What graduating college students need to know about finding a career

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One of my biggest regrets in life was not taking advantage of on-campus interviews my senior year of college. I was carrying 21 units my final semester and was just trying to make it through. The campus recruiting process escaped my radar. OK, I will admit it, there was no public internet back then. By the time companies were at USC interviewing folks, it was too late.

I graduated college a little rudder-less. In the middle of a recession. It was not good. It took me a few years to find the kind of job that would pay my rent and several more before I felt like I was on a career path. I wonder how much of that struggle could have been avoided if I had just planned ahead.

People make mistakes when they are entering the business world because they haven’t before experienced the recruiting process – or their exposure to it was through interning, which is entirely different as far as hiring and on-boarding go. I hear recruiters complain about college students they don’t know contacting them to ask for help, a phone call, an opportunity to buy them coffee. Of course, this is almost never the right approach. It has been some years since I was a recruiter, but I remember people contacting me for help. They still do.

So I thought I would share with you some of the things corporate recruiters wish you knew. Some of them will save you time and effort and some will help you avoid unnecessary embarrassment.

  1. Everyone with a recruiter title does not hire new college graduates. Specifically, at companies with decent-sized recruiting organizations, the campus and industry recruiting processes are separate. Industry recruiters, those focused on hiring experienced professionals, cannot move forward with a candidate that does not have… you guessed it… significant post-college experience. None of the positions they work on are for new college grads. They are literally the wrong folks to reach out to, to express your interest.
  2. Recruiters get asked for help by people they don’t know all the time. When you are a recruiter, you generally specialize in a particular space. For example, for much of my career at Microsoft, I led recruiting teams that hired for marketing roles. I could have literally filled my days helping people who contacted me their resumes and providing interviewing tips. But unfortunately, my own success depended on my ability to manage my schedule and spend time with the candidates that most closely matched my open positions. If you are a job candidate engaged with a recruiter, this is good news for you. You want the recruiter(s) you are working with to advocate for your candidacy, not spend time chatting up any and everyone who asks for help. It may sound harsh, but recruiters are not going to spend time helping a random stranger just because that person asked nicely. They just can’t.
  3. The bigger companies work closely with college career development centers and conduct on-campus interview days. These days often require that you submit a resume ahead-of-time and possibly do a phone interview. This process runs like a well-oiled machine. So you have the opportunity to follow it or not be considered. Remember that these recruiters are dealing with a large volume of candidates, all with similar backgrounds. So trying to get special attention during the process is not advised. If you want to know more about on-campus interviewing, contact your school’s career development center.
  4. Many (if not most) of the larger company websites have a separate experience developed for new grads and they outline their process there. So if there is a company you are focusing on, spend some time on their site. Also, do some searches online to see if you can find people talking about their interview experience with the company. Check out review sites like Glassdoor.
  5. If the idea of not reaching out to someone proactively is causing you some kind of actual pain, go into LinkedIn and find someone from the last few graduating classes of your university who works at the company you are interested in. You are 100% more likely to get a response from someone who is connected to you by a university experience than someone who just has the word “recruiter” in their title. Ask them for advice and make it easy for them to respond to you. Don’t ask for phone calls or coffee chats unless you feel like they are offering and/or receptive. These folks may also be receiving a number of requests like yours.

I’ll add to this post if I hear other feedback from my recruiting friends. In the meantime, keep focusing on the established college recruiting processes for your employers of choice and try not to let the ambiguity of your future distract you. A few months from now, it’s highly likely that you will have an offer in hand and will be started developing a career you will be happy with.

“Talent Acquisition” needs a re-brand

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Early in my career, I held positions in companies that used either “recruiting” or “staffing” to describe the function I was part of. Over the last several years – five, maybe ten –the words “talent acquisition” have come into fashion. This might be because the work involved feels broader than just “recruiting” and “staffing” sounds oddly vague and passive. “Talent acquisition” sounds more strategic. And what can be more important to a company than hiring people?

HOWEVER, using the words “talent acquisition”, specifically as part of a professional title, is problematic. I’m going to explain why.

The complicated nature of serving multiple customers

As a recruiting professional, when communicating about your work, you have a number of different stakeholders to consider; hiring teams, employees who refer, candidates. So talking about it in a way that best positions you to solve their needs is important. When you think about those three groups, when it comes to branding, which is most important? Who do recruiters spend most of their time communicating with? Who are they trying to attract? Who does your organization spend money trying to reach?

An alternative way to think of your stakeholders is as audiences. You’ll talk to each one differently, because each wants something different from you. But the one audience I’d prioritize above others, if you haven’t figured it out already, is job-seekers. Tell the average job-seeker that you are in “talent acquisition” and, unless they have worked for a company that uses the same term, they likely won’t know what you are talking about. I mean, obviously you are acquiring something. Are you in training? Work in M&A? Handle outsourcing?

