REDMOND, Wash. – May 30, 2012 – With graduation season in full swing, college seniors are building resumes and preparing to search for their first professional jobs. Employment experts such as Eugenia Sawa, a staffing consultant at Microsoft Corp., recommend that graduating seniors create a strong online presence as part of their job-search strategy.
Sawa is just one of thousands of recruiters who spend time each day searching the Web for potential candidates. Recruiters are looking for more than just a particular degree or level of experience, however. They are looking for individuals with a genuine enthusiasm for both their chosen industry and, in the case of corporate recruiters, the company itself.
Soon-to-be graduates can distinguish themselves online by developing a personal project and either displaying the results online or blogging about it, Sawa says. For example, aspiring Web designers can demonstrate their work by building a strong personal site and online portfolio.
Students currently enrolled in school have access to a variety of free or reduced-cost tools they can use to develop portfolio projects. The Microsoft DreamSpark program for students, for example, provides access to developer and designer tools such as Microsoft Visual Studio 11 Professional Beta, Microsoft Visual Studio 2010 Professional, and Microsoft Expression Studio 4 Ultimate. (College seniors may enroll in the program until graduation.) Students intrigued by the smartphone segment of the industry can demonstrate interest by building and publishing a Windows 7 phone app. Students who are not development-oriented can establish an online presence with blogging software such as Windows Live Writer. The blog topic should be relevant to the candidate’s desired industry, demonstrate knowledge of the industry and its players, and most importantly, have a clear point of view.
Additionally, sites such as Code Academy can help students learn coding skills. Even if one doesn’t plan to be a software engineer, understanding how basic coding works is helpful knowledge that demonstrates technical aptitude and willingness to take on new challenges.
“Take the initiative, show you have the skills and have done the research, and show that you know who the big players are,” Sawa says. “Being familiar with the latest technology – that’s what’s going to get someone’s foot in the door.”
Job Skills Every Candidate Should Possess
In addition to specialized skills, college seniors should be experienced with the basic software packages used by most businesses, Sawa says. Most employers will expect at least proficiency with a Windows-based PC and Microsoft Office packages; some positions may require advanced skills. Students who are interested in joining the technology industry should master the basic computer packages and also be familiar with other technology, such as smartphones, Sawa says. This is true for all roles, not just development.
Students can purchase Microsoft Office and other software for personal use at a discount through the Microsoft Student Store online and use free Microsoft Office Training videos online to learn the basics or build advanced skills.
Communication skills are also critical in any office environment. Experts say that poor written or verbal skills can make or break a candidate’s chances of getting an interview. Candidates should be completely professional in all of their dealings with recruiters. This may mean setting aside commonly accepted communication habits. Students should consider the following expert tips for written communication with a recruiter or other potential employer:
Don’t call or text the individual; most recruiters prefer email.
Don’t over-communicate. Let the recruiter drive the discussion.
Use spellcheck and grammar check on all communications.
Include a proper greeting and signature, even in email.
Avoid slang, profanity, and blasphemous phrases.
For more info and tips on managing your reputation online see this post on the Microsoft on the Issues blog.
These same rules apply to verbal communication. A candidate who communicates clearly and confidently is more likely to be advanced to an interview loop, experts say. Students who need help building their public speaking skills can gain real-world experience through Toastmasters International. There are Toastmasters chapters throughout the world, including some university chapters. Toastmasters also offers free communication training tools online, including podcasts and archived issues of Toastmaster Magazine.
Finding and Contacting Recruiters Online
The Internet is giving job seekers unprecedented access to recruiters online. Students can find recruiters by conducting Bing searches on their industry with key words (e.g., “recruiter” or “recruit”). Recruiters can also be found through popular business networking sites or through a company’s social media presence. Experts say that students who present themselves professionally and demonstrate a genuine interest in the industry and company can make connections through these outlets and build relationships that could turn into job leads.
“Social media has opened up a new arena for candidates,” Sawa says. “You have direct visibility and contact with actual recruiters. Before, it was ‘You can’t contact or call.’ Now, on Twitter and Facebook, you can find real recruiters. If you follow us on Twitter, you can see tweet chats monthly, ask us about jobs, and get advice.”
In addition to corporate recruiters, students and new graduates may also find executive recruiters online. These recruiters typically do not place new graduates. However, they may be open to establishing a professional connection now with the expectation they can help the candidate later in his or her career.
Marty Shapan, a managing partner at Kaye/Bassman, the largest single-site search firm in the United States, recommends students be straightforward and professional when sending an unsolicited communication to a recruiter.
“I look for someone who doesn’t try to be gimmicky,” Shapan says. “Someone who can explain to me, ‘Here’s what I’m looking to do, I’m focused on this field, this is my graduation date, here are my internships and work experience to date, what do you recommend I do in my search?’”
Recruiters typically don’t have time to respond to every unsolicited email they receive, Shapan says, but he does try to respond to students who are respectful and present themselves in a professional manner.
Using Social Media to Build Your Business Case
While social media has opened up new outlets for students to make contacts, it has also created a new way for recruiters to get to know potential job candidates. The concept itself is not new – recruiters have always sought to get to know the whole person, not just the resume.
Both Sawa and Shapan recommend that students think carefully about what they say on social networking sites. While these sites are ostensibly for friends, an ill-advised post, image or tweet could cost a job seeker a desired position. One common issue that students overlook: profanity.
“A lot of people will use language on Facebook that’s not appropriate for the workplace,” Shapan says. “Even though people know Facebook is a place to be free and yourself, it’s another place where people are making an impression. Be knowledgeable and be aware of how you’re presenting yourself to the world.”
Shapan recommends that students scrub their social media for the following issues:
Rude or inappropriate images and humor
Rude or inappropriate videos (including YouTube postings)
Students should also review materials posted by friends. If the student is tagged in any inappropriate materials, he should ask that it be untagged or, preferably, removed completely.
Presenting a Professional Demeanor
A good head start for students is to build a professional online demeanor that helps recruiters get to know them. That can help pave the way for an informational interview.
How a student behaves during the informational interview can have tremendous influence over whether the recruiter continues the relationship with the candidate. Experts recommend students follow these guidelines during any business interaction, including informal discussions with recruiters:
Let the recruiter lead the communication. Don’t call or text unless invited to do so.
Prepare for your meeting. Research the company and have a point of view.
Dress in a professional manner. Clothes should be neat and pressed. No jeans, shorts or sandals.
Arrive at least 10 minutes early. This will give you time to find parking and check in with security (if required).
Don’t make phone calls or text in the lobby; instead, turn your phone off completely.
Thank the recruiter for meeting with you before the interview and at the conclusion.
Be attentive. Look at people when they speak. Smile and listen.
Ask questions. It demonstrates interest in the company and shows you were listening.
Send a thank-you email when you get home. Follow it up with a proper thank you on nice card-stock within 24-hours of your meeting.
Graduates are entering a very difficult job market. Students can give themselves a potential advantage by taking advantage of student discounts, building an online presence, and beginning to network with recruiters in the last few weeks before graduation.