The Trouble With Job Postings

Janet R. LongJanet R. Long
Principal, Integrity Search Inc.
Blog: http://inyourownvoice.wordpress.com/
LinkedIn: http://www.linkedin.com/in/janetrlong/
Twitter: @IntegritySearch

Teaching students to navigate and reply effectively to job postings—whether through internal referral systems or external job sites—is a tenet of most career development curricula. There are valuable skills to teach, from developing pointed, persuasive communication to learning to think from an employer’s perspective.

The question is, do these skills go far enough?  Are we preparing today’s emerging graduates to become tomorrow’s passive and complacent  job seekers? The trouble with job postings is that they represent only a snapshot of potential opportunities out there. What’s more, they drive large volumes of traffic to a relative handful of jobs, creating instant and intense competition for every role.

When working in private practice with mid-career job seekers, I encourage them to use the 80/20  rule when it comes to postings. That is, to spend about 20 percent of search time replying to advertised opportunities, and the remaining  80 percent using these postings as a springboard to inform a more pro-active approach.

It’s not too early to give our students the gift of this perspective.  Beyond first-destination landings, it will empower them to propel their efforts beyond the too-frequent black hole of applicant tracking systems designed to weed out rather than invite in.

Here are three ways to help our students look at and leverage job postings to get ahead of the curve:

1) Target employers of interest. Never mind if there’s not a current posting related to a specific area. If this employer is in hiring mode, more relevant roles may develop at any moment. Encourage your students to follow companies on social media, seeking  informal introductions to  internal recruiters. This helps the recruiter as well, who is often measured on metrics such as “time to fill” open roles. Having a talent pipeline for tomorrow’s openings is a strategic advantage—and it allows for informal dialogue before a cast of thousands applies to a specific posting.

2) Looks at what’s trending. On Twitter and beyond, the advertised portion of the job market is a researcher’s paradise! For instance, your students can look for common job titles and descriptive language, even in areas outside of their target geography. This gives them the right vocabulary to use when seeking out networking connections as well as to suggest potential titles and skill areas on their own resumes and LinkedIn profiles.

3) Go for the bold.  Many students already have a dream company in mind when they come to you for help and guidance. Take a tour together of the company’s website and job listings, Twitter feed, LinkedIn page, etc., and help them learn to identify challenges waiting to be solved by a smart, passionate new graduate. Show them how to put this insight to use with existing institutional resources such as alumni networks as well as their own emerging networks. Sometimes it pays to take a risk and reach out to higher-level individuals—it’s an old hiring tenet that you can get referred down the food chain but rarely up!

Have your students tried these techniques?  What are some success stories?

Of Rousseau and Resumes: Helping Humanities Students Gain the Home Court Advantage

Janet R. LongJanet R. Long
Principal, Integrity Search Inc.
Blog: http://inyourownvoice.wordpress.com/
LinkedIn: http://www.linkedin.com/in/janetrlong/
Twitter: @IntegritySearch

Collaborating with and supporting humanities students may represent some of the most challenging—and rewarding—opportunities for career advisers.  Outside of applying directly to graduate programs, these students can face challenges because their paths to internships and permanent employment are often not as well defined as those for more career-specific majors.

Yet, as a longtime recruiter (and full disclosure: former English major) who has successfully placed hundreds of one-time English, philosophy, and psychology majors, I propose that the greater challenge may be an initially uncomfortable fit with traditional job-search methods. The philosophy major who has thought far more deeply about Rousseau’s writings than resume writing may not instinctively pivot to a dialogue about “branding” or self-expression through scannable keywords.  For career advisers, the real gold lies not in portraying these tactics as a necessary evil but in helping students discover how their natural strengths and inclinations can best serve them in the search process.

For starters, amid the ongoing debate about the marketability of a liberal arts education, employers say they want the critical thinking skills that are, in fact, the cornerstone of a foundation in the humanities.  In the well-publicized 2013 survey conducted for the Association of American Colleges and Universities more than 90 percent of employers agreed that “a candidate’s demonstrated capacity to think critically, communicate clearly, and solve complex problems is more important than their undergraduate major.”

The real question is how to guide our students in applying the well-developed critical thinking muscle to navigating the job marketplace.  Without suggesting a one-size-fits-all approach, here are some places to jump in:

1. Start at the Beginning—Before talking about a student’s resume or a specific job posting, probe for the thought process behind the original selection of a major or course of study—and how that thinking has evolved.  Recruiters like this question too, even for more experienced candidates, because it helps to construct a useful narrative. The reasons are less important than the student’s/candidate’s ability to demonstrate such qualities as self-reflection and an interest in both acquiring and applying knowledge.

2. Open the Floodgates—As West Chester University Assistant Director of Career Development Amanda Mitchell astutely shares, “the key is to help these students understand the capacity of the degree they are pursuing.  Liberal arts students in very specific courses of study may underestimate the breadth of their career options.  For example, while a psychology major could pursue an advanced degree to become a counselor, he or she could also immediately apply an undergraduate degree in a variety of fields, including marketing or business.” As a recruiter, I can validate this perspective:  some of the most impressive candidates I have interviewed for early-career roles in marketing and management consulting have roots in the humanities and social sciences.

