Eager college seniors are counting down the weeks to graduation – but looking up as many job leads as they can in classifieds, job boards and through networking. I’ve been a presenter at John Carroll, Miami of Ohio, Kent, Tri-C, Ursuline and Notre Dame on effective search tips for first-time job seekers, and I wanted to share six stumbles that new grads sometimes make. Here’s hoping that college seniors haven’t made any of them – but I bet you know some students that have.
1. Cover Letter Epic Fails. Kill the hilarious statements “my coursework has given me significant experience in marketing” or “I am fully trained in all aspects of media relations.” Best ever? “My work is flawless.” Chances are the reader has already figured out you are 21 and don’t have 10 years of job related experience – so don’t make these preposterous claims. Know who you are (smart, eager, ready to learn, had some internships) and what you are not (a flawless, seasoned pro who’s successfully managed product recalls, angry customers, lawsuits, federal investigations, worker fatalities, environmental spills, employee misconduct and all the other not-fun stuff that happens in the real world). Too many anxious grads make the mistake of inflating how much they bring to the workplace. If we’re advertising for an entry-level position, that’s exactly what we’re looking for. PS - No employer has ever required “flawless” in their job write ups. Promise.
2. Ditch the Fluff. Your practical experience is likely short and sweet, and your letter should be the same. Three paragraphs should do it for a college senior. I see flowery, over-the-top, hyper statements like “I became enticed by the reputation of your company” or “your organization is vital to the world” and “I take a full schedule of classes and work part-time; all of this is done with a smile as wide as the sea on my face.” Put down the caffeine, stop the fawning adulation, and just tell me about your major, jobs and internships. Efficiency trumps chattiness, every time.
3. Describing Yourself. If I had a dime every time a student listed their age in their request to join my Job Bank, I’d own a small island by now. It’s downright silly to state your age when you are writing to professionals. “I’m Sue Smith, I’m 20 and I’m looking for an internship.” “I am a 22-year-old journalism grad.” If you are a new grad, we’ve got your age range figured out by now. A sanity check: what senior executives use their age in their correspondence? “I’m 47 and I’m looking for a job.” “I am a 38-year old marketing professional.” “I am 53 and my resume is attached.” It reads like a “Dear Diary” entry by a Teen Beat subscriber. You will stand out from your peers when you are professional and to the point: “I’m a recent graduate of Cleveland State University and interested in entry-level opportunities in communications and SEO.”
4. Mass Mailings. This doozy of a “fix my world” request came out of the blue from a recent grad:
“I am currently seeking a full-time position and I was just wondering if you could give me any tips or suggestions to help progress the job search. My resume is attached above if you could give me any suggestions on that too.”
Really? This entitled assumption is not looked upon kindly by professionals, and I call it a parachute trick: you drop into a total stranger’s day requesting a resume review and tips on finding a job? Working adults are not sitting on the edge of their seat with a week of unscheduled time to come to your immediate aid. These are questions to ask only after you’ve made some type of communication or connection with a professional, who has already shown an interest in your new career. Drop the mass mailing approach, and work on making connections through PRSA, internships, IABC, NOCA and more. That’s how to earn useful insights and personal help.
5. Mom and Dad Doing Your Work. You aren’t likely giving your parents a shopping list of job-related homework to complete, but do make sure you’re leading the charge and interacting with professionals on your own, and not through them. I’m appalled when I get notes from parents that say “please sign up my child for your job bank.” No, I will not. Every job seeker owns their own search, whether you’re 21 or 61. 7,100 other folks did this without mommy or daddy’s help, and so will you. I’m so amused when prickly parents respond “I’m just trying to help my son/daughter you evil witch” which makes me wonder: that kid isn’t capable of getting off their duff and doing it themselves? What else do you have to do for him or her? This isn’t someone I’d want to even waste my time interviewing.
It’s perfectly acceptable for a parent to have conversations with their network, such as “my daughter’s graduating this year in marketing, if your company has an entry level position I’d appreciate you keeping her in mind as a potential applicant.” And then Daughter takes the ball and runs with it on her own if an opportunity pops up. Leveraging an existing parental network is one thing, managing subscriptions, event registrations and requests is another. Students, you don’t want that impression about you as a candidate, so make sure that “helicopter mom” stays far from your career interactions as you begin creating a reputation in the profession.
6. LinkedIn. Please do NOT shop through LinkedIn for all the important sounding senior practitioners in town, and ask them to connect. It comes across as bush league, it shows poor judgment, and you are ignoring the fundamental rule of connections – reciprocity. Networking is conducted between individuals who have met or worked with each other, and who can provide equal levels of help to each other. If I would be only the 5th connection you have on LinkedIn, and I’m bringing 800+ connections to the table, what you would get is the ability to harvest my contacts for job leads, and I get – absolutely nothing of use or interest out of accepting your invite.
These types of wishful connection requests come across as self-serving and tacky. Of course, if you’ve been an intern for someone, please ask them to connect. Every professional I know bends over backwards to help their interns, give them recommendations, etc. However, if the only way you met a business leader was because they came to class to speak, please hold off on the presumptuous urge to ask them to connect with you. Right now, your LinkedIn connections should be classmates, professors and the people you worked for at internships or part-time jobs.
My overall advice to college seniors? Calm down. Don’t be so torqued up to stand out that your cover letter becomes a comical read. Many grads make a tactical error (too edgy, boastful or fawning) due to their desperation to “get noticed.” Your nicely-written cover letter and resume already stands out from the sloppy stuff that’s being submitted out there – trust me.
Chill it with the LinkedIn, and make sure you are attending some trade association events where you can interact with industry practitioners to help you with job search tips or resume advice. Volunteer with organizations in which you are genuinely interested, and you’ll meet lots of new professionals who will be an advocate for you in your job search. And, get involved with your alumni group in town – it’s a room of folks who want to say hello and help you become the success your terrific professors knew you could be.