When I graduated from college, I had dreams of moving to New York and working in the publishing industry. When I asked my mother for help pulling together first and last months’ rent for my share of an apartment, I learned that she had dreams of me moving back into my childhood bedroom in my parents’ house in Missouri instead. Please note that, “That can be my Plan C — right behind prostitution,” even said in jest, is not a response that will go over well (believe me), but you also shouldn’t let lack of parental support destroy your newly minted grownup plans. It won’t be easy, but you can do this on your own if necessary.
The first few months after graduation are an ideal time to move to a new city and get a fresh start. Between May and September is prime hiring season for new grads. If you have the financial means to “take the summer off” to travel or party before you start job hunting, congratulations — this post isn’t for you. This post is for people who are desperate to move, start a career, and make enough rent money to keep them out of their parents’ basements. Here is what you need to do:
1) Reach out to anyone you know who lives in your city of choice or who might know someone in your city of choice. Having contacts makes apartment and job hunting significantly easier. When my husband’s cousin decided to relocate to Boston after her graduation, my husband sent out an email to all our friends in the area. One is a real estate agent and several are on the lookout for job openings at their companies.
2) Scrape together your savings for moving costs, first and last months’ rent, and a security deposit. If you’re looking at moving somewhere pricey like New York City, this can mean an initial startup cost of around $10,000. If you don’t have that much, you should find yourself a roommate or two to apartment hunt with, or plan on only renting out one room in a stranger’s apartment.
3) Manage your expectations. If you’re moving to a big, expensive city, you should only expect to get as nice an apartment as you absolutely require. This might mean a fifth floor walk-up in a dodgy part of town. You probably won’t be living there more than a year anyway before you get sick of the place and/or the roommates and have an opportunity to trade up. Particularly if you’re securing an apartment before you accept a job offer (which can be hard, but makes job hunting significantly easier since you’ll be in the right city for interviews), you should find the cheapest apartment you can to ensure that you will be able to make rent.
Many landlords require pay stubs or some other proof of income before they’ll give you a lease. Often you can circumvent this problem by showing a healthy balance on your checking account statement, as long as the apartment doesn’t have any other takers. When I ran into this problem, I tried to dress like one of the more affluent girls I’d gone to school with and threw around claims like, “Daddy is paying for everything for now,” but I’m pretty sure the slumlord I rented from was excited enough to have my money that I still would have gotten the lease if I’d dropped the act and carried a hobo bindle. This is yet another reason you might initially live in a slumlord’s serfdom, and yet another reason to manage your expectations. Your next apartment will be better, I promise.
4) Accept any job you can get. Seriously. You just need money at this point so you don’t fall behind on rent. If you followed tip #1 and found contacts in the area, follow up with them about job opportunities. My first job offer was at a temp agency, where I’d gone to find temp work in a desperate attempt to make rent that first month. The pay was barely enough to cover rent and it wasn’t in my field of choice, but it paid the bills and opened other doors. One of those doors was the ability to job hunt at a more leisurely pace with my first job already under my belt.
When you’re relocating or starting a new life for yourself after graduation, “satisficing” is an important goal. If you’ve never heard this word before, it’s a mishmash of “satisfying” and “sufficing,” and it means settling for the first acceptable option you get. Your goal isn’t to find an amazing apartment or your dream job. If you set your short-term goals that high, you will end up back in your parents’ basement before you can ever hope to meet them. Your first goal is to get started in whatever acceptable living and working situation you can in your city of choice. Manage your expectations. Satisfice. Then you can set your goals higher and work toward a life you really want.
Here is a conversation I had with my husband two weeks ago. It’s an example of why self-promotion is crucial if you want attention, even in your own home.
The title of this post is a misnomer. Your résumé will never be The Thing that lands you a job, but “How to Make Your College Resume Look Like It Belongs to a Grownup with Marketable Experience” seemed a little verbose. Regardless, that’s what we’ll be talking about today.
