Top Ten Checklist Prior to Starting your First Job Search
A College Students Guide to Success
As the country and world begin to emerge from under the grips of the pandemic, the job market is bound to become even more competitive than it already is. Full time jobs may be fewer as more companies increase the use of contingent workers as a safety net due to all the uncertainty. As such, it will be extremely important for college students entering the job marketing to be polished and on their toes in all regards if they desire to land that dream full time job.
At the University of Missouri – St. Louis, in addition to being a faculty member and department co-chair, I also run one of our executive advisory boards and act as the faculty advisor to the marketing club. This in addition, being the founder of the Midwest Digital Marketing Conference also keeps me well informed on what companies are looking for, trends, and skills our students need to succeed.
Below is a top ten checklist that I have created to help students prepare to stand out from the crowd.
Develop a Digital Portfolio
Unlike a resume or your LinkedIn profile, a digital portfolio helps to define your skills in a more tangible way... showcasing your creative side, writing skills, ability to sell, video skills, audio skills, and all the software you have worked with. They can even showcase volunteer work or causes you support via some of the creative work you might have done for them. If organized properly it will tell the story of who you are, your passions and what you are seeking in life. Many companies may not even consider you for employment without such a portfolio. In my social media strategies class, all students are required to create a digital portfolio for their final project using either Wix or Wordpress. To get ideas, just Google "examples of good student portfolios."
I don’t care what major you are, consider a digital portfolio. Even If you are an accounting student, you can still create a digital portfolio containing group presentations you did, papers you wrote, a blog you started (see below) flyers you created for club events, a video you shot and edited on your iPhone, or a great Instagram post that got a lot of engagement. Show them just how dynamic you are.
Create a Blog
Everyone has passions whether cooking, baseball, hiking, cars, etc. So, write about it. Set up a blog using Wix or Wordpress and write a few “short form” blog posts covering a couple of different aspects of your passion. You do not need to write one every week, but perhaps one a month. I would suggest around 600 words. Keep it manageable. You are not writing for SEO but rather to showcase your communication skills. And, who knows, you might get hooked. Google ideas for story lines, etc. There is a ton of material out there on the internet to guide you. And be sure to place this blog and your best written stories in your digital portfolio (see above).
Tighten Your LinkedIn profile
Before you start looking for your first internship or first job, ensure your LinkedIn profile is 100% ready. In my digital strategies class, all students are required to complete a good LinkedIn profile as a part of their midterm. There are a few things they must address specifically for full credit.
- A good profile photo/headshot. A selfie or cropped image is not acceptable.
- A background image that means something to you.
- A good headline. For example, “Student at University” is not acceptable. Students must think about the SEO. Rather, “Digital and Social Media Marketing Communications / Student at University” would be most preferred and robust for HR reps searching for the same.
- Summary must be four paragraphs. (1) what classes they are taking and topics they are learning. The buzz words are needed for SEO. (2) How they are working their way through school / or are they a full-time athlete (3) what other school activities such as clubs they belong to or volunteer work they do (4) what they do for fun in their spare time like running, cooking, reading.
- Any and all work experience laid out chronologically. This should include work one did even at the age of 15. Of course, as more experience begins to emerge on their profiles those older items will drop off. But not now. Show it all. Show how hard you have and do work.
- Education history laid out very neatly and chronologically.
- Follow some industry groups and news organizations of importance.
- If your paper resume is ready, upload digitally.
- And, ensure no grammar mistakes and good formatting overall.
I have created a YouTube video for my students to guide them through these steps: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=za9cNU2AqME&t=106s
Have a Strong Resume
Create a solid one-page resume that is free of grammar mistakes (for working professionals more than one page is acceptable but not for college students). Show to several people for edits. If your LinkedIn profile is polished, upload your resume there (see above). Google examples of good student resumes to see various formatting ideas. There is an abundance of options. But above all, keep it simple to ensure that the HR bots can read it correctly and you do not get kicked out due to their filters. Yes, everything is automated these days! In the “additional resources” listing at the end of this post I give a link to an article that lays out what you need to do to ensure your resume gets past the filter bots.
Obtain an Internship
Having an internship, is almost a must these days. Get some work experience in under your belt. Preferably in your field if possible or as close to it as you can. Do not wait until your last semester to do this. Seek out this opportunity in your junior year. It may take a semester to find the right fit. Seek help from career services in your college. In the College of Business at UMSL we have our own intern coordinator. She works closely with all our students on best opportunities for them.
Do Volunteer Work
Having volunteer work on your resume will make you stand out from the crowd. If you do not have any, seek out some opportunities at your church, a local nonprofit you are familiar with or chat with someone in the student affairs offices at your college. Work in a food pantry, help do social media for a small business that cannot afford to hire someone, the list is endless. Be creative. There are always organizations seeking and needing help. There is no excuse.
Build a Network
Once your LinkedIn is set, work on adding contacts. Connect with anyone you can on this platform including your teachers, parents, friends of your parents, past bosses and co-workers. When meeting someone at a club event or conference, grab their business card and tell them you will send a LinkedIn request later in the day. Even if you see no advantage to the connection immediately, keep in mind you have no idea who they might be connected to (a second level connection) that could be critical for you to land that internship or job you seek tomorrow. It is all about having a deep list of connections (1st and 2nd level).
Clean Up Your Social Media Accounts
HR reps have a way to scrap all your social media. Be forewarned. Wink wink. Assume nothing is private. Please. Clean things up. Here is my rule of thumb. If you feel you need to ask someone what they think about a post of yours and it being inappropriate, it probably is. Just clean it up. Take no chances. I have heard many stories of students not landing a dream job or internship because of a post that was seen or a tweet said. Clean it up.
Prepare For the Initial Interview
There are a few little things to remember when in an interview setting.
- Your appearance – dress for success whether Zoom or face to face. Does not matter. Play the part.
- Your speech – do not use slang words such as dope, lit, salty, etc. Be professional. Speak clearly.
- Your Zoom setting – ensure the backdrop is appropriate and not your unmade bed. Minimize, the best you can, any background noise. If you know there might be some disturbances, just be upfront and apologize in advance. For example, say “I apologize in advance as we are having some work done in the house so you might hear a hammer on occasion.”
- Taking notes - if Zoom, and (1) you plan to look over notes you took about the company in preparation for the interview or (2) to take notes on your PC or on paper during the interview, let them know what you are doing. Otherwise, they might think you are not paying attention and texting a friend. Be aware of how your actions might be portrayed on the other side of the camera.
Research the Company
Prior any interview, research the company thoroughly. Know the industry trends in which you are seeking employment. For example, if you google “digital marketing trends 2022,” you will find some great articles on what is about to take place in that field that you can allude to in your interview. Believe me this will help you stand out.
This is a really a no brainer and a job interview killer. Learn the company inside and out.
- Their mission
- Social stance on issues
- Latest breaking news (google them)
And, in addition, know who you will be speaking to. Ask your contact at the company in advance. Find them on LinkedIn, research them and take notes. It will come in handy. Try connecting as well.
BONUS ITEM #11 -- Seek Out Certifications
There are many opportunities to get additional training at little to no cost. For marketers, this includes certifications in Google Analytics, Paid Search, HubSpot and more. Just google the opportunities. These badges will set you apart from the rest of the pack. In the “additional resources” listing below, I provide a list of certification ideas for anyone. There is no shortage of ways to boost your skills and your appearance to that HR rep.