It was at this time in my senior year when I saw something that changed the rest of my college experience: students wearing suits. At first, I thought these were just Wharton students. Yet, everyday I kept seeing more. Campus started crawling with them.
And one day, I felt a tinge of horror rush from my feet to the hairs on the back of my neck. These weren’t just Wharton students but folks from the College as well, and I had no idea what to do about it…
Fortunately, if you are right now in the same place I was, I have an answer for you, one that can give you the freedom to take control of your job search and get rid of the panic you may soon experience.
To understand this answer, I feel compelled to briefly share my own embarrassing fall senior year job experience. You’ll understand why in just a minute.
As a psychology major, not knowing what career I wanted or what else to do, I started on a well-trod path… I freaked out.
I suited up and hurried off to lots of events: to the Drexel career fair, where one recruiter said, “Oh, a psych major? What am I thinking right now?”… to the engineering career fair where the FBI recruiter, upon learning my major, raced through her pitch in under 5 seconds, shoved a brochure in my hand and walked away before I even knew what happened… and, to corporate presentations where I honestly at times didn’t have a clue what the job was and wasn’t comfortable wading through the crowds to talk to a recruiter, though I did appreciate the free snacks.
For my follow up strategy, I decided to submit massive numbers of job applications. I applied to basically any job with a title that related to education, consulting, or marketing. I submitted like 50 applications every week, using essentially the same cover letter and sometimes using the exact same company name (not the most effective approach).
Now, I did get invited to a handful of interviews, but they were for jobs that didn’t make any sense for me. I interviewed to be a retail buyer when I am a fashion laggard (a very awkward interview) and to be an equipment salesman when I lack the competitive spirit needed to grab customers from other suppliers (also not a fun interview).
So, after spending hundreds of hours in my fall semester using this mass, buckshot approach to the job search, I was no better off than when I started. And, if you were considering this approach before today, trust me it doesn’t work. Don’t waste your time.
Listen, you know what does work for people like us? Talking to people.
Now, talking to people is not sending an email to some alum you don’t know the day before the application deadline and asking them to pass your resume along. And, talking to people never includes asking anyone for a job directly (which just makes you look desperate).
Instead, talking to people means a 15-20 minute phone call or a 30-minute cup of coffee where you have a back and forth conversation. You listen to what the person says, and you ask questions like:
What does the job look like on a daily basis?
What kind of person enjoys doing this work?
What kind of person hates it?
What does the job look like for someone straight out of college? / What should someone in my shoes be thinking about?
Whether you love the described job or hate it, identify one or two topics that were the most interesting, that you could pursue further. Then wrap up the conversation by saying, “You know I really enjoyed this conversation. What I am most excited about was _______. Could you recommend two other people I could speak with to learn more about that area?”
Then send a thank you note to your conversation partner and follow up promptly with these two new referrals and with any other ways they’ve offered to help. Last, the most important part: Repeat.
Why must you repeat this process?
Magically, about 1 time out of ten, before you hang up the phone, the person on the other end will ask for your resume, invite you for an interview or even offer you a job. So if you talk to enough people (in real conversations, where you pay attention and are truly interested), you will find yourself employed sooner than later.
Now, how do you find these folks to have these conversations? I recommend the Penn alumni network. Find people who are interesting to you. Learn even more about them through Google or LinkedIn. Then send each a very short (3-4 sentence) email asking for a few minutes to chat.
If/when you don’t get a response (people are busy), send a short follow up email a few days later again requesting a conversation, and if no response, follow up one last time a few days after that (mention it’s your final attempt). After three emails, you’ll likely have your conversation scheduled.
By using this approach, you can avoid the same mistake many of your classmates will make (the one I made), and you’ll be positioned to land a great job.
Enjoy your fall semester.
Alan Carniol C’05 is the founder of two companies Career Cadence and Interview Success LLC. Prior to becoming an entrepreneur, Alan received an MBA from Yale School of Management and worked as a municipal financial consultant for Public Financial Management Inc.