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Posted April 14, 2019 by

Is it too late to find a great internship or entry-level job?

In a word, no.

They say that with age comes wisdom. Well, I’m certainly a lot older than I used to be and, hopefully, a lot wiser. When I was in college and then graduate school and then when I graduated, my vision of how the job market worked was fundamentally flawed. And being a typical, young adult, no person who had gone through a similar circumstance before me was going to convince me otherwise. They couldn’t understand. They didn’t go through what I was going through. They just don’t get it. Wrong. Wrong. Wrong.

The reality is that the vast majority of students and recent graduates of high schools, one-year technical and vocational schools, two-year community colleges, four-year colleges and universities, and graduate schools are not employed before they graduate. Never have been and probably never will. It is absolutely true that there are a very, very small number of very, very elite schools where the vast majority of the graduating class is either employed before graduation or have accepted offers to continue their education, but those schools and therefore those graduates are outliers. If you’re in that group, fantastic. Stop reading as this article is not for you.

Still with me? Great. Let’s talk frankly about the road in front of you and, perhaps, alleviate some anxiety and wasted time. First, and to emphasize, your situation is the norm. The vast majority of employers hire reactively. They only start looking when they have an opening, and openings occur all of the time and often quite randomly. The employers you’ve seen who interview on campus are the one percent of the one percent in that they plan months and even years ahead of time how many they’re going to hire, from where, and what skill set they need. But the vast majority of employers operate more like, “Oh? Maggie in accounting just quit after being here for only three months? Damn. Well, post a few ads, let’s get some resumes over the next few weeks, and we’ll hire the first good person who we find.”

Let’s break that down a bit. The employer didn’t know they had a hiring need until Maggie created that need by quitting. The response? Look at the candidates who applied three months ago for Maggie’s job, were well-qualified, but weren’t hired because Maggie was better qualified? Nope. To most employers, those candidates cease to exist when they decide to hire someone else. Stupid? Absolutely.

Another component of the response was to post a few ads. Note that the response was not to contact the career service offices, schedule on-campus interviews, conduct those interviews, and then hire. Why not? Because you can’t do that reactively. You can’t just call up a school and show up in a couple of days. They plan months ahead of time. So unless you’re that one percent of one percent employer, career services aren’t an option.

Notice that the employer didn’t specify where to post the ads. As much as this founder of job search site College Recruiter would like to think otherwise, the reality is that most employers have very little loyalty to their media partners. If they have a hiring need and they’ve had good results from you in the past and you somehow come to mind, they’ll be likely to advertise with you again. But they’re also just as likely to advertise with a site whose sales rep happened to call them five minutes after Maggie quit. So where you find the job posting is also less than logical, but that’s not a big deal because the vast majority of job search sites share their postings to ensure that just about every candidate who visits their site has a lot of well-targeted jobs to choose from, which makes for a better candidate experience and also generates more revenue for the job boards.

Another item of note: the employer plans to hire the first, well-qualified candidate who applies. Well, actually not. They said “good”, as in meet the basic qualifications. Most employers fill most jobs with a “got to put butts in seats” philosophy. If you’re qualified and you applied before other qualified candidates, the job is yours. So applying as soon as a job is posted greatly increases your chances of success, as is making it easy for the employer to quickly understand that you’re qualified. If they have to read your resume and start making inferences and guesses as to your qualifications for and legitimate interest in their job then they’re likely to add your resume to the “maybe” pile and move on. And when they move on and then next candidate does a better job of marketing themselves, it will be that next candidate who gets hired instead of you.

At this point, you may be thinking that isn’t fair. That you don’t have the time to start customizing cover letters and resumes for every job you’re applying to. And I will call b.s. on that. When I hear that and scratch the surface, I almost always find that the candidate doesn’t have the time because they’re applying to five, 10, 20, or even more jobs A DAY. Wrong. Wrong. Wrong. Wrong.

As a member of the Career Advisory Board, a think tank sponsored by DeVry University, I learned of research that showed that candidates who applied to a TOTAL of five jobs were far more likely to get hired far more quickly than those who applied to 10, 20, or even more jobs PERIOD. Not a day. Period. By applying to only five jobs, you’re able to spend the time you need to customize your cover letter and your resume so that both use the language used by the employer and draw to their attention that you either meet every requirement and preference they’ve stated in their job posting ad or you have other qualifications which should overcome your deficiencies.

As I write this article, the grass is struggling to poke its way through a few inches of snow left over from a spring snowstorm that us Minnesotans have to suffer through. High school grads are inching toward their last classes and then finals. Students in post-secondary schools are typically preparing for and writing their finals. And most will be unemployed. If you’re in that group, you’re in good company. But you need not be for long.

Grab a sheet of paper and draw three lines down it. At the top, write these headings: competencies, interests, values, compensation. Under competencies, write a word or phrase that describes every single thing that others would say you’re good at. Don’t worry if they’re not related to your career. Write ’em down. Under interests, write everything that motivates you or causes you to take interest in it. Under values, write down everything that matters to you. And under compensation, write down what you need to make in hard benefits like wages or salary, medical insurance, and retirement plans and soft benefits like flexible working hours and the ability to occasionally telecommute.

Look for common themes on the sheet of paper. Hopefully, you’ll discover that there are some things for which you’re competent, interested in, and value. Which of those will provide to you the compensation you need? Now you’ve got a list of jobs or career paths to guide your search. Go to our home page and enter two or three keywords to describe those and the location in which you want to work. Review the jobs that come up in the search results and modify your search as necessary until you’ve narrowed down the list to a manageable size. For some, that might be a few dozen jobs. For others, that might be ten jobs.

Zero in on three to five of the jobs and apply to them. Be sure to include a customized cover letter that helps the employer understand what you want to do in the future and how their job fits into that. What you want to do in the future will, of course, be partly guided by what you’ve done in the past so your cover letter will inevitably discuss some of your educational and work backgrounds. Your cover letter should provide to them enough information that they can see that you’re qualified for the work that they want you to do. No need to include jobs or other experiences that are irrelevant to the job advertised by the employer. Send the application. Follow-up with the employer in a few work days using the contact information that is in the ad, which rarely happens, or on the employer’s website, which is almost always there.

Best of luck!!