Why your job search is a lot like getting into college

A shout out to Colby College, pictured above, for providing me with a great foundation for exploring my passions and pursuing my goals.

Do you remember sitting down to write essays for your college applications? Neither do I. For many of us it’s been a long time (or really long time, but who’s counting?). However, if you think back to all the great advice you received about applying to college and writing those essays or your personal statement, many of the same rules apply today when looking for a job and writing your cover letter:

  • Be selective. Just as some students apply to as many 40 colleges, many people on the job hunt apply to far too many jobs and then wonder why they never hear back. It’s because you couldn’t possibly 1) be equally qualified for 100 different unrelated jobs or 2) have done enough research to write a convincing cover letter articulating why they can’t live without you or 3) have taken the time to utilize your network so your resume just went into a black hole. Invest time customizing the cover letters for the select handful of jobs that you really want (and are actually qualified for) rather than blasting out generic applications for countless jobs that you haven’t researched and at the end of the day, probably aren’t really interested in. When it comes to your job search, more is not always more.
  • Be your authentic self. Choosing the right college is about finding the place that has the right environment, culture, classes, activities and professors for you. You won’t find it if you don’t take the time to understand what’s important to you. Same is true in the job search and the interview process. It’s a two-way street and it’s important to do your homework and ask questions to make sure that the company and role are the right fit for you.
  • Build real and lasting relationships. For high school students, that means building relationships with college reps, alumni, your interviewer and your counselor. For those of you on the job hunt, that means building and most importantly maintaining connections with your network. According to a recent survey, 85% of all jobs are filled by hiring managers and candidates leveraging their personal networks. I suspect that number got your attention! You need to cultivate your network; statistically speaking, it is the key to finding the next opportunity. In addition, take the time to identify the hiring manager and recruiter. Connect with them on LinkedIn with a thoughtful message and address your cover letter accordingly.
  • Demonstrate your interest. Colleges are looking for demonstrated interest because they care about their yield. Showing a college that you are interested is the opposite of dating. Don’t play hard to get and pretend that you aren’t interested. Recruiters and hiring managers want you to want them too and not just because you need a job but because you want their job at their company.  Generic cover letters don’t work. I know, I know. Customizing each cover letter, doing your homework and building relationships (see above) take effort and time. But if you are selective (again, see above) then you can spend your time researching the company and articulate in a cover letter, LinkedIn message, and during your interview why you are interested and why you are a great fit.

P.S. My favorite tool for developing a manageable target list of companies: the 2 Hour Job Search.