NEW YORK (MainStreet) Jehoshua Brown, a May, 2013 graduate who earned a B.A. in English from Concordia College in Bronxville, N.Y., landed his first job as an advertising sales assistant last September at Bon Appétit magazine in Los Angeles and couldn't be more excited and relieved.
"The job search was nerve-wracking," he said. "I stayed on campus after graduation to try for a job in New York City but it wasn't enough time before I had to move out, even though I applied for hundreds of jobs."
But no dice.
"So, I went back home to Los Angeles and when I saw the Bon Appétit job pop up," he said, "I quickly called on a human resources contact from a previous internship at Condé Nast and with her immediate referral, I got the job."
But Brown's scenario is the exception, not the rule. Many grads are still struggling. Melissa Green graduated in May 2013 with a Bachelor's Degree in Environmental Studies from Skidmore University in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., and, after working through the summer and moving to Boston last fall, is still searching for that first real job. In the meantime, she's taken a part-time job at a local coffee shop. Her new roommate, also a 2013 graduate, works at the local bookstore and yet another, with an English degree, is still working an unpaid internship at a local publishing house. These young women are not alone. In fact, a study done by consulting firm McKinsey and college textbook website Chegg, found that 48% of U.S. college grads in 2012 were employed in jobs that require less than a four-year degree and six times the amount of graduates were working in retail or hospitality as had planned that career path.
I asked an experienced career coach and long-time recruiter for any steps grads may be missing in their job search.
1. Don't rely on online job postings
Anyone who has applied for a job recently has heard the saying that recruiters receive hundreds of resumes for every one job posting. And, roughly 50% of jobs are filled via word-of-mouth referral, internal promotion or headhunters without ever showing up online, says Judi Perkins, a 22-year recruiter. "Someone who is meeting more people and doing more than just filling out online applications is to snag those opportunities," she says.
Annette Cataldi, a career coach who works with unemployed and under-employed grads as part of a non-profit, free job coaching program called Grad Life Choices, advises that you search online job postings daily but recommends that you expand your opportunities by researching companies where you want to work and cold-calling them directly to find the hiring person for the job you want and simply asking if they are hiring. "If they are not hiring, you've still made a contact for future follow-up or for interviewing just for information about jobs in the industry or someone you may meet at an industry event who may make a future referral for you," says Cataldi.
2. Use every type of communication
"You can't hide behind the online process," says Cataldi. She explains the job search process often appears to be "online," but you still have to pick up that phone, follow up several times, ask for help or information, interview in person and by phone, display your skills and personality, ask for the job, write thank you notes, network at events, make off-line and online connections and more to land that first job (and every job thereafter).
If you feel uneasy cold-calling by phone or sitting face-to-face talking about yourself or asking questions, practice asking and answering interview questions with a friend or advisor, or even writing a phone script for each call, advises Cataldi. Being prepared with questions of your own as well as being able to speak knowledgeably about the company (by reading through its website) and what value you may bring to the job is important to successful interviewing.
"I learned that lesson immediately when an interviewer asked me if I had read the magazine I was applying for and I had to say I had not," Brown said. "What a mistake."
3. Always follow-up after every job submission, phone call and interview
Both grads felt it was tricky to follow up with online applications.
But, if you want to stand out, it's your responsibility to find a way to follow up in a professional manner, says Cataldi. "It pulls you out of that pack of 200 and shows that next level of interest and initiative that company is looking for," she said.
Cataldi also advises keeping a spreadsheet record (dates, positions, companies, names) of every application, letter and resume you send out and contact made, whether online or not. Then, you will know when to follow up and you can find the phone number and call and ask for that person (or even human resources). Make notes on every contact.
"Don't just wait for a call," Perkins adds. "You may think they'll call if they want you, but your submission could get lost, buried or deleted. If you insert yourself with a phone call, you might be the one there at the right time who stands out."
Perkins says whenever communicating or following up by phone or email with the hiring person, always put thought into your value for each job and always communicate that value.
For purposes of comparison, check out the below:
Good: "Hi I'm Judi Perkins. I recently graduated with a BBA in Marketing and just completed a social media marketing internship. I emailed a cover letter and resume for the marketing assistant position. When will you be scheduling interviews?"
Better: "Hi I'm Melissa Green. I applied online for the research position, and your ad mentioned you're looking for someone good at field research. While studying abroad and living in the small village of Ralegan Siddhi in India last year, I interviewed teachers, parents and interacted and observed students to help provide a case study of an example school for future villages to emulate. When will you be scheduling interviews?"
For blind Craigslist ads, forward your original emailed cover letter and resume submission again a week later and add, "following up" in front of the job title in your new email subject line and you might get some replies you didn't get originally.
If you don't ask, you don't get it's as simple as that.
4. Be realistic
Is it possible that your job title possibilities, location and company type or size requirements are too narrow for your industry?
"Be realistic," said Cataldi. "There's no such thing as getting your dream job at your dream pay at the entry level." What you want to do is cast a wider net to get into your industry where you can, show your work ethic and what you're willing to learn and grow from there.
"I'm ultimately interested in fashion editorial, but realizing the assistant advertising sales job at a well-respected magazine publishing company is definitely the right step for me was key," Brown says. "What I need to do is learn all I can about this industry and luckily, my boss is a great teacher."
5. Express interest in each and every job personally
"You can teach skills but you can't teach passion," says Cataldi. "Show emotion so you stand out as interested instead of bored." She says recruiters will choose someone who shows enthusiasm for the job and company over someone who doesn't every single time.
Similarly, a company wants to know why you want to work with them. When they see you've thought it through, it's attractive to them.
Be sure to tailor each cover letter specifically so as many of your skills and experiences meet the job description. It may be time-consuming, but using the same form, non-specific letter for every job will be passed right over, warns Cataldi.
At the end of the interview ask when the contact will make a decision and say, "I will call you on 'that' date." When it's time to follow up, you bypass the receptionist by saying, "She is expecting my call," advises Cataldi.
Of course, as you are shaking hands (firmly) at the end of the interview, say (with eye contact and a smile), "Thank you so much! I really enjoyed learning more about the company and XX position and I'd love to contribute to your XX team!"
Are you doing all five of these things daily in your job search? If not, start now.
"It wasn't luck that got me the job," says Brown. "It was being open to all opportunities in my industry, keeping in constant contact with someone I'd met positively during an internship and acting quickly and professionally that got me into the right place at the right time."
--Written by Naomi Mannino for MainStreet