By Loren Cruise
Have you ever experienced that sequence of thoughts and emotions when you realize something big is coming up and you are thoroughly unprepared? You feel that painful clenching in your stomach, followed by an increase in your heart rate. At the same time, you have that initial “uh-oh” feeling which is closely followed by the brief moment of utter hopelessness. At this point, you either shut down and give up, or start panicking. With increasing desperation, your mind runs through all your options. How can I salvage this, or am I too late?
I am currently at a later stage in the escalating panic that every student must go through at one point in their college career. I just realized that graduation is in nine short months and I feel as unprepared for the real world as I was when I entered my freshman year of college. Looking back on what I have done that could possibly prepare me for entering the job world, I have come to a painfully harsh conclusion. For all my pathetically short resume will do, I might as well write, “I promise I will be a good employee. Trust me,” on a blank sheet of paper and submit it with my application.
Here I am, accompanied by the majority of college students, with the daunting task of selling my life’s experiences for acceptance into the working world. I am sure I am not alone in desperately thinking, “How in the world do I do that? What have I done that will make me stand out in a crowd of possibly one hundred people applying for the same position?”
I made an appointment with a counselor from the Center for Career andProfessional Development at my school, Wheelock College, which is something I advise all students to do. We met to discuss an issue that has been on my mind since that “uh-oh” moment: “This is what I want to do when I graduate. What should my plan be this year to get there?
Krystyn, the counselor I spoke with, gave me some good news. I just completed the first step, which was to come to the Career Center. She told me about how students can utilize the Career Center throughout their college career. Yes, she told me, even freshmen use the Career Center. The most important thing the Career Center does is to help students create a professional identity and it’s never too early or late to start the process. “Employers want to see the whole package and there is a lot that encompasses that,” she said. Internships, jobs, volunteer work, and extracurricular activities build a professional identity. As she and I went through all my non-academic achievements and experiences over the years and talked about what would be valuable in a resume, she gave me some advice. “Employers want to see that you have diverse experiences and skills, so your resume should reflect what you have done and the valuable skills you have developed.”
I decided to consult two employers who are in charge of hiring for entry-level positions. David, a manager who often hires for accounting and manufacturing positions, said that he would “be reluctant to hire somebody who all they ever did was go to college. They had no outside interests, no volunteer work. I’d want to see someone who has done and tried a number of things.” Karen, a manager in a software company, said that resumes that show diverse interests stand out to her, grab her interest. She said that a resume that shows that an applicant has diverse experiences and interests tells her that this person has motivation, drive, and initiative. Krystyn advised me to branch out and try different things this year. Her suggestions were to apply for an internship, do volunteer work, or find a relevant part-time job.
David said that he often faces a hundred resumes for a single job and that the initial screening process usually narrows it down to around a dozen possible applicants. He said that there are things you can look at in a resume that would immediately tell you that someone is not qualified for a job. For example, people sometimes put objectives in their resumes. If the objectives aren’t for a job that he is offering, “that’s an immediate resume headed for the trash.” Or, if the person is clearly unqualified for the position, not having the experience or educational background for the job. David said that he sorted the resumes into two piles, rejects and possibles. “When I choose to interview someone, I want to make sure they can, on paper, do the job.”
The next step Krystyn listed is to prepare for interviews. The Career Center at my school does mock interviews with students and teaches them skills to use when interviewing for jobs. “The biggest thing is to be confident,” said Krystyn. “Many students can get very nervous in interviews. I like to remind them that the company gave them an interview which means that they are already interested in them as a candidate.” She said that an interview should be like telling a story. You should use examples and elaborate on your answers.
“Initial appearances are important. Dress professionally and appear eager, engaged, and polite,” said Karen. She and David both expressed the importance of keeping the interview professional. “There are some folks that try to become buddy-buddy with you right away. I want to be seen as a professional, a hiring manager that somebody has to work hard to impress,” said David. Before an applicant steps into the building, he needs to research the company and the industry. “Don’t go in saying that you absolutely hate writing on a Mac and going on Facebook if the company’s entirely Facebook and Macintosh focused. Know who you’re talking to,” said Karen, “and remember that not only are the companies recruiting you, you are recruiting the companies, so have a couple questions ready for the employer.”
After I spoke with Krystyn, David, and Karen, I asked my friend and recent graduate, Alyssa, about her experience finding a job. “It was a little bit scary,” she said. “I emailed everyone I could and looked at every job posting and applied for every job I could find.” She also went to a number of job fairs and interviewed there. When I asked her what she thought helped her find a job, she said that she got tons of help with preparing for job interviews and putting her resume together from the career counselor at school and that she was able to put a lot on her resume because of multiple internships, jobs, school projects, and relevant courses.
Krystyn said that students need to understand that the job search process can be time-consuming, frustrating, and difficult at times, but also exciting, fun, and interesting. I’m starting to understand the exciting, fun, and interesting part, but I’m pretty sure I’m still very much stuck on the difficult and frustrating aspect at the moment. The overall advice I was given by everyone I talked to is that the key to success getting a job is to be prepared for all aspects of the process.
To learn more about the Career Center and what Krystyn does for students at Wheelock College, go to http://www.wheelock.edu/academics/career-services
Or, for information about Career Services at UMASS Boston, you can check out its website at http://www.umb.edu/academics/vpass/career_services/