Each semester I have the pleasure of going back to Skidmore College to teach classes in advertising and marketing. I love going to talk to the students. In order to make sure I’m teaching them the latest information, I prepare a totally new presentation each and every time I go up. In the past I’ve spoken about a range of topics including marketing, branding, real time bidding, the history of the advertising agency – the list goes on. However, no matter what I prepare, I always get the same question: how do you get your first job?
My answer to this question varies, as it can be very difficult to get your first job. However, after years of responding to this question in fragmented ways I’ve pooled all my thoughts into this one entry. I can confidently say that if you follow this seven-step plan you are 100% guaranteed to get your first job.
Andrew’s Seven Step Guide to Getting Your First Job
Step 1) Figure Out What You Want to be When You Grow Up
The first thing you will be asked as a job seeker is “What do you want to do?” If you don’t have a good answer to this question, it’s almost always a deal breaker. Most people (probably 95%) don’t know with certainty what they want to do. There are so many choices! How could we possibly know what we want to do? If you are one of the 95% who don’t know what they want to do – you need to guess. Guess what you want to do – and then pretend like you’re part of the 5% who already know what they want to do (at least narrow it down to an industry). The reason it’s important to guess is because the phrase “I don’t know what I want to do” is an interview killer. When you talk to networking contacts or interviewers, on the outside you have to know with absolute certainty what you want to do (even if you’re not truly certain on the inside). If you start to have doubts – remember, there’s no penalty for changing your mind!
Step 2) Talk to People
Every job posted on a career website, or in the classifieds section of the newspaper only appears there because the person posting the job was unable to find a qualified candidate through networking. Networking (in other words, talking to people, asking advice and making friends), is the most important thing to do when looking for your first job. Take the target industry you thought of in Step 1 and start talking to people about it. Talk to family, talk to friends, talk to friends of friends, talk to everyone who will talk to you about the industry you’re interested in entering. The more people you talk to, the more you will learn and the more people will know how fantastic you are (and that you’re looking for a job!). When you reach out to friends or new contacts, never request an interview or send a resume ahead of time – always ask for advice or networking help. Only 5% of people are likely to chat with someone who is only looking for an interview, but 75% of people are likely to chat with someone humbly asking for advice. After speaking to each new networking contact – be sure to ask if there is anyone else you could talk to about your target industry. Keep your networking growing – the more people you talk to, the better chances you have at finding someone who can point you to your first job.
Step 3) Make a Networking Excel Sheet
Every time you talk to someone, enter their name on your networking excel sheet. Your networking excel sheet should contain columns for name, company, title, contact information, something to remember them by (e.g. what you talked to them about), when you spoke last, and (the most important column) when you will reach out to them again. As a rule of thumb, during a job search I would recommend reaching out to each one of your networking contacts once every three weeks. All you need to send is a small update about how you’re doing. You don’t want to annoy your contacts by overloading them with email – but chances are they won’t mind periodic updates on your job search. Sending persistent updates will show them that you are disciplined and it will help keep your name top of mind if they hear of any job openings that might be appropriate for you. Note – if you don’t have MS Excel – Google Spreadsheet works great as well.
Step 4) Send Follow Up Notes
This is probably the most crucial step – and at the same time the most overlooked. Every time you talk to anyone about anything related to your job search, send a cordial, polite follow up note. A good follow up note has three parts. The first part thanks your contact for speaking and provides a small reference to what you talked about (e.g. Thank you for speaking to me about xxxx). The second part is a slightly deeper dive into what you spoke about and a reminder that you’re looking for a job (e.g. I’m very interested in xxxx part of what you do and look forward to getting my foot in the door). The third part is another “thank you” and a note that you’ll keep them updated on how things go with our job search. By inserting the third part – they will expect your every-three-weeks updates (from Step 3). For bonus points, end the note with a reference to something personal/not work-related that came up in your conversation (e.g. Enjoy your trip to Florence!) Keep your follow up notes short. Your networking contacts should be able to read them in two minutes or less.
Step 5) Create a Mental Map of your Target Industry
As you talk to more people, create a mental map of what your target industry looks like. Who are the companies that operate in your target industry? Which companies are doing well, which are not? What is the organizational structure like at the companies inside your target industry? What are the different departments? What are the different job titles? And most importantly – where are the entry level jobs in your target industry? I recommend literally drawing this as a picture on a white board or a big piece of paper. Every time you learn something new – add to your drawing. The goal is to have a comprehensive picture of what your target industry looks like, complete with major players, job titles and points of entry. As you talk to your networking contacts, it’s ok to ask them questions to help you fill in this picture! Keep in mind – they may only have part of the answer. You may need to talk to multiple people before you can fill in the whole picture.
Step 6) Research, Research, Research
As a job seeker, time is your greatest asset. Use this time to research and become an expert in your target industry. Carve out time every day to do this research and be disciplined about sticking to your schedule. Read blogs, news articles, Wikipedia, Twitter, Quora, and whatever else you can find on the internet or in print. Remember that potential employers will look at your behavior during your job search as indicative of your behavior once you get hired. If you show discipline, self-driven motivation and extensive research during your job search, it will prove that you will display those very same attributes once hired. The most powerful thing you can do when you reach out to a networking contact is to already be an expert about your target industry. Not only will accumulating industry knowledge impress your networking contacts, it will also give you something to talk about with them. No one likes awkward silences, so prepare a few points to bring up or questions to ask before every conversation.
Step 7) Repeat Steps 2 – 6 until Hired
Pay close attention to networking contacts you speak to who work in human resource departments. HR professionals frequently network amongst themselves. Even if you talk to someone who is not hiring, they may know someone who is.
As you go through this process remember that looking for your first job is 80% “being at the right place at the right time” and 20% “ability to do the job.” Stay disciplined and persistent and you will dramatically increase your chances of being in the right place at the right time to land your first job.
If you are not a first time job seeker, please forward this article to anyone you know who is!