Make Yourself Memorable

As I’ve said before, I work in customer service at a very popular store near the university campus. I have friends in the area come through my line all the time. We’ll chat a bit, catch up, maybe make plans with each other. Other times, it’s people I haven’t seen in quite a while. Sure, we have each other on Facebook and have liked each other’s statuses from time to time, but we haven’t actually talked in ages.

A few weeks back, a young man came into the store. It took me a second to recognize him before I remembered him from his old fraternity. Back in school, we used to hang out at the DJ table at his frat parties, get goofy on the dance floor, and keep an eye on the other party-goers. We had what I thought were many a good talk at charity events, and would see each other regularly at greek events on campus. He wasn’t a very close friend, but a good enough acquaintance that I was happy to see him that day. When I walked over to say hi, he didn’t remember me. I brought up a few events we had worked at together, parties we were both at, a few memorable times we had……. and still, nothing. It wasn’t until I mentioned a certain friend that he had that light bulb moment. “Of course, you’re Becky’s friend! I remember Becky? How is she?”

Sadly, this happens a lot. I spent the fist part of my university career living with my best friend. We did everything together. When we weren’t in class, we were usually together. Having a lot of the same friends, this was pretty easy. We already went to the same parties, the same events, and the same bars. Living together AND being BFFs, it just made sense to just go to these things together.

After I moved out, not much changed. Sure, we weren’t sleeping under the same roof, but we were still together all the time. We joined some of the same clubs, sat on the same committees, even took a few classes together. Soon, people saw us as a pair, and our roles in this pair became clear: I was the Garth to her Wayne. She was the one everyone knew, everyone remembered, everyone talked to. I was just sort of…… there. Sure, I had a good time, and made a few good friends. But to everyone else, I was just sort of Becky’s shadow. Even when I ventured out without her, people asked me where she was.

Now, all these years later, this is coming back to haunt me. It turns out, I don’t have an identity of my own. I’m not anything to anyone. I’m nothing memorable. I’m just….. there. And you know what? It really, really sucks. People I used to know just two years ago look right through me, and only remember me once I mention Becky. And it’s not just the first time they run into me that this happens. The guy who came into my store? It turns out he lives across the street from me, and sees me pretty much every day from his study window. He still had no clue who I am, though.

I’m really not sure what kind of advice I can offer to make sure this doesn’t happen to you. I mean, obviously I more than failed at being someone who people remember. If anyone out there has any advice on how NOT to let this happen, please tell me! Because this really sucks. It hurts to realize that no one wants to remember you. It hurts knowing that you are just an afterthought when a certain someone else isn’t right there with you. And it hurts knowing that what you thought were great memories with great people were really just meh-times for them, not worthy of ever remembering again.

Job Search Journalling and Tracking Applications

So I didn’t know this when I started job hunting after I finished my degree. I just got a resume and cover letter together, started applying places, and waited for them to contact me. Sometimes, if they got back to me quickly, I’d remember details about the job ad that I had read, or the basic qualifications for the job. Usually, though, I’d draw a complete blank on the job and what it entailed. Sometimes, when I got the callback, I would only be given a company name and not the position I would be interviewing for. Now how the hell do you prepare for an interview if you don’t know what job you’re interviewing for?

After a few interviews, I went to a place downtown that helps people find jobs in the community. The first thing they asked me was if I was keeping a Search Journal. Pretty sure my answer was something along the lines of “what the crap is that crap?” Well, it turns out that crap is the crap that makes this whole job search thing a little bit easier, but also a whole lot harder. The best part of this is there is no right or wrong way to go about doing this crap. Basically, you need to find a way to keep track of all the essential crap in your job search.

So what exactly is essential?

First, you’ll need to track where you’re applying to, and to whom. Make note of whether you applied by email, website form, or in person, and who you applied to (an actual person, a web form, a general email address, etc.). If you applied to an actual person, try and get their title or position within the company too.

