Lessons Learned: An Alum’s View of the Job Hunt (part 1)

I can still remember how terrifying my first job hunt was—and this was back in 2005, when unemployment was under five percent! I’ll put your mind at ease: You’re going to be fine. I don’t know a single Pomona kid who isn’t doing, or on their way to doing, something interesting and lucrative enough for their needs. And I say this having graduated with 60 bucks in my pocket and a really crappy job (as a telemarketer) lined up. So, unless part of that Pomona budget goes to bribing the unsuccessful into silence, relax. With that said, there are some simple steps you can take to make your job search more effective. In the first part of a three-part series on making your way in the working world, I will address finding and securing your perfect job.

1. Research your options.

You have a better chance with five positions that are right for you than with a hundred opportunities that just are. Personally, I’m blown away by how much effort I put into finding the right college and how little effort I put into finding the right job. Identify your strengths, the types of people you work best with, the environment that appeals to you and your long-term goals. This should help you narrow your choices to those that really work for you.

General Tip: Call the company and say, “I am interested in applying for the X position. Can I talk to the person in charge of finding the right candidate?” Then ask that person, “What specific skills are needed for this job? Are you open to someone with a talent for that area and who is willing to learn? What type of personality does the team need? How have others in the position distinguished themselves? Can I talk to/email someone currently or recently in the position to get a better feel for the job?” Follow up a few days later with everyone you spoke with and say, “I really appreciated your talking to me about the position. I am submitting my application later today, and am looking forward to hearing back from you.”

2. Connect with alumni through LinkedIn or Sagehen Career Connection.

If you message them by saying “An Alum looking for advice,” they will almost always answer. Just be sure to have intelligent and specific questions…or take the opposite approach and admit to not knowing much about the issue that connects you to the position, but that you’d like to know how to get started—that usually works too.

General Tip: Search for alumni in the specific city, industry, or company you are interested in. Ask them questions that apply directly to their experience, but also explain specifically why you are asking. They might be able to connect you with others who can give you more information.

3. Apply with confidence.

The first sentence of your cover letter should be, “I am the right person for the X position.” Follow with two skills that specifically address the job requirements, and a personality point that demonstrates that you will match both the immediate requirements and the evolution of the position. You should take the approach, “I am perfect for this job. Let me show you why.” Once you re-frame the question this way, you stop thinking about why you might be rejected and you think of all the reasons that they should hire you.

General Tip: Make the employer’s evaluation easy for them. Use your cover letter to make your argument and your resume to provide supporting evidence.

4. Own the interview.

By now, you’ve researched the position, the company, and the people you will be meeting. You can walk in ready to convince each person of your ability to contribute to the company while demonstrating that you are friendly and eager to learn. If you can argue for why you are the person they need, they will recognize your value to the company.

General Tip: Instead of passively responding to their specific questions, use each answer to reinforce your fit for the job. Telling them what you will do with the position and point to specific examples of doing exactly that.

5. Learn some basic Excel. It’s easy, it’s extremely useful in nearly every job and it really jumps out on a resume. Go to ITS for an hour, Google “Excel list,” “Excel addition” and “Excel Sort.” Practice a couple of times. Then try “Excel v-lookup” and “Excel Pivot Table”—you’ll probably never need to use these, but it’s helpful to know what the concepts are. Or you can just e-mail me, and we can chat about it for a bit.

General Tip: New technology is a lot less scary when you realize that you can teach yourself every step by Googling the name of the software and the specific step you want to take.

Ultimately, my first lesson can be summed up as follows: Find the perfect job, and then use every possible communication with the employers to argue your specific point.

I hope you’ve found this helpful. I will continue next week with the specific attitudes that can transform your first job into a great job. The final installment will include a more general assessment of where the world is going and how you can prepare for its new opportunities.

For literature on career searching, I strongly encourage everyone to read “Never Eat Alone” and the first few chapters of “The Art of the Start.” The Stanford Entrepreneurial Thought Leaders podcast is also a resource that I would suggest to everyone. Finally, follow InterviewBest and RecruitingTruth on Twitter for some valuable specific ways to improve your application and interview skills.

I am always willing to answers or discuss your options. Just e-mail me at ikepotter@gmail.com.

Ike Potter graduated with distinction from Pomona College in 2005 with a Bachelor’s degree in economics. He has worked for NERA, an economics consulting firm in Los Angeles, where he recruited recent college graduates. He also helped launch a boutique tax firm before moving to New York, where he worked for a year as a temporary technical assistant for several law firms. He is currently with The Cowen Group, a speciality recruiting firm that focuses on electronic document management and discovery for Fortune 500 companies and top law firms.

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