Most people can figure it out, but the whole point of branding is to not make your audience do the work of figuring it out. They shouldn’t have to work that hard to understand what you do.

 

A little more humanity, please

Part of the reason why “talent acquisition” doesn’t resonate with job-seekers is that they already know about our role. And THEY call what we do “recruiting”. Shouldn’t we call it that too? They know that recruiters hire people. They aren’t so sure about “talent acquisition specialists”.

“Recruiting” implies that there are people involved and their past experience with it informs their understanding. As much as you will hear people working in our space refer to people (employees, candidates, etc.) as “talent”, they (job seekers, et al)  don’t think of themselves that way. They HAVE talents, but when you are hiring someone, you are hiring a person, not a talent.

People want to work at places that make them feel valued; a place where they have a connection to mission and the people around them. When we refer to people as a collection of skills, rather than human beings, it’s sending a message. Part of that message is what they can expect from working there.

So what to do if you are already in “Talent Acquisition”

Not every organization can go through an immediate rebranding exercise; many have exerted a lot of effort to effectively brand themselves within their own companies. I’m not suggesting you abandon that work. I’m simply suggesting that you think about your audiences and how you can adjust the way you talk about your work to those audiences.

A great example would be to use and autosignature for external communications that includes a recruiter/recruiting title, even if your actual title includes “talent acquisition”. Trust me, the person on the other end of that communication does not care if your job family is technically TA, they just want to know what you do.

Similarly with LinkedIn, use recruiting titles for ease of understanding among your key audiences; not just job seekers but folks who might be looking to hire recruiting professionals, or engage speakers for an event, or refer someone. In fact, your whole profile should be written with your target audiences in mind.

It’s not easy to always be mindful of our words and how they land with the audiences we need to influence. When you can do it, you are really thinking like a marketer. It’s worthwhile to take some time to reflect on your communication with candidates and ensure that the words you are choosing are leaving them with the right impression.

Related aside: In addition to titling and organization names, there’s another area where I see recruiters and scheduling coordinators fail to take into account the candidate’s perspective and that is when setting up phone interviews. I cringe every time I hear (or see) a coordinator refer to it as a “phone screen”. Screens are for ruling people out, interviewers are for assessing whether you can rule them in. Please, for the love of puppies, stop telling candidates you are scheduling their “phone screen”.

 

Changing my idea of what success looks like

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There is a certain type of thinking each of us needs to do in order to identify the right job and work scenario for ourselves. My approach to thinking through this might not work for everyone – a lot of it focuses on past experiences and what I don’t want – but often, I feel that people move from job to job throughout their careers without thinking about what knobs they need to turn to make their work time more pleasant. Here’s how I decided what I needed to be a happy professional.

I used to think that success was about climbing the corporate ladder. I could point to people who held my professional fate in their hands and swear that if I ever got to stand in their shoes, I would feel successful.

I’ve pretty much given up that way of thinking for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that the workplace is changing. But before I get into that…

Has anyone ever asked you whether you would rather be prettier, richer, smarter or happier? It’s one of those get-to-know-you questions. I know there is no one right answer, but I can’t imagine anyone picking something other than “happier”. But they do. Most of the time. Maybe people pick the thing they feel they need to work hardest at. For me, being happy is being successful. Happiness is the goal.

Of course happiness isn’t a job title. And for some, managing progressively larger organizations or focusing on more strategic work makes them happier. So moving up the traditional career ladder might be just the ticket for them. It just doesn’t work that way for me. The thing I care about, which in abundance makes me happy, is time. I can always find difficult problems to solve and ways to be creative. What I cannot do is manufacture time – time to read, meditate or cook, or explore a new hobby. And so perhaps in its absence, more time (or well-used time) is the thing that makes me happiest.

People disrespecting my time or having to sit through meetings that aren’t relevant to my work, these are things that I find incredibly challenging. It’s all because I see them as poor uses of time; time I could be using to do something that brings me joy. So my view of success has me in control of my own time. This is one of the things I have learned about myself while trying to work out how to be a happier person in life.

Control of my environment is another factor in my happy work formula. I am a classic introvert. Yeah, I know if you’ve met me you can’t tell.  But if you’ve been around me when I am on a team work trip or a party I can’t leave, you’ll recall the look on my face that says I need to escape. I have to mentally check out. I am no longer there and I am miserable. Being in environments with lots of people or lots of noise completely taps my energy. So as I am building this vision of my happy work place, a solitary environment (or at least a place I can escape to) is part of it.

Another element needed to make me feel happy at work is the feeling that I am creating something. I LOVE to build things from scratch. It’s why I have had so much fun helping small business develop their digital brand footprint and it’s why I love helping Amazon create marketing and tools that attract future employees. I am building new stuff all the time.

