Wednesday, September 23, 2009

The one about tough times....

I work in a university that operates on a quarter system, so we are just starting to be deluged by returning students. My colleagues who work on the semester are about three weeks ahead of me when it comes to responding to the chaos of the current marketplace, but I am not sure that they are any less overwhelmed than my shop... nor do I think the coming months will make thinks appreciably better. This has put me by way of think about what students can do that will help them weather the next (probably) two years while the economy gets better.

First, as I indicated in an early post (Look Now), now is not the time to relax. Career Centers have seen an interesting phenomenon over the last few months... fewer students are coming for services. While the number of first and second years seeking part time jobs has picked up noticeably, third and fourth years have dropped off. The feedback we have been getting is that they have decided that "because there are no jobs, there is no sense in attending events." This is exactly the wrong approach. Students (and alumni) should be availing themselves of every opportunity to get information, grow their network, and create the possibility that they might find a "hidden" opening. That cannot be done hangin' in da crib with your buds. It requires energy and enthusiasm along with a modicum of forethought.

Second, what you do now directly affects the options you have in the future... both near-term and far-term. Students, in particular, should be willing to convert Xbox and PlayStation time to additional time for volunteering or a pro bono internship. Come on! You are already not making any money, so which do you think will impress a prospective employer more: those extra 14,000 zombies you knocked off in Gabby's Revenge or the fact that you helped organize a symposium for the History Department. (I'm going with the History nerds here.)

Third, ask anybody who has been on the job market recently and you will likely find that it took them two or three months to just to settle into the "looking" process. There is actually a pretty steep learning curve regarding how to construct a well-tailored resume, what jobs are actually viable, how to answer that "Tell-us-a-little-bit-about-yourself" question, and how to handle rejection. Waiting until you need a job in three weeks is a painfully bad idea in an economy that requires three months for a well-run job search to bear fruit.

Fourth, please do not listen to anyone about the job market... maybe not even me. I have found that most people are either too optimistic about the economy or far too pessimistic. Neither side of the coin will be helpful. Get your own information. Read the Wall Street Journal and CNN Money. Talk with decision makers in business and industry. Develop some savvy about where market segments are headed and either get on or get off the train they are own. (For instance, if I were majoring in communications right now, I would be preparing myself for internet-based career paths as opposed to print journalism)

Fifth, if you are thinking about hiding out for a couple of years in graduate school, think again. Grad school applications are up and admissions have become more competitive. So, if you think the competition is tough on the entry-level job market, just imagine how difficult graduate school applications will be when you are competing with applicants who have been out of school for three or four years and have saved up enough money to actually pay their own tuition, and because they HAVE three or four years of experience, they will grab the plum jobs on and around campus.

What then can you do amidst all this doom and gloom? Well, first, be serious about steps one through four, then think about the following.

  1. Whether you are a first year or fourth year, do one "career-related" thing each week. That can be as tangential as looking up "careers in glass-blowing" on the Internet to something as direct as going to a career fair or signing up for your school's On-Campus Interview program.
  2. Talk to your peers about what they are doing about job-hunting. Not subtly. Try something like, "Dude, I'm freakin' because the parents are gonna cut me off soon and I was wonderin' what you were doing about find a job." (If they say "Nothin' Dude, I'm gonna go to grad school... point them to this blog.) Find out what people are doing and steal their best ideas.
  3. Talk to your family. Let them know what you are thinking about. Most parents are more than willing to help motivate and sustain you as long as they know you are doing something. (A helpful hint here... now is not the time to be too proud to accept help, if your mom when to school with Warren Buffet's daughter, allow her to introduce you or at least forward your resume to her.)
  4. Everything in moderation. I have posted many times before that the worst mistake that job hunters make is putting too much energy and time into the job hunt. Understand your limitations and work within them. For some folks, pursuing leads and completing applications three or four hours a day seven days a week may be doable, but most of us are likely to need time and space for other activities. A couple of FOCUSED hours four or five days a week should suffice.
  5. Persistence pays. This is the corollary to the above. Having a schedule and pursuing it consistently is most likely to pay off. This is primarily because a consistent schedule helps you (and your support network) hold yourself accountable and actually measure how much you have done.
Yes, times are tough, but challenges are what provide the sparks for growth and it is time to grow.