WHY THIS “HOW TO” GUIDE FOR NEW GRADUATES
This is the first article of the series “My first job”, a hands-on practical guide for new graduates entering in the work life. You’ve just successfully put an end to your previous life, the one of very dedicated student, and are moving your first steps in the very competitive and, to some extent, also ruthless world of work that will allow you to realize what you learned during your academic studies. Your goal is to transform your dreams, your ambitions into reality. This is a fundamental change, as you’re finally leaving a quite “protected-comfort zone” made of good friends, classmates and teachers, where the rhythms were essentially marked by the exams dates and celebrations in between for successful achievements, towards a new dimension that you need to consider a brand new fascinating adventure, which hopefully will also allow you soon to become financially independent. It’s like emerging from the deep see and, believe me, I know very well what does this mean for most of you.
This new world, projects you into a new reality that is characterized by different rules, processes and expected behaviors. In my working life and career I’ve had the chance to directly hire hundreds of juniors graduates and also helped my international clients to boost these processes in order to spot and hire the best candidates. Hence, I should have a quite good understanding of what employers are asking for. At the same time I’m also a dad and as such, almost every day, I get questioned from good friends of mine about how they should advice their children approaching to the first job (sometimes they also admit having no clue), or from a number of young graduates, buddies of both my children – a quite large community – or from my both children themselves, all of them anxiously in search of maximizing their chances of entering in the work life arena. Hence the reason of this simple guide, hopefully a useful and practical one, but certainly not exhaustive, which discusses how to get and manage the right process in order to get hired. Yes, indeed, it is a process that needs to be scrupulously followed as you were starting a competitive race. You’re not alone in search of your first job, hence let’s maximize your chances by connecting all the dots. Those who do not have a solid process in mind to apply or simply do not understand its need are dramatically diminishing their chances to get their first job.
The guide is organized and published in the following three main Parts:
PART I – The Preparation – How to stand out from the crowd – or what to do in order to get considered by companies and get the best chances of being invited to the very first interview
PART II – The Interview – How to run a positive interview session – how to introduce yourself, what to bring with, how to behave, what to ask, what is body language, what and how to answer, which dressing style, how to wrap-up and final greetings
PART III – The follow-up – After the Interview – what to do, how to keep in touch with your interviewers/company, next steps
Part I – The Preparation
I want to stand-out from the crowd, I want to get noticed, I deserve consideration, I’ve worked hard and achieved great scores to get this job, This is the company I’ve dreamed of for years, I love it !
Ok, sounds good, and now? Put it that way, I know I’m a bit rude but: you’ll never get there if you do not prepare very well for that. This is not going to happen simply “par hazard”. You need to work hard to achieve that goal. It is less complicated than it may appear, but you need to approach that systematically, rigorously. Let’s see how in very few simple steps.
Step 1 – First depict yourself honestly – the balanced view
Knowing yourself a little better is always a good starting point for defining life objectives as well as working life ambitions. To do that, slash a blank page into four parts as follows.
On the top left side – list what you are good at. In this section you should honestly list your strengths. This include: analytical skills, organization of work, team spirit, tenacity, capability to influence, aptitude for quick decisions, curiosity, openness to others, hard worker, expressing yourself in competitive situation, workout in the nature or in wild environments, doing manual works – you get this insight from your track record at the exams and any other working experience, intern, sports, social involvements, family requirements, etc. These are part of your real assets, what you bring to the table. You should have then a list of 8-10 points that need to be reconsidered later on.
On the top right side – symmetrically list what you are not so good at. Here too you need to be honest. Don’t try to lie to yourself. If you’re not as good as you’d like to be in working or studying in a team better to write it down, the same if you don’t like to run for miles with your bike to the top of a mountain or if you dislike downhill or doing manual works. If you prefer to stay home or spending time in readings instead of having a beer with others this is not bad, it is simply an element of your personality not good nor bad, hence something that nobody could blame you for. Don’t be over pessimistic neither, normally the left side list is by far longer than the right one. When done, you’ll better know what you are not so strong at and maybe you’ll have identified some areas for improvement.
