Based on my recent time at the University of Oregon and my current email stream, it’s the time of year when college seniors only have one thing on their minds. Finding a job. It’s no surprise that most kids wait until their final semester to begin a serious search. But waiting that long could be a disadvantage.
Finding that first gig isn’t simply like launching a campaign for oneself, it’s more like a new business pitch. The former calls for research, planning, strategy, and creative. (Remember Alec Brownstein?) But the latter also demands building the kind of relationships that put you on someone’s radar much earlier in the timeline.
We now live in an age when that’s easier to do than ever. Social media eliminates barriers between students and professionals. It allows students to achieve a level of visibility previously impossible. It even enables opportunities to demonstrate intelligence, initiative, determination, responsibility and creativity (the five qualities every employer wants) long before it’s time to send off that digital resume or link to the website.
Rather than answer all the emails I get individually, here are five things every college student should start doing before his or her senior year.
Use Twitter to establish relationships
This is the easiest thing in the world to do. For example, if you want to be a planner or strategist, find planners and strategists to follow (hint: you can start with @garethk, @saneel, @mikearauz, @faris, @andjelicaaa). Pay attention to what they talk about and share. See who influences them. Look for ways to engage. Share links that will add value to their conversations. Or simply get smart by understanding what they consider to be trends and content worth paying attention to. Don’t pitch them or ask for favors. Prove yourself first. Five years ago you wouldn’t be able to get 10 minutes of their time without a major effort. Today you have an open invitation to connect. Take advantage of it.
Build something (or at least say something)
It goes without saying that the first thing many prospective employers will do is “Google” you. They’ll look at the content you’ve generated, explore your online presence, and see who you interact with. Other than looking at your creative portfolio that is the surest way for them to see what you’ve done. So at the minimum establish an online presence. (That doesn’t mean Facebook.) Create something original and put it out there. It can be a blog, video content, Twitter stream, or an original website or service. Demonstrate that you know how to use all the new tools available to you. Finally, as far as your blog goes, do something more than simply post things you’ve discovered or found amusing. Too many students simply share or report rather than develop a voice and a point of view. The latter is harder, but it will help you stand out.
Challenge people you respect
You can kiss ass all you want. And that may actually flatter some people, but no one I’d ever want to work for. I would much prefer you challenge me. Call me out. Disagree. Interestingly, after a week of talking, teaching, and lecturing at University of Oregon, I saw lots of posts that reported back what I had to say, but not one that claimed I was full of shit, or only got it half right, or neglected to acknowledge certain key facts, or presented only one side of an argument. I’m not suggesting you be a pompous ass or disrespectful when you’re challenging people you may want to work for some day. But my guess is the best of the best will welcome and respect an opposing view. It shows courage. (That’s another quality employers might want.)
Offer your valuable services
You have more to offer right now than you think. You have access to dozens, if not hundreds, of students and Gen-Yers, both of whom are coveted as consumers. I bet you could easily find an agency, a planning director, or a client who’d love access to those students and what they’re thinking. Why not offer your services as a researcher, a planner, or a videographer? Find an agency with clients who are interested in the community in which you live and see if there’s a way in which you can provide insights or content. The initiative you get to show and the opportunity it might offer for you to take on a project and generate content would both demonstrate that you have those desirable qualities mentioned above.
Write for TheNextGreatGeneration.com
OK, this is a plug for a Gen-Y blog that I incubated last year. But there’s value in having your content and writing be more visible than you can make it yourself. And there’s also advantages to finding a tribe of like-minded young journalists, SoMe types and creatives who can all help each other develop their skills and make introductions. Mullen has hired at least four or five students who used TNGG as a platform from which to showcase their talents. And a number of others students who wrote or edited for the blog found the experience paid off with both increased confidence and in some cases job offers. There are other options out there that offer the same kind of benefits — experience, community, connections.
The lines everywhere are blurring. Between brands and customers. Between media and readers. Between professionals and amateurs. Why not between students and employers? College kids these days have more opportunities than ever to reach into the world that awaits.The ambitious ones are taking advantage of them.
Photo by Jack Liu