Most college students have terrible résumés. It’s not your fault. It’s mostly because it’s the first time you’re writing one and there are so many different templates and tutorials online. You try to combine all the advice you’ve read about, and the finished product is usually a dense, jumbled wall of text. Sure, there is a lot of good information there that might sum up your skills and experience accurately, but odds are no one will bother to wade through it all. If you’re a second semester college senior, please get out your résumé and follow along as we make changes.
1) Margins and fonts. Don’t even pay attention to how long or short your résumé is until after we’re done making changes to the content. First, before we do anything else, set your margins to 1″. If you reduce the margin size and thus the amount of white space, your résumé takes on the “wall of text” style that is such a visual turnoff. Now set your font size to 10-12 in either Arial or Times New Roman. Tiny or unusual fonts tend to annoy more people than they attract.
2) Name and contact information. Make your name slightly larger than everything else. I recommend somewhere around a size 16 font. Anything too big can prompt comments that you are an egomaniac (I know this seems too trivial to be true, but I’ve heard hiring managers draw this conclusion out loud). In a smaller font, include a street address, email address, and at least one phone number where you can be reached. Make sure the phone number and email address are accurate and that you check them daily.
3) Objective. Make your objective to get a job just like the one you’re applying for. Update it each time you submit your résumé. For more detail, read my blog post on “What to Say Is Your ‘Objective’ When You Really Just Want a Job.”
4) Education. Since this is your first “real” job, you want to keep your education near the top. This tells hiring managers, “I just graduated. That is why I have so little relevant experience.” Make sure to include your graduation month and year, your field of study, and your GPA if it was over a 3.0. This is also the place to list any associations you belonged to or student government roles you held, as well as awards and honors, if you aren’t including a separate “awards and honors” section.
5) Work experience. One of the best ways to make a college résumé look attractive to a hiring manager is to indicate that you worked consistently while going to school. Whether it was a part-time job waiting tables, a work-study job to help cover tuition, serving as an RA (resident assistant) in exchange for room and board, or tutoring for free, include it. If you only worked the job during the school year but it covered multiple school years, rather than list the actual dates of employment, just list the date your started the job and the last date you worked. So if you worked at a campus library for three school years, rather than say “September 2009 – May 2010, September 2010 – May 2011, September 2011 – present,” say “September 2009 – present.” No one is going to call you out for making the dates easier to read and comprehend, even if they call your previous employer to confirm the dates. Similarly, if you only worked the job during the summers, rather than include the actual dates of employment, say “Summer 2010″ or “Summers 2009-2011″ or whatever the years were. It gets the point across that you had a summer job, which looks good, as opposed to making it look like you quit or got fired after just three months, which looks bad.
Next take a look at the job you’re applying for. Go through the job description line by line. Any time part of the job sounds even remotely like something you’ve done before, add it to the appropriate part of the “work experience” section in your résumé. For more details on how to do this and why, check out my post on “Becoming the Ideal Candidate.” Include your job duties and accomplishments as bullet points rather than in paragraph form to make them even more eye catching and reader-friendly.
6) Skills. First be sure to include your typing speed (round up if you aren’t sure of it), any languages you speak, and any common computer programs or programming languages you know, regardless of how poorly you grasp them. Then take a look at the job description for which you’re applying and see what other skills it lists as required or recommended. Add them to your résumé, and then find free online tutorials and learn them. You’re not lying; you’re being proactive.
Now is the time to take a look at the length of your résumé and pare it down to one page. If you list a lot of job duties in your work experience that you aren’t seeing in descriptions of the jobs you want, delete them. DON’T change the margins or try to squeeze more information into the same amount of space. If you have questions or need more customized assistance, email me your résumé at firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll help however I can. Happy job hunting, soon-to-be grads!
Everyone needs goals. Long-term and short-term. The first step is to decide what you want to achieve. Do you want to lose weight? Do you want to buy a house? Do you want to become CEO of a company? Make a list. For now, the sky is the limit. Then decide which items you really care about.
