Archive | finding your first job

“Secret Sauce” Ingredient #1 for Recent College Grads

When I graduated from college, most of my friends interviewed for jobs via the University’s career center and started their new jobs after they took their summer backpacking trips around Europe.

I wasn’t that lucky.

As a Communications major, there were few companies hiring anything other than accounting, finance, business, and engineering or computer science majors. We liberal arts graduates were left to find a job on our own. (I also didn’t backpack through Europe because I was trying to find a job all summer.)

Not much has changed in 25+ years.

After spending most of my career as a Recruiter in corporate settings, I have been asked to meet with many, many recent college graduates to advise them on how to move the job search process forward. Many of these super-smart graduates are frustrated and concerned. They keep applying for jobs and never hear a peep out of prospective employers. Or, they got in the front door, only never to hear anything again – despite doing their best to follow up.

I have so much compassion for these graduates. I feel their pain.

But, I also see recent college grads make the same job search mistakes over and over again. This was one of the reasons I started plum job search strategies. I wanted to shout advice from the rooftops but thought I’d likely be seen as crazy, so plum small group workshops for Recent College Grads was created instead.

Sharing what I call my “Recruiting Secret Sauce” is a joy for me. Here’s one such piece of advice I offer quite often:

Listen. Listen. Listen.

Sounds too simple right? Here’s what I mean by this: Your objective should be to learn the language of the job you want. Employers want to know that you understand their business, their challenges and their frustrations. Coming into a discussion, behaving as if you know all the answers or even just talking about yourself is not what employers want to hear.

Instead do this: if you have an interest in a particular job or industry, arrange to meet with contacts that have experience in that area and ask them to share their story. Don’t ask for a job. Ever. Concentrate on asking questions as if you are a student of a foreign language or country.

(Yes, I know that you’re asking “How do I find those industry contacts?” I promise to tell you how to find them in a forthcoming blog…or why don’t you attend a plum workshop?)

You will amass this vocabulary and this information and it will help you craft your own story. A crisp, short, articulate and industry-specific story is your goal. This is the first step toward getting there.

Listen for key words and phrases.
Listen for the challenges they face.
Listen for the cues to what makes someone successful or what causes them to fail.
Be inquisitive and don’t just try to sell yourself.

Ask them if they will introduce you to even one person they know who is in the same type of role. Listen again. This is the start of making you an A+ student of search.

I have so much more of this Secret Sauce to share. Keep checking back. Or better yet, sign up for my newsletter and I will keep ’em coming.

Missed Opportunities: Why the LinkedIn Default Dialogue Box is NOT Your Friend

I feel extremely lucky that almost everyday I receive at least 3 requests to connect
via LinkedIn, if not more. LinkedIn is my favorite job search (and recruiting) tool in
my job search toolbox and knowing that my profile is attracting attention is highly

But, I have observed that just about everyone who wishes to connect with me makes
a huge error: They do not use the dialogue box to create a personalized message when they request to connect.

Here’s some free guidance from a job search coach who also continues to recruit
candidates – If you don’t take advantage of that dialogue box, you’re missing out on
some significantly important opportunities to make a great impression.

(Please read the above paragraph again.)

Here’s why I implore you, beg you, to write a personal message: If you send
someone a request to connect and use the default “I’d like to connect” that LinkedIn
so kindly provides, you miss out on free advertising for yourself. Use of the default
typically means that you’re not selling yourself and in these competitive times for
the job seeker, you need to take advantage of every opportunity to sell yourself to

Think about it from the recipient’s point of view. When you get a generic form letter in the mail, does it stand out to you? Is it memorable? Do you take the extra time to read it word-for word? Probably not. But what about a personalized note that someone actually took the time to craft? I bet that type of communication and its sender are more likely to get your attention, and maybe even your respect and a return response from you.

Let me give you a great example in the context of job search and LinkedIn.

Recently, I posted a job for a well-known regional company and since I often receive
requests to connect, I went about my usual discernment process of evaluating
whether I wanted to connect with people who reach out to me. But, one of those
who reached out did not take advantage of the dialogue box on LinkedIn and I
passed the connection over since I didn’t know him.

He missed his opportunity to say something like this: Lora, I noticed that you have
posted a position and I would appreciate knowing more about the role and whether
my extensive sales background maps to the role. I have been in sales for 10+ years
and I am intrigued by the opportunity. May we connect or at least exchange email?


Bob missed out. He was in the usual group of people who defaulted to the existing
dialogue box and I never accepted his connection. (By-the-way: please list your
phone number too, if you’re a job-seeker. When wearing my recruiting hat I really
appreciate the phone number as a means of reaching out quickly.)

Think of the dialogue box as your free, 30-second sales pitch. Who turns down a
freebie opportunity to sell their expertise? Bob did.

Just Breathe: The New Microsoft Mantra

If you’ve been at Microsoft for more than 10 years, more than likely you know at least 5
people who have been affected by the recent round of lay-offs. If you’re reading this, it
may even be you. Frustrated, hurt, a bit bewildered – you have just begun the process of
understanding what this unplanned transition means to you.

I’m here to tell you: Just breathe.

I’m not talking about the Anna Nalick song (although it is good and many of the lyrics
apply here), rather, I encourage you to:

1. Stop
2. Feel the emotions
3. Get pissed if you must
4. Get that frantic online job posting search out of your system
5. Reach out to friends
6. Breathe

Having now worked with many Microsoft people who have experienced this very issue,
I can tell you with much certainty and expertise that those who take the time to truly
evaluate where they want to go next will get there.

Those who rush through this process in an anxious hurry will not find the next role of
their dreams.

Why? Because if you rush headlong into your search, that anxiety and a newfound loss
of confidence will show up in spades during conversations you have in interviews. If
you’ve been in HR or staffing/recruiting, you have witnessed first-hand these types of
candidates and you don’t want to be one of them.

What a slow, methodical and thoughtful process will do for you is allow you to make
sound decisions about your next move. I love the recent Dr. Phil post in Oprah
Magazine where he tells job seekers: Don’t run away from something. Run towards
something you truly want. (Yes, I know Dr. Phil can be arrogant but in this case I 100%
agree with him.)

After years at MS, you may not know what this looks or feels like. If you received a
separation package, this is your opportune time to rediscover Breathing. Take yoga,
have coffee with friends, read to your kids, walk your dog in the middle of the day,
take up meditation, eat at that cool restaurant you could never get to for lunch, read,
watch Jimmy Fallon videos of his band playing with famous artists, visit the Seattle Art
Museum, skip yoga and eat some pie.

But, breathe.

I assure you, that once this feeling of anxiety and sadness and loss and frustration and
anger and confusion passes, you will be a better candidate/potential hire.

Years ago when my daughter was applying to college, a wise parent told me “Everyone
gets into a school”. The same is true for job search. You WILL find a new job. But,
wouldn’t you want to be the zen-like candidate with a level of confidence that appeals
to hiring managers? You can be that person.


Just breathe.

For more on former Microsoft employees and their job hunt, see our past posts.