The hiring hustle: navigating the college job search
The college job hunt can be daunting. You may picture a giant black hole where all of your applications go to hangout together while your dream employer never even glances at them. Luckily, that scenario isn't the reality.
This is a brief, step-by-step guide to navigating the college recruiting process. It is undeniably based on my own experiences (and even limited by them), but I believe it provides an effective overview of how to handle the job search while still in college. Each one of these sections could be expanded into an individual article, but I did my best to keep things short and simple. So fire up your laptop, dust off your suit, and get ready to land a job.
Rome Wasn’t Built in a Day – Choosing a Direction, Not a Career
As much as we’d all love to jump right into our dream job at our dream company right after college, that isn’t always the case. Ideally, we could attend our favorite school, excel in the classroom, and then get hired directly into the job we always wanted. Yet a realistic career path is much more complex than that. Creating an effective, realistic career plan begins with a broad question:
“What direction do I want to go?”
A direction is not the same as a career or a job. Police officer is a job. Computer programmer is a job. A direction is much broader, and less easily definable. A direction might be “working to make healthcare more effective,” “working with business and technology,” or “working within the world of media and entertainment”. Your direction should be something catered to your own goals and dreams.
Figuring these things out takes time. Spend serious time researching various career paths, trying to understand their long-term longevity and earning potential. Think of your career as a marathon, not a sprint. Prioritize long-term happiness over short-term happiness and do your best to ensure that your first job aligns with your chosen long-term direction.
Research, Research, Research
Once you’ve decided which direction to take your career, the real work can begin. I believe that research is the most consistently overlooked aspect of the job hunt. Use research in order to close the gap between the information you have and the information you’d like to have.
Breaking Down Targets
Many young, hungry college students dive into the job search by simply throwing applications at any company that catches their interest (typically famous, “sexy” employers). Try to focus your search on companies that are more likely to give you a chance.
Use linkedin.com/alumni to find out where alumni from your school have gone to work. If Google has only ever hired three people from your university, it’s unlikely they spend much time recruiting there and severely hurts your chances of being hired. Elite employers rely on networks of “target” universities they recruit from, and hiring from outside of these networks is rare. Find out which employers consistently target your school and focus your job hunt on these employers to maximize your odds of landing a job. There is nothing wrong with taking shots at your “dream” employers, but try to focus the base of your search on companies that are more likely to give you a chance.
Finally, create an extensive list of companies you would like to apply to. Think of it like applying to college; compile “reach” and “realistic” positions you would like to apply for. Try to focus at least 75-80% of your applications on “realistic” companies and positions.
Pinpointing the skills needed for a particular job can be a complex challenge. While some skills may be learned directly through classroom experiences, many of the skills employers desire may seem unattainable without on-the-job training. Focus on showing employers your desire/ability to learn skills you may not already have.
For example, it’s not hard to imagine that a business student with a minor in information systems would be able to learn enough about system architecture in order to function as an effective entry-level business systems analyst. Employers are realistic, and don’t usually expect an entry-level hire to know everything on the first day. Look for opportunities to develop skills and demonstrate interests through classroom work, clubs, organizations, and internships.
University Career Services
The next critical step in navigating the college job hunt is connecting with potential employers. Use your school’s career/alumni connection services to reach out to relevant alumni if possible. Attend campus events organized by prospective employers. Many students don’t realize that employers often track attendance at these events and may factor it into later interview decisions.
LinkedIn provides an excellent, modern method of reaching out to employees at your desired employer or in your desired industry. You may be surprised at how many professionals will be willing to talk with you about what it takes to succeed in your desired industry, especially if you share a common university. Think of these conversations as a way to learn about another person’s story, while simultaneously gleaning insight into what your desired position looks like day-to-day, how to stand out to a particular employer’s recruiters, and how to succeed in an interview (information that will be incredibly helpful down the road).
Some connections may even feel compelled to try to help you get an interview. But never enter a conversation seeking to use someone, which will get you nowhere. Be grateful someone is willing to share his or her experiences and advice with you. If they offer to help directly, let it happen naturally, don’t force it.
Now comes the fun part (I’m kidding, it’s not very fun, but at least it’s easy). You should have a list of companies you’d like to apply to. Work your way through it, but be open-minded to other opportunities you may come across via your school career network, a job posting, or personal connection. Prioritize companies who recruit on your campus, whose events you have attended, whose qualifications you match, or that you may have a personal connection to.
Set realistic and traceable goals for your applications, such as ten per week or two per day. Stick to these goals and keep a spreadsheet of every company you have applied to. Stay organized.
Tell me about a time when…
You’ve completed the hard part; you’ve gotten to an interview. Statistically, your odds of landing the job have jumped immensely. But don’t count your chickens just yet. Prepare, prepare, prepare. Isolate particular skills that may come up in the interview (common ones may include teamwork, leadership, dealing with a difficult customer, etc.). Have your friends fire off questions at you, and use these to practice thinking quickly while also recounting various stories that you would like to highlight in an interview. Don’t be rehearsed, be prepared.
Ace the Case
If your interview involves something a bit more technical (like a case interview) search online and reach out to contacts in order to get a better idea of what to expect. Use Google, but also check out alternative sources like Reddit and Wall Street Oasis, which contain a surprising amount of helpful career information.
Many companies are very transparent, making it easy to know what to expect. Practice as much as you can, but don’t lean too heavily on a particular framework or method. You don’t want to get caught off guard by a problem that isn’t exactly what you prepared for. Relax and think your way through the problem.
Don’t get discouraged. Until you’ve landed a job you’re really happy with, stay with it. This whole process may take a few months, or much longer. Stay committed to achieving your goal. Remember, Rome wasn’t built in a day, focus on taking steps in your long-term direction. Good luck!