Sunday column: Advice for job-hunting grads

A tell-tale sign the economy is currently in the toilet — our recent job advertisement seeking a part-time writer garnered more than 100 resumes from all over the country this week. Some of these resumes came from writers of the Washington Post or large-market newspapers in California and Florida.
Our ad was placed on a national journalism jobs Web site, and I imagine a good number of these resumes were from “carpet bombers” … those who just fly over and drop their resume anywhere there’s an opening in hopes one will hit its target.
The good news in all this — for business owners and managers, anyway — is that when positions do come open, hiring is not a problem in the least bit. You’ve seen stories on local and national newscasts about job fairs attracting thousands and job openings attracting hundreds.
The bad news, of course, is that for job seekers, never before has there been this much competition.
And the people who are going to hurt the most from the current job situation? Our graduates.
That’s right. For those students out there ready to graduate from college or go straight from high school into the work force, not only are the job options slim (for most fields), but the competition for those job openings now includes people with experience who’ve more than likely been let go from their most recent job … and not because they were bad at it. In journalism, experience matters … and it’s hard to get your foot in the door when experience is the one thing you lack.
Our high schools are actually working to get students past that experience road block with options like Lee Early College, which gets students work-force ready. And high schoolers heading to college still have four years to not only get ready for their careers, but also “wait out” the current economic slide … assuming the ship will right itself in four years, of course.
As for the college students set to walk the stage in the coming weeks? I figure some will succeed right away, but many will be turning to mom and dad again for a place to stay. Here’s hoping your rooms haven’t already been turned into an office … I’m looking at you, communications majors.
But I’m not here to point out the bad and continually thank God I entered the work force during good economic times. Instead, I’m here to help out.
If I may, I’d like to offer some advice for the soon-to-be graduates ready to start the job interview circuit. As somebody who’s not only hired several college students in the past, but is currently in the hiring process now, the following tips would — in the very least — get my attention.
Trust me, when your resume is sitting in a pile with a few hundred others, you want to stand out.

Tip No. 1: E-mail
Some employers don’t want you to e-mail them, but for 90 percent of the job openings out there, e-mail is the preferred way to receive a resume. E-mail is quick, it allows you to pack a lot of information without shelling out a few bucks for the stamps, and did I say it’s quick? Case in point … we’ve already narrowed our search for a writer to three, and they’ve all been interviewed already. Yet, I’m still receiving resumes by mail two weeks after posting the job opening. In other words, the e-mailed resumes got to me quicker.
And when e-mailing, don’t make it a huge document. Include your cover letter and resume, and beyond that, have a Web site (there are tons of free ones) set up with examples of your work — whether you’re a journalist, a graphic artist, a chef or anything else that can be “presented” online.

Tip No. 2: Don’t carpet bomb
I mentioned the carpet bombers earlier. It’s gotten to the point that when I see applicants from Nevada for a part-time job in North Carolina, it goes straight to the “others” folder.
The reason I hate it is because the cover letters are so impersonal. I get the “Dear Mr. So-and-So, your job opening at (insert paper) intrigues me, and I’d like to learn more about (insert paper) and (the job opening) because I would love to (insert job position) in (insert state).
Instead, learn a little about the company you’re looking to apply with and let your future employer know why you’d be an asset for that particular business. Learn a little about the area, and let them know why you want to live there. If you are applying from out of state, make it clear in your cover letter that you’re willing to move and that you’re not just tossing darts … even if you are.
Sure, this takes a little more time, but employers give more attention to those serious about THAT job … not just A job.

Tip No. 3: Google yourself
Since I’m suggesting you job search online, you must also find out what your potential employer can find out about you.
I make a habit of Googling potential job candidates, because A) as a journalist, often their work is available online and B) I can find out if they’re going to embarrass me.
Case in point: One applicant with a great resume and decent experience had a public Facebook page with a profile photo of her passed out clutching a bottle of Jack. No joke.
Maybe it was a joke, and quite possibly it would have had no effect on her performance. But the fact that she would allow this image to be public at a time when she was trying to make a good impression on a potential boss was baffling to me. I laughed and tossed her resume in the trash can. (Though I believe Jonathan Owens eventually retrieved it. Kidding.)

