. Sometimes the most obvious connections are the ones most easily ignored. When you are building your network or considering who might be able to help you in your first big job search push, don’t forget about the fruit closest to the ground.
“Again, think about the people close to you, who might have huge networks of their own,” says Kuzmeski. “For example, maybe your mom is or used to be a teacher. She’s had contact with tons of parents over the years who just might be working at a company that could hire you. Or maybe your cousin has a job in a completely different field, but he has a huge network of friends on Facebook. You never know how a great opportunity will present itself. Don’t count anyone out of your networking efforts, especially those who are the closest to you and, therefore, the most willing to help.”
Let them do the talking. (You ask the questions!) When you’re first starting out, networking can be a sweaty-palm-inducing, nerve-racking experience. Be careful not to allow your nerves to lead to nervous chatter. There’s nothing worse than coming away from a great networking opportunity realizing that you can’t remember a single person’s name or a single helpful thing that was said. Always be prepared to listen and arm yourself with a (mental) list of questions to help you get conversations going. Here are a few great icebreakers:
- How did you get started in this industry?
- Where did you grow up? Do you still have family there?
- How are your kids? What are they up to?
- I’ve been wanting to ask this of someone with more experience than me. What do you think about…? (Complete this question with something from current events, your town or city’s local news, or a recent event in your industry. Remember, it is always a good idea to avoid topics that can lead to contentious conversations such as religion, politics, etc.)
Once the conversation is flowing freely, then you can move on to more in-depth business questions:
- What’s the best thing that has happened to your business this year?
- What’s one thing you’ve done that has really changed your career?
- What will you never do again in business?
- What’s your biggest challenge?
- What makes a good client for you?
- What do you find is the most effective way to keep a client happy?
“After he answers you, it’s always a good idea to follow up with a secondary question that encourages him to tell you more,” Kuzmeski adds. “The more he talks and you listen, the more he will like you because you are showing genuine interest in him. Pretty soon, he will be asking you questions, and a valuable business connection will have been made!”
Be prepared to pitch yourself in 15 seconds. You’re probably entering the job market eager to share your qualifications, experiences and passion for your new career. But the hard reality for many college grads is that no one (except for your mom!) wants to hear that much about your accomplishments. Kuzmeski says that when you are networking and getting the word out about yourself, you should resist the urge to give a 10-minute introduction about yourself. Instead, prepare a short, 15-second elevator pitch that hits on your high points and top skills. Think about what’s unique about what you have done and what will help you stand out from a crowd of other job seekers.
“The key to an effective pitch is keeping it short while still including your biggest wins,” Kuzmeski explains. “For example, I’ve had great success with the following pitch about myself: ‘Hi! My name is Maribeth Kuzmeski. I own a marketing consulting firm, Red Zone Marketing, which employs six people who are all focused on helping companies find more business. I’ve worked with an NBA basketball team, with U.S. Senators, financial advisors and mutual fund companies. I’ve even closed a sale while upside down in an aerobatic biplane at 7,000 feet above ground.’ I find that it is hard for most people to walk away without asking me about that last part or which NBA team or U.S. Senators I’ve worked with. Be creative and think about how you can frame your accomplishments in a way that gets people’s attention.”
Get involved in organizations that are connected to your profession. Job fairs can be great ways to get in front of potential employers, but you might not want to focus only on companies you know are hiring. In order to meet people within your industry who might have the potential to hire you, attend trade shows and seminars and join organizations or associations connected to the profession you’d like to enter.
“These events and organizations provide great opportunities to help you get your name out,” says Kuzmeski. “Again, you might not find someone who is going to hire you on the spot, but you will have the chance to meet people who have the potential to hire you in the future. Take hard copies of your résumé to these events. The more people within your industry or profession who know you, the better.”
