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OK, college grads, here it is: the real deal about finding work in this economy.
Let’s start with the obvious: more than anyone else in three generations, you got macro-screwed with the economy. But you are not only screwed, you are also human… and that means you are resilient as all hell.
The human spirit does not die, and does not wilt, in the face of long term adversity.
Like lupine flowers after a forest fire, the human spirit blooms when challenged. You are going to bloom. In direct defiance of your struggles, you are going to keep driving forward until you bloom bright as all hell, even if it kills you. Why? Because you are human, you are resilient, and you have… no… other… option.
So get ready, this is going to sting. It’s also what you need to get yourself ready for a work life you never expected.
1. I’m not hiring a resume. I’m hiring a person.
The resume is a proxy. A sketch. A thumbnail. A cheap representation meant to give someone just enough of a taste of you to want to experience the whole person. YouTube creates thumbnails automatically. Do you care? Of course not. But guess what would happen if YouTube let people design their own thumbnails. Let me help you: people would freak out. They’d spend hours on those little boxes. They’d recalibrate their videos to ensure awesome thumbnails, most likely by including a gratuitous shot of a hot, bikini-clad woman and then selecting that frame for the thumb. And how much additional value would you and I get from that? Zero. None. Zip. All it would do is create noise and confusion: all the thumbs would look the same—”Oh, look, there’s another pic of Marisa Miller… with the headline ‘BBQ hijinx.’ WTH?” So when it comes to your resume, stop freaking out. Figure out what it needs to say, make it say it, and move on.
2. Working for someone else only sucks until you realize… you’re an idiot.
Dilbert, “The Office,” and Office Space haven’t done society any favors. Portraying bosses as universally bumbling idiots—while often hilarious—may have left you with the mistaken impression that working for a boss = selling your soul. OK, let’s run with that idea a moment: you opt out of the corporate track and start your own gig. You’re successful. Great! Then what happens? Oh, right: you need to hire people to work for you. Except you can’t hire anyone because the people you want, before even meeting you, decide that you’re an idiot and refuse to work for you. (You must be an idiot, you’re a boss.) What a shame, because you’re not an idiot, you’re being prejudged… unfairly! We could play this out further to reinforce the point other ways, but hopefully this is enough to show you that your logic is faulty, your reasoning is bunk, and the only reason you don’t want to work for a boss is because your ego has fooled you into thinking that you—with no training, no experience, and no clue—could do better. (Nice try.)
3. This is worth touching on a second time: Working for someone else only sucks until you consider the alternatives
So, you want to start your own gig? Maybe raise a little moolah to do it? OK, here’s a test: (1) Were you born into the Lucky Sperm Club? (2) Do you know what you will do for health insurance? (3) Are you prepared to send your own faxes, make your own copies, answer customer complaints yourself, work 20 hours a day, hear from everyone how much they don’t approve of what you’re doing, suck up to them anyway because you need them as customers, not know what your income is going to be month-to-month, earn probably something like $10k your first year in business, mock franchisees for being fauxpreneurs, not be able to get a bank loan for two years (because they want to see your paycheck or 2 years of steady earnings before they’ll give you one of those!), and convert all your friends into customers whom you will probably piss off and lose (both as friends and customers) within 3 years? ANSWER KEY: Even if you answered “yes” to all three questions, it doesn’t matter. True entrepreneurs don’t have time for articles like this. If you’re reading this, you’re job bait. Sorry.
4. Interviewing. Also known as, “Going through your day.”
You are always on. Always. Because you never know where the opportunity lies, and you’re not earning enough right now to turn up your nose at anything. Imagine the scene: you go to have lunch with a friend. You don’t know this, but the friend’s dad is hiring and needs someone with your skill set. If you keep everything purely social, your friend won’t have the information s/he needs to make the connection and put you and his/her dad together. Even if you do share what you’re looking for, if you act like a moron, your friend will be too embarrassed to make the connection. Upshot; even when just “hanging out,” you’re still interviewing. If this sounds like one of those final exams where you know you’re going to get a single essay question but don’t know what the question will be, then you get it.
