In the midst of my last semester of college at Northern Kentucky University, I wrote an editorial for the school paper about the job seeking process and all the things I wish I had learned in college. The article was a humorous piece, but at the time, I didn’t find some of it very funny. I wish I still had that item so I could share with everyone now. The new 2018 graduates would know that they aren’t alone and not much has changed since 1997.

I double majored in journalism and speech communication. I was executive editor of the school newspaper and president of the speech team. I had an amazing internship that allowed me to be the media relations person on call, write news releases, speak to the media and much more. Finding a job should be easy, right? Ha ha ha! I started the job search in February or March of that year, knowing I’d graduate in May. I wanted a job in public or media relations. I made a list of all the places I thought I would like to work and found the names of each company’s PR person. I contacted every one of them and scheduled informational meetings. I’d bring my resume and ask them to look over it, knowing that there were no mistakes. During the meetings, I asked about their job, what they liked, didn’t like and what advice they had for me. I left copies of my resume for them to forward to anyone they knew hiring. I always followed up with a handwritten thank you note. Although I didn’t get a job offer through any of these meetings, I did make a lot of great contacts and still talk to some of those people today.

I was finally offered a part-time marketing/PR job a month after graduation. The job was awful. I cried every day on the way to work. I wondered if I made a huge mistake by picking this field. However, it wasn’t the tasks I hated, but the boss and work environment. That job didn’t last long. I started freelancing for the local weekly newspaper. I knew people at the paper because most of them graduated from NKU. Once a full-time position opened, I stepped right in as a reporter. I wrote for the community papers for five years. Then I had my second child and decided to stay home with my children. I freelanced for local magazines and the daily newspapers for the next five years.

This isn’t me but definitely shows how I was feeling.

Once my son was in school full-time, I decided it was time to go back to an office job but I didn’t really want to be a reporter any more. I started the job search again. I had several interviews and even several offers but I was now in a position to take something that was the right fit for me and not something that would make me cry every day. I also knew a lot of people from being a reporter so I reached out to them. Luckily, I kept in touch with people from my internship. A co-worker there was now the public relations manager at the Kenton County Public Library and just so happened to be looking for help. Boom, I took the position as the public relations coordinator of the Kenton County Public 11 years ago.

So why am I telling you all of this? Mostly because I want you to know how important it is to network, but also to lead me into the things you must know and do as a recent college grad. I have seen several Facebook posts from recent grads talking about their frustrations. I answered a few of their questions and decided there must be other people out there who have the same questions. I’m going to try to answer those here:

The Application Process:

  1. In 1997, I spent hours going through newspaper ads looking for jobs. I would alter my cover letter and resume to fit that job, print it out on special resume paper and mail it to the potential employer. Now, you will spend hours looking for positions online, but you must target your resume and cover letter to suit the position more than ever, so that Applicant Tracking Software won’t screen you out.  Make sure to look directly at your target companies or organizations web sites, since many jobs are not posted on the popular sites like Indeed, Zip Recruiter and The Muse. Also, take advantage of the Job Fairs and on-site hiring events offered by the NKY Career Center.
  2.  Make sure your resume and cover letter are perfect. Don’t use a generic cover letter. Each letter should be targeted to the specific job and company. Almost everyone applying has the skills and education required for the position. The cover letter is your opportunity to make yourself standout. Talk about your volunteer work and skills that might not be as obvious on your resume. Never lie or exaggerate the truth on your resume!
  3. Most of the time you will have to upload your resume and cover letter when submitting job applications. Save your resume as a PDF, and name it properly using LAST NAME, FIRST NAME_RESUME format before uploading it. Always use a professional sounding email address that includes your last name. Don’t forget to check LinkedIn and see if you personally know someone at a company who could hand deliver your resume to the Hiring Manager.

The job interview:

  1. Always go prepared. Make sure you have researched the company. This is so much easier now than in 1997 because every company has a website. Make sure you have questions prepared to ask the interviewer. Nearly 100 percent of the time you are going to be asked if you have any questions. Asking specific questions about the company and the job shows you have done your homework. One question I always ask is “Why do you like working here?” Potential employers always seem to be impressed with this question. Don’t ask about salary or benefits until you receive a job offer.
  2. You will most likely be asked, “What are your strengths and weaknesses?” You don’t want to come off cocky, but you also don’t want to say something like “Well, I’m always late because I love to sleep.” Be honest, but try to make your weakness connect to something positive. One recent graduate said she tells interviewers that she is a procrastinator, but that has taught her to work well under pressure. Try to pick something that is fixable. For example, you could say “I get nervous when speaking in front of a large group of people.” That’s fixable with practice. Just make sure you are sincere.
  3. Another common question is “Tell me about yourself.” This is your opportunity to give a one to two-minute commercial about why you are the perfect fit for the job. This is not an invitation to tell the interviewer about your childhood, church, family or anything like that. You also don’t want to just recite your resume since they already have that. Remember throughout your answer to focus on the college or work experiences and skills that are going to be most relevant for the job. Be sure to let your personality show.
  4. Many interviewers will ask “What is your favorite book and why?” This seems like a very odd question, but the interviewer is actually trying to get insight into your personality. This is also your chance to show that you are a lifelong-learner and keep up on current events.
  5. You can’t go wrong wearing a suit no matter the job. You might be dressed better than the interviewer but that is better than being under-dressed. Avoid loud colors and flashy ties. Clothes should be neatly pressed and fit you well.
  6. Arrive 10 minutes early. Earlier than that is awkward, but never be late. You can even do a dry run to the employer’s office before the interview to make sure you don’t get lost.
  7. Make sure you ask all the people you interview with for their business cards.

After the interview:

  1. Immediately craft a personal thank you note to each interviewer and email it to them the same day (the reason you ask for their business card).
  2. For extra credit, write a personal thank you note and send that, too. Be sure to send the email right away since a decision could be made prior to receiving the snail mail. If two candidates are completely equal on paper and in the interview, the decision could be made based on your thank you note.
  3. In addition to thanking the interviewer, this is your chance to reinforce why you are the perfect person for the job. 

A few more tips:

  1. Lock down your social media so that a potential employer can’t see your pictures or posts. Better yet, don’t post anything stupid that could be held against you. Potential employers do look.
  2. Set-up a LinkedIn page and make sure it is professional. Use a professional photo.
  3. You are going to apply for dozens, maybe even hundreds of jobs and only hear back from a small percentage. Don’t get discouraged.
  4. Volunteer in the field you want to work in whenever you can. Offering your time shows your dedication and gives you experience.
  5. Network, network, network! It really is about who you know.
  6. Remember that looking for a job IS a full-time job.
  7. Visit the Library’s Job Search Central web site for a wide variety of community resources. Attend our job search related classes to aid you in your job search.

What tips would you add for a recent college graduate?

Gina Stegner is the Public Relations Coordinator for the Kenton County Public Library and a mother/step-mother to five. Two of her children are in college, two have professional jobs and one is in high school. She has experienced the job search for herself and watched her children go through the process.

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