San Diego Union Tribune

From the Comfort of College to a Career

This month, we are going to begin to see our college students leaving the comfort of their student lives and entering the real world. I wanted to talk directly to all of those starting their job hunt.

Landing your dream job can be harder than it looks. I know that many of you are excited to put your education to use and start immediately in your chosen profession. You have fresh ideas, you have a new energy that many companies are searching for, but you need to make certain you are “real world” prepared. Interviewing can be a challenge, especially if you haven’t interviewed much. That’s especially true when you’re interviewing for entry level jobs, because, in general, it’s a level playing field with all candidates having the same basic qualifications.

The more you prepare – by practicing your interview skills, researching the company, being able to show why you’re qualified, and by following up after the interview – the better chance you’ll get at securing that second interview and/or job offer.

Fine tune the resume and personalize the cover letter: Make sure your resume includes an objective or summary statement detailing the concrete contributions you can bring to the organization. Use your skills from your time with studies, including accomplishments you can translate into work experience.

Customize your cover letter for each position you apply for. Keep the letter short and to the point, leaving the reader with a professional first impression. Always bring extra copies, prepared and packaged like you were turning in your final report to the interview.

Do your homework: You thought this was over, but I need to articulate to you that every interview you are fortunate to attend, you must prepare! Research the organization, the interviewer or the interview panel, if you are fortunate to know who you will meet. Exhaust everything on the Internet, and in print. Read the company website, twitter feed, Facebook timeline, LinkedIn profiles, newsletters, and annual reports. Treat your interview as if you were studying for a final. Know everything you possibly can about the company before you walk in.

Practice Interviewing: Before you go on any interview…PRACTICE…PRACTICE…PRACTICE. There are common interview questions you are likely to come up against, so think about how you would respond. Practice your responses with advisers and use the interview preparation modules offered by the career office at your college. There are also some great interview review samples for common questions in my book, Job Won, that might be a good study guide. Don’t overlook talking with college alumni working in your target field. Ask them about what it takes to be a success in your chosen career.

First impressions: A CareerBuilder study found that inappropriate clothing and appearance was considered the most damaging interview mistake by 51 percent of hiring managers. Normally it takes 5-9 seconds to make a first impression and you do not get a second chance for that first impression. You may have only 30 seconds. Dressing professionally is important. No wrinkled, dirty shirts, unhemmed trousers, ill-fitting clothing, revealing cleavage, short skirts, or scuffed shoes.

Pay attention to your body language. What you don’t say actually can speak more for you with 95 percent of communication occurring non-verbally, and 55 percent of your first impression comes from your body language. During the interview, be sure to pay special attention to your body language: shake hands firmly, make eye contact as you articulate your points, and sit up straight. Make sure you are paying close attention to the questions you are being asked before you respond. It is important you give the impression of being engaged in the conversation.

Be positive about the potential position. Your passion will shine come through your words and speak volumes more than any resume could. Employers want dedicated team members, show them your genuine professional interest. Be ready to articulate why you are interested in the target job/organization, how it relates to your goals. Show enthusiasm during the interview for the job.

Be ready to ask questions: Be prepared to ask questions about the job that reflect your genuine interest and build on the research you have done about the position. Write down a few before you go to the interview. Keep paper and pen handy to write additional questions as the interview goes on. Toward the end of the interview, let the interviewer know that you think the job is an excellent fit and briefly let them know why and that you are highly interested – that you want the job!

Say thank you: Make sure you get the contact information for your interviewer and send a follow-up email and handwritten thank you note, as soon as possible after the meeting.

A successful job-search starts with a thorough plan. Every interview you take requires the same dedicated research. Remember that finding a new job opens up a world of exciting possibilities, opportunities to increase your earning power, meet new people, discover new companies, and acquire valuable skills. It can be the most important test you will ever take.

Phil Blair is co-founder of Manpower San Diego and author of “Job Won.”