Linda Clark-Borre

For New Grads - Facing the Scary Job Market

03/06/2012 17:10


Phi Chi Theta, the professional business and economics fraternity here at Chico State, provided honorary faculty and advisors with a wonderful meal last evening.  As promised, here’s follow-up on some discussions I had with impressive young people on the subject of looking for your first “real” position.

 “I feel like I am looking down over a cliff,” one of the seniors told me. Fear not!

Countless people of all ages feel the same way in today’s market. Here are a few thoughts to set the direction for all my young friends preparing to launch. I hire as part of what I do, so I have had plenty of experience on both sides of the interview table.

  1. Know your strengths. Really take time with this; know them, list them, memorize them so that you are always prepared to talk about the unique blend of qualities you bring to the table. Strengths, as defined in Tom Rath’s Strengthsfinders 2.0 (a book I highly recommend) are defined as your innate talents augmented by your experiences. Rath’s book also includes instructions on how to identify your unique strength set, and has been used in hundreds of universities and colleges as a tool to acquaint students with their areas of natural expertise.
  2. Know what you enjoy doing. Don’t be random or vague here. What do you get so involved in that you lose track of time? What tasks or activities do you gravitate toward to fill a boring afternoon?

Pretty simple points, but it’s surprising how few people can straightforwardly express themselves personally without feeling they are being vain or egotistical. The key here is to be able to articulate strengths without crowing about them. For example, “I’m a deliberate person, loyal, a natural connector of others, who knows how to get things done.” Or perhaps, “I’m an activator, I tend to inspire others with the passion I bring to tasks that are important to me and others.” Statements like these are smooth, simple, not overbearing - just facts.  Role-play using them, and practice them inside your own head.

The caveat is that a person really needs to know – and own – those strengths. They have to be claimed in order to be useful to you. There are a number of tools available that can help you hone in on them; the Strengthsfinders book is one of them.  It’s worth the time to chat with professors, parents, friends, coworkers, and former bosses. Listen and compare their thoughts against your own inclinations and intuition about yourself. Your strengths, backed up by the experiences you have had and the education you’ve worked hard to achieve are powerful – acknowledge that power and use it intelligently.

The second basic factor in job hunting success boils down to this:  Show the Love.  Your own enjoyment of your strengths as they apply to tasks others would have you do helps you to project the enthusiasm that is nearly always a welcome break to interviewers dealing with a string of nervous job seekers. If you relax in the knowledge of where you are truly strong, and hold close to the memories of what you love most to do, you are more likely to make a personal connection that could lead to a job.

 I’ll end this with some final thoughts to help you to stay on track as you focus on your strengths and desires, and consider how they match up to an opportunity presented to you. You might just close the deal and get the job you really want to have.

From the time you sit across from a person with the power to hire you to the close of the interview, imagine the interviewer is wearing a sign that says: “So, what can you do for me?” Don’t lose the image in your mind’s eye.

Research your opportunity well enough in advance of the interview to ask good questions when it's your turn.  It's not a bad idea to ask, if you are comfortable, what your interviewer thinks about your skill set and experience in relation to the opportunity you are discussing. Again, remember: Finding and addressing yourself to the question of "What can you do for me?" can take you far. Throughout the interview, that question is rarely so flatly stated as in my imaginary sign - but that’s really what your prospective boss wants to know and will consider, before, during, and after the interview.

You will likely be asked at the end of the interview process if you have any questions for the interviewer. I've heard of interviews falling apart at this point as young interviewers try to impress the hiring manager with factoids about the company - which are good to know, but…the person interviewing may or may not think it’s a relevant question (or worse, may not know the answer if it’s very high level). Be careful. Some hiring managers may feel manipulated if you are spewing too many impressive facts without the right context. The best questions you can ask, if you can swing it, are often ones that the manager is asking him- or herself. "What kind of support do you need to maintain the strong results of the last quarter?" etc. is preferable to "Can you explain why your stock dropped suddenly for two quarters last year?"

Getting into a discussion about the hiring manager's hot issues - remember, "what can you do for me?" - could be one of the best things to happen to you.

Whether or not you get the job, please hold onto the truth that every step you take is important and brings you closer to the good things you envision for your life. Job seekers of any age can all tell stories about how close they came to the big ones that somehow mysteriously got away. NEVER lose faith. Just keep going.