Next, you’ll want to keep a copy of the job ad itself if you can. I’ve seen ads that are only a few lines long, with no real information about the position. If that’s the case, then just make a note of that. Most of the ads I’ve seen, however, have been these long detailed things going on about specific qualifications needed, a description of the job itself, and sometimes even a little bit about the company. These ads are job search gold, I’ll tell you! And it’s unbelievably important that you keep track of these ads, so you know what you’re getting into if you get a call-back.

Finally, you should keep a copy of the resume and cover letter you sent in for that job. Why? Because you’re supposed to be tailoring these to each job you apply to, emphasizing different skills and qualifications you have, and showcasing why you are the absolute ideal candidate for the job. And if you’re going to get called in for an interview, then you REALLY need to know what the hell you told them about yourself!   There’s nothing worse than going into an interview and having to answer 37 questions about your Microsoft and public speaking experience (because you made sure to emphasize these things on your application), only to completely blank on your answers because you forgot what you emphasized. Believe me, it’s happened a few times to me.

I have experience in a lot of different things (writing, editing, research, volunteer coordination), have different educational attributes I can emphasize (Criminology degree, Psychology degree, Office Administration certificate, Microsoft Word and Excel certificates), and held down multiple on-campus jobs while volunteering for multiple organizations on campus for 5 years. There is no way I can talk about all of that each and every application, and there’s no way that I should either. For office jobs, I would usually emphasize my office skills. Jobs on campus meant I would play up how well I worked with different departments in different ways. Some jobs valued education over experience, or vice versa. I have gone into interviews forgetting that my cover letter for that application talked about my experience with coordinating volunteers with one specific organization, only to have almost the entire interview be about that very specific experience. And do you know what happened next? I didn’t get the job, because I wasn’t prepared!

So how you go about doing this is completely up to you. For a short time, I attended a support group for people who were having trouble finding a job. I don’t think any of us went about this in the same way. One woman printed everything out and put it in an accordion folder, alphabetically by company name. Another kept a notebook where she would write everything down as she applied to job. I decided to make my life as difficult as possible, and came up with some crazy combination of Microsoft Word and Excel, a folder full of folders on my computer, and a notebook. No one else could figure it out just by looking at it, but it was what worked best for me.

So in the end, you really need to start keeping track of all this crap! This crap is important crap, crap that needs to be tracked. Track your crap in whatever crap tracking way works best for you. And good luck out there, sunshine!

Follow Through With Your Plans

So you have a plan. That’s fantastic! You know pretty much what you want to do after graduation, what your chosen career path is, and/or what you want to do with the rest of your life.

So how to you follow through with all this?

For a lot of careers,getting a degree just isn’t good enough. You need a totally kick-ass CV and/or resume, with loads of entries on it showing why you would be the most obvious choice for a job in this field. Sounds easy, doesn’t it. Yeah, it’s kinda not.

You see, need to create epic aura of awesomeness that not only makes you perfect for this specific job, but also doesn’t make you perfect for ONLY this specific job. You need to make yourself seem like some secret super soldier created specifically for this job, but also for other jobs in that field that you may want to apply for. Basically, you need to show that you are perfect across the board.

No pressure, right?

Calm down. There are a few universal things that you can do, no matter what your career goal is:

  1. Leadership! Show that you’re not only great at taking directions, but that you can give directions to others. Join a club that interests you, and get yourself into a position of leadership. Anything from President of the Psychology Association to the Event Planning Chair of the Local Hippie Coalition works for this. Anything that gives you the power to give orders to others is good.
  2. Financial Responsibility! Chances are, at some point in your career, you will have to work with a budget. You may have to create a budget, keep track of petty cash, delegate funds for other projects, or oversee a large project on a budget. Do something specific that shows that you know how to do this already. Join a club (or just use your position in the last point), and plan an event. Make sure you work with a budget, and can track everything. And hey, now you also have experience in event planning! That’s TWO skills in one point! Bonus!
  3. Computer Skills! Obviously, someone in a Computer Science program will already have plenty of experience with computers. I mean, it’s right there in the program name. Criminology? Math? Political Science? Nothing there screams “I’m not a technological failure”. You need to up your skills, and make sure they are marketable. First off, know your Microsoft Office programs. It never hurts to get certification in programs like Word or Excel. Next, work on programs that are needed in your specific field. Things like statistical analysis have a few programs used by pretty much everyone in the field. If your field has programs like this, then you damn well better them!

