Before You Get Your Diploma

By Lynn Friedman, PhD.
Special to washingtonpost.com
Tuesday, June 28, 2005; 10:44 AM

You are on the home stretch. You'll graduate in several months. You can take a few steps now to prepare for your job hunt. First, consult your campus career center. Next, stop by and talk to your supporting cast: professors and T.A.s in classes in which you did well, employers, deans, resident advisors, friends, friend's parents -- anyone else who knows you and likes you.

Begin with a meeting at your campus career center. Most campuses provide free career counseling for alumni and while quality varies it's getting better and better all the time. Discuss your career plans with a counselor and seek their advice. If you are uncertain as to your goals, ask for their help. If you've already graduated and are out of town, schedule a phone meeting. Beyond this, many schools have an alumni network in major cities. Alumni in the network agree to meet with graduates and assist them with their job searches. Often, they have a commitment to hiring well-qualified graduates. Ask whether your school has such a network. If so, make use of it. If not, offer to help establish one in the city in which you seek employment. Why? Because establishing such a network gives you the perfect excuse to talk with any alumni you feel might be helpful. Moreover, in building this network, you'll develop important skills and make useful contacts.

If geographic location is important to you, share that with your college career counselor. If possible, do an internship in the locale in which you would like to live. If that is not an option, join several career-related, listservs in that area. Arrange to have a mailing address in that locale and obtain a cell phone with that area code. Why? Many people planning a move get cold feet so employers are loath to hire individuals from out-of-state. Your cell phone and mailing address will show a connection to the area.

After selecting your location and visiting your career center, generate a list of people who might be helpful to you. This list should include anyone on whom you have made (or can make) a positive impression. Faculty and administrators can be vitally important resources and don't overlook the help that your friends and their families might provide. But before tying up the time of these key people, prepare. Know what sort of job you seek. 

Schedule a meeting. Be prompt and be prepared. If you performed well, whether on the job or in the classroom, don't be shy about approaching the professor or boss. Don't worry if the professor or boss doesn't know you well. But, be sure to do your part, especially if you were a student in a large class. Be concise, direct and brief. They say that you never get a second chance to make a first impression, however, this may be an exception to the rule. Faculty may not know you or remember you. So, help them out.

You want to show, by the way in which you handle this situation, that you are a highly, responsible, mature, professional, person. Here's how you do it. Write a one paragraph statement of your ideal job. Provide a resume. If your grades are good, provide an unofficial transcript. If not, emphasize the positive. For example, if your overall average is mediocre but your grade point in your major is high, refer only to the grades in your major.

Describe why you feel that you would excel at this sort of position. "As I understand it, this sort of position requires skills in: written expression, data management, organization, etc. As the attached transcript and resume reveal, I have taken considerable coursework in these areas. Moreover, my internship experience at ____ has allowed me to use these skills in a professional setting."

In particular, refresh their memory of accomplishments achieved under their auspices. For example, you might say, "I am seeking a position in communications. In your English class, I refined my skills in expository writing. Enclosed please find a copy of my final paper in your class." If you are seeking a position in a residential treatment center, you might say, "volunteering on the hotline under your supervision enabled me to develop listening skills." This evidence reminds the faculty person or administrator, who may oversee many others, what you did and how they might be helpful. In other words, make their case for them.

Most faculty want to be helpful but they may not be sure how to do so. Tell them exactly how they can be helpful. "I am wondering if you have any contacts in public relations in the Washington area?" Or, "I would be most appreciative if you would serve as a reference". Or, "Can you advise me as to how I can find a position in the field?" Spelling out what you need in a respectful, professional and articulate, fashion, reveals that you are serious, thoughtful and organized and that you write well. Toward that end, be sure your grammar and your spelling are flawless. Why? Because this information, NOT your performance in class or on the job, will be foremost in their minds when they talk with you and try to assess how or whether they will help you.

Next, tell everyone, especially friends and their families about the sort of job that you seek. And, here's the clincher, you need to treat them as professionally as you treat your profs and your bosses. Why? Because if they are to recommend you to their colleagues they need to have a sense of your professionalism. One word of caution, though most people want to be helpful, occasionally some will not. Likely, this isn't personal. Rather, the person may be overextended. The key is to keep networking and conduct a systematic search. Although it may take time, with diligence you can succeed, millions have.

Lynn Friedman, PhD, is a clinical psychologist/psychoanalyst and work-life consultant in full time, private practice in Bethesda. She can be reached at drlynn@mindspring.com. More of her work can be found at http://www.drlynnfriedman.com/


© 2005 The Washington Post Company