I have been managing student employees off and on for the past fifteen years. During that time I’ve seen hundreds of applicants for a variety of job positions. I’ve hired students to be graphic designers, computer technicians, receptionists, administrative assistants, photographers, video editors, web developers, copy operators, A/V specialists, and event coordinators. Through it all I’ve picked up on some common trends among students that help them on the road to getting hired. I’ve also seen what gets a student resume tossed in the garbage with hardly a glance. So, for those students who are now in the trenches, trying to gain on-campus employment, I offer you my humble advice.
I believe that the process of going from wanting a job to landing the gig can fundamentally be broken down into three stages: finding, applying, and interviewing.
Stage 1: Finding
This sounds like a no brainer, you go out and find a job opening somewhere, and honestly there are a lot of resources available to do just that. However, ideally, you don’t just want a job, you want something in your major that is applicable to your future career. This gives you an edge when it comes time to go look for a “real job” after you graduate. If you are a Hospitality major you want to work in a restaurant or a hotel. Or, if you are a Computer Science major you might want to work with your campus IT department. So instead of waiting around and checking for ads for job openings, cheat. Find out who the hiring manager is for student and entry-level positions and go talk to that person. Even better, if you know someone who works for that organization already, get him or her to introduce you. Don’t only ask if they are hiring, but find out what their hiring cycle is, the application process, what they are looking for in an employee, and what the job is like. Strike up a dialogue and make it a conversation. Be mindful of this person’s time, and don’t take more than a couple of minutes, but introduce yourself and get a feel for the organization.
That sounds great but you may not be sure of which organizations on campus match up with your major or the type of job you are looking for. Luckily, college campuses have a number of great resources available to you. First and foremost is your professors. Almost all of them would be happy to connect you with organizations and professionals on campus who hire students of your particular major. There are also campus career fairs and yes, the standard job postings. All of these can help you find a job that matches up with what you are interested in doing. However, once you find that organization, job, or person, re-read the paragraph above and go talk to the hiring manager.
A couple of things to keep in mind. When you are looking for a job, you need to act and dress the part. That means that even if you are outside at a career fair with a bunch of employers sitting at plastic tables, you dress up. You wear business casual clothing at a minimum and you address each person you talk to as your potential employer or co-worker. From the moment you engage with an organization you are being evaluated, you don’t get a free pass before the formal interview. In fact, many times, especially for student employees, the hiring manager can tell 90% of what he or she needs to know just from that initial conversation. Make it count.
Stage 2: Applying
I’m going to make this easy, here’s my big four. Follow these four things and I’ll most likely give your application a serious look. I’ll bet a lot of hiring manages on campus would consider applicants who do these four things as a breath of fresh air.
- ABSOLUTELY DO make sure you include all of the requested materials with your application. I don’t know how many times I have student applicants who don’t submit a cover letter. Or, so many students send me applications for designer positions without submitting the requested portfolio, that now if an applicant manages to include everything, I give them an interview. No matter what.
- DON’T take a shotgun approach to applications. Tailor your resume and cover letter to each position that you apply for and make sure that you highlight how you meet each of the job qualifications and requirements. If there is an area you are lacking in, address it and tell the employer how you can learn to fill that gap.
- DO use proper format for letters and resumes. If you don’t know what the format for a business letter is, look it up. The Internet is a wonderful thing.
- DON’T have errors on your application materials. Misspellings, the wrong job number, date, or indicated year in school all indicate that you are not serious, have a lack of attention to detail, or are shotgunning (see second bullet point above).
Stage 3: Interviewing
If you make it past stage 1 and 2, you are on to your final test, the interview. Congratulations on getting this far. Now that you are here, remember two main points.
First, be professional. We know how students dress most of the time. We see them on their way to and from class and we see them in the grocery store after hours. We don’t want you to look like that when you come in for an interview. Dress the part. Make it appropriate to the job you want. Then follow up by being professional in your attitude and demeanor. Shake the interviewers’ hands, smile, be gracious. You don’t need to overdo this and act like their new best friend, but be polite and professional.
Second, be genuine. As a hiring manager, we know that you may have not done a lot of interviewing. We know you might be nervous. Take a deep breath and don’t psyche yourself out. Show us your personality. If you are a high energy person, show us that energy (while still being professional). If you are analytical, show us that in your answers. It is not a bad idea to look up common questions asked during an interview for your type of job and think about your responses for them. The other side of this is, be prepared to discuss your resume, cover letter, and any other application materials. Do not try and oversell your skill set. As hiring managers, we’ve been around the block. You may claim to be a master of Adobe Illustrator, but with a couple of questions we can see through that if you don’t really have the skill, especially when there is nothing like that in your portfolio. Be genuine and show your interest and passion for a job potentially in your major. That’s what we are looking for.
One Final Consideration
This is a big one. Looking for a job is not about you.
Let me say it again. Looking for a job is not about you. Even for a student campus position.
It’s about what you can do for the organization you want to work for. Yes, most of those organizations hire students because they believe that it is part of your educational experience. We want to give you opportunities to do work in your field and be part of the larger university community, and we believe that this type of experience goes hand in hand with what you are getting in the classroom. We truly believe this and look for ways to help our student employees succeed.
But at the end of the day, we need someone to do a job, and do it well. So its not about you. Don’t assume that you are owed a position of employment and show the hiring manager what you can bring to the table.
Good luck in your job search!