So you might wonder what all this happy-making has to do with feeling successful. Well, at least for me, it turned out that creating a career where I have all of the things that make me happy- control of my time and environment and the opportunity to build stuff- is what finally made me feel successful. It wasn’t having that Microsoft blog with the press attention or speaking at industry events. It wasn’t promotions or titles. I mean, don’t get me wrong, those things are nice. But for me, I could never feel successful because I wasn’t in ultimate control and wasn’t able to create the space I needed to do my best work. Once I had the situation I wanted, all of that angst over moving up the ladder disappeared. Because I had what I really wanted.

So I mentioned before that the world of work is changing. I think that there is so much opportunity for people with alternative work styles like my own. Introversion is being discussed, not as a weakness, but as a way of being. And I recently heard an executive speaking about how to create a work situation that is more amenable to those of us on the introversion spectrum. As the economy shifts toward more alternative and freelance work arrangements, I think there is an opportunity for people like me who struggled with some aspects of corporate life (Meetings! Morale events and offsites! Career discussions!) to find themselves and discover a completely different version of success than they had imagined before. This feeling of finally finding the right spot was an unexpected side effect of leaving corporate life. And the (I admit it) fear and struggle I experienced creating this career was totally worth it. And it feels like the pressure is off and. Now I just get to have fun.

How I got here

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Starting a new blog requires some introductory sharing, since some of you who find it might now know me, and even those who do might now know the story of how I got here. I’ll try not to be overly self-indulgent, but we’ll need to get this post out of the way. And trust me, I do want to know about you. I’m much more interested in you than in hearing the sound of my own voice (or the sound of my own typing).

So here goes. I’ll tell you about my journey to employment branding.

I started recruiting in the mid-90s. It was kind of recruiting lite. I took an entry level job at a temp agency a few years out of college; we’ll call those the recession years. I would love to say that I took those few years to find myself, but the path kind of chose me and what I was really focused on was paying rent. I am sure a lot of you out there have had those special years as well.

After finding success in that environment, I thought about what my next step could be; something not too scary, not too big of a jump. So the next position was to recruit for a consulting firm. I’m not going to say too much about this other than it was not right for me. Some things that were promised in the interview weren’t delivered. I should have asked more and deeper questions. I ended up feeling alone, unsuccessful and realized I made a big mistake. This is important. I’ll come back to this later.

From there, I went in-house for a traditional corporation. I led a team, enjoyed living in downtown Chicago, but there was no career path. This company’s recruiting department was not very big and it was very flat. So next, I turned my sights toward a big company, in the tech space with a great reputation. I was referred by an employee at Microsoft, got the job and relocated to Seattle.

I’m not sure how to encapsulate my twelve years there. So I’ll give you the highlights. I started as a recruiter, then became a team lead and a manager. In 2004, I started a recruiting blog that got a lot of industry attention and I started doing a little writing and public speaking. Eventually, I ran a programs team, which did training, competitive intelligence, and other staffing-related programs. At one point, I was asked to take on a role I wasn’t particularly excited about but it was supposed to be for a short time. It was a significant need and I was told I was the person who could do it. So I took it on and decided it was not something I wanted to do long term. Then my manager left. And I was kind of stuck in this position. I spoke with our GM about what I wanted to do (build community in the talent space) and that kind of work just wasn’t available (at least it wasn’t back then). Anyway, that is when I left. I’ll spare you all the details of leaving a company you were with for 12 years and how I felt about it. Lots of conflicted feelings for many reasons.

Throughout my recruiting career to that point, what I really enjoyed was engaging candidates; not in interviews or cold-calls, but helping people understand what it was like to work at the company I was employed by. I had experienced major life changes as a result of joining new companies, and I had felt the pain of making a bad career decision. Turns out that experience, though terrible, helped me get where I am now. I also developed a perspective on branding and marketing as it relates to employers; that no employer is perfect, but every employer has a storytelling opportunity. I felt, and still feel, that sharing with a sense of transparency and authenticity helps the right people find your company and keeps the wrong people away. I saw the direct impact of this from the blog I created; I saw peoples’ minds change, I answered questions, demystified some perceptions, and could count the hires my blog work generated for the company. The result of my, or anyone’s, focus on authentic and transparent conversation is more productive recruiters, who don’t have to wade through as much volume of unqualified resumes, and better employee retention, because people know what the experience working there will be like before they join.

While I was at Microsoft, I had a number of people from other companies reaching out to me for advice. And that kind of made a lightbulb go off over my head. I realized that what I had learned from my experience to that point was something other companies valued. I decided a career in consulting made sense and it allowed me to tap into my affinity for not only helping companies tell their stories, but also my desire to help job-seekers pick better than I had in the past.

That was 2011 and early on, I decided to double down on employer branding. I’ll share more about why in another post.

So anyway, this is it; my path from entry level recruiter to employer brand consultant, including the horrible career mistake that helped get me here.