College graduates expect to earn $60,000 in their first job, according to a survey by LendEDU of 7,000 students using data licensed from CollegePulse.
While graduates of the Class of 2019 will most likely earn less than that out of college, the reality in today’s digital world, they first need to beat out the competition to secure an entry-level job.
The job search process in a digital world no longer consists solely of face-to-face interviews with decision makers. Instead, employers are vetting candidates in the early rounds via digital platforms such as LaunchPad, which combines video interviewing, mobile technology and intelligent automation. If a college student doesn’t experience LaunchPad, they will most likely respond to interview questions from a robot or some form of artificial intelligence. Of course, that’s if their resume even gets past the Applicant Tracking System, also known as ATS robots, ranking applicants based on how their resume compares to the job description.
The process is high-stake, partially because so many students are facing loan payments from their education. Student debt in the U.S. surged to $1.5 trillion in 2018, from $500 billion in 2007 (tripling in 11 years). And there’s a limited number of spots for the best roles at the top companies.
As I highlight in my book, 101 Lessons They Never Taught You In College, which helps prepare college students for a successful career start, the ultimate hiring decision is made via old school human interaction. Here’s a five-step approach to put recent graduates in the best position to beat the competition and secure their first job after receiving a diploma.
Step 1: Target Your Top-10
Instead of just looking for a job, identify the industries you have a passion for and the companies within those sectors that you admire. Once you research and identify 10-15 specific organizations where you would like to work, conduct extensive research on each including recent news, employee reviews and published interviews with the C-suite. Finally, mobilize your LinkedIn network and identify every connection with your target companies and leverage those connections for one thing — to secure a cup-of-coffee meeting with someone on the inside.
Step 2: Secure Cup-of-Coffee Meetings
Almost every executive at one of your target companies will take a cup-of-coffee meeting because there’s no risk and most people want to give back and help college graduates attempting to break into the business.
But for you, the cup-of-coffee meeting is critically important and offers a high risk, high reward opportunity. First, a cup-of-coffee meeting gets you into the building. It gives you an opportunity to see inside your target company. If you execute your cup-of-coffee meeting at a high level, it will allow you to bypass the robotic and tech-centric recruitment process that I detailed earlier and enables you to establish a powerful ally on the inside who could get your resume in front of the right recruiter.
Step 3: Ready Your Research
If you pass the first two steps of this process, you are now getting the call to come back for a formal interview. This is when you need to transform yourself into an avid researcher. You thought cramming for a final exam was challenging, conducting research for a formal job interview should be the most exhaustive homework you have ever done in your life.
You need to secure the names of the individuals who will be interviewing you and know every detail of their lives — where did they go to school, how fast did they run that recent 5K race in their hometown, what do they tweet about, what kind of content do they post on LinkedIn, have they conducted recent television interviews, do they have a hobby? You need to take the same approach with the company and become fluent in everything they do, recent acquisitions, their clients, success stories, their mission and vision.
Step 4: Script Your Storytelling
While you don’t want to be scripted when you interview, you need to invest significant hours in scripting your story and this includes the smart questions you will ask that will separate you from the competition.
Your story should not be long-winded. In fact, it should be comprised of short 20-30 second sound bites. It should feature your past experience, compelling success stories from your internships and college and several interesting fun facts relevant to the interview.
Once you master your story or what I like to call, your brand narrative, you can tell the same story to every executive who interviews you. Of course, you will customize your story based on the research you conducted on each individual who will interview you that I detailed in step three of this approach.
Step 5: Master Human Interaction
The big day has arrived. You have conducted extensive research and scripted your story. You have even conducted enough research to dress just right based on the company’s culture. There’s no robot or AI program to make the final hiring decision. It’s going to come down to what I call, H.I., human interaction. Your objective is to convert the formal interview into a collaborative conversation.
Of course, you need to start your day by arriving 15 minutes early, shutting your phone down and looking into everyone’s eyes who you meet and extend your hand offering a confident handshake while addressing them by their first name. Based on your research, be ready to ask your smart questions throughout the conversation as those questions will put the interviewer on their heels in a positive way. The job candidate who conducts the most engaging conversation will win the job.
We may be living in a world that’s becoming more and more digital, but for college graduates, getting that first job will ultimately come down to how effectively you can conduct an engaging face-to-face conversation.
Mark Beal is a columnist at Grit Daily. He recently authored his third book, Decoding Gen Z: 101 Lessons Generation Z Will Teach Corporate America, Marketers & Media. A veteran brand marketer, he is a professor of public relations and marketing at Rutgers University. A keynote speaker on such topics as Generation Z; the transition from college to a career; and preparing high school students for college, Mark previously authored 101 Lessons They Never Taught You In College and 101 Lessons They Never Taught You In High School About Going To College.