On the left bottom side – list what makes you feeling good in your everyday life. This include friendship, workout with colleagues and family, studying open air rather than inside, traveling and meeting or studying and discovering other cultures, other foods, other realities. If you feel good in being surrounded by other people, list it. If you prefer to be surrounded by well educated and mannered people and you like involving yourself within multicultural environments, this should go in this section. If you’d like to leave in a comfortable way and wear branded clothes, shoes, apparels, list it. Should you like sports cars or traveling the world discovering the charm of foreign capitals, list it. If you feel good with your family, relatives and you enjoy spending your time with them, list it. The same if you prefer to stay alone, reading, enjoying music, list it.
On the right bottom side – list what makes you unhappy. By symmetry, one could think that this should be exactly the opposite of the previous list. But you could always try to complete it with something that you particularly hate. Again, the more complete this part will be, the more realistic and accurate you could expect to move on in defining your first job aspiration goals.
If you’ve done it conscientiously, you’ll be surprised by the richness of your strengths and by the clarity on which you’ve addressed let’s call them your “areas for improvement”. You’ll also have a clear view of what you like most and dislike. But beware, you don’t necessarily have to start changing what you are. You simply have to acknowledge your strengths and weaknesses, as we all have both. And this is a very useful exercise for the next steps where we will deepen the way to apply aspirations, attitudes and motivating factors to the job search. If you already had a balanced and objective view on your personality and aspirations you could have skipped this step.
Step 2 – Do your homework
Should I apply for a local job or an international one, for a stock listed company or a medium size one, on which industry to focus first?
All these are legitimate questions and answering them is like getting to the right recipe mixing a balanced set of attitudes, opportunities and aspirations all together. Somehow, you need to be ready to tune and play with all these three pillars in the most appropriate manner, but without neglecting what the market is here to offer.
The basic research – put yourself in the listening mode
Once you’ve got the balanced view on your personality, aspiration and motivating factors, you’re ready to start doing some basic research into the company of your dreams: key people, their products or services, locations, main competitors, including the latest news on the industry are essential to form your first opinion. Start always with the company’s website, this will tell you a lot about the company, its governance, its size, its brand, its people. Then use research databases if you have access to, local/international newspapers and business publications, and professional associations servicing the industry help to complete the picture. Normally these information sources are organized by industry. Hence, select your sector first, then go deeper and look for the most respected companies within it. In your search, find out if you have some old friend, classmate that are working there, as this could give you a lot of insights, although his/her opinions and judgments would be inevitably based on individual experience and aims, this could help you a lot in figuring out what this working reality could look like. The output of this step is to get an ordered list of “desired” companies ranked by size, global reach, brand awareness, reputation, turnover and, most importantly, which career starting programs they offer to new graduates. This is the most relevant topic for you!
Do not give in easily to the siren song
Companies that promises high first job rewards usually do not have internal structures or coaching/mentors to properly assist the introduction and further development of the new joiners. So, the risk is to be left in a corner and abandoned on your own with immediate pressures on results and achievements. The so called “self study approach” or “in the job training”. In two words: they do not invest in young graduates, hence they can offer by far a better salary at starting point. This is not what you should looking for, particularly at your career start. A company that rather clearly and openly publishes its joining path program, duration, locations, the career steps and related rules, is a company that puts the human potential at the core of its values. And you are a great potential for those companies. These are the companies you should really look for when performing your first job search.
The matching process – an iterative work
Now that you’ve got this astonishing list – the dream list – go back again to the outcomes of Step 1 – The balanced view – on your personality, aspirations and motivating factors. Look into the four sections table of Step 1 and, based on your outcomes, re-arrange the result of your company search by adding a columns and apply your fair ranking (you could do it from 0-5) about the best match of the selected company with your personality, aspirations, attitudes. You should then end-up with a sorted list of companies that best suit your first job ambitions. This is not a scientific approach but rather an iterative, adaptive one. You may discover additional information on the companies that may suggest a ranking review, so be ready to go back to your initial assessment if needed. It is worthwhile. At the very end, you should have a simple page (company sheet) for each retained company best matching your selection criteria.
