04 August 2009

Let's talk about joblessness

So, yes, so far this journal has largely (well, 3 entries strong) been about the saga of my obnoxious broken ankle. Like anyone else who has a blog, I obviously find myself so entertaining that I cannot imagine why you wouldn't want to know.

But we're going to change tracks for a bit. My job, currently, is to work as a career advisor in a Career Services department at a mid-sized state university. I love my job (and I'm not just saying that because this has my name associated with it) - I have the opportunity to help college students and alumni take what they have learned at university and translate it into a career. It's challenging, but every time I get a phone call or an email that says "I GOT THE JOB!" or someone stops by to tell me about their first few weeks at their new position, it's pretty cool to realize that I helped that happen.

So, of course, I was interested to see that a recent MBA graduate of Monroe College is suing her university because she hasn't been able to find a job. Now, having done the post-graduation job search thing twice (I have a BA and an MA), I can sympathize with being freaked out about job hunting. It' s scary out there right now - more people competing for the same jobs means that it's easier to get your application packet thrown into the "no" pile, for one.

However, my mind is a little blown that the next logical step for this 3-month old job search is not to ask for more advice, to get creative, or to network, but to sue.

Now, I'm not going to get into personal attacks on this alumna (although I will not lie and say that I haven't thought of some - I'm not an angel). However, I do want to address some things that it seems that many job seekers don't know, especially about looking in a recession.

  1. Career Centers at universities are not placement offices. Many trade schools have "placement offices," where they set up interviews for students and alumni. Many of these schools, whether they are for medical work or mechanics, also brag about placement rate post-graduation. These are all good things! But there are different laws that control what we are allowed to do in career services at a public university and, in fact, I can't do the things that some students want. It is illegal for me to place students in a specific job - all students must have access to jobs or internships. What I can do is point students to resources, proofread their materials, help them strategize, and give tips. I can HELP students with their job search, but I can't do it myself.
  2. Make sure that all of your materials are pristine and professional. Sure, most people have their resume proofread well enough (though I have seen that references will be "furbished" upon request more times than I can count. References are not furniture and are not "furbished"). But what about the email that you send your resume in? What about your cover letter, ensuring that it is addressed to the right company (recruiters repeat this one over and over again). And then you get into the things that go beyond your spell-check and basic fact checking - do you have an appropriate voicemail message or do I get to listen to you rapping along to "Cop Killa"? Do you have a signature line on your email that refers to radical any-political-view politics? Do you actually address your email to Dear Ms. Benson, and use appropriate punctuation and sentence structure? Do you have a professional email address or do you really expect me to get back to sexyguy4u@anydomain.com?

    Make it clean. Make it appropriate. Make it professional.
  3. Clean up your online profile. Students and alumni hate this one, especially those of us who spend a lot of time online. Sure, your Facebook and Myspace and bulletin board conversations are on your own time (or they better be). And sure, they're your personal life. But that doesn't mean they're private. Once something is on the internet, it is open to anyone who can figure out how to find it. And that doesn't mean that locking your profile is enough - none of the security settings on these sites are foolproof enough that mistakes don't happen. So start to think of your online presence as if you were standing in the middle of a room full of potential employers with a megaphone. What are you going to say into it? Because, while you may not LOSE a job because of those photos of you doing body-shots off of that girl you met in Cancun, you might not GET the job because the other most qualified candidate didn't post that picture on their Facebook profile.
  4. Use social networking sites to your benefit. Ah! Contradiction? Not so much. Social networking, including sites like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and others, is the leading edge of employment recruiting. Many companies and professional networks have moved into Web 2.0 - they will list employment and networking opportunities and chances for communication with other professionals on their social networking sites. So. Since you've already cleaned it up, don't delete! Use it! And get a job through social networking.
  5. Network. The most common thing I hear from people who are looking for jobs who aren't finding networking to work for them is that "I don't have a professional network." Everyone has a professional network. Every single person. Everyone has a friend of a friend who is starting a new non-profit and needs a volunteer to help do the books for a few months (professional development, a reference, and a possibility of a paid job down the line). Everyone has a cousin's mother-in-law who works as a receptionist for a local university that is hiring. The more people know what you can do and what you're looking for, the better your chances of being the first person to pop into someone's mind when they hear about an open position.

    There are also networking opportunities opened up by recruiters, often hosted at universities or at their business. Attend these - dressed professionally and always staying sober - and have a chance to make a personal connection with people who might decide your future employment.

    Everyone can help with your job search, no matter their background or current job. You just have to ask for the help.

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