5. Schadenfreude makes you ugly.
You probably don’t think about the TV you watch at night as having an impact on your job searching activities during the day. More likely, you see your TV and movie viewing habits as an escape. And sometimes, that’s true. But more often than you realize, the crap you fill your head with infiltrates your personality. Example: you love E! You love watching about all the crazies in LA and who’s banging who this week. You get your nightly fill, go to bed, and wake up ready to tackle the day and… hey, a call back! You’re talking to this recruiter and, to make small talk, you share something you learned about Lindsey or Katie or the Gosselins, or some other flavor of the week. It’s a great conversation, but when he hangs up, the recruiter has an uneasy feeling about you. Why? Because in the back of his brain, beneath his consciousness, his psyche is screaming at him: “That person’s a gossip! You don’t want that here—it’s not worth the risk that the gossip goes from famous people to intercube relationships!” And… you’re done.
6. If the statement you’re about to make requires explanation or a pre-emptive apology, skip it.
I don’t care how funny it is! A good rule of thumb is if it requires backstory or a pre-emptive apology in order to be taken “the right way,” it’s inappropriate. Note well: some people can naturally tell off-color stories without being offensive. It’s not necessarily about the words you use, it’s about who says ‘em, too. The only exception to this is that pesky job interview, where you need to be on your best behavior and not do anything that would give someone a reason to fire you. Oh yeah, and don’t forget that you are ALWAYS interviewing…. next.
7. Once in the process, don’t try to get yourself hired. Instead, try to not get cut.
When you try to get yourself hired, you look desperate. Trying to get hired makes you do things like make one phone call too many, share one piece of information too much, or go one inch too far over the line. Don’t take that risk. Instead, concentrate on making yourself Teflon: assume the company has already decided you might be their guy/gal and is now looking for any flaw they may have overlooked. Don’t give them anything that sticks.
8. Gaps in your history? Own ‘em.
Did you muck up? Own it. When asked about it, (wo)man up, share what happened, why it happened, and what you learned from it. Not in a fumbly, apologetic way, but with conviction and certainty. Then, don’t explain that you won’t make the same mistake again, demonstrate behaviors that indicate you are a changed person. For example, maybe you were fired from a sales job for not making quota. You are asked why you left your last job. You might be tempted to say, “I had a jerk of a boss who didn’t support me and fired me in order to cover his own butt.” But instead, you will show maturity and a learning orientation, by saying something like, “I was in the wrong field. My boss did me the greatest favor he could have done—for two years I had struggled to make quota, and he saw something I didn’t want to see: I’m not built for enterprise sales. I was great at the one-on-one relationships, but I don’t have a mind for those types of products. He fired me. And angry as I was, I called him two weeks later and thanked him. He’s been a mentor to me since and helped capitalize on my strengths and understand what kind of opportunities I’ll really excel at… which is what led me to want to work with you. I think this is a much better fit; I don’t see quotas being an issue with the type of selling we’re talking about me doing here.” (Did you notice how you owned your problem long before the interview, by going back and reconnecting with your old boss? Ownership doesn’t mean don’t lie, it means OWN!)
9. Your degree may already be obsolete
We only need so many psychologists, marketers, and lawyers in the world… especially when our long term recovery is going to require engineers, scientists, infrastructure experts, climatologists, food production experts, health care specialists, water experts, and the like. Before you freak out that you studied the wrong thing, remember: it’s a lot easier for you to switch gears than someone who is trained in a dying field both by education and experience. Open your eyes and look around. The game is changing in real time. Roll with it.
10. Learn to sell.
No matter what happens in the world, no matter what kind of job you get, you will have to sell. Maybe you’ll sell products to consumers, maybe you’ll sell ideas to top management. Whichever, you’ll need to understand the steps of establishing trust, building relationships, learning about needs, pitching solutions, closing, and following up. More than understand them, you’ll need to experience them, because they don’t always feel the way you think they would. Whatever you do, look for opportunities to learn sales. You will not regret it.
Now get out there… and stay out there… until you make! something! happen!
If you found this post helpful, entertaining, or downright life-changing, then check out Found Your Career for more from Jason Seiden and Willy Franzen on what it takes to get an entry level job.
Photo Credit: Got Jobs – Flickr user AdobeMac
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