Now that you have these few things taken care of, lets take a look at your actual course work. Do you know exactly what you need to get into your chosen career?  Some jobs require grad school, a doctorate, special certification, or co-op/internship experience. Does yours?

It’s best to do research into your field early. Ideally, as soon as you know what it is you want, you would start your research. If you require a graduate or doctorate degree, then you need to also start researching how to apply for these programs. You also need to know what the admission requirements are. Some schools require tests like GRE or LSATs, a large number of letters of recommendation, or admission essays. Know what is required.

Certification requires knowing where and when to test, what knowledge is needed, and where to get study material. Sometimes, it’s only a matter of sitting through a workshop. Other times, you need to take a series of tests. For my Advanced Certificate in Microsoft Excel, I took three workshops (basic, intermediate, and advanced levels), with a series of small assignments during them. To get actual Microsoft Certification from Microsoft, there are special certification tests that have to be administered at very specific locations, by specially trained administrators. Make sure you are actually getting what you need when you sign up for these.

And finally, take a look at the courses you’re taking. Even within your program, you can show specialization or expand your knowledge. In my Criminology program, I chose to take a very broad range of topics that could all apply to my chosen area of research. I took courses in Youth in Criminal Justice, Victimology, Penology, Social Deviation, and Policing and Security. I also took a series of Psychological Development courses, Social Justice, Morality, and both Quantitative and Qualitative Research. All of this is to aide in my research into school shootings and trends in violence and blame. At the same time, I also did courses in Business, Philosophy, Computer Concepts, and Political Science. These gave me a broader range of knowledge, more marketable skills, and gave me a chance to broaden my network. It’s best to also try to do a combination of both of these (specific, and broad).

So, to sum up quickly, you need to make yourself as marketable as possible in your chosen field. Make sure you have all the education and skills you need for your career, and make sure you know what you actually need for that career.

Do You Have A Plan?

I mean beside, “Graduate, find a job, make money”.

So many students go into their post-secondary schooling without any sort of plan in place. It’s almost like they’re on autopilot. Going to college or university just seemed like the logical next step after graduating high school, or not finding their dream job after a few years.

There’s also the outside pressure from friends, family, and “experts” to get some sort of degree. It’s like people seem to think that getting some sort of piece of paper will make the job offers come flying in. I’ve even heard the “advice” that it doesn’t matter what your degree is in, as long as you have a degree.

Well, that’s not exactly true.

Now, you don’t need to have a concrete plan, set in stone, laying out every educational and career move you plan to make in the next five years. You should have some sort of idea of what you’re getting yourself into. You can’t go into this whole “planning the rest of your life” thing blind.

Do you have an idea of what career you want after graduation? If so, that’s great! Make sure you’re on the right track to get there. (I’ll have a whole post next week about how to do this) Not so much? That’s ok too.  Not everyone knows exactly what they want out of life. The main things to focus on are to not panic, and to not pigeon hole yourself into such a small niche that you have no options to look to.

Do you have a major topic of study? Many students spend a year or two as an “undeclared” major, or in a “general arts/science” program. And that’s perfectly fine. If you’re not sure of what you want, then don’t rush into something you could totally regret. It’s perfectly fine to take a variety of courses in order to find out what it is that really gets you going. You may find that you have an undiscovered love of statistics, or geology, or quantitative research. Taking a little time to explore could help you discover your true passions.

Do you have no idea whatsoever what you want to do, but you’re in school anyway because it’s what you’re supposed to do? Then maybe you need to take a little time out here. So many people get pushed into university by well-meaning people and advice, when what they would benefit most from is going into a skilled trade. Or they rush into getting a degree when what they really want is to be a chef. Or they get a job with a company, and would love to just work their way up the chain there, but are pressured to give that up to go to school.

Not everyone needs to run out and get a degree! If you really have no clue what you want to do, or you have a career goal that some seem to see as non-traditional, then maybe you need to take a little time off to figure things out. Some people travel, or take time to explore different career options. I’ve known people who took time off and worked for cruise lines, department stores, garages, fast food restaurants. Some of them found a career path they loved. Others found something they thought they would love, and instead hated with the fiery passion of a thousand supernova-ing suns. Either way, they found something about themselves, and were able to either create or narrow-down their career path.

