Find a job, or create one.

As a former university professor and administrator and current entrepreneur and business startup mentor, I frequently counsel with college students approaching graduation regarding their career plans and help them in their search for jobs. Even in an improving job market, the job search process can be frustrating and exhausting, and just sending out a stream of resumes is not going to get the job done. So what advice do I offer these graduates and others looking to enter that work force or change jobs? Here are some tips from someone who is well known as the master of stating the obvious.

1. Networking. I am fairly confident that students hear about the importance of networking from every teacher in virtually every college class. Of course, that’s because it is still the way that business works: somebody who knows somebody who knows somebody. Think of it this way – if you were hiring new employees, especially for positions of authority and responsibility, would you rather search through a stack of resumes or hear about a candidate from someone you know and trust? I mean, seriously.
2. Informational interviews. Playing the “student card” while still in school allows students the opportunity to arrange for interviews with company executives, operational managers or human resource representatives with a goal of simply learning more about the company and what types of employees the company will be looking for in the future. The value of this approach is that the student is not asking for a job or even presenting a resume (but they’d better have one with them, just in case!). The interview is just that – a fact finding meeting that allows the student to become familiar with the company and its need for talent. Later on, when the student is closer to graduation, now he or she has made a valuable contact that allows for proper and professional follow up, moving past the stack of resumes to a more direct approach. Of course, the concept of asking for an interview instead of a job is not limited to graduating job hunters.
3. Internships. Paid or unpaid, internships are a great way to become a part of a company’s culture, network within the organization, and demonstrate your capabilities in a real work environment. Often I see students ask senior company executives why they should work for free. The easy response from the executives? “Because that’s how we got started here.”
4. Create your own job. Student entrepreneurs have seen great success over the past several years, even in a down economy. Why? Some things never change. If you can provide a product or service that the market needs and where that need is not currently being met – bingo! The key is doing just that – meeting an unmet need. An idea is not great if it lacks an enthusiastic audience. When the product or service is a new take on an old theme, differentiation is essential. What makes your offering different, better, faster, cheaper, higher quality or more specialized than your many competitors? If you can answer that question, you have a good chance of gaining a share of the market and creating your own job so that you are no longer depending on others.

When I speak to other company executives these days, their expectations are quite clear. They are not looking for candidates to train. They are looking for candidates who have been trained and who have the business literacy that is no longer an option. They do not want candidates who they can train further, only to see them move on to another employer. They want employees who can move up into senior management positions and contribute long-term. Finally, they want candidates who have initiative. When I pressed for a definition of what that means in terms of behavior, the answer was not surprising. “I don’t want someone who says: ‘Boss, I did what you asked – see you tomorrow.’ I want someone who says: ‘Boss, I did what you asked – what else can I do?’ That’s initiative.”

Use these simple tips to help find a job or, if you really feel the entrepreneurial spirit and are willing to take a risk, create your own. It happens every day. It could happen to you.

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