I had coffee this morning with a recent graduate from my alma mater (go, Jumbos!) who wants a Communications job. After I recovered from reviewing her stellar resume (I think she may have negotiated a peace treaty or something, I swear), I realized that my advice to young job seekers can be summed up in these five points:
1. Don’t let what you do for money get in the way of your career
It’s not uncommon to get started in low- or non-paying internships, and taking some sort of second job to pay the bills. Be on guard that you don’t make moves at your money-making job that then prevent you from building the career you want. I made this mistake myself. I worked at an art supply store after college, leaving me several days a week to intern at a music magazine and do PR and management for local bands. I took a promotion at the art supply store, so I worked a normal Monday-Friday schedule and got a pay increase. Great, right? Except then I couldn’t do the internship, and both bands I was working with broke up. Leaving me working at an art supply store. Not what I had in mind.
NB: I love to see tough customer-facing positions on a resume: waitressing, supermarket checkout, retail sales. If you can smile and be nice while your feet hurt and someone is being mean to you for no reason, I know you can probably handle the door at a typical client media event.
2. Don’t get trapped in the online time suck
Adding LinkedIn connections, twiddling on your Facebook page, trolling Monster and Craigslist while tweeting may make you feel like you’ve accomplished a lot as the hours roll by. Don’t get sucked in! These are all great tools, but your goal is to get an interview to build connections to land you a job. If you didn’t directly email potential employers (and not the HR people) and landed at least a coffee or an informational interview, you did not make progress that day. Reach out to at least 10 new people a week, and keep track of your past outreach for follow up.
Which leads us to. . .
3. How you pursue the job shows how you will do the job
This is true in all industries, but particularly for a Comms/PR/Marketing position. You are pitching the most important product you’ll ever represent: yourself. Every single thing you do is an example of how you perform for your potential employer. That point before about follow up? This is a critical skill for a Comms person. You’ve got to know how to be aggressive without crossing over the line to being annoying. Start practicing now.
And speaking of practice –
4. Do the job while you wait to get paid for the job
What’s neat about this profession is you can start doing it right now (some pros hate when I say this, but let’s face it, we’re not talking rocket science here). Volunteer your services for something you like – a band, a store, a charity, a school. Or start a fan site for something you love and show how you can use social media to promote it. Write a blog. Get a website going with press release examples, links to news clips, videos, anything that can show what you can do. Having a degree from a great school is fantastic. Showing you can do the work is even better.
5. Stay Positive!
College graduation is an amazing high, and the job search sends you crashing back down to earth. It’s easy to get discouraged when the job of your dreams doesn’t materialize right away. It took me two years after graduation to really get on track with my career, and it felt like an eternity. But in the grand scheme of your career, it’s not so much time. The universe willing, you’re going to be working for a while – maybe 50 years! Trust me: you will be OK.