Preparing for job interviews is like writing a paper. There’s a process necessary in order to get an A – and to impress a company.
Before graduating from college in 2014, I approached my job hunt the same way I would approach writing a research paper. I set up a six-month plan to pace myself and stand out among other applicants.
Upon “writing my conclusion,” I essentially knew everything I needed to know to ace the interviews, and ultimately get the job I wanted. I went into the process knowing, not hoping, that I would get the job because my preparations had built up my confidence.
My process is one that all college graduates are familiar with – how to write a paper. Here’s my approach.
Determine Your Niche
When it comes time to graduate you will be one of millions of pre-professionals hitting the market. Six months out, you first need to figure out what is going to make you different than everyone else. Your niche, theme, background, is ultimately going to be foundation for your “paper.”
My theme centered on the concept of my brand. I wanted to define myself as my expertise prior to graduating from UNC Charlotte. I had several in-school jobs, including chief student counsel in Student Government Judicial, advanced technician at SUAR IT, and resident advisor within housing. All were jobs I maintained while going to school full-time, and each served as my background and expertise when I was applying for jobs.
With each of these positions I retained a certain amount of expertise in regulated documentation, technical implementation, and personnel management, respectively. When it came time for me to build out who I was, I focused in on each job type and worked to develop a presence for each on my resume, Twitter accounts, LinkedIn, and networking strategy.
Research Your Industry
At this point you need to start determining the ways in which your new degree will be applicable. This requires creative brainstorming because each application of your degree will end up being possible industries, companies, and career paths.
If you don’t know the applications, think about it like starting your own business. What ways can you make yourself a uniquely marketed individual?
Think about the companies you are going to want to work for and the type of culture you want to be engaged in. Some new-grads argue with themselves that they are in it for the money, but the culture of a company is really what makes you want to go to work.
When you’re picking out companies, think about their value to you. A pro-con pad is one of the best ways to objectively evaluate your needs and your wants in a way that keeps your feelings out.
VIDEO: Michael MoDrak, a business consultant in Perficient’s Charlotte office, chats with Scott Albert, a Talent Acquisition Specialist at Perficient, about his transition from the classroom to consulting, how he impressed Perficient leaders in his first year on the job and more.
Determine Future Networks
College undergraduates, you need to start this early. Start developing a professional network and (depending on your industry) diminish your “social” network presence. If you use your Facebook or Twitter to build up other companies, then keep using those tools, but by that same token ensure that your Facebook, Twitter, etc. are the best representations of you.
You may want to purchase LinkedIn Premium between now and your job offers. LinkedIn does a good job of providing you with constant feedback in the form of analytics, and greater visibility for prospective recruiters.
Join LinkedIn Groups, and further promote yourself. Start to like posts, find articles to post, and create your own posts. Do as much as you can to show up in everyone else’s news feed and stick out in comparison to your competition.
If you’re more interested in honing your skills while engaging with members of your preferred field, try attending some MeetUp groups. Depending on the group you join, I think they do a good job of helping you learn a tactile skill while also promoting your social network. I have many of friends that went to MeetUp groups and left with a job offers.
Define Your Niche
Make you your own brand. It’s the “MoDrak Standard!” Determine your higher-value skill sets, document them, and start to publish your personal brand.
Rewrite your resume from scratch. Start anew, and deliver on your new standard. Once done, do it again until it’s good enough to start circulating. I’d recommend you create accompanying business cards to be deployed anywhere and everywhere. Give it to friends, family, and your part-time co-workers to start circulating.
Fine tune your skills. Of those skills you documented, start figuring out ways hone your technique. At a certain point you’ll transcend past being able to apply your skills, and achieve smart applications of them. This smart application is what will separate you from the crowd.
For me, I’m very good at people management, and further strong with computers. So I took my knowledge of both avenues and in coordination with my Summer Internship with UNC Charlotte’s SUAR IT, I created a research project that would allow me to expand upon my skills while also making a name for myself as someone who can adequately provide solutions and communicate them effectively.
Know Your Industry; Find Your Companies
Start going to networking events, or join your local young business groups. Talk to companies that interest you and make a point to talk to them directly whenever you are out networking.
When I made my list, Perficient was in the top 10. When I met Perficient’s recruiter, I told him, “Ahhh, Perficient, I came here to talk to you!” It did wonders because I wasn’t just looking for any job; I wanted my career to start with Perficient and I let my recruiter see that.
Start doing research on your companies, prepare questions that you can rattle off with ease. You want to ask smart questions when you interact with company liaisons. Like studying for a test you not only know the answer, you need to know the background around the answer.
