February 9, 2014

Job Hunting On Campus

11 minute read

It’s February, and with the summer slowly approaching, many of my friends are beginning to look for work for after graduation (or just the summer if they’re continuing at University). I’m fortunate enough to already have had a job lined up for after graduation for a while, but this isn’t the norm. Most people are only beginning to look for jobs and internships now. Although I don’t claim to be an expert at searching for jobs (far from it), I have been out there since my freshman year, so I do have a couple of tips which will hopefully be helpful. Although my particular field, Technology, is very large and highly in-demand, most work-hunting advice applies across the board.

Although this list is not exhaustive, these are things which any prospective intern/employee should try and start actively working on as soon as possible. Many of these tidbits are seeds which need to be sewn well in advance because they can take time to take root.

  1. Polish your resume (and update your LinkedIn)
  2. Spread the word to your friends
  3. Practice your interviewing technique
  4. Go to career fairs
  5. Apply to jobs via college career sites
  6. Interview even if you’re unsure about the job

Polishing Your Resume

Polishing your resume and updating your LinkedIn (which I consider to be the same) is definitely one of the first things you should get to work on, even before applying to jobs and before trying to let your extended network of friends and family know about your interest. I’ve had it happen on more than one occasion that I mentioned I was looking for work to friends, family, or even just acquaintances, but when they asked I didn’t have an updated resume with me. Get your resume updated yesterday if you’re even thinking about looking for work. Even with an amazing network, there’s very little that can be accomplished without one.

From personal experience, I know that it can take a few weeks to prepare a good looking resume, but make no mistake, if you’re applying for a competitive job your resume will need to stand out. Make sure that pertinent information (school, major, GPA, type of work desired) is easily found, and that all information is neatly summarized in bullets. Most recruiters only spend seconds looking over resumes, which means that yours needs to maintain a balance between readability and being concise.

If you’re a Rutgers student, and you want some help with your resume, I highly recommend you take advantage of Career Service’s drop-in resume critiques. Although I only went to them once, I thought that they provided good fundamental advice which could be necessary if you don’t know a resume genius. (On the other hand, if you have access to skilled resume writers who can sit down with you multiple times, they will probably provide better results.)

If you really are unsure of where to start with a resume, you can try the Resume builder tool on Career Knight, but I’ll admit I wasn’t a huge fan of their tools. It’s definitely a decent start if you’re starting from the ground floor, though.

Regarding LinkedIn

I am personally of the opinion that LinkedIn acts as an online, networked version of your resume, and I treat it as such. Thus, if you’re actively looking for work, polish up your LinkedIn and put everything on it that you would put on your resume (perhaps even more if it looks good).

Leverage Your Network

Once you have a presentable resume, start spreading the word to your friends, family, or anyone you think may have a connection. When they say it’s not about what you know but who you know, it’s true. Even if you don’t have “an in” anywhere (don’t worry, I don’t either), letting people know about your availability can open doors you may not have even known existed. (I’ve had friends who were student ambassadors for various firms offer to pass on my resume when they found out I was looking for work, but only when they knew that I was available.)

Even now that I have work available, I still try and keep making connections, because it never hurts to have more contacts. If you aren’t already trying to grow your network, make it a top priority.

Practice Your Pitch

Although I’m not terribly active in the “startup scene”, I have a number of friends in the industry and have even had the privilege of going to a Startup Weekend with one of the most talented, hard working, and well-connected guys I know. One of the most important things I’ve learned about selling yourself, whether it’s for a brilliant idea you have or simply for work, is to have an “elevator pitch. The basic idea is to be able to summarize what you or your ideas bring to the table in around half a minute to potential interested parties.

I have noticed how I have personally benefited in my past experiences at career fairs, networking events, job panels, interviews, and even daily conversations by having prepared a thirty second summary of my background, skills, experiences, and interests. Like I mentioned earlier, when in an interview or at a career fair, the people you’ll be speaking with want to hear a simple, succinct summary about yourself. They won’t have time for you to mince words, and they’ll respect that you know what you have, what you want, and that you can express it clearly.

As an anecdote, I remember when I was at the Rutgers Fall STEM Career Fair and approaching recruiters from various companies. I would confidently step up, draw a clean, printed resume from my folio, and I handed it to them, I would say in fifteen seconds why I was a good candidate for their positions and what I was looking for. I could see it in their expressions how helpful it was for me to do “the hard part” of summarizing my resume in words for them. It’s their job to help people get jobs, and the quicker the needed information is furnished, the quicker they can get to work. Especially in career fairs, where recruiters see hundreds or thousands of candidates a day, the ability to cut right to the main point is especially valuable. I’m not saying don’t be personable, or to be robotic, but however you choose to express yourself, make sure that it gets the point across. They shouldn’t have to think about what you mean, and they should already be realizing how they can help you as you speak.

