Friday, June 21, 2013

Starting Out 02: Before You Apply

Before You Apply
Back in the old days . . . well, in my case, 1981, we distinctly remember the lecturer’s ‘opening salvo’ on our first day at university and something remarkably similar to that heard by the lucky few in a police line-up. She said, ‘turn to your right and turn to your left. Because, believe it or not, only one out of the three of you will graduate from this course.’ It was an extremely discouraging thought and one we still haven’t forgotten - despite that first day of university being a long time ago.

Fortunately, today’s universities and colleges are enthusiastic to see as many students as possible graduate from their particular institutions and, as such, it’s far more likely that the people who sat beside you on your first day will also be there at your graduation.

Unlike 1984 - the year we eventually graduated - today the intimidating thought is that with all the graduates entering the workforce and applying for the same positions as you, only one of you will get the job - somewhat unsympathetic, but accurate.

We all begin our careers at the same spot - funnily enough, the beginning. Therefore, with the level of competition that exists in the graduate market place today, how do you get the jump on all your other company?

Join a Professional Association
What's it really like to work in a particular field? Consider joining a professional association – or, better yet, the student chapter of a professional association! There is a professional association for almost any career field in the world of work and you can join at any time, first year to senior year (or beyond). Professional associations keep you up-to-date on issues and developments in your field; alert you to who the ‘movers and shakers’ are, and tell you about companies - or individuals - with whom you would like to work. Professional membership is an excellent addition to your resume - there are few better ways to show your serious commitment to the field.

Research, research, research
Did someone say research? To prepare successfully for your job search, you will need to know as much as possible about the companies that interest you. Knowing how to research firms and organizations is vital to a winning job-search undertaking. To customize your resume and cover letter to a specific position, and particularly to prepare successfully for an interview, you need to know as much as possible about the corporation or business.

Employers perceive ‘researching the corporation’ as one of the decisive factors in the assessment of applicants as it reflects interest and enthusiasm. In the interview, it indicates you understand the purpose of this process and establishes a common base of knowledge from which questions can be asked and to which information can be added, thus enabling both applicant and interviewer to assess the position fit more correctly. The best way to research a company is through their corporate website; however, surfer beware – similar to annual reports, corporate websites can often mask the truth – it’s highly unlikely many, if any, corporation websites will tell you they’re going bankrupt or that their product is in violation of the environmental accords.

At a minimum, try to locate the following items of basic information about the organisation: age, services or products, competitors, growth pattern, reputation, divisions and subsidiaries, size, number of employees, sales, assets and earnings, new products or projects, number of locations, and foreign operations.

Armed with this information and you will certainly impress at such a time you arrive at the interview process. Indeed, most employers, when asked what job candidates can do to shine in the job interview, the response is to comprehensively research the corporation and be able to talk proficiently about it during the interview. Graduate candidates who have done their homework are better able to discuss how their experiences and qualifications match up with the firm’s needs; prepared candidates who know the organisation can also talk about how they can make an immediate contribution to the company. The candidate who can do this is typically the candidate who gets the job offer.

Understand What Employers are Really Looking For in Recent Graduates
When an employer looks at your CV, they are looking to see if you have the skills they need. However, their main concern is not so much ‘where’ you have developed these skills, but ‘whether’ you have developed them. To further get a jump on your competition, these are the skills you will need in almost all jobs for which you apply and which all employers value highly:

  • communication: speaking and writing clearly; listening and reading accurately, 
  • numbers and IT: understanding ideas expressed numerically; using the latest popular commercial software packages, 
  • working with others: working in a team; dealing with the people; being in charge of others, 
  • organising and taking responsibility: planning; meeting deadlines; organising projects, and 
  • problem solving: finding solutions when you get stuck; thinking logically; thinking laterally 
Believe or not, as much as you may wish to trump that you have just graduated with a degree in partial physics or financial arbitrage, that’s only a portion percent of the acquired skills employers are seeking – never lose sight of the fact they are also looking for evidence that you have acquired the above skills by looking at your education, your work experience, and your leisure activities.