When I did my Perficient Google Hangout, our “pre-interview” process, I wanted to know about the scalability and growth of Perficient. I remember asking, “Looking through the financials [Perficient] had published in 2013 and … with so much expansion occurring in Perficient what [does Perficient] do to ensure [that the] corporate culture continues to grow?”
This question wasn’t just a question, but rather showed that I took the time to look over everything about Perficient, and then analyzed it, and ultimately made my liaisons aware that I was interested in Perficient accountability. This did well to allow them to gauge my interest.
Working With Your Network
Everyone will be trying to befriend their corporate liaison/recruiters; go above the gimmick and actually becoming your new company’s jack-of-all-trades – before you are hired. Start working with your recruiter now, develop a working relationship, and keep asking questions.
Approach the people you will be working with when you are hired. Know from the beginning you will be hired; it’s not over-confident, it’s just confident enough. It’s a tough job market, and everyone else is thinking, “if I can get that job…” Next to nobody is thinking “when.”
At this point you should start doing applications. Be sure to let your corporate liaison know that you are applying for the job, so that they know you’re coming through the system.
Own Your Niche – Own Your Brand!
At this point you should have sent out applications. If you haven’t been before, start making yourself invaluable to your new company.
Start looking for one to two ways (per month) to solidify yourself in the corporate culture of all the companies you are courting.
You’re summing up your 6-month endeavor; time to wrap it up with an outstanding interview. You have already been wowing them. Your interview is more of a conclusion to solidify their ideas of you.
At this point, if you don’t have a Twitter account, set one up, and get up to one post a day. You want the Internet to be littered with your name. When you reach the second stage of interviews, you want Google to sing your praises.
Know Your Industry and Companies, and Research Your Interviewers
Start learning the minute, but important, facts about your courting-companies. Learn the people you’ll interact with, the people you’ll be interviewing with, and understand how the interviews work.
When I had my in-office interviews I took the time to understand what my interviewers were like prior to meeting. I did research via LinkedIn and Google because I wanted to know who I was going to be talking to prior to my “presentation” (my interview).
When I was performing my research, I looked over each person, so I could understand his or her role in the company. With my revitalized resume in hand, I started notating the values that would be important to bring up when conversing with the interviewers. Things like my project types, my past experience, and ultimately how that was applicable to what I thought they’d be looking for in an applicant.
Know what to expect before you have the interviews. Even if the company is not known for technical or behavioral questions, come prepared to dispense responses. For me, I became more familiar with the Windows components that are necessary for basic business processes. In working in an Apple shop for two years, I had to learn how to translate my advanced Apple understanding into the advanced Windows components, so that I could know the developer’s standpoint, but also so I could directly relay it to a client.
Start determining your final list of companies. Take all factors into account. It’s best to be as objective as possible, so that in the end, your “right-now” emotions don’t win out over your long-term goals.
My methodology for understanding my offers was formulaic in nature. I determined what companies I wanted base on a predetermined formula that calculated in cost of living, “happiness quotient,” culture and freedom, salary, benefits, etc. From this formula I was then able to rank each of my companies and know beforehand which ones I was going to be more assertive with when I was negotiating.
Capitalize on Your Networks
Keep going to networking events, and continue to keep in touch with your recruiters. At the very least, if you don’t get a job from a particular company, you have made a fantastic network that will propel you forward in your career goals.
In the event that you still have not heard back from any companies, you need to start working with your network. There’s no need to become desperate; you just need to start using your free time to work toward a job. Coming fresh from school is valuable because you carry the expertise you gained during your classes.
Just like when you identified your skills in the The Intro above, start thinking creatively about how to make yourself marketable. Start using your online and off-line networks to make others aware that you are looking for employment. This might be uncomfortable at first, but realize with the time that you have invested you are the candidate that they want. You need to own this fact to get ahead of everyone else that’s still unemployed.
Ultimately the conclusion, and completion of this “paper” put me in a place where I felt like I had a stable understanding of the market. Realize, this strategy isn’t just the motions; you’re writing a paper that will ultimately lead to a new way of thinking. You’ll have learned so much more than you did when you started. And when you’re done, you’ll be ready to write another.
Going from graduate to professional is like writing a research paper; going from professional and beyond is your biography.
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Michael MoDrak, a business consultant in Perficient’s Charlotte office, serves as an on-site subject matter expert in automation. He joined Perficient straight out of college in June 2014.
Michael graduated from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte in 2014, and in 12 months, he went from being a new hire to coordinating the onboarding of several new colleagues. He enjoys working with Perficient’s new hires who recently graduated collegue and collaborating with them on cross-departmental projects. He works to ensure the success of those around him through mentoring and one-on-one training sessions.
Michael possessed a wealth of experience early out of college, with industry training and experience ranging from technical deployment and implementation to AMI data management and healthcare insurance management.
Connect with Michael on LinkedIn.