New Grads: What It Takes to Get an Entry Level Job

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What Does It Take to Get an Entry Level Job?

This is a guest post by Jason Seiden, our partner in Found Your Career. You can find more from him at JasonSeiden.com.

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.

10 Things That You Need to Know to Land an Entry Level Job

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: Flickr user John Walker

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16 responses to “New Grads: What It Takes to Get an Entry Level Job”

  1. Ted Williams says:

    I love number 10 and number 2 now has a new meaning for me. Most of the job hunt comes down to doing things. Take a class. Talk to somebody. Go volunteer. Run a marathon. Buy a friend a cup of coffee. Help a buddy promote his blog. Do things.

    The easiest way to get a job also happens to be the hardest way: doing things so well that you gain a reputation. It’s impossible to gain a reputation by sending your resume to hundreds of places online. Do things, it works better.

    Great article Jason.

  2. These are great ideas. Thanks for sharing!

  3. Amy Fields says:

    I would just like to say thank you and I will be sending my friends this to read. I graduated last year but have many friends which I feel will benefit from reading this. I have to say that I’ve lived and experienced just about everything on this list, I wish I had seen this one year ago because it might have saved me quite a bit of stress. I’m currently looking for a new job and as difficult as it can get I will have these ten motivating ideas to refer to if I should ever feel discouraged. I’m so glad I happen to come across this today, and thanks again!

  4. […] still looking for work, or anyone who is searching for an entry level job should check out the New Grads: What It Takes to Get an Entry Level Job article. This article discusses the “10 Things You Need to Know to Land an Entry Level […]

  5. Thom Ransom says:

    Though a bit crass at times, I agree with your points. For us gen-Y professionals, these seem like the kind of things those before us were forced to consider before joining the workforce back in the day. Special consideration should be put towards points 1,2 & 6:
    1.) You may be a dime a dozen on paper but one of a kind under more amiable circumstances. Flash those pearly whites and make someone feel like they just made a friend.
    2.) There’s a lot to say for humility. Jesus new this, Carnegie new this, now your readers know this.
    6.) “Better to remain silent and be thought a fool then to speak and remove all doubt.”
    ~ Lincoln (I can dig it)

    Thanks again guys.
    -Thom

  6. Zack Stone says:

    The only way to perform the best at an interview is to relax, be confident, know your history like the back of your hand story wise, and be prepared to show how your work experiences make you the best candidate for the job. Also showing you are enthusiastic about the job is important. The best way to get a job is through networking, sending out cold emails, and applying for jobs online all at the same time. Its hard work but it will pay off at some point if your resume and cover letter are good enough. It is true that resumes are just to a snapshot of who you are but not in this economy where requirements are strict and there is extreme competition among the best candidates. You need a well-written resume with relative work experience to get the job you’re applying for. With the help I’ve received from family, friends, and many business professionals in the past year I believe I can write a good resume/cv. Feel free to email me at one of my email addresses for some feedback if you’d like- karatezack18@hotmail.com . Yes I did karate back then and was 18 when I made the email address.

  7. Jen Clinton says:

    Thanks again for these tips… I graduated in May, and since mid-March have been applying/job-searching like crazy. I wish I was kidding when I said I hit 100 applications today.

    The last one reminded me of a concept I read on another blog, Careerealism (http://www.careerealism.com/). You have to think of yourself as a business-of-one; anything an organization does to keep itself in business, apply it to yourself, including being able to market and sell what you’ve got.

  8. Jen,

    If you’re sending out 100 applications per day, then you obviously are willing to work hard, but can you give each application the attention it deserves at that rate?

    I don’t think so.

    Let’s say you spend 10 hours per day applying. That means that you’re looking at 6 minutes per application.

    That’s not going to cut it.

    What if you spent 10 hours on one application? 5 hours on 2 apps? 2 hours on 5 apps? 1 hour on 10 apps? There’s a happy medium somewhere. You need quality and quantity, but it’s hard to fault you for putting in the hours to get a job.

  9. Kristin says:

    Willy,

    I hate to speak for Jen (especially if I’m wrong!), but I believe she meant she hit 100 TOTAL applications. Not that she sent 100 applications in one day…

    • Kristin,

      Now that I’ve read Jen’s comment again, I think that you’re right. With that said, the same argument applies. You need to find the happy medium between quantity and quality. I lean towards putting a huge effort into getting a handful of jobs rather than putting a lesser effort into trying to get a ton of jobs.

  10. Deidre says:

    I graduated in May of last year and still have yet to find a job! I done a bunch of internships, but somehow cannot land a job. I send out so many applications a day, make the calls, yet still…nothing.
    My major was broadcasting/journalism and it seems like no entry-level jobs exist in this industry. I’ve been considering looking for a paid internship…but it’s almost impossible to find someone who will hire a college grad!
    I agree with spending a lot of time on the apps. But I feel like if I’m not sending out a lot…I’m not making any effort.

  11. Devon says:

    Even if you are incapable of going solo, it can still suck having to follow someone else’s lead all the time. It doesn’t suddenly stop sucking, just because of the alternatives.

    But yeah, you’d get further by learning how a boss has managed to keep a company afloat than by moping about your lower position.

  12. Jen says:

    SERIOUSLY DELAYED FOLLOW UP,
    But I meant to imply that between March and August I had 100 applications! Not all in one day. Fortunately, number 93 was the lucky number and I have been happily employed ever since! (I still read your posts though, and pass them on to others who are still searching).

    Jen

  13. SickandTired says:

    Class of 09 here. I was depressed after not getting into a good law school, and didn’t really start job searching until Fall 09. I now work TWO days a week at a local television station, and I hate it. So sue me, I majored in Communications Studies. I made a spreadsheet, to keep up w/ all the FULL TIME jobs I’ve applied to, and I fear I will be reaching the 100 mark (a la Jen) sooner than expected. I don’t want to reach 100, but w/o a ton of internships in the career I’m perusing- marketing/advertising/ media, I think I’m on a straight path to filling up that spreadsheet. :(

    I just don’t know what to do. Even living w/ my mom hasn’t relieved any financial woes. I’m glad to know I’m not completely by myself in this. Hopefully, all the 2010 kids don’t snatch up my jobs. lol

  14. Hayley DeHerrera says:

    This is great. But here’s my problem. I’ve had more than one interviewer ask me, presumably because I went to a fancy school and got a high GPA, whether they’re sure I’ll be “stimulated” by the administrative jobs I’m applying for. Yes, a paycheck would be very stimulating. This perception that because I went to a nice school means I’m some kind of brainiac who scoffs at menial work is such a joke. Reality: I worked really hard to get there. I’m a hard worker first. I’m not even close to being an intellectual or whatever. Meanwhile, someone hiring for a position for which my education would be a plus is looking for someone with more professional experience. Sorry, didn’t get the memo, I thought college was supposed to be that experience. Is there no such thing as a professional, entry-level job? Any thoughts? I feel as though I am lost in in-between-land. I’m not qualified enough for “professional” or management roles, but there seems to be a fear that I’ll be bored at a more entry-level administrative role.

  15. Hayley DeHerrera says:

    I should probably also say, I’ve been on 15 interviews and counting. And I’m not a bad interviewer. In fact, I’m pretty good.

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