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The Job Hunt: How-to Author’s Perspective

Do’s and don’ts for young professionals


H. Scott Smith (LAW’96) says that his advice is different from that offered by many: he recommends keeping a long-term view, trying to forget about the current difficult times, and going for what you truly want.

In the first part of this week’s four-part series about how to find a job, BU Today talks with H. Scott Smith (LAW’96), author of Find Your Perfect Job: The Inside Guide for Young Professionals. Tomorrow, part two offers advice from Lorri Zelman (GRS’90), managing director of executive search firm Solomon Page Group. Part three is a conversation with Justin McCummings, associate director of the School of Management’s Feld Career Center, and in part four, we touch base with graduating senior Natalie Swenson (ENG’11), who has found a job in her field.

BU Today: Tell us about this year’s job market.
It is a buyer’s market. This means that employers can demand whatever specific background they want for a specific job—and get it. So, from your perspective as the seller, it is a very competitive job market.

The economy is still recovering from the worst recession in 70 years, and hiring has unfortunately been one of the slowest parts to recover. The good news is that the job market is recovering, so the trend is at least going in the right direction. There are many more job listings now than there were two years ago, one year ago, even six months ago.

I see the most growth in certain government jobs and in health care and energy. Health care and government are typically much less cyclical than other parts of our economy, and that has held true during this Great Recession. The government is also forming new agencies in response to the recent crisis, so brand-new jobs will be available there. Energy remains a critical, growing industry, as the demands of the emerging economies across the globe add to developed nations’ growing demands.

Financial services is a weaker area for job seekers. The finance industry shed a ton of jobs during the market crash. Although firms will need to hire to replace some of the positions let go, the firms aren’t in the position to hire many replacements yet and when they are, they can get experienced laid-off workers, as opposed to new grads. (As with any industry, there can be certain niches that are doing well, so don’t rule this sector out entirely.)

What do potential employers look for in recent college grads?
Professionalism, maturity, focus, commitment, drive, willingness to learn, knowledge of the employer’s business, knowledge of the employer’s industry, knowledge of the employer’s competitors, and the ability to communicate your points articulately and concisely. With respect to the grad’s background, they look for relevant classes, relevant class projects, relevant choice of major, relevant summer or school-year internships, relevant extracurricular activities, and general examples of leadership and teamwork.

What is your single most important piece of job-hunting advice?
You may have been told that you should be flexible in your job search during these hard times and to lower your standards and be happy getting any job. My advice is different. I recommend keeping a long-term view. Try to forget about these current difficult times and go for what you truly want. First, take the time to figure out what is the best career direction for you to pursue. It is sometimes difficult to determine this, but do the best you can. Then pursue your career of choice vigorously. By holding firm for the job you want, you may make your job search more difficult and therefore it may take longer than it otherwise would take. But you will be better off in the long run because you will avoid the need to change careers later. Changing is not easy: you run the risk of being pigeonholed once you choose that alternative career, and many people also get complacent once they settle into a job and don’t want to expend the energy to change to a better career. Finally, you will have much more motivation doing your job search if you are pursuing your dream job instead of a backup position.

What are the biggest mistakes job hunters make?
One big mistake is not researching what a job or industry is really like before pursuing it. Some careers sound much more glamorous than they really are. Entertainment and law come to mind as two examples. Take the time to research the careers you are interested in and schedule some informational interviews with actual practitioners so you get the real story. If you like what you hear, this will not be wasted time, because the practitioners should have good advice for you as you formulate your strategy for breaking into their field.

Another big mistake is not having questions ready for interviewers. You should approach the interview as a meeting—a two-way conversation. Ask questions while the interview progresses. When you are asked at the end what questions you have for them, have some great questions already prepared. Too many people fumble around to come up with something on the spot or flat-out cannot think of anything to ask. By having questions ready to go before the interview, you demonstrate a high level of interest in the job and the company and that you are a prepared person in general.

How can social media help a grad find a job?
I recommend LinkedIn for your job search. Here’s how to utilize it:

  • Create a complete profile of yourself on LinkedIn. Put your whole résumé on your profile page.
  • Join as many groups as you can find on LinkedIn that pertain to the field you are pursuing. Engage in discussions on the group pages with other members.
  • Build your network by adding as “connections” everyone you now know and add those people you meet in the future.
  • Use these connections to gain introductions to professionals you wish to network with (e.g., professionals working in careers and/or companies you are interested in). Ask these new connections questions or schedule short informational phone calls.

All of this activity on LinkedIn will aid your end goal of landing the job you want.

Can social media also hurt applicants?
Yes. You need to be 100 percent professional when using social media for your job search. Anything you do should be done with the same care you would use as if you were drafting a cover letter, for example. No typos, no slang, no casual conversation—keep it professional and mature.

As far as Facebook goes, I have read horror stories of companies and grad schools rejecting applicants due to “partying” photos on their Facebook pages. However, I think you should be able to post whatever photos you choose to on your page. Just make sure your profile’s privacy settings are set such that non-friends are not able to see your pictures. This will protect your page on Facebook from snooping employers or grad schools.

What about guaranteed deal breakers? Can you list a few?

  • Not knowing why you would be a better fit for the job than the other applicants.
  • Not knowing what the strengths are of the company you are meeting with; not knowing why you want to work at this company instead of its competitors.
  • Doing or saying anything unprofessional in your encounters with anyone during your office visit (this includes the receptionists and the secretaries).
  • Not turning your cell phone completely off during the interview.
  • Not wearing a suit (always overdress, rather than underdress, unless you are explicitly directed to wear certain attire, such as business casual).

2 Comments on The Job Hunt: How-to Author’s Perspective

  • Anonymous on 05.02.2011 at 1:04 pm

    Yay political science degree! (maybe)

  • Timothy Sawyer (Rider U.) on 05.19.2011 at 10:00 pm

    Job Hunt

    I actually feel that Mr. Smith makes some great points and many that would prove helpful to a new grad looking for a decent job. Obviously he doesn’t have all the answers for every situation but he does offer some good points regarding researching a company and an industry ahead of time and the risks that one takes with social media (watch those Tweets).

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