So do you have a plan? If so, congrats! You’re ahead of myself, and about 3/4 of the people I know. You don’t? That’s ok too. Just make sure not to pigeon hole yourself out of options.

Do I REALLY need a portfolio?

In one of my job search seminars (I attend a whole lot of those lately), it was suggested that we each create a portfolio and bring a copy of it to every interview we go to. We were told tales of the people who had done that and were then hired on the spot, with employers impressed by their readiness. After talking with a lot of professionals in different fields through personal contacts and LinkedIn, this seemed a little wonky to me. Is a portfolio really needed?

The long and short answer is: kinda. You should definitely create a master portfolio for yourself, with both an electronic and a printed copy, with the originals put somewhere safe (a fire-proof safe or lock box is ALWAYS a good idea for anyone to have, and the perfect place for original documents). It is always a good idea to have all your documents and proofs in one convenient location, in case you need them.

So what is actually in your portfolio? To start with, put a copy of the resume you applied with. If at all possible, also include the cover letter you used to apply with, even just for your own reference. You should scan copies of any educational documents (high school diploma, GED, degrees, diplomas) and print copies. Any certificates, transcripts, letters of reference, or other documents that prove that you have knowledge are a good idea too. Basically, your portfolio is a presentation of the very best of you (in a professional manner).

But do you need to bring this to every interview? From what I’ve been told, no! Not every employer is going to need or be impressed by this. There will be jobs you apply for that are not interested in everything you have to offer.

So how do you know when to bring it? Easy: check the job ad! Most job ads list the required education, skills, and knowledge needed for a position. Do you have documented proof of these? Then bring copies! If you are up for a creative job, bring examples of your prior creative works! But you don’t need to have copies of EVERYTHING for every job.

Basically, you NEED a portfolio in order to have one file for yourself , even just for your own piece of mind, that shows all of your accomplishments. At the same time, you need to tailor your portfolio to each job you bring it to. A job involving spreadsheets and data entry may not be excited about your experience creating magazine covers for your Creative Media courses, but would love to know that you have certification in Word and Excel. At the same point, a photojournalism job may not require an advanced knowledge of Microsoft Access, but sure as hell needs proven knowledge of photo-editing software.

So yes, you do need a portfolio, even if it’s just for you. You do not, however, need to bring then entire thing to every job interview you go to. Just like your resume and cover letter, you need to tailor it to each specific job.

Your Degree DOES NOT Equal Your Career

There are very few degrees out there where, once you graduate, you can call yourself The Thing. Medical school, law school, engineering school……. that’s most (if not all) of them.  And those are mainly very advanced degrees with years and years of extra schooling on top of the 3-5 most people in University do.

For the rest of us, we are not automatically sociologists, psychologists, accountants, or artists. We have to navigate the world after graduation and prove to others that we are capable and ready to put what we’ve learned to good use.  Just putting “BA(H) Criminology” on a resume doesn’t tell a prospective employer doesn’t tell them anything about what you can do for them.  What did you learn while getting that degree? What skills do you have that would be useful to them? How the hell is a person who studied crimes going to function in an office?

Look through what you did in your educational career. For many people in the social sciences, you can highlight skills such as critical thinking, statistical analysis, and research. Telling an employer “I did research under Prof. Z on internet reactions to series finale episodes” tells them what it is you did, shows you have a strong enough work ethic to commit to (and finish) a project, and may be a good starting off point for you to highlight some of your biggest strengths.

For some jobs, even highlighting certain courses you took that directly relate to the job (such as emphasizing a Philosophy of Law class when applying for legal research positions) shows that you have some background knowledge that can prove to be useful.

So yes, having that piece of paper handed to you while you suffocate in a a shapeless gown and goofy hat is a huge accomplishment. That piece of paper is not the be-all and end-all of what you did with that education. Look beyond the paper and figure out what it is you did that makes you unique and perfect for a position.