During the past 15 years of teaching college students at the Columbus College of Art & Design, Capital University, and The Ohio State University, I’ve had the pleasure of meeting nearly 1,000 students. From time to time, someone asks for some career-searching counsel. And, twice recently, a parent has asked me to offer my advice over lunch with his college student. (It warms my heart to be so invited into an important family conversation.)
In all these conversations, I’ve noticed that some of the advice works for most students, so here is that advice...
1. Think about what is most important to you. For most students, it is (1) the career, (2) the place, or (3) the lover. That is, some students want to work in advertising more than anything else. Others, might want to ski, so they would do anything for a living as long as they are in the mountains. And yet others are so in love with Louie (not his/her real name), that the job and the place don’t matter. If you think about which one of these is most important for you, you will be more likely to capture that top desire. Don’t think you can get all three, or you might find that all three slip away. For example, if you think you can live in Topeka while Louie works in Oakland, then don’t be surprised if you lose Louie.
2. It is more important to suit yourself than find a job that appeals to a career counselor. This is your life. So what do you love to do? Read Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s Finding Flow: The Psychology of Engagement with Everyday Life. In his various books on “flow,” Dr. Csikszentmihalyi (chick-SENT-me-high), a professor and former chairman of the Department of Psychology at the University of Chicago, teaches that each of us has an activity that we simply love. This activity engages us, time flies, we sweat, the hair stands up on the back of our necks. We are into it, and we are creating. (No, this activity isn’t watching TV.) For some it might be gardening or cooking; for others, teaching; and for a desperate few others, writing stand-up comedy. Whatever it is, Dr. Csikszentmihalyi recommends, find what thrills you — and then try to build a life around it. More than enjoyable, it might be lucrative; history shows us that people who are truly engaged with their work do best. But even if, I would add, you don’t make a heap of money, you will at least have spent part of your life pursuing something you love. (Isn’t that the meaning of life?)
Also read Richard Nelson Bolles’ What Color Is My Parachute? to identify what you really might enjoy.
Also read — and use the interactive survey — from the Gallup Organization called StrengthsFinder 2.0.
As long as I’m giving advice that might make your parents shudder…
3. Travel. What’s the farthest you’ve ever been away from home? Where were your ancestors? You need to see the world and this is a good time to travel. Your fabulous career can wait three months while you backpack through Europe. I recently gave that advice to a young woman in the presence of her father. (Meeting with me for this talk was his idea.) He blanched when I recommended that his tuition-consuming daughter do anything other than become a salary-earning daughter. But, within 20 minutes, the father said, “I’m 52 and I never took an opportunity to travel and see the world and I regret that.” Life is long, and so is regret. Travel now, before your own kids and the mortgage stand in the way.
4. Network using LinkedIn. Here's how.
5. As for actually finding a job (which is what this is supposed to be about), here are some recommendations:
A. Telephone six people today and everyday. Make sure that at least three of them are people you have not yet met. Ask to see them to hear about their career path. Don’t say, “I’m not looking for a job.” Tell the truth.
B. Every time you talk to someone, ask them to introduce you to the person they think is the smartest person they know. One of the smartest people I know, Jon York, suggests that if you meet 100 smart people, something good will surely happen. This is a “numbers game.” You need to meet as many people as you can.
C. Write a clear cover letter or email. Be very brief. Write as you speak, without all the “like”s. Let your true voice be heard.
D. Close your letter or email by saying you will call in four days. Then call in four days. (90% of the job seekers who write that they will call, don’t. So, either they found a job the day after they sent the letter — or they lost their courage.) You need to call when the employer is open-minded and short-staffed. The only way to do that is be lucky. So, make your own luck. Call every 6-8 weeks. Be cheerfully persistent, not annoyingly anxious.
5. If you want to get a job in advertising as a creative (art director or copywriter), you need to develop a portfolio. If there is more tuition money available, I’ve heard the Portfolio Center in Atlanta praised. Spend two years there and you will build a compelling book.
6. If you want to get a job in advertising as an account executive, read Brandweek, American Demographics, and other publications. Get a job selling, not sweaters at the Gap, but rather something that the customer doesn’t know he or she needs. Advertising is selling, not merely entertainment. Study and practice selling.
7. Prepare for the interview. Here are some notes on how I interview.
For a broader discussion of job hunting practices, click here.