What I've Learned from Three Years in Career Services

by Dan Klamm
Marketing & Communications Coordinator

As some of you may know, this is my last week working in Career Services at Syracuse University. Effective October 24, I will be moving to the university’s Division of Advancement and External Affairs to be the Assistant Director of Digital & Social Media. I am thrilled about this opportunity, though sad to leave an amazing group of colleagues, an exceptionally supportive boss, and a workplace that has presented me with many unique opportunities and challenges over the last three years.

I’d like to present you with some key learnings that I’ve acquired during my tenure in Career Services, in the hopes that these nuggets can help you navigate the job search and young professional life. Over the last three years, I’ve advised hundreds of students and alumni on career development issues, I’ve evaluated job candidates as a search committee member, and — as I approached my own job search, before this wonderful new position at SU became available — I’ve interviewed with organizations such as Edelman, Google, and NYU. This combination of experience provides me with a variety of perspectives and some key take-aways.

1) Before beginning your job search, develop a clear goal.
What industry would you like to work in? What organization(s) would you like to work for? What is your ideal position? Geographically, where do you want to be? Take the time to do some soul searching and figure out the answers to these questions. Conduct informational interviews with SU alumni to find out what certain job titles really mean or to find out what it’s actually like to work in a particular industry. Research salaries and cost of living information to see if your dream career in your dream city will give you the quality of life that you want. As your ideal job begins to take shape, develop a clear goal statement and a list of target employers.

Doing this heavy lifting at the outset will save you lots of time and energy down the road. Once you have a clear goal, you can channel all your efforts toward reaching that specific goal. Instead of applying for 90 different PR jobs across New York City, you can spend time customizing your cover letter and resume (and networking!) to apply to the 10 positions in fashion PR that you really want.

“I’ll take anything” is the kiss of death in a job search — especially in an interview. Hiring managers want to hear how excited you are to work in their industry, for their company, and in the specific position that you’re applying for. Having a clear goal in your mind will help you to convey genuine enthusiasm during an interview.

2) Customize all of your resumes and cover letters. Seriously.
Companies are receiving hundreds of applications for every job opening these days. Who is a hiring manager more likely to interview: the candidate who sends generic application materials or the candidate who says it’s his life dream to work at Company X and provides examples of how his background is a perfect fit for the open position? In most cases, it is the latter.

You don’t need to completely re-write each and every resume and cover letter that you send out, but you should tailor these documents so that they reflect the needs of the employer and the nuances of the job description. It shows that you’re interested in the job and not just sending generic applications out to dozens of companies.

3) It’s who you know AND what you know.
Personal connections can open doors, but in most cases, they won’t land you a job. It’s up to you to sell yourself in an interview.

4) Attack the interview.
An interview is not a passive thing for you to experience; it’s a two-way (or group) dialogue in which you need to take an active and enthusiastic role. Walk in there with an agenda and know the key points that you need to communicate. Even starting off by saying “Thank you for having me, I really appreciate the opportunity to interview for the position and I’m excited to be here today” sets the tone for the rest of the interview and says that you’re not just going to sit back and wait for questions to be lobbed at you. It shows you’re invested in the process and ready to actively engage the inteviewer(s).

Always prepare several key points about the strength of your candidacy. Regardless of the questions that you receive, make sure you’re able to reinforce these key points throughout the interview. Don’t wait for the interviewer to ask the right question or pick up on some small detail on your resume. It’s your job to sell yourself! At the end, wrap up by thanking the interviewer(s) for their time and reiterating your interest and fit.

5) Your reputation matters.
Every little thing that you do impacts your reputation in the professional world: the people you greet (or choose to ignore) in the hallway, how you handle criticism, how you react to success, the way you collaborate with others, and of course the quality of your work. Nothing goes unnoticed.

Your online reputation is equally important. I’ve seen job candidates score interviews based solely on their web presence and the relationships they’ve built through social media. Likewise, I’ve seen candidates rejected based on their online behavior. Pay attention to your online presence — because employers certainly do.

6) Surround yourself with people who believe in you.
Unfortunately we all occasionally find ourselves in conversations with people who bring us down: people who belittle, people who condescend, people who tell us our sights are set too high, people who encourage us to settle.

Don’t settle.

You deserve to be surrounded by people who support and uplift you. During the stressful job search process, this is especially true.

7) Make your own opportunities.
No one is going to find you a job, introduce you to a mentor, or voluntarily give you a $10,000 raise. You need to make it happen. This means taking ownership of your career, putting in extra effort, and proactively taking steps — sometimes unconventional steps — to make yourself known.

For me, this meant reaching out to the editors of The Post-Standard and proposing to write a series of columns about social media in the job search. Surprisingly enough, they gave me the greenlight. About 2 months after my outreach effort, my first column appeared. I then leveraged my writing experience with The Post-Standard to approach an editor at Mashable, one of the most widely read blogs on the internet, about contributing guest posts. He, too, said, “Sure, sounds great!” and a few weeks later my first Mashable post went live.

For you, this could mean tweeting at your dream company to express interest in a summer internship, applying to speak at a big conference in your field, or asking your boss for a promotion. These things aren’t going to magically happen on their own; you need to make them happen.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned above all else in the last three years, it’s that relationships matter. I’d like to thank everyone who has been a part of my career to this point. From the colleagues I work with across the university, to the students I advise, to the alumni I meet while traveling: it’s been SUCH an enjoyable experience coming to work every day because of you. Thank you! I can’t wait to find out what my next step will bring, and I wish you the best with everything.