The two things new graduates need to control when looking for a job

In the years since I graduated from college, the job environment has changed drastically, especially in my chosen field of first journalism and then public relations. Things were relatively stable and well-defined when I graduated. Newspapers were doing well, and they generally ran on the same model. If you were on the news side of the business, you knew there were general assignment reporters, beat reporters, sports reporters, business reporters, lifestyle reporters, assignment editors, copy editors, layout editors, managing editors, and a few photographers and illustrators. You could pick a job, train yourself for it and sell your qualifications.

Similarly, in public relations, you worked in employee communications, news relations, community relations, executive speechwriting and support, investor relations, government relations, and a variety of management positions. Again, things were well-defined.

Today, however, conditions seem much more fluid. On the news side of the business, people need to be writers, editors, photographers and videographers – all at the same time. In public relations, many of the jobs formerly done internally are outsourced to consultants and freelancers.

It’s a more complicated landscape, and I’m sure it’s more nerve-wracking than anything I faced coming out of school. Even so, one piece of advice I received years ago still seems relevant.

When you’re looking for a job, or an assignment, there are only two things totally under your control. The first is packaging, or how you present yourself. The second is content, or what you know and what you can do.

How are they related? Good packaging gets you in the door, and it often gets you hired. Good content is what keeps you on the job once you land it.

Good packaging means you understand how online job applications work and write your resume to get through the initial screens and filters. It means you groom yourself and dress as people do in the organization you’re seeking to join. It means you present your thoughts clearly. It means you do all those things Guy Kawasaki talked about in his new book, Enchantment – smile engagingly, shake hands firmly, and be open and forthcoming. And it means you’re courteous while you’re seeking the job, while you’re interviewing for the job, and even if you don’t land the job. A letter thanking a company for the chance to interview keeps the channels of communication open. It is the kind of action that can differentiate you from other job-seekers, and it can move you to the top of the list the next time a position is available.

Good content means that you really know your stuff, but it also means that you submit yourself to the discipline of learning more about your field each day. Be hungry for knowledge, and be hungry to put it into practice. Understand, too, that your content must be geared not to showing what you know but showing how your knowledge and skills can help your potential employer advance company goals and objectives.

These really are the only two aspects of the job search that are in the control of a new graduate. If you’re graduating this spring, work on your packaging, work on your content, and don’t give up as you try to break into the job market. Follow this advice, and I’m confident that opportunities will come your way.

What are your thoughts?

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