15 Critical Steps for First Time Job Seekers

(Or for anyone wanting to make a positive first impression)

My son Nick is graduating from Georgia State in May. He is all about finding that first professional sales job and is ready to begin his career. He is hungry to learn, make money, and make his mark.

I remember a few years ago when I would give him the name of a friend to call who might help him and he would ignore it. No more. Those days are gone. Every contact is a hot lead! As the saying goes, “When the student is ready, the teacher will appear.”

I was thinking about the advice I’ve given him over the last few months. If you know someone looking for a job (or anyone needing to make that critical first impression), here are some thoughts to share with them.

  1. Know what you are looking for, and get some experience to prove you should be taken seriously. Nick wants to be a salesman. He has been selling for a small advertising agency for the last two years. He is learning how to cold call, pitch a product, ask for the commitment, and collect the money. He is also learning how to work a sales plan.
  2. Put together a great resume, and be sure it starts with a clear and concise objective statement. People can only help those who know what they want. After the objective statement, the rest of the resume should support your objective. Develop proof statements as to why you will achieve it. Nick had a good tip. Since his job experience is not as deep as someone who has worked for ten years, he includes life highlights which give support to his objective. Nick wants to be a salesman. To that end, he includes his stand-up comedy experience as further evidence of his future success.
  3. Ask those closest to you for help in making the initial connections. You need to ask for introductions from the people who know and love you. Tap into their hard-earned network. These people who know and trust you are known and trusted by their network. Sometimes I see young job seekers bypass this due to pride. As the Bible says, “Pride goes before destruction and haughtiness before the fall.”
  4. Get professional photos done. Use them as your LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter pictures. Nick got a whole series done for $85. These pics will be good for at least five years.
  5. Clean up your social network feeds. You are building a brand now. Recruiters and HR people who interview you are notorious for researching your social networks. Go to your publicly accessible information and read it like someone who is thinking about hiring you, like someone who is considering paying you money. Look professional everywhere.
  6. Dress well and be well groomed. This includes a clean shave. Nick said following this one piece of advice set him apart and increased his confidence. On the way to an interview, he saw his reflection in a window and thought, “I’m ready.” When we talked, Nick quoted Deion Sanders who said, “Look good, feel good, play good.”
  7. Start with an email introduction to the people with whom you want to connect. You are asking for a meeting here. Since first impressions are crucial, the email must have proper grammar and spelling along with a concise message. In his email, Nick proposes a time to connect on the phone. If they don’t answer the email, he calls them anyway at that time. Worst case is they can’t talk then but will set another time to talk. Good followup is critical. It is a test. Every touch is a test. You are being evaluated. 
  8. Send thank you emails right away. People appreciate that you appreciate them, their time, network, and advice.
  9. Remember, finding a job is all about selling you as the product. Therefore, the focus needs to be on the buyer/employer and not you, the seller/job seeker. The prospective employer is evaluating you for cultural fit and return on investment. Do all you can to learn about the prospective employer and the person interviewing you.
  10. When answering interview questions, know where the interviewer is headed. Think. For startup jobs, companies are looking for cultural fit, intelligence, work experience which proves you know what it means to show up and work hard, a teachable attitude, focus, and potential for success.
  11. Be ready to answer questions. Answer with a statement backed by a story. Stories are more memorable and believable than statements of fact. Stories are your facts. 
  12. Be ready to ask questions. At the end, interviewers will ask, “Do you have any questions for me?” Of course you do. Be ready with open-ended questions which demonstrate you are a great cultural fit, highly intelligent, understand work, teachable, focused and driven to succeed. Your questions are the exclamation point to the interview.
  13. Think of interviews as conversations rather than interrogations. Interviews should be relaxing. Picture yourself meeting this person in a coffee shop and striking up a conversation. Listen to the questions. Answer carefully while leaving room for their next question. Show your interest by asking questions about them and their company. Listen and respond. It is a conversation, not an interrogation.
  14. Be aware of your body language and take notes. When people are talking to you, lean in and look them in the eye. Never cross your arms (defensive posture) but rest them comfortably on the table. Taking notes when someone is talking demonstrates that what they are saying is very important to you. It also helps in asking follow-up questions and keeping the thank you email relevant. 
  15. Know how much you want to make. Research what the jobs are paying. When you get the offer, be ready to negotiate. This first job has to be a fit for you as well as the employer.