By just changing the lens through which they view their major from restrictive to expansive, our students may experience the kinds of “aha moments” that blow their job explorations wide open. You might recommend Smart Moves for Liberal Arts Grads by Sheila Curran and Suzanne Greenwald for a highly accessible, case-study based approach. The format will also expose your students to the kind of storytelling that will serve them well in job and internship interviews—did you know that Chief Storyteller is an actual corporate job title?!

3. Become a Translator—Help your student demystify jargon-y sounding job-search terms like “branding” and “value proposition.” Draw parallels between these phrases and verbal constructs that are more familiar to liberal arts students.  For example, finding central themes in a work of literature really isn’t all that different from identifying common threads in your student’s academic and co-curricular experience to date.

4. Compare and Contrast—While other students might find the following suggestion the ultimate in geekdom, no one aces the classic compare and contrast exercise like the humanities major.  Leveraging strengths in research, analysis, and written expression, consider encouraging your student to draft a very informal essayor even a steam-of-consciousness-like journal (the actual format is less important than the exercise)examining prospective career options.  For example, a political science major might compare and contrast opportunities in government service versus nonprofit associations and foundations.  You can guide your students to core resources such as  “What Can I Do This Major?” as a starting point, and encourage them to deepen their explorations through online publications, associations and informational conversations with alumni.

Added bonus: Should this process lead to a targeted career direction, your student will already have lots of meaty data to draw on during actual job or internship interviews. Recruiters love to probe for such qualities as sincere motivation and resourcefulness.  What better way for a student to demonstrate these attributes than by walking a recruiter or prospective employer through a thoughtful research process and key learnings about a field or specific organization?

5. Highlight Communication Skills—I may have saved the best for last.  While many humanities students take their strengths in oral and written expression for granted, employers are bemoaning the lack of these skills in the workplace.  As a recruiter, this is probably the number one complaint I hear from employers about recent graduates.

From cover letters to resumes to LinkedIn profiles and electronic portfolios, humanities students have a clear home court advantage. You can help them to recognize this and encourage them to differentiate themselves through the sheer power of the written word. In a future post, I will explore some concrete ways to help them maximize this advantage.

And here’s some really encouraging late-breaking news to share with your students—the Association of American Colleges and Universities just published a survey showing that the long-term return on investment for liberal arts majors, reflected in annual earnings, actually exceeds that for some “pre-professional'” majors.

There is so much more to say about this topic. NACE members, what practices have worked best for the humanities students you advise and support?  Your responses need not be in essay form.

Advising Nontraditionals: Do Age and Life Stage Matter?

Janet R. LongJanet R. Long
Principal, Integrity Search Inc.
Blog: http://inyourownvoice.wordpress.com/
LinkedIn: http://www.linkedin.com/in/janetrlong/
Twitter: @IntegritySearch

What if your Mom walked into your career center, resume in hand, and that deer-in-the-headlights look? As a boomer recruiter and career counselor, I’ve been thinking lately about multiple generations co-existing, not just in the workplace, but in the campus career centers on the front lines of providing advice and counsel. Advising students a generation or two ahead of the traditional 18- to 22-year-old range is becoming more commonplace every year – and not only in community college settings.

With the National Center for Education Statistics projecting that students over aged 35 will top 4.5 million by 2021 at degree-granting institutions, the trend is undeniable.

But when it comes to best practices in career advisement, do age and life stage really matter?

How can a campus career center designed with the traditionally-aged student in mind extend its reach? This is a prickly topic, and as Chaim Shapiro wisely noted in this space, we have to be careful about overgeneralizing based on generational labels.

Consider these ideas for starting off on the right foot:

1. Acknowledge the elephant in the room, especially if the student or alum in front of you really could be your Mom! One of my advisers as a mid-life grad student asked me outright if our age difference (about 20 years) might present a problem for me. It didn’t – but just having someone ask the question spoke volumes about his style and put me at ease.

2. Value past experience. When talking about resume formats, interview preparation, etc., emphasize that while styles may have changed, the student already knows more than she or he may realize.

3. Probe for fears. Don’t assume it’s technology or social media — it might be fear of age discrimination, old-fashioned in-person networking, or feeling rusty about interviewing. Maybe all of these! Before pivoting to tactics, get buy-in on a plan that addresses these concerns to the best of your ability.

4. Manage expectations. You may need to do some educating as well. One four-year institution found through an annual survey that some non-traditionally aged students viewed the career center as a direct placement agency.

5. Create connections. Help your student navigate a targeted alumni database search, keeping life stage in mind. Provide links — and direct contacts, if possible — to local chapters of relevant professional associations. If there is sufficient demand and critical mass, consider forming a student group(s), for peer-to-peer support and job-lead sharing.

NACE blog readers, what practices for advising nontraditionals have worked well in your experience?