Landing a Job After College: Career Expert Q&A
Interview With Career Expert Mark Beal
Assistant Professor at Rutgers University
What are some of the best resources available to students struggling to find employment?
Students who are struggling to find employment should first start with their department and major area of study in college. Within that specific school or department at their university should be a number of resources including a career advising group or point-of-contact. That group will have connections to employers looking to hire as well as connections to alums of that same major who are eager to lend assistance.
Larger universities will also have a university-wide career services department that will have many connections to employers and job openings. Outside the university, students should become members of local and national trade or industry associations based on their field as well as register and attend any area professional networking group meetings and young executive meet-ups, which are popular and easy to locate via a simple online search.
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If a student still is not exactly sure of what kind of job they want, where should they start?
Students who are still not exactly sure about the specific job they want should leverage university career advising resources as well as off-campus resources to meet and speak with as many alums and professionals who work in industries and occupations they are considering. These professionals will be able to share their past experiences and day-to-day responsibilities.
Additionally, even in senior year or after graduation, students should secure internship experiences which will inform them what type of work appeals to them. Increasingly, more companies and organizations are offering post-graduation internship and training programs to students still trying to determine the job they would like to pursue.
Should students still apply for a job even if they are unsure they meet the exact employment qualifications?
There is no harm in applying for jobs. However, a key ingredient for success is applying for jobs for which the applicant has the relevant experience and skills that match those listed in the job description. More and more companies use applicant tracking systems (ATS) to scan an applicant’s resume and determine if there is a strong match between the language in the resume and the language in the job description.
If a student has minimal work experience, what are other ways they can demonstrate experience and qualifications on their resume?
Students with minimal work experience must think about everything they have done throughout college including volunteer work, community service, on-campus internships, special research projects, and even if they produced their own content via a blog or some other media channel. All of these experiences, which may not be considered work or formal internship experience, is valuable and will appeal to employment recruiters.
What are some of the best ways students can make themselves stand out in their job application?
Well before students formally apply and interview for jobs, they need to take quality time to develop their personal brand narrative which should feature any unique skills or experiences as well as achievements and accomplishments and their unique value proposition. These are the type of qualities and characteristics that will help a student out in the application and interview process.
Examples of this include speaking multiple languages, launching and leading a small business while in college, or winning a national, regional, or school wide competition. There are also passion points — climbing mountains, blogging, starting a nonprofit charity, and other activities. Each of these unique experiences and accomplishments will help a student stand out if they can effectively articulate them in writing and verbally as part of their personal brand narrative.
What are some essential questions students should ask prospective employers during their interview process?
When preparing for an interview, students need to develop 3-5 smart and strategic questions. These are questions that demonstrate they have conducted in-depth research about the executive interviewing them, the company, the competition, and the industry.
Questions regarding future trends in the industry, staying ahead of the competition in the crowded marketplace, and even how the organization defines success for the position the student is interviewing for are all smart questions.
Are there any questions students should avoid asking?
During interviews with executives, students should not be asking tactical questions about salary, expected work hours, vacation time, and anything else that should be reserved for asking human resources once the applicant has been notified they have been hired. Questions need to be smart and strategic in such a way that it helps differentiate them from the other candidates for the position.
What are common job application and interview mistakes?
Common application mistakes include not customizing your resume for the specific job opening including the description and qualifications. A student’s resume is a living, breathing document and needs to be customized each time student applies as it is critical that terms and phrases in their resume match the job description if they have that type of experience in their background.
Regarding interviews, common mistakes include arriving late, not dressing appropriately, not shaking hands with confidence and greeting each executive that interviews them with energy and enthusiasm. Additionally, a major mistake is not conducting extensive research regarding each executive who will be conducting interviews as well as research about the company, the competition, and the industry.
Even as the student travels to the interview location, they need to monitor the news that day and integrate any news about the company or the competition into their interview. This applies even to news of the day such as major pop culture, entertainment, and sports news. Students should be well-versed in timely topics and be prepared to have a conversation about those topics.
Are there any credible career aptitude tests that can help students identify their interest/career path?
With so much information today at our fingertips, I would recommend that, as part of a student’s research when transitioning from college to the workplace, they should search online for any tests, quizzes, surveys or other interactive programs that could help inform them as they determine their career path.
At what stage of college should students begin career planning?
Students should begin career planning starting the second semester of their freshman year. Once they successfully complete their transition from high school to college in their first semester, they should start to incorporate career planning into their second semester of freshman year. This should include scheduling their first meeting with the career advising department on campus as well as making every effort possible to secure an internship for the summer between freshman and sophomore year.
A student's first internship can be located right in their hometown. It should serve as their first professional experience as opposed to a typical summer part-time job. Additionally, they should use that second semester to leverage every on-campus opportunity to attend guest lectures, career discussion panels, and anything else that will help them launch and evolve their professional network.
Do students who use career services or recruiters find jobs faster?
Students who have a proactive mindset and take a proactive approach to their career secure jobs faster. Whether that includes collaborating with career services, working with a recruiter, attending career fairs, scheduling informational meetings with alums who are in the industry they are targeting, or identifying and securing career advisors and mentors — these are the common, proactive actions that put students in control of their career transition and securing jobs more quickly than other soon-to-be-graduates.