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David Morgan: Ideas for College Grads looking for that First Job


I have been a recruiter for over 15 years now, and predominantly I have worked with experienced hires. Due to some scheduling conflicts, I was asked to attend a college career fair. After speaking with a number of students, I thought I would give a couple of pieces of advice for students looking for that first job.

There is a saying, “Plan your work, and work your plan”. It struck me as I interacted with a number of students how fierce the competition must be. With that in mind, all the time and effort spent on getting a degree should now be channeled into getting a job. Getting a job is a job, so you must develop a plan of some sort. At the bare minimum, you should eliminate as many hurdles to your success as possible.

A lot of ambitious people want to work for a leader in the industry that interests them. How then do you set yourself apart?

Take a look at yourself. I mean, actually take a look at yourself. Are you dressed for an interview? Even if you are attending a networking event, you should “look the part”. Of the two events I attended, I saw jeans, sneakers, stains on pants, t-shirts, shorts, crazy hair, and women in some attire best suited for an evening out. As you approach a company representative, you never know who the hiring manager may be, or who is going to remember you. You want to look your best so that some old codger, like myself, can see you as a peer. “Old school” I believe, is how I would be categorized by the kids now days.

These events are advertised in advance. You need to research the companies before you approach their representatives. If you are only interested in software companies, why would you waste the time and effort to speak with an environmental company? What happens when you walk up and one of the company’s people asks, “What do you know about our company?”, or “What interests you about our firm?” (fade to crickets chirping) Most of the students I met had a cell phone. The majority of those had a data plan. In the absolute worst case scenario, take a minute or two from a discreet distance and look up the company so that you at least have an idea of what they do. If the company looks interesting, move in for a conversation. If it doesn’t, move on to a better fit.

Have an idea of what you want to do for a living. As the conversation progresses, somebody will inquire about what sort of role you are seeking. That is NOT the time to say, “I’m open.”, or “I’m willing to learn.” Those types of responses move you to the end of the line and recruiters and hiring managers at a career event aren’t there to guide your career. There are other people for that. I’m not saying that you have to be 100% committed at this point in your life, but towards the end of your college career, you need to have narrowed the field to at least 5 options from the hundreds that are out there. In other words, help me to help you. Once you get to a company representative, you can at least point them in the right direction.

One of the biggest assets in your professional career will become your network. Those are the people who know you and your work. They have evaluated your strengths and weaknesses and are ready to bring your name up should a good opportunity present itself. Start working on your network now before you enter the workforce and really need it. Add your college classmates to your LinkedIn network now before everyone scatters. You never know. One of your acquaintances may wind up in a top company a couple of years from now and may be able to get your resume into the right hands.

You can eliminate a lot of potential hurdles by assuming every interaction is an opportunity for someone to notice you.

Author:   David Morgan – Senior Recruiter at Amec Foster Wheeler

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