I was fortunate to have had the opportunity to mentor some rising stars over the past couple of years through the CFL’s internship program, which I led, and through general networking. As part of the mentoring process, I have been able to lend a hand with the job search process to many of these young mentees who are striving to break into tough industries.
I have also been on the hiring end of the process and this has given me a unique perspective on what hiring managers seek when they search for new talent. One thing I have noticed in recent years is that many job applicants make it too easy for companies to knock them out of the process as a result of simple mistakes, some of which I will outline below.
Here is some of the advice I provide to young people on the hunt for a first job or an early career transition:
1. Network – You cannot network enough. This means pounding the pavement and making sure you are out there getting face-to-face meetings with people in the industry where you want to work. But that doesn’t mean asking Brian Burke for an information interview because you want to work in sports. That will be a waste of time for both parties. You should make sure to network with people who are one or two steps ahead of where you are trying to enter the industry. These people can give you the most relevant information on the positions you are seeking. Plus, they are usually the first people to know when friends at similar companies are hiring. These connections can prove invaluable during the job hunt because the greatest chance of getting hired usually takes place in the hidden job market long before a job is posted to the masses.
2. Create an online presence – In this day and age it is important that you have a strong digital presence. If you are not on LinkedIn, abandon this blog right now and set up an account. Make sure to use a professional photo (no cropped photos from your Facebook page that were shot on vacation). Once you build your profile, make sure to get recommendations. If you are an intern, ask for these recommendations as soon as your internship ends so that you are still fresh in the minds of the people you worked for. Also set up a Twitter account. You shouldn’t feel obligated to post, but it is a good listening tool and a great place to meet people about potential opportunities. I have hired freelance writers for CFL.ca through conversations that were initiated on Twitter. Set up some lists to help you track the topics you are interested in. I have lists of top marketing people, top social people and top sports industry people that I follow. This helps me stay on top of what is going on in the industry and it helps me know who to connect with. I also have a list called ‘Jobs’ which follows the HR and/or job posting feeds from the companies that I would consider working for. A lot of times, this is the best and quickest way to keep an eye on what sorts of jobs are open in the industry.
3. Pay attention to detail – While sorting through resumes for a recent position where I was on the hiring committee we came across several cover letters that were addressed to a different company. Triple check your work and make sure you are sending the right letter and resume to the right company. You should also make sure your file names make sense when sending in a cover letter and resume. Using something like ‘Resume – Jaime Stein – CFL.doc‘ or ‘Cover Letter – Jaime Stein – CFL.doc‘ helps make it easier for the hiring manager to find your documents, plus this looks more professional than ‘currentresumejaimestein.doc‘. Along these lines, make sure that your resume and cover letter are laid out in a clean and consistent manner. This is the biggest mistake many people make – submitting resumes that are not clear, consistent or lined up; having a resume that is more than two pages long for a junior job, etc. can make for an easy exit from the hiring process. There are a ton of free templates available online – find one that works for you and your experience.
4. Stand out from the crowd – As a hiring manager, I have sat in front of a screen for hours going through hundreds of resumes. After a while, most resumes look the same. Add some colour to your resume since most people view them online (as opposed to printing them out). One cover letter I received had a link to a YouTube video – the video was a 1-minute personalized pitch from the candidate on why she was right for the job. This helped the application stick out from the crowd. In another instance, we received a cover letter set up as a CNW press release – it was an application for a PR job and it demonstrated that this candidate understood the proper style for writing a release in addition to having a bit of creativity. If you are on Twitter or LinkedIn, make sure to add the URLs of your accounts on the resume. If you write a blog, include the URL so that you can show off your depth.
5. Prepare for the interview – Too many people enter an interview unprepared. My strategy is to write out a list of 10-15 potential questions in advance and then answer them in a Word document. This helps me organize my thoughts and potential answers to the questions that I may be asked in the interview. The questions could range from skill specific questions to leadership questions to scenario based questions. I find that scenario based questions are the hardest to answer because you have to really dig deep to find good answers to demonstrate the skill the interviewer is trying to determine that you have. Over time you will be able to compile a list of common questions – either through research online, talking to fellow job seekers or by approaching your mentor who has been through these situations before. Practice, practice, practice before the interview so that you are able to answer questions with confidence.
6. Apply for the right job – Don’t waste a company’s time by applying for a job where you don’t have the right qualifications. Read the job description thoroughly and then read it again to make sure you are applying for a job where you are the right fit.
7. Have goals and a vision – In pretty much every interview you will be asked what your goals are or what your dream job would look like. Make sure you have some sort of vision for your own future. There is nothing more demoralizing than hearing a candidate say, “Well, I’m not sure what I want to do… I’ll just take it one step at a time.” This will ensure that you will not make it to the next round. A friend of mine is looking for a photography intern. If I were applying for her position and was asked this question I would likely respond, “My goal is to shoot cover photographs for Sports Illustrated.” This lets her know what I want to do and how she can help me in the short term to reach my goal. It also demonstrates that I’m motivated and not simply looking for a job for the sake of having a job.
8. Say thank you – You would be amazed at how few thank you notes I have received after conducting a job interview. Make sure to send an e-mail within 12-24 hours thanking the person for the interview. Also use this opportunity to reinforce why you are the right person for the job. Don’t make it a long note, two or three quick paragraphs will do. And make sure you reference #3 from this list – get the person’s name, title, etc. correct.
These are just a few key pieces of advice I like to share when helping people find a job. But at the end of the day, nothing beats hard work and a great attitude. Good Luck!