For college students and recent graduates, getting going at the beginning of a job hunt can be the hardest part of the search. Whether you're distracted by semesters abroad, hefty class schedules or fun with friends, it's easy to be confused about what to do after graduation.
In her new book, "Getting from College to Career," Lindsey Pollak covers more than 90 job-hunting essentials for young job hunters wanting to introduce themselves to the working world.
Headlines about the weak job market don't make it any less daunting to reach out to hiring authorities and potential mentors, but it's important for students to use all the resources at their disposal.
"A lot of people have never been taught this stuff, and it's not all common sense," Pollak says.
We talked with Pollak about five job-hunting resources described in her book that she feels are particularly underused by people launching their careers.
The Hunter's Helicopters
You've probably heard of "helicopter parents," and they can present real risks to a job search. Parents should never join you on a job interview, follow up on your behalf, contact a hiring authority, or in any other way make themselves a visible part of your job hunt, Pollak says. But they can add a lot of value behind the scenes.
Even if you think you've exhausted your parents' career advice, or that you already know everyone they could possibly be connected to, make a point to catch up with them every couple of weeks. Talk about where you're applying for work, what kinds of jobs you're considering, and the materials you're sending along.
It can be difficult to stay open-minded to their suggestions, especially if you're unemployed and frustrated about it. But Pollak encourages the young and crestfallen to take advantage of parents when starting to network. "You should start things like networking with the people who like you already, and who want to help you already," Pollak says. Parents can also provide valuable input when you"re reviewing online self-assessments, practicing responses to interview questions or proofreading job applications.
An informed parent is also less likely to fill your inbox with articles about fields you've ruled out or forward unhelpful contacts. When Pollak herself fell out of love with a career in law, she neglected to tell her father and as a result the articles kept rolling in. Letting him know saved her the headache of clearing her inbox and allowed him to help her in a way that was actually useful.
Just don't allow parents to get too involved, Pollak cautions. Even if they are the connection between you and the hiring authority, you need to be individually responsible for all communication throughout the application process.
We know you've heard this one before, but it really can't be said enough: Use your school's career center to its fullest advantage. According to the National Association of Colleges and Employers, in 2010, 71% of college seniors who received job offers had used their school's career center at least once. The same survey also found that the likelihood of getting a job offer increased when students visited their career center multiple times.
"I never went to my career services office," Pollak says, "but it's an amazing, free resource at your fingertips, where people's jobs are to get you a job." Most career services offices offer resume and cover letter help, but some also offer personalized business cards, videos of mock interviews, job listings through alumni and university connections, and more. Taking the time to figure out if these tactics could have a positive impact on your job hunt is incredibly worthwhile, Pollak says.
This should be a no-brainer for any young professional who's stumped about which field to explore. The vast majority of people really like to talk about themselves. If you reach out to an established professional saying something along the lines of "I'm a student weighing a career in XYZ field, and I'd love to take you out to coffee to pick your brain about your career path," Pollak says, most people will be flattered and happy to help you out. "This is how the business world works every day," she says. "You're not doing anything weird or inappropriate."
Everyone who is looking for a job is already looking online, so while job boards are important, they aren't the only way to get a job. Calling a human being can't be underestimated. "If you sent out 100 applications online, you might have a job," Pollak says, "but if you talked to 100 people about the kind of job you're looking for, you'd definitely have one."
"Start with the goal of building a relationship," Pollak says. "Asking for a job or a referral comes later. Building a genuine relationship -- even a professional one -- will become much more valuable than just saying 'Here's my resume, can you pass it along?'"
If you're a well-prepared college student, you probably already have a LinkedIn profile that highlights your work and internship experience, academic accolades and other achievements. But what many students don't realize is how useful LinkedIn can be beyond just providing a place to connect with your classmates, fellow interns, supervisors and professors.
Pollak, who is a spokeswoman for the professional networking site, touts profile features like the coursework, skills, portfolio and volunteer work sections as ways to differentiate yourself from the thousands of other graduates who have had summer internships and leadership roles.
Other LinkedIn features beyond the personal profile allow users to find people who currently work for a particular company, for example, and that can be a good place to start networking or requesting informational interviews.
Company pages can provide important information as you craft your strategy. They provide metrics that include the companies most people are hired from or move on to, the frequency of title changes and promotions, the most-held skills of the company's employees and more. All are important to consider when writing your resume, determining potential career paths or determining whether you'd be a competitive candidate for a job opening, Pollak says.
Keeping track of your accomplishments even as a student can serve as a useful point of reference throughout your job hunt and your career. But it can be difficult to freely recall everything you've done from memory. Pollak suggests creating a "brag book." Whether it's a three-ring binder or a backed-up file on your computer, it's a place you can catalog your achievements as they happen.
Your brag book doesn't need to be limited to official accomplishments. You can add examples of team-oriented experience or times you felt particularly challenged at work (often good fodder for interview questions), track your growth in particular skills over time, or log positive feedback you received from a supervisor or client.
Official acknowledgments are critical to keep track of, experts say. Knowing exactly when kudos were received -- the timing of a recognition by your academic department for your good performance, or how far you were into your internship when you boosted the company's return on investment in social media -- can add extra oomph to your resume. Your milestones can serve as talking points during an interview, or just good food for your ego if you're feeling discouraged -- so long as you don't let it go to your head.
Write to Kelly Eggers at firstname.lastname@example.org