HETRICK: Ten tips to help those seeking jobs or internships

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Bruce Hetrick

Here in academia, it’s time for midterms and spring break.

Judging by the number of students scrambling with resumes, cover letters, online applications, portfolios and updated social media profiles, someone’s also sounded the alarm for internships, summer jobs and post-graduate careers.

Good. Because there are more applicants than opportunities and four weeks from now, most of the openings will be filled.

As a business owner turned faculty member, I’m often asked about job-seeking techniques. So I conduct workshops, review materials, suggest edits, ask hard questions and occasionally tell would-be applicants to toss what they have and start over.

Sometimes, I’m a hard ass. Other times, as when one of my students lands an exceptional job with a salary to match, I get to join the standing ovation.

Watching my students succeed is one of the most rewarding parts of the job. Heck, in our apparently recovering economy, seeing anyone succeed is rewarding.

So for what it’s worth, here are 10 tips for finding jobs and internships.

1. Most jobs are never advertised. For a few high-demand subject areas, life in the job-seeking lane is good. Recruiters come to you and ink your contract long before you graduate.

For candidates in other areas, the work of finding work is on you. Most open jobs never make the job fair. That’s because they’re in small businesses and not-for-profits that would rather use word-of-mouth than run an ad or sit in a booth talking to applicants. Those employers won’t find you. You must find them.

2. You have six seconds to cut through the clutter. Conventional wisdom has it that the typical recruiter doing an initial review of resumes spends about six seconds per applicant.

Yet many would-be applicants start off with content that fails to set them apart or showcase the key benefits they bring to the table.

Start your resume with a short summary that explains how you’re different and what the employer will get if you’re selected.

3. Your college education is a point of entry, not a point of difference. Most of the resumes I see begin with a section called “education.” It’s what some career counselors tell students to do.

I advise otherwise.

Everyone you’re up against has a college degree. No offense to my fellow faculty members and college administrators, but for most non-academic positions, what sets you apart is how you’ve supplemented and complemented your classroom education.

I therefore preach the sermon of internships, volunteer work, on-the-job experience, overseas study, learning-by-doing opportunities, leadership roles and more.

4. It’s not about you. It’s about the employer. Many of the draft resumes and cover letters I read begin with the applicants’ objectives. Many say they want to find jobs that will further their professional experience and education.

That’s nice, but most of us in the non-academic world are running businesses, government agencies and not-for-profits—not continuing-education programs. Your objective should state what you can do for your employer, not yourself.

5. Do your homework. Call me biased, but I believe college students—community to PhD—should know how to do basic research: Running a Google search on the company to which you’re applying. Knowing what products the firm makes or which services it provides. Reading about the leadership team. Finding the right address and specific person to send an application or resume.

But you’d be amazed how many uninformed, unqualified applicants blanket the employment world with generic letters and resumes sent to “To Whom it May Concern.” These are, of course, the applicants telling tales of woe that no one seems to be concerned about them.

6. Customize. Generic is dead. Generic resumes are dead. Generic cover letters are passé. Generic lists of references are useless. Tailor everything to each position. Customize your materials to explain how you fit each organization and opportunity.

7. Be careful. Remember that part about me being a hard ass? Just try slipping a typo or grammatical error past me on a resume or cover letter. My attitude: If you can’t sell yourself accurately, you can’t be trusted to sell my company or clients accurately.

8. Everybody is somebody’s somebody. This one comes from author Jeffrey J. Fox. It’s the mantra of networking. Because most jobs aren’t advertised, you must work every contact you have. I’ve built a career with the help of personal and professional connections. So can you.

9. Timeliness is next to godliness. As an employer, I often saw young people applying for internships or their first career positions in May—at graduation time. Most of our summer-start positions had been filled months sooner.

10. Say thank you. Too few people express gratitude for a job interview, informational interview or advice. When it comes to finding a job or internship, you can set yourself apart by doing all the above—and saying thanks, too.•


Hetrick is an Indianapolis-based writer, speaker and public relations consultant. His column appears twice a month. He can be reached at bhetrick@ibj.com.


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