Short-term goals aren’t just goals you want to complete sooner or faster. They should be the steps you take toward achieving your long-term goals. If you want to buy a house as a long-term goal, your short-term goals might include checking your credit score, paying off debts, saving a certain amount for a down payment, and talking to a mortgage broker.
The gold standard for goal setting is to make your goals S.M.A.R.T. That means they should be:
Specific — For instance, rather than saying you want to lose weight, your goal should indicate how much you want to lose. Instead of saying you want “to be successful” in your career, you need to define success. Does that mean making a certain amount of money? Or holding a certain title? Be specific with the “what,” “why,” and “how” of your goal.
Measurable — What gets measured gets managed. Set quantifiable goals by which you can measure your success. Rather than “save up for a down payment on a house,” estimate how much you actually need to save and make that your goal. If you pledge to save $100 per week, you can measure how long it will take you to reach your goal. You can also tell when you need to ramp up your efforts or adjust your goals.
Attainable – If you want to buy a house, an example of an attainable goal would be to buy a house in your price range. If you want to lose weight, an attainable goal would involve losing a pound or two per week, rather than 30 pounds overnight. An attainable goal isn’t necessarily easy — in fact, it’s better if it’s a challenge — but it’s something you have the resources and skills necessary to achieve.
Relevant – Make sure your goals are relevant to what you actually care about. If you want to be CEO of a company because you think it will give you clout with your friends and family — but you don’t particularly like managing people — this goal is not relevant to your interests. Discard it in favor of something you will actually bother to keep working towards.
Time-bound — Goals without time frames are just wishes. Set due dates for yourself that are neither so short they are unachievable, nor so far in the future that you can afford to procrastinate.
Make a point of writing down your goals, both long-term and short-term. Keep them somewhere where you can refer back to them. If you won’t write them down, you won’t take them seriously. Writing them down is what makes them real.
You know the “objective” or “career summary” section at the top of most résumés? A lot of people don’t know what to say there. I was one of those people, particularly when I was applying for my first job out of college with a liberal arts degree. My dilemma was this: What are you supposed to say is your objective when all you really want is to be able to pay rent? What is your “career summary” when you have no experience in your field? What is your field when you don’t even know what you want to be when you grow up? Fortunately, I was making the problem more complicated than it needed to be.
First, I highly recommend including either an “objective” or a “career summary” field on your résumé, just below your name and contact information, regardless of how much you don’t want to write one. This field isn’t important to everyone, but the HR personnel looking for it will be turned off if they don’t see it, and the idea is to get your résumé past as many of these gatekeepers as possible.
Next, remember that what you actually write is not that important. If you have experience in your field of choice, I recommend going the “career summary” route and saying something along the lines of, “[Job Title] with [however many] years of experience [doing something important] and [doing something else that’s relevant].” For example, Marketing Director with nine years of experience managing top teams and increasing sales.
If you are a new college grad or have no experience in your field of choice, an “objective” section can make more sense. You should customize your objective to fit with whatever job you’re applying for. If you are applying for essentially every job for which you qualify, this can mean completely changing your objective each time. That’s fine. It’s only one sentence anyway. You just don’t want to say your objective is, “To secure a position in finance where my skills and experience can be an asset while I grow with the company,” when you are applying for a receptionist position at a law firm. You’ll appear stupid, lazy, or most likely both.
If you’re shopping your résumé around to friends and family (as you should be — networking is both the best and the most efficient way to get a job), you may be concerned that your objective won’t fit with all the kinds of jobs they might know about. What if you say something too specific and potential employers immediately discount you? Fair enough. In this instance, if I were just trying to find my first job out of school in literally any field so that I could pay rent, I’d temporarily delete the “objective” section from my résumé. After all, the point of having the perfect résumé is to get past the gatekeepers in HR, and networking does that even more effectively than following all the rules.