Next article, we’ll attempt to put all of your newly-minted currency into practice and motion, beginning with – The Resume.

Starting Out 01: Deciding on a Career

You remember as if it were yesterday - early May; the sun was out, but the curtains were closed. No distractions allowed. For weeks, it seemed you only left the apartment when food and water ran out. Walks around Times Square – cancelled. Visits to the girl or boyfriend – cancelled. Nightlife – cancelled. Put the world on hold, it was Final Exam time.

As the days and night blurred into one and the first exam approached, you were living off coffee and down to two hours sleep per night. Loaded with caffeine and your brain stoked up to meltdown on theories, diagrams and calculations, it was impossible to switch off – a case of going from home desk to exam desk and back again without opening your eyes. Still, you said, it wasn't forever. And, looking ahead, you were adamant this was the last set of exams you would ever take in your life. They would be a defining moment - the key to a more lucrative life. A little focus now would save years of anguish later on. Eventually… eventually, it was all over.

Then, after graduation came the easy bit. All that remained was to turn up for a few job interviews and wait for the offers.

Unfortunately, on the ground in Hong Kong all was not as it should have been - in the weeks that followed, you accrued so many rejection letters you could paper your parents home with them. Not to worry though – flood the market with enough applications and something should turn up sooner or later. Wouldn't it?

It didn’t even come to mind you may be doing something wrong. In truth, you were doing plenty wrong. In reality, it's easier to say what you were doing right – which was pretty much nothing.

However, let's be a little more precise and consider the fundamentals. Basically, your preparation consisted of one thing - looking up target companies through your university or college career office. If no corporate information existed, well, you’d just improvise and admit that lack of knowledge was not your fault – no data was available.

Effectively though, you had no real career in mind. You had laid no real groundwork. You had no real plan. Not really.

Settling on a Career
One way to address questions about your future career is to implement a career plan. Such a plan will outline the steps necessary to take you to your career goal.

Steps Involved
So, what do you want to do? Better yet, what do you want to be? Tough question. With the myriad of career possibilities available, how can you possibly make that decision? In fact, even if you knew what career path to follow, how are you going to get there?

Develop a career plan to determine your interests and skills. Thinking about your skills and interests can help you find a satisfying career. To determine your interests, think about what you enjoy doing. Think about the experiences you have enjoyed. Assess what you liked, what you found testing, and what you may have learned from those experiences. Build a list of activities you have taken pleasure in during the past several years.

To identify your skills, make a list of competences you have (communication, report-writing, presentation, numeric). Skills may also include training you have gained through part- or full-time jobs. Even if you’ve never been employed before, you do have some skills that will help you find a job. For example, you may have skills you learned through volunteer work or through social activities.

Evaluate the skills and interests you have listed. Are there comparable activities on the two inventories? Are there any experiences that could turn into a vocation? For instance, if you volunteered at a hospital and enjoyed the experience, you may want to consider a medical career.

Find out about the types of careers available to you. If you don't research careers, you may not know about the best occupations to fit your interests and skills.

It's also important to decide if the career you are considering is really what you expect and whether it offers the salary and benefits you want. One way to learn about a career is to intern in the position (internships are also a great way to gain experience in your selected career field). An additional way to find out about a job is to network – seek out and talk to people who are currently in your interested career.

Once you have decided on the career path you want to pursue, weigh up what you need to do to prepare for that occupation. Do you need special training? If so, research the institutions or professional bodies that offer the kind of training you need. What kinds of familiarity will you need to be successful in the profession? Again, consider an internship as a way to get work experience in the career field.

By implementing a career plan, you can now focus on what you want to do and how to get there. And when you are ready to prepare your resume for your career search, you will have a better understanding of your skills and experiences to discuss with potential employers.