Tip No. 4: Experience, Experience
This doesn’t apply to all job fields, and for those about to graduate, this may be too late. But for the rest of you … don’t waste your time in college just going to class and working a part-time job outside of the field you want to enter.
Get experience. For me, that matters so much more than the grades you got in college (which are important, don’t get me wrong). But straight A’s in your journalism classes don’t show me near as much as the article you wrote which won first place in the national college newspaper contest.

Maybe I’m not telling you anything you don’t already know, or perhaps I’ve just blown your mind with knowledge. Either way, it matters that you stand out more than ever, because it’s simply not going to be easy for most of you over the next few years.
Market yourself. Show us why it should be you receiving a paycheck rather than the guy you sat next to in class.
Do it for your parents’ sake. Trust me, they don’t want to get rid of that office just yet.


8 thoughts on “Sunday column: Advice for job-hunting grads

  1. And, please, don’t rush! Take the time to look over your cover letter and resume (and please, don’t skip the cover letter – it makes it look like you aren’t interested enough to be bothered). If your resume/cover letter hits my inbox and you have mentioned a career field, job title, or company other than what I am hiring for, I just hit delete.

  2. Good column, man. And I still have Elizabeth’s resume, just in case.

    I remember when I first started looking for jobs right after graduation. It was 2003, and the economy wasn’t great, but it was no where near the current situation. I took three part-time jobs, one of which was at the Durham Herald-Sun, and built up my experience to the level where I was “hireable.”

    I would add that job seekers mine friends and family for openings. It never hurts to have an “in”… especially now.

  3. Hi Billy, Aunt Sue here, I am very impressed with your article and your writing, keep up the great work, I continue to read.

  4. I was job hunting in advertising/marketing after 9/11 when a lot of companies were cutting their marketing budgets. I decided to get a job at Nordstrom until I could find a “real” job. It turned out to be a real job where I learned many valuable skills and lessons (which I use to this day). I’d probably still be working for Nordstrom had we not moved to a market without one several years ago…and still complaining about the hours!

  5. Great article, and very timely.

    I too have heard the stories of ‘100 people’ applying for the most entry level jobs, just because there is nothing else out there. It really shows how desperate it has become for many people.

    I was laid off in late 2006 when the market was still relatively ‘healthy'(although there were warning signs, such as my layoff itself)…. and it was still a challenge to find work right away then.

    Now every day(although it has slowed a bit) I hear of another layoff of 300, 500, 1500, 3000, bankruptcy….. in my industry(tech) and it really leaves me empathizing with those employees who now not only have to search for a job, but have to compete with all the others out there in droves. I always wonder ‘where do they all go’? I just received another call last week from a friend who has worked for ‘large company X’ for nearly a decade and is now being let go. It is very distressing.

    I wish there was more I could personally do for these colleagues and friends, but alas there is little I can other than to be there for them and offer advice such as reflected in your column above. The jobs just aren’t out there.

    I think it will work out over time as things recover, but in the interim it is going to be hard for people in many industries as the economy contracts. During that time, many will have to adapt and probably consider career alternatives to get by. I guess if one can find any silver lining, it is that this does offer an opportunity to get some experience in different vocations that may prove beneficial in the long run… much like Jennifer’s example above.

    I thank providence, luck, or whatever gave me the opportunity to have a job today in this economy, a good job, and try to help and think about others not so fortunate as often as I can. I know where they are coming from, and I really wish everyone the best.


  6. “If your resume/cover letter hits my inbox and you have mentioned a career field, job title, or company other than what I am hiring for, I just hit delete.”

    I have also looked at resumes of potential hires, and I based it entirely on their experience and fit for the job, not on an inane cover letter that I wouldn’t even be good at writing myself. Is it a crime to apply to more than one job? Is it a crime to use a template as a cover letter? Why should that automatically disqualify an otherwise qualified person?

    Yes, job seekers should try to write good cover letters, just as newspapers should try to edit headlines properly. As one example, in another post you point to a mistake in a headline in the Sanford Herald on a Sunday. If someone picked that up and said, “What kind of a newspaper doesn’t pay attention to the spelling of its own headlines?!?” and “hit delete” by canceling their subscription or telling their friends what a sloppy job the hometown newspaper does, would that be fair?

    Is it fair to judge an otherwise qualified individual/newspaper on one cover letter mistake/headline mistake?

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