If you’re one of the many second semester college seniors staying home or hanging out at your parents’ house over spring break, consider investing a day in shadowing. “Shadowing” means following around a person at his or her job in order to get a feel for what it is they do there. Think of it as a really short unpaid internship where you actually learn something about the field.
Shadowing is a great way to: 1) see if a career really interests you, and 2) start networking (a.k.a. meet people who might be able to hook you up with a job after graduation). Ask your friends’ parents, your own parents, and your parents’ friends to see who you know in your field of interest. If you can’t find anyone in your field to shadow, try your campus career center. If you still can’t find anyone, consider shadowing someone in a less interesting field. After all, it’s only a day, and if you don’t have a job lined up before the fall, you’ll regret missing any opportunities to network — even ones that lead to jobs that pay you in money instead of happiness.
Open your email, pick up the phone, and start asking who you can shadow for a day. It’s a great first step toward networking and landing your first post-graduation job, and it will put you leaps ahead of most of your classmates.
Have you ever had one of those days where all you want to do is go home early and have a cupcake and a stiff drink? Maybe a coworker tried to throw you under the bus on a massive email chain with the entire department, or your habitually hostile boss is intent upon taking her bad mood out on you. Or maybe you just feel stressed out. Bad days happen to everyone and — depending how much you hate your job — they can happen often. If you let them, they can also spiral downward and out of control. Whether you’re battling personal problems, having issues with a boss, or just feeling “off,” here are some tips for surviving a bad day.
1) Give yourself two minutes to wallow in the depths of your misery. If you’re afraid tears might become involved, find somewhere to hide out where you won’t be disturbed, such as your car or a restroom on another floor. Don’t try to talk yourself down for those two minutes; just feel whatever you’re feeling. When your two minutes are up, pull yourself together and go back to your desk. We’ve got plans to make.
2) Make a list of what you need to get done and when each task is due. This is particularly helpful if you’re feeling overwhelmed or you’re in your first few months at a new job. You’ll most likely discover there isn’t quite as much weighing on you as you thought there was. If you’re having trouble prioritizing the tasks on your list, ask your boss or supervisor what should take precedence over what.
3) Pick a project to work on and get started. This will be difficult at first because you probably just want to feign illness and go home, but I assure you accomplishing something will improve your mood a lot more than running away will. Focus on what you’re doing, and it will distract you from whatever was upsetting you in the first place. You might need to close your email and your internet browser to give the project your full attention.
4) If your job or work environment is really awful, spruce up your résumé and look for another job. On company time. Nothing brightens a bleak mood quite like sticking it to the man.
5) Relax. Once you’re out of the office, reward yourself for sticking it out and getting something done at work. This step should involve plenty of sleep. I’m also a proponent of pizza for dinner and watching a favorite TV show.
The next time you’re having an awful day, try these things and let me know how it goes. I’d also like to hear if you have other tactics that work better for you.
The best employees are always the ones who think their jobs are in jeopardy. This is a true story I recently heard from a friend of mine. He manages a team made up mostly of contractors (i.e., “non-employees”). Contractors have contracts to work for specific lengths of time. Shortly before the contract expires, it is renewed or, in the case of some undesirable employees, the employees are informed that their services will no longer be required. My friend’s best contractor came to him the other day, concerned that his contract had not been renewed yet. He was afraid he was being let go and was considering accepting a job he’d been offered at another company. His boss explained that his contract could not be renewed until the set date when it was up for renewal — but that he was a valued worker and had no reason to fear for his job safety. Understandably, the contractor was unwilling to take this assurance, however frank and honest, as a formal guarantee. Instead of waiting patiently or accepting the new job offer, he pestered his boss on a regular basis about his contract and occasionally made veiled threats about lawsuits that contractors have brought against companies when they were essentially working as full-time employees without benefits. Because company policy prevented his boss from renewing his contract early, the contractor achieved nothing other than frustrating him.
