Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Making the Right Connections

“It’s not what you know … it’s who you know.” Words from my father I overlooked as a teenager like most kids who ignored advice from their parents. It wasn’t until recently that I was able to understand the meaning of this common phrase. After repeatedly applying to online job postings and failing to get responses from employers, I realized I had to do something to separate myself from the other 15,000 people who are flooding PR firms with fancy resumes and perfectly written cover letters.
It all begins with networking. What is networking? How do I do it? Can I send an email or is better to call? Who in the company should I try to speak with about my interest? These are all questions I had for the Career Management staff.
They suggested I start by finding older executives whose career path interested me. When I meet with these executives, the Career Management Center said I should find a shared interest to make the conversation easier for both of us and then help them understand my career interest.
I found this instruction quite effective as I “networked” with two local executives last week. First, I met with an Account Manager at a creative advertising agency, who I immediately connected with because she handled the public relations for the firm. We spent most of the time discussing how and where I should start my career.
We also focused on what I should highlight in interviews and how I can broaden my skill base. She offered great advice about making my resume and portfolio stronger, suggesting I add letters of recommendation from previous employers. The other executive is a Vice President for a large advertising agency who offered a different prospective. He discussed the exciting facets of working for an agency but reminded me of the competitive and challenging aspects I could potentially encounter. For example, if the agency loses a single account then who ever worked on that account could likely lose their job. On the contrary, a corporate environment is one massive account, so there is more job security and room for advancement.
While building upon these new relationships, I’m finding great value in maintaining contact with previous employers and professors as well. I’ve always kept in touch with these individuals because I had great friendships and mentor experiences with them, but it wasn’t until recently I started leveraging these relationships to help me in my career search. Supervisors from my previous undergraduate internships have been great about editing my resume and quantifying the work I did with them. They’ve read through tons of resumes, so they know what drives employers crazy and what intrigues them to request an interview. My mentor from UF gladly reviews applications and essays before I submit them and sends me information about positions she thinks may interest me. More than anything, theses previous employers and mentors know my talents and limitations. Their honestly has helped me realize what strengths I should emphasize and what weakness to develop.
Through trial and error, I’ve quickly learned that applying to jobs via the web and mass distributing my resume isn’t as effective as targeting contacts in my desired industry and pitching myself to those individuals. I submitted my resume online to about 20 companies and received very few responses. However, every connection I’ve made through networking has led to a phone interview or lunch meeting with another executive. With each additional conversation, I feel closer to reaching the right person who will hear my story, feel my passion, grasp the depth of my curiosity and be willing to take a risk on an extremely teachable and highly qualified candidate.
~ Lauren Collins

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