Finding a career after graduation
If you were lucky (or smart enough) to choose a career path that was in demand while you were going through post-secondary education, then congratulations, you’re transition into the working world will be made a whole lot easier. For those of us who chose to become “well-rounded” students and take courses of study that had a less-defined labour market (ie: we’re not really directly qualified for anything) the journey can be a little more interesting. In my specific case I was in the position of being qualified for a very specific job (high school humanities teacher) that is not even remotely in demand.
Those Who Can’t Dig… Teach
Here is a great case study for post-post-secondary schooling. I graduated with a B.A. and a Bachelor of Education (after 150 very long credit hours). Several of my friends graduated with a Bachelor of Science with a major in Geological Sciences (B.Sc, G.Sc) (120 credit hours) and so I was privy to their after school plans. I spent my whole last year in a fairly constant state of worry as more and more information and vague gossip about the job market poured into our tower of academia. To put it mildly, the outlook was not good, specifically for someone like myself who is not bilingual, and has shied away from the sciences. I studiously prepared for the shark tank of job market I was about to be released into (more on that later) and generally took nothing for granted. My buddies on the other hand spent their whole last semester being wined and dined by big wigs from various mining companies. Apparently this whole taking stuff out of the ground thing is pretty lucrative! For them, finding a career or job after university was about choosing the path they wanted to start down within their industry. Their options allowed them to pick the company that best fit their preferences. It did not matter what school they attended or if they did online degree schools and colleges with less prestige. As you might imagine, this was definitely different from my experience.
Wait, I Can’t Drop This and Take It Again Next Year?
The transition from being a student, to being a prospective employee was a humbling and scary for me. I had interviewed for several summer jobs over the years, but my core identity revolved around me being a student and the subsequent structure that was a part of that life. I knew that every fall school would commence, every spring it would let out, and in between, the exam and test dates were usually pretty similar year-in and year-out. I figured out how to “play the game” that is post-secondary schooling, and once you have a pretty good grasp of how to achieve success in that arena, it is a pretty straight forward “rinse-and-repeat” process. While the light at the end of the tunnel looks great when you’re striving to get there, when you’re suddenly thrown into it, everyone reacts differently. For me, the loss of immediate control was very disorienting. No longer was my success in my hands. In school, I knew that if I followed a certain criteria set I would be rewarded. This whole notion of trying to appeal to people (school principals and superintendents) that I had no connection to was not a good feeling for me.
That Shiny Diploma/Degree On Your Wall Isn’t That Unique
I soon learned that luck and “connections” play a far greater part in the job search game than anyone lets on. I used to think that the phrase, “It’s not what you know, but who you know,” was ridiculous. I mean, everyone would go through the process of hiring the most qualified candidate for the job right? WRONG! What I found in my fairly extensive foray into the jobs market was that having a personal connection in as many places as possible is absolutely essential. It is actually quite scary how little your actual merits have to do with getting a job. This is true to an absolutely extreme degree in the teaching profession, but I talked to plenty of people in HR positions and various administrative roles in other industries in preparation for trying to lock down a job, and they strongly confirmed these findings. I cannot overstate how important it is to make a conscious effort to NETWORK ALL THE TIME if you believe you may be entering the job market ever again.
The Short List Is Your Target
The reason that networking is far more important than being brilliant is basically tied to the fact that we as human beings are lazy. The administrators and HR people that are often responsible for hiring someone will take the same path of least resistance that the vast majority of people take in their jobs everyday (especially if they work for the government). If someone close to them, or someone that they know recommends you, your resume goes straight to the top of a short list. I am absolutely convinced that simply getting your name on as many of these short lists as possible is the key to a job quest. This reality was slammed home repeatedly as I routinely saw less qualified candidates hired to positions where they had an Uncle, or a family friend within the organization vouch for them. In most cases, these people were fine individuals, and would probably perform at a roughly average level once in the job, and no one will ever think about how or why they were hired ever again. Most administrators are not looking to hire “the best” person that applies, they are looking to efficiently (re: little effort) hire someone that will not come back to haunt them, and someone that thinks like they do (so they will enjoy interacting with them).
Resume Tips Blah Blah Blah
There are umpteen different “Resume Tips” articles out there to get your resume noticed, and I definitely recommend reading every one of them, but keep in mind that there are a lot of people reading those same tips. If I could do it over again, I would simply pay a hundred dollars and get a professional resume person from oDesk or eLance or another freelance site to do my resume for me. A great resume is another way to get on that short list; however, if you simply send your cover letter and resume, you are now one of a hundred, or one of a thousand. No matter how cool you are, and how cutting-edge your resume is, there is a large chance that it will be thrown out or disregarded simply because of sheer volume, or because it looks too much like the one before it. It’s nothing personal, it’s just how the world works. Most people making these decisions don’t really care who they hire, and due to recent efficiency cut backs, they probably have much more pressing issues to deal with.
Interview Tips Etc.
Once you’re on short lists, your life gets a little easier. It’s motivating to go to interviews even if you don’t get the job. You gain valuable experience every time you go sit down with someone. Again, there are hundreds of articles on how to impress people in interviews. These are fine, but keep in mind that everyone is reading these. The best advice I was given was by a friend of mine who does hiring for a political party. He has read quite a bit of material on management, hiring, etc. His revelation was that, “People don’t hire the most impressive candidate, they hire the person that they believe will be competent, low-maintenance, will make their life easier, and who thinks like they do.” This will likely change your mindset going into prospective interviews. For me, I did a lot of research on the individuals who would likely be interviewing me, as well as the overall company. This allowed me to have some insight into how to generate a seemingly “random” personal connection. I’ve since found out that this was the key to landing my current job.
Shake Hands and Kiss Babies
The advice I give to people who are about to hit the job market is to spend most of their energy meeting and schmoozing new people. This is cliché, but there is a reason for that. The better known you are, the more short lists you get on, and the more “at bats” you will receive. The more times you step up to the plate the better your chances of hitting a homerun. I honestly believe it’s that simple. If you’re willing to go work in places that are less desirable, you get way more plate appearances. If you have a B.A. degree and are willing to expand your horizons and apply for a wide variety of jobs, you get to see more pitches. Most people spend way too much time trying to bat 1.000 (for those of you that aren’t sports geeks, most all-stars hit around .300) and not enough time networking and throwing their resume out there as much as possible. Also, don’t scoff at entry level positions. It is far easier to rise once you’re in an industry and building those connections (as well as job experience) than it is to get a great position from “the outside.”
I guess the whole moral of the story is to go into Geology and skip the drama, or have a parent that works for Goldman Sachs. If you can’t check these qualifications off, remember that people and personal networks are far more important than ink on a resume, the perfect shiny portfolio, or what tie you wear to the interview.
Readers, how did you get your first ‘real’ job after college or university? I would love to hear it!