I talked to Nick after I put this list together to make sure I didn’t miss anything he found useful. This was a great conversation because it showed me how much he’d learned in practicing this high-level advice. Most importantly, he took it and made it his. He told me a story for each of these tidbits. That’s when I knew these practices were now a part of his operating system.

As we were ending our conversation, Nick said he had learned a big lesson in all this.

“What’s that?” I asked.

He said, “Ask for help, and people will help you.”

Go get ‘em Nick. I’m proud of you, son!

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2 thoughts on “15 Critical Steps for First Time Job Seekers

  1. Charlie and Nick, one additional recommendation.

    I regularly coach job seekers to focus on the buyer (hiring manager). What is the problem they have that they’re trying to fix, and how do you know you can fix their problem.

    When you approach finding a job (or making a sale) in this way, it really shortens the process and works better for everyone.

    Most buyers or hiring managers aren’t really that clear what they want. But, they are very aware of the problem(s) they have. That’s why doing things this way gets attention and positions you in the right way.

    Nick, if you want to learn more, feel free to send me an email and we’ll setup a phone call.

  2. On Jan 24, 2018 8:35 AM, “Janet Paparelli” wrote:

    I should know better than to begin reading one of your blogs, when I get up in the middle of the night and plan to go back to sleep. I always think I will read just enough to see what the blog is about and then I read the whole thing and, as it is with the Nick Blog, begin thinking about it.

    I guess that when I see the name “Nick” I automatically think of sports—so based on an early experience looking for a teaching job in Miami, I just happened to be the “virgin” they were looking for and it didn’t even occur to me to have a “defense” (accent on the ‘de’).
    I wasn’t ready when the woman interviewing me finished by saying, “Are you willing to go to any school? “ It was closing in on the start of the school year, I was applying late, so I said ‘yes’.

    I got a letter within 2 weeks with the name and address of the school. I had no idea where it was or how to get there. Shortly after that I had a date with a new acquaintance. We were going to dinner. I knew he currently was driving a cab, but not his job history. He’d been a Green Beret in Vietnam. (My job application and this date with Jerry happened in the early 60’s.) I thought Jerry would know this area of Miami since he drove a cab. I asked him. He answered: “Vietnam”! then added “Cabs won’t even go into that area”.

    The next day I called the School Board office and told them I couldn’t take the job. I was taken off the list.

    I went in and filled out a new application two years later, got assigned an Interviewer, who opened by flipping through some papers on his desk and then he looked up and said,
    “I see here you refused a job.” Who knew they would save all the records on me?!
    I looked him square in the eye and said, “I’m young and good looking and do a good job. I don’t see any reason I should work in an area in which I would be afraid to walk into the parking lot at night.” Long story, short. I got a job in one of the best schools in Miami—so good that for the next few years when I was meeting other new teachers during county meetings they asked: How did you get that school?!

    After the first interview, I was more prepared for a surprise question. During the first interview when I said I was willing to go anywhere a little bell went off in my head—it rang: wrong answer. So this time, the second interview, the “little bell” was replaced with
    a fog horn. When that fog horn went off in my brain, I listened. So it was no co-incidence that I came up with the right answer on the second interview. [So what were the mental mechanics during the pregnant moment between the interviewer’s question and my answer?
    I stared, I paused, and I decided this was a sink or swim situation. So like Jerry did in Vietnam, I leaped in, deciding it was better to risk being a dead hero, rather than a dead duck.]
    Love, Jan