I’ve actually found that the exercise of summarizing propositions has helped me in conversation otherwise. I can sometimes be long-winded and overthink things. Often, the first time I’m asked a question, I struggle to compose a suitable response with adequate brevity. The requirement to boil down my opening remarks has actually made me better in this respect. Which brings me to my next, related point…

Prepare for Interviews

People are always saying that you should prepare for an interview. They describe the clothes you should wear, the things you should bring with you, and the questions you should be able to answer. But what I struggled with when I first started the hunt for work was why do you need to prepare the answers in advance? After all, it’s not always possible to predict every question in advance. Are interviewers out to try and get you?

Actually, the reason for preparing for interviews is the same as the reason for preparing an elevator pitch. When you’re granted an interview, someone in that company (but not usually the person who performs the interview) has decided that you’re qualified enough for a position. You’re qualified enough for the position if you’re in the room. You wouldn’t be there otherwise, because they have no reason to interview unqualified candidates. What they want, then, are two things: reasons to hire you, and reasons not to hire you.

Reasons not to hire can be varied, but for the most part they can be attributed to a desire to cut down the number of applicants. They usually involve technical questions involving the type of work you’d be doing. Often, these are the easiest types of questions to prepare for, because they’re the types of things you study in class, although they may be the hardest to prepare answers for. If you study finance, you may be expected to do a case study and analyze a fictional company. Presumably someone who has obtained an interview knows how to do this, and so the main reason to ask this question is to find people who can’t do so, ie people not to hire.

The reasons to hire are generally all for the same reason — to hire a hard working and motivated, intelligent, employee who knows what they can bring to the table and is prepared to do so. On paper, it’s difficult to tell whether a candidate works well in teams, communicates well, and knows (and can speak to) what they want. (We’ve all had experiences where something which looked good on paper or online or on TV wasn’t ”the real deal“.) Just from your resume, potential employers won’t be convinced why they should hire you. The interview is your shot to convince them that you bring all the above to the table and more.

In theory, if people know their work inside-and-out, and if they know themselves perfectly, they would not need to prepare for an interview because pithy insights as to their profession and inner selves would be flowing like water. The reality is that any young professional (let alone college student) is unlikely to be at sufficiently profound levels of professional development and self awareness as to be able to interview without practice. For the rest of us, we should prepare concise answers to common questions which we should expect.

The truth of the matter is that most interviewers will be generally friendly and want you to do well. After all, they are deciding whether they want you to work with them on a daily basis. After a few interviews, once I got over the initial nervousness that can accompany walking into the interview room, I began to notice that interviewers are normal people just like me and that they wanted to calm me down so I would have a good baseline. When you’re nervous,it’s hard to tell what you’d be like under normal working conditions. To get me into that state, interviewers would often ask me to read over my resume and talk about myself a little bit. True, they probably have not yet read your resume (remember they probably aren’t the people who chose you to be interviewed), and they almost definitely don’t know much about you. However, by getting you to talk about what you know, your life, and what you like, even if only for a minute, they are getting through to the real you. Knowing that interviewers want you to do the best you can is reassuring — it’s like a game where everybody is rooting for you.

For Rutgers students, Career Services offers mock interviews to help prepare the “in person” side of things. As mentioned above, I firmly believe that the first few interviews someone has in a season can be shaky because of things like nerves and inexperience, and then successively get better. Getting a mock interview in an interviewing room with someone you don’t personally know can help you practice your interviewing skills in a friendly environment, which can ease your entry into “real interviews”.

Take (Almost) All Interviews

The other day, a friend asked me whether she should go to an interview if she was personally unsure of whether she would take the position even if it were offered to her. Although she had previously interviewed before, she did not yet have any offers on the table. She asked me what I thought about the situation.

My response to this line of questioning is always what do you have to lose by going ahead with the interview? If you know that you don’t want or can’t take the position, then you have an acceptable reason to decline. Or, alternatively, if the loss of study/work hours is too much (in your own estimation) compared to how likely you think you’d take the position, that’s also a legitimate reason to pass on an interview.

However, especially in these situations, where one is unsure of whether they would take the position but they don’t have any other offers, it’s very important to take the interview very seriously. Even if the interview isn’t for something you are sure you want, there are two compelling reasons to do it in the meantime.

  1. There is often a period of a couple of weeks before hearing back about the results of an interview. By the time you do hear back, you may change your mind about the position.

  2. Interviewers often ask if you have received offers for other positions to try and gauge your desirability and estimate your value and riskiness. If you collect offers, even ones you don’t intend to accept, it empowers you to answer this question with confidence. Indicating that you have other offers to companies you may be more interested can increase your desirability and even the offered salary.

And much more!

The truth is there’s so much more to job and internship hunting than I can say here, and even more that I simply am not yet familiar with. Much of it depends on the desired industry, location, etc. Hopefully, this lays some groundwork for the unfamiliar to figure out how to begin navigating this exciting period in life.

© Jeff Rabinowitz, 2023