Bosses don’t want to leave their employees in the dark, worried about whether or not they’ll have a job in six months, but in many situations, that’s company policy. If your boss assures you that your job isn’t in jeopardy, you have two choices — believe him or don’t. There is no such thing as job security in modern America, so if you’re worried you’re going to be laid off, the best thing you can do is what you should be doing anyway — always be job hunting. Keep in touch with friends and former colleagues, particularly at other companies in your field, and always have an eye out for the next step in your career path. And if you’re worried that you’re going to be fired for gross incompetence, rest assured you’re probably one of the best workers on your team. The truly useless people are rarely self-aware enough to know when they are on the chopping block.
This is the true story of two employees. Both started working at the same job for the same company around the same time. One had a PhD, while the other only had an Associate’s Degree. Ten years later one was in senior management while the other hadn’t been promoted even once. Can you guess which employee advanced his career?
If you guessed the employee with the Associate’s Degree, you’re right! Is this because the employee with the Associate’s Degree had more work experience, or because education is frowned upon at their company? Nope. It’s because, in most circumstances, education level isn’t a deciding factor. The employee with the Associate’s Degree happened to be better at his job and better with people, which never hurts. More importantly, he also changed jobs a couple of times before returning to the company in a higher ranking role, while the employee with the PhD asked embarrassing questions like, “How come I have a PhD and still haven’t been promoted in the ten years I’ve worked here?” at town hall style meetings hosted by the CEO.
If you’re considering going to grad school, you should do it because you know what you want to do with your career and a graduate degree is necessary to get you there. But remember that no number of advanced degrees will get you out of doing entry level work and stumbling your way up the corporate ladder like everyone else (I’m looking at you, MBA student with zero management experience who is going to be genuinely shocked when his next job ALSO doesn’t involve managing people, and you, random Master’s student who is only still in school because she couldn’t find a job in her field who is going to be irate when she discovers she just spent two years of her time and $40k of her parents’ money to be two years behind everyone else her age at work). If you want something more useful than a new degree, get work experience. If you want something better than that, get to know people — at your company and elsewhere — who can refer you for better jobs.
This rage comic illustrates my point succinctly. I didn’t write it and, thanks to the magic of imgur, I have no idea who did. If it was you, let me know and I’ll give you credit.
If you’ve ever wondered why it’s easier to find freelance or contractor work than full-time positions, please allow me to explain. A full-time employee is a major investment. The employer has to pay not only salary, but in most cases they’re also required to provide paid vacation days, holidays, sick days, health benefits, and some kind of retirement plan. Once upon a time there were even promotions and bonuses. Companies tend to be strict about adding new full-time positions because of all these additional costs, so there is a limited number of slots available. Full-time employees are also harder to fire for cause since HR gets involved, and the company might have to pay unemployment benefits. Hiring a full-time employee is sort of like marrying someone — it’s a serious commitment.
Freelancers and contract workers get paid for time worked. Period. If they get paid sick leave or vacations, it’s because their contracting company factors it into their pay. HR doesn’t preside over contract workers at all, so firing them is as easy as calling whatever contracting company they work for and telling them you never want to see that person again. When lay-offs become necessary, the contractors are the first to be let go, regardless of how good they are. If full-time employees are like spouses, contractors are like girlfriends. They sometimes end up being more expensive in the long-term, but it’s a lot less of a commitment, so there are a lot more of them out there.
The only thing better than hiring a contractor, who comes in everyday and gets paid for those hours, would be the ability to hire only as many workers per day as the company absolutely requires. They probably wouldn’t be the same caliber of workers and they wouldn’t be acquainted with the company’s needs like a full-time employee or an experienced contractor, but they’d be the cheapest option in the short-term. I’ve made you an illustration of what I imagine this scenario would look like. (Surprise! I spared you the rest of the spouse/girlfriend analogy and didn’t draw them as prostitutes.)