Article Reprint: To My Fellow Job-Hunting College Seniors
By David L. Pierce
originally published March 17, 2014 in the Wall Street Journal
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Used by written permission of the author
“I have no idea what I’m doing.” This is the thought that runs through the minds of college students most of the time. As we begin to look for jobs during our senior year, between bouts of temporary alcohol-induced amnesia, we start to suspect that our cluelessness is a real problem. When we find out that the guy who has worn the same Greek function T-shirt and sunglasses backward around his neck for four years has accepted a job offer, panic sets in.
At the University of Arkansas’ Walton College of Business, I have diligently learned the CAPM model and inner workings of financial statements. I can DCF all D-A-Y. But when it came to my job search I discovered a disconnect between my education and the real world.
So to my fellow generation of entitled adult-adolescents who expect a $75,000 salary if they’re going to get up before 10 a.m., here’s my advice from the other side of the job search. You won’t hear any of this from your college career center.
- Never wear a black suit to an interview. Black suits are for weddings and funerals. Go to a classy men’s boutique and have them fix you up with a nice $500 suit, gray or navy blue. It’ll last you five years. The key is to make sure it fits so you’ll feel snappy in the job interview despite your stutters and flop sweat. If you can swing it, buy the gray and the blue suit. Wear the blue for the first-round interview, and the gray to the more formal second- or third-round interviews. (Women: Sorry, I’m not qualified to advise on pencil-skirts and heels.)
- If you get nervous in social situations, make an effort to go out to a bar—not with your buddies—a few months before interview season, have a couple of drinks, and strike up a conversation with an unfamiliar girl (or guy). Bars are low-pressure, and even if you do get shut down, you’ll realize that the rejection isn’t that bad. More important, you’ll gain new confidence that will help in higher-pressure environments such as interviews and networking sessions.
- In networking sessions, don’t talk about the fascinating people you’ve met or the exotic places you’ve been if that information hasn’t been strongly solicited by the other person. Better to talk about your friend who deep-fried an entire bag of Doritos than the semester you spent at Oxford. You’ll get laughs and seem down-to-earth.
- Don’t use your university email on your resume. Schools often discontinue email addresses, and if an employer wants to get in touch after graduation you’ll be out of luck. Get a Gmail account with some easy-to-understand form of your name. Note: It’s safe to assume that job interviewers think people with Yahoo or AOL email accounts are suspect.
- When you get a business card, write on the back where and when you met the person and any useful notes about him or her. Keep track of these cards. Personally, I use a spreadsheet for all the info. Email your contacts—even a few lines—every three or four months and make sure you have something to say.
- Trying to network with someone in a company but don’t know their email? If you have someone else’s email from the company, follow the format. If an analyst’s email is John.Doe@bank.com, and you want to get in touch with Jane Smith, send the email to Jane.Smith@bank.com. I have used this trick a few times and it works.
- LinkedIn. Get one.
- Social Media. As you’ve noticed, parents now use Facebook more than we do, and the people who are thinking about hiring you will probably be parents. Before you start your job or internship search, reset your privacy settings so that strangers can see only your profile picture. Choose a presentable photo—no random arm around you or red Solo cups. Make your Twitter and Instagram private. Oh, and delete your Myspace if it still exists. Any potential employer will Google you, so if there’s anything floating around on the Web that you don’t want them to see, take it down.
- Set up your voice mail like someone who has a real job or deserves one. Don’t make people sit through even five seconds of your favorite song or your jokey explanation of why they need to leave a message. If they’re calling to set up a job interview, they just want to be sure it’s you.
- Write thank-you notes for job interviews. Emails don’t cut it, so play it safe and do both. Write and mail the note the minute you get home.
- Once you accept a job offer, don’t talk about your salary—you’ll either sound like you’re bragging or you’ll discover that you should have held out for more. An exception: Friends may ask in earnest, especially juniors, so they can better grasp the job market. But tell them at your own risk.
- If you’ve accepted an offer, do everything in your power to help classmates find a job. Getting an offer means you’re doing something right and probably have at least one valuable piece of advice to pass along. Share if others ask. You would want someone to do the same for you.
Don’t worry, if you get one or more of these things wrong, it isn’t going to totally kill your chances of landing an internship or job. And it was probably time to clean up your Facebook anyway.
David Pierce is a senior finance student at the University of Arkansas’ Sam M. Walton College of Business. After graduation, he’ll be working as an investment-banking analyst.