Step 3 – The resumé and the cover letter
The good resumé
Writing a good resumé is a sort of art which is always made of content and style. You have to consider your resumé as a self-advertisement tool that, when done properly – in both content and style – , shows how your skills, experience, and achievements that best match the requirements of the job you want. There are a lot of standard templates you can download from the web for free. We will focus now on the content, assuming you found the right one. In your case, as a new graduate, you can’t play too much on past working experience as you are at the starting point – don’t be afraid, they know that as well – hence, let’s focus on the enhancement of all other factors. Clearly list your high school achievements, academic records, with start/end date, highlight top results if any (Honors should be mentioned as well as any prize received) and do not forget to collect and mention references from your Professors. An important part to highlight are the internship, stages or more generally any real life work experience, no matter the duration, for which you need to attach certificates. Complete with languages skills (from basics to proficiency levels) and don’t forget to mention your participation to any public association, charitable foundations, sport and competition, achievements, if any. This should give the reader a flavor of your personality, tenacity, availability and general interests. You may add your preferred hobbies too. You may also add a recent picture of yourself (top right place). Use a color picture and select one in which you’re smiling. Don’t try to appear too serious as a nice smile is always a very good door opener. The content should highlight your skills and grab the reader’s attention. Be concise and effective, do not overstate your profile. And, of course, put your full address and coordinates – phone and mail mandatory – on the very top of the page.
The cover letter – your motivational showcase
Any resumé must be accompanied by a presentation/introductory letter, the so called Cover Letter. Very often, people tend to underestimate the relevance of a good cover letter. Why you shouldn’t? First of all, because companies receive tons of resumés, most of them serially sent, i.e. undifferentiated papers, of which they tend to get bored about. HR managers have little – if no time at all – to go through all of them and, in the absence of a detailed and appealing letter of motivation, they tend to delegate a standard answer to very little involved employees, and that’s done. You don’t want to be part of them, as I remember you said you wanted to “stand-out from the crowd”.
Now you understand better why I’ve asked you to perform the Step 2 – Homework. You have studied the company you wish to apply, you identified its key people, its products, projects, culture, brand, its tensions, locations. You have had the opportunity to talk to your friends, professors, that have helped to form your view on the corporation. Now you are ready to write a very tailored cover letter. You need a different cover letter for any company you are applying for as, remember, there are no standard cover letter if you want to be considered, but only customized ones! So, no copy paste exercises. Find out the name of the person most closely related to the assessment of your application, he/she could be business unit leader, a HR appointed person, a professional service firm charged to perform the new joiners selection, and send your document to her/his attention. The letter should demonstrate your strong interest for the company, it is therefore not sufficient to say “I’d love to work for you”. This is perceived at the same time trivial and naive.
Your cover letter should include clear interest for products, for the company market positioning, for the international dimension if any, for the strategy that you’ve explored/investigated and understood and for which you feel ready and proud to contribute to further achievements. The attached resumé should be mentioned as this should be the proof of what you’re saying. Here again, don’t overstate your skills and don’t repeat what already written in the resumé. The cover letter must be concise – no more than 10-12 lines – and should be your weapon, a sort of attracting magnet that invite the reader to go further in analyzing your resumé and motivate her/him in inviting you for a first interview. The cover letter should stress both your appetite and full availability for such a first meeting. Never send a resumé without a proper, tailored cover letter.
Now that you have sent your selected applications, all of them with dedicated tailored cover letters and attached resumés, you need to keep track of the outcomes. Organize a check list where you’ll have all the recipients, names of the target persons, dispatch date and keep track of any additional contact, documentation sent, conversation you had with company representatives. It is important to note down any further communication. Never forget to ask for the names and roles of the persons with whom you’ve interacted. Executive assistants are as important as the person in charge of hiring at this stage. So, if you get contacted for additional information or simply to agree on a possible date, don’t be surprised, be professional, speak clearly and confidently, and take this opportunity to confirm your strong motivation for getting the job and happiness for being invited to the interview.
In Part II we will work out on how best to address the interview session and…. if you found this useful, do not hesitate to share it with colleagues and friends.