Finding the job you want comes down to having confidence or acting like you do, knowing what to ask and owning up to what you don’t know.
Call people (even if you don’t want to)
Responding to job online posts can feel like casting your fate into a black hole.
Monica Waldau, who graduated magna cum laude with a dual business degree, took a different approach. She studied the industries she wanted to work in – marketing, consulting, retail management – to see who was hiring and then started cold calling and emailing. “I am a firm believer that the good jobs never get posted,” she said.
Waldau’s strategy means you need to put yourself out there. You won’t always hear the answer you want, if you hear anything at all. But persistence can pay off.
“If you think about how we operate as human beings, you get one email and if it’s not interesting, you never really get back to it,” she said. “But if you get two or three and a phone call, then you remember them as long as it is not annoying. I tried to walk that fine line.”
After she had been looking for about eight months, been on about 25 interviews, she made it to the final round six times and received two offers.
But her efforts may soon pay off. A marketing firm she was interested in asked her to submit a CV like any other applicant. Because she had followed up with a phone call and a few emails, she eventually connected with the head of the firm, who later became a mentor. Within a few months, they were discussing the possibility of a paid postgraduate internship that would give her the branding experience she needs to pursue the marketing jobs she is interested in.
Find out how to get experience (hint: ask potential employers)
Samantha Bridges started looking for a job in human resources during her last semester. But many of the jobs that appealed to her required several years of relevant experience, so she started to ask potential employers where to begin.
“If I had to start low, that was fine by me,” she said. “Most of the companies I would talk to, I would first ask, ‘To get into HR, what would I need to do?’”
Sherwin-Williams, the paint company, told her she needed to complete a management programme in a store and “a whole ladder of positions” before advancing to human resources.
About three months after graduating, she got a customer service job at a big bank. The company does not immediately put new recruits into human resources positions, but the job, assuming that she advances to a couple of others, puts her on track for an HR position down the road.
“It is a step in the right direction,” she said.
Sell yourself with the three As
Beth Hendler-Grunt, the president of the career counselling firm Next Great Step, teaches young applicants what she calls the three As to prepare for a casual meeting or a formal interview.
The first A is for the actions you want the person you’re meeting with to take, such as referring you to a hiring manager or introducing you to someone in a junior role.
The second is for attitude. “Make sure they believe something about you” and “back it up with details”, Hendler-Grunt said. If you’re applying for a finance job, for example, you want to convince the employer that you have strong research skills. She suggested saying something like, “During my internship, I helped produce four analytical reports that identified a potential 10% revenue increase.”
The third A is for the answers that only the person you’re talking to has – information that can’t be found through Google – and can provide insight into the employer and its priorities: How did the person you’re talking to get where she is, what did it take, what are the company’s goals?
More broadly, she suggested thinking about a few core skills that you can bring to an employer. What are you really good at? How can you get that point across with specific examples?
Keep your cool, even if the questions get bizarre
Being interviewed for a job at a small software company, Amy Rowland was asked: “If you had an elephant, what would you do with it and why?”
Rattled at first, she took a moment to formulate a reply: “I’d start a petting zoo, charge children to come in and then donate half of the money to an elephant charity and keep the other half.”
Good answer? Who knows? “All of their questions were so bizarre,” she said.
Interviewers often use offbeat questions to see “how you break things down and make decisions”, said Hendler-Grunt. “It’s about not getting flustered in the moment.”
Rowland, who was hired for a sales job by a different company, said the best thing she did was to over prepare, compiling potential questions she might be asked for a sales position.
She knew she might be asked to put her skills on display by trying to sell something to her interviewer on the spot. When her current employer asked her to sell the pen in front of her, she was ready.
Negotiate for a better salary (and don’t take the first offer)
For Priscilla Hoang, the high-stakes moment came over email: She was offered a job as a records assistant at a big law firm.
Hoang, a sociology major, had taken a salary negotiation workshop before starting her job search, so she was ready when it was time to discuss money.
Instead of accepting the offer – as many first-time applicants, especially women do – she researched what the job paid on average and countered with a number just above the higher end of the firm’s range.
The company’s response – basically, take it or leave it – would have scared off many job applicants into submission.
“If I didn’t take the workshop,” she said, “I might have viewed it as an ultimatum and accepted a wage that I couldn’t have lived on or written it off as a lost cause and declined the job.”
She politely countered again with a number below her original proposal but 10% above the initial offer. This time, the firm accepted.
This article first appeared in The New York Times.