The Novice Job-Hunter Part I: The Career Fair

IMG_4027.JPGDuring October Olin hosted two career fairs (The Startup Fair, organized by the Foundry, and the "regular" career fair, organized by PGP), so I suppose it's officially job-hunting season. I've applied to a few summer internships over the past couple of years, but never with much gusto. However, now that I'm a junior and someone decidedly in the later stages of their college career, getting a job carries not only the usual appeals of a paycheck or interesting work, but also the confirmation that the past three-and-a-half years of work have been creating something useful. As I mentioned in my personal blog, this past semester has also been very interesting for me as I reflect on the past three years of Olin and try to figure out what exactly it is I am working towards. Taken all together, I'm not just in the market for "a job", but an opportunity to explore my interests in a real world context and gain some experience in areas that might not be fully present in the Olin curriculum. 

<-Picture from the Startup Career Fair - over 20 companies attended and over 100 student resumes submitted!

t's been a crazy, sometimes anxious, but often enjoyable
experience - I've learned more about myself in the past 3-4 weeks than the previous 2
years. So here are the three "nuggets of wisdom" I've taken away from the
experience:

Selling yourself takes work

selling-yourself.jpg

I've always prided myself on a resume that stands out from the pile by
virtue of its aesthetic qualities and readability. Culling the list of things
you have done into key artifacts and describing them with only a modicum of
English takes time. Formatting and adding that little bit of graphic designer
flair takes even more time. The result is pretty, but at the end of the day
it's only a resume.

I realized that, as someone interested in design, I really need a portfolio.
Wow that was hard. Simply
finding
documentation (and photos!) of all my previous projects took time, before
trying to decide what work is worth showcasing and what isn't  Then you have to
describe each one, trying to condense a semester's-worth or year's-worth of learning
into a paragraph. And then comes the graphic-design, the
presentation of the information. Resumes seem to have a fairly
standard format, by-and-large, but I found no such documentation for
portfolios. It's like a design project in and of itself to craft a document
that
shows someone what you've done,
what the value of the product was, how you got there
and what you learned. 

It takes time, but the results have been worth it. I wouldn't call either the
content or format of
my portfolio stunning", but even my
amateur-ish attempt has started a few conversations and opened some
opportunities.

My advice: block out some time every other week or so and work on updating your
resume, portfolio, blog, website, everything that you want people to see about
you. Don't rely on stellar content either - good format and presentation make
an impact on people, even on a sub-conscious level. 

Startups are a great place to explore

selfexploration.jpg

I've always been interested in Entrepreneurship - Olin operates and feels a
lot like a startup, so I think it's only natural that Oliners should be
attracted to that same experience in their work. But besides the established
appeals of startups (being treated like an equal rather than an intern, being
able to have a real impact on the product, getting to meet
 cool
people, etc.), I found they have the chief advantage of having to be flexible.
Many of the startups I talked to at the Career Fairs were not explicitly
looking for a designer, but as I talked to them about my interests in graphic
design, user-oriented design, project management, etc., we started discussing
the work that someone like me could do, rather than the position I would be
hired as.

Of course, I haven't actually worked at a startup, so this could all be
rubbish, but even the simple fact that I currently have two meetings set up to
go and just hang out at some startups' offices next week is a major difference
from an established employer. And as I said before, much of this job search is
about self-exploration and reflection, rather than just finding the perfect place to work.

All of which makes me a little sad that I haven't worked at a startup before -
it seems like working in such a small, fast-paced, agile, and interdisciplinary
environment is something all students should experience
early in their college career as it gives students a chance to be
exposed to things that might not be present in a particular school's
curriculum.

You can't do it alone

hami_mcla_hung_20102.jpg

We've all heard the cliché "It's not what you know, it's who you know" -
I've said it myself for years now. Well, I can now say with confidence that
it's not entirely true. You need to know
some
things. For example, my lack of coding experience has certainly been a
prominent handicap in many of my conversations regarding interface design
(luckily my interest in Project Management is helping to cover that).

And yes, it's also
about who you know.  Being the
most knowledgeable person in the world about "X" won't necessarily
help you figure out who might want to hire that skill. Every company
that I'm seriously following up with either has someone I know working there or
was brought to my attention by someone I know. This is something that was
mentioned at the Greenhorn Summit having someone that can vouch for you, no matter how distantly
related they are, is a major help at
keeping the conversation going, or getting it started
at all.

My advice: Meet people! I really don't like networking - walking into a room full of
strangers and striking up a conversation with the closest person is a skill I
don't think I'll ever learn - but it really helps. But you don't have to go to
"networking events" per se, you simply need to get out of the classroom and do stuff - conferences, meetings, focus
groups, movie screenings, blog a lot, Tweet a lot, make sure people know you
exist and that you have interests. Just like making a portfolio, it takes time
and work, but take it from me - it makes a huge
difference. 

Posted in: