Job search: Plan your attack!

By Katy Nielsen

College seniors: Put on your battle gear, man your stations and lock and load your weapons. Soon you will step into the workforce battlefield, and now is the time to launch your job search campaign. Finding work in creative industries can be tricky, but Columbia offers students a wide range of resources to help guide them.

Christie Andersen, career development specialist at Columbia’s Portfolio Center, said students should think about the job search like they’re planning and executing a military attack.

“We are attacking the job search, so we’re going to have a really strategic approach to it,” Andersen said.

Know the terrain

Estimated time: 1 year before graduation

This is the planning phase of the attack.  Before

sending out a single résumé and finalizing a portfolio, know everything  you can know about the job you want. “Know the industry generally and locally,” Anderson said. “The key is to prepare ahead of time so it’s not this big crunch. Little steps can help to make it less intimidating at

the end.”

Find out what companies and which people are recruiting right now. Andersen said you should ask yourself: Do I have the right skill set? Do I want to work for a company or primarily do freelance?

Stay up-to-date with industry advancements. Be realistic about what you will offer an employer. “Jobs are out there,” said Vickie Reaves-Hayes, coordinator for Columbia’s Student Employment Office.

“There are jobs still available on campus and off campus too.” Students can seek employment opportunities by logging on to ColumbiaWorks, Columbia’s student employment website that lists job opportunities.

Andersen suggests researching the top 20 companies you would be interested in working for and start creating a strategy to reach out to them.

Map your course: Andersen said there are traditional and non traditional ways to get any job, but it’s up to the job seeker to investigate the most effective path to take. Meet with career development specialists at the Portfolio Center to get a better grip on your plan of attack.

Join forces with professionals

Estimated time: 6-8 months before graduation

Andersen suggests meeting with at least three professionals in the industry whose companies have the job you want. She calls these meetings “informational interviews.” They are opportunities to help you understand the job, the market and get some good interview practice.

“Think of interviewing and informational interviewing as a conversation,” Andersen said. “Allowing your personality to come through is always a good thing.

Be natural. Don’t try to put on your professional mask because it will block people from seeing the real you.”

Know the game and get to know the lingo, said Caroline Juhlin, assistant director of the Portfolio Center. Employers will notice if you don’t know basic information about the industry, she said.

Build your arsenal

Time: 6-8 months before graduation

Build your portfolio now. It will be your ultimate weapon on the job search battlefield. Early preparation is never a bad idea. If you’re not finished with all your work, you can start your portfolio because it is an on-going process, Juhlin said.

“Anybody who stays on top of his or her field knows the portfolio is never done,” Juhlin said.

Sign up for a “Show Off” meeting at the Portfolio Center. It is an opportunity for juniors, seniors and graduate students to have their portfolios reviewed by professionals.

Resume: Have your resume and cover letter(s) reviewed by a professional in the field or faculty or staff member. The Portfolio Center is a great resource on campus. You can have your resume reviewed during walk-ins at the Portfolio Center on Tuesdays from 3 – 5 p.m. and Wednesdays from noon to 2 p.m.

Online presence: Clean up your Facebook profile and create a LinkedIn account. Employers often check Facebook when they are researching potential employees.

“If I search for you I shouldn’t just find your Facebook page, I should find something relating to your work,” Andersen said. “LinkedIn is phenomenal for starting conversations and contacting people. Use it as a starting, point but then you really have to connect face to face.”

Job seekers should have a website to display their work. Sign up for a Web Agent portfolio site to get your work online. Get information about portfolios during Portfolio Center Sessions.

It is a good idea, Andersen said, to keep your ColumbiaWorks profile updated. Through this site, you can have a job agent e-mail available jobs directly to you.

Business card: Most business connections will be made at restaurants, bars or en route somewhere, Andersen said. The card should include your name, brief title, e-mail address, phone number where you can be reached and your website, if you have one.

The interview: Go to the Portfolio Center, sign up for Show Off and take opportunities to practice your interview skills by meeting with professionals in the Portfolio Center.

Rally the troops

Estimated time: 6 months before graduation

Build and maintain relationships with professionals in the industry. This is your army. Finding a job is something that cannot be done alone. Now that you’ve done your research, consider joining professional organizations that pertain to your industry, Andersen said.

The Office of Alumni Relations is a great tool for meeting professionals.

“Working through the Office [of Alumni Relations] allows you to meet a person doing a job that comes through Columbia,” Andersen said. “There’s an immediate connection there, so it’s not as intimidating as calling

a big agency.”

Job seekers need to go to events relating to jobs they want. Becoming more visible is an effective way to network or recruit, for your job search army, Andersen said. She said by putting yourself out there, you will find people in the industry are really excited to meet you as a young professional.

Talk and meet with friends, teachers and family members and let them know you are looking for work, but when you talk with people, you do not want to make it obvious you have a motive, Andersen said, because networking is all about creating relationships.

Launch your attack

Estimated time: 3 months before graduation

If you’re planning to freelance, make a strategy for building a client base. If you’re looking for a paid position, apply online or in person. Andersen said you will have better luck if you apply for a job through a trusted contact.

“The majority of our students are going to be in the freelance category,” Juhlin said.

Track job sites that post work in the industry. You need to stay aware of your surroundings if you want to have a successful campaign. Keep tabs on industry specific sites because this will help you stay up-to-date on available work.

“The Internet is a great way to research,” Juhlin said, but that added face-to-face interaction is crucial to getting hired for most gigs.

Track contacts and applications are the next steps. Andersen suggests using a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet to stay organized.

Follow up on every interesting job lead within 24 hours. Send thank you notes, e-mails and return phone calls promptly. Follow up each cover letter and résumé you send with a phone call or e-mail. You never know where a lead might take you.

Go to job fairs. You could gain useful knowledge and make valuable contacts.

If a job prospect doesn’t work out, analyze what happened and move on to the next opportunity.  “We’re always going to be busy,” Andersen said. “We’re always going to have to prioritize. Take little steps, use the support Columbia has, know there will be some rejection, and just keep going.”