Volunteer. Volunteering is a great way to give back, but it is also a great way to sneak in some networking. For example, if you want a job in marketing, volunteer to work with the PR director at a nonprofit, or if you are an aspiring accountant, volunteer your financial expertise. Not only will volunteering put you in close contact with established professionals who can teach you about your field, but by taking the initiative to get work experience via volunteering, you show potential employers that you’re a hard worker who wants to get started right away.
“There are usually many hands that go into keeping a nonprofit running,” says Kuzmeski. “Volunteering provides you the opportunity to meet them. And remember, you don’t necessarily have to be doing anything that is connected to your profession. Simply volunteering at a place with a cause you are passionate about will provide you the chance to get in front of a lot of great connectors that you might not have met otherwise.”
Be a mover and a shaker. The next time you attend a networking event or even just a party, force yourself to get outside your comfort zone. Don’t just hang out with the people you already know. Make it a point to introduce yourself to new people and find out as much as you can about them. The more you move around from group to group, the more connections you will be able to make. “It’s all about expanding your opportunities,” says Kuzmeski. “If you are at a party or event with friends, sure, you might have a great time spending the entire evening with them, but you won’t have networked to the best of your ability. By getting outside of your normal fishbowl, you can expand your connections.”
Always be networking. You don’t have to be at an event or party or working your social networks to build your connections. “We all run into people everywhere in our day-to-day lives, but very few of us capitalize on all those great connections,” says Kuzmeski. “For example, next time you’re on an airplane, instead of listening to your iPod, playing on your iPad, or reading the whole time, get to know the person next to you. Network at social gatherings or strike up a conversation with the person behind you in line at the grocery store.
“Remember, always be prepared to sell yourself. Provide what I call a simple, repeatable statement of value. That’s something you can say to someone that you know will trigger her interest and that will be easy for her to repeat to others. By creating a statement like this, those you connect with can easily pass along information about you. They might say, ‘I just met this recent college grad named Mike on a plane. He said he programmed and sold two iPhone apps while he was in college. Here’s his résumé.’ Or, ‘I met this promising young teacher named Sarah at my church. She spent two semesters teaching English at a school in Costa Rica…’ You get the picture. When you start to think about all the networking possibilities that are open to you, it’s easy to see that your opportunities are endless.”
Don’t be afraid to pick up the phone. While communicating electronically is often the method of choice for young people, in your job search and networking efforts there will be times when that simply isn’t appropriate. “Admittedly, this can be a tough call to make even for seasoned professionals,” says Kuzmeski. “My rule of thumb is to match whatever method of communication your potential connection is using. If a business-owner friend of your dad’s gives you a call to discuss possible opportunities with his company, call him back. Don’t email, even if he left you his email address in the voicemail message. And when you do start going on interviews, ask your interviewers if it is okay to give them a call if you have any questions after the interview. Then if you have a legitimate question, make a call. You might also consider calling after hours to leave a thank-you voicemail. It is a nice way to let them hear your voice and enthusiasm without taking up too much of their time.”
“Entering the job market for the first time is certainly daunting,” says Kuzmeski. “Adding to that challenge for today’s college graduates are the millions of experienced professionals who are also looking for work. But by focusing on networking, you open yourself up to many more opportunities than just the ones you see on job boards or those being offered at your local job fair. I truly feel that there are only six degrees of separation between everyone in the world—or at the very least the U.S. Every time you make a new connection, you get that much closer to getting your dream job.” iBi
Maribeth Kuzmeski, MBA, is the author of five books, including …And the Clients Went Wild! How Savvy Professionals Win All the Business They Want and The Connectors: How the World’s Most Successful Businesspeople Build Relationships and Win Clients for Life. She is the founder of Red Zone Marketing, LLC, which consults with businesses from entrepreneurial firms to Fortune 500 corporations on strategic marketing planning and business growth. She is an international keynote speaker and regularly speaks to audiences on topics relating to business development, marketing, and sales strategies. For more information, please visit RedZoneMarketing.com.