Career Search Insights Your College Never Gave You

At this time of year my mailbox is filled with resumes from college seniors looking for their first real job and begin their career. The sad truth is that all of those resumes go directly into the garbage, for two reasons: This is not an efficient way for me to hire employees, and I believe people who simply send out unsolicited resumes are not really serious about their career.

It’s not that I’m a stickler for proper job-hunting protocol. In fact, over the years I’ve hired four people who simply showed up at my office without an appointment, requesting to tell me how and why they would make a good member of my team. These are the type of prospective employees whose resumes I do read.

If how I’m approached by most college seniors provides any insight, then most colleges are failing to prepare students for serious job hunting and career building. Schools often will maintain a placement office to serve as a job clearinghouse for employers and students, and some may even provide tactical guidance on resume writing or networking with alumni, but very few schools address the most critical aspects of finding a serious job, which include dealing with a hyper-competitive marketplace and employer indifference, and managing personal rejection over a sustained period of time.

Here are 10 career tips that I offer, both to newly minted college graduates, and more recently to older folks looking for re-entry into the workforce:

  1. Be Aggressive.

    Don’t send out resumes and expect people to call you. No one will. Get off your butt, make phone calls, knock on doors, get your nosed bruised. Nothing good will happen unless you put yourself “in play.”

  2. Be Persistent.

    Within the boundaries of good manners, keep badgering people who you think might be helpful. Be politely determined to get the information you need. Business people often make it extremely difficult to gain access to their time (largely because they’re busy trying to keep their own jobs), but they will respect persistence. Don’t interpret a lack of response as a “no”; make them actually tell you to leave them alone. Prospective employers may even be smart enough to understand that tenacity is a positive attribute in an employee.

  3. Don’t Get Discouraged.

    Without a doubt, your job search (particularly your first one) is the toughest, most discouraging assignment you will ever have. The good news is that any position you land will likely be easy in comparison. The bad news is that if you take rejection personally, it will be impossible for you to exhibit the positive, upbeat outlook that most employers are looking for. This is the Catch 22 that ends most job searches.

  4. Be Flexible.

    Don’t be so determined to land a specific job, or to work for a particular company, or to start at a certain salary level that you eliminate some attractive career opportunities. Life has a way of opening up doors that can lead to end-results that are better than well-laid plans.

  5. Be Willing to Start at the Bottom.

    A college degree does not entitle you to any special consideration; it’s simply a general admission ticket. Be willing to shovel some turds for a while, and to do it with a smile, regardless of the odor. Getting a foot in the door is a job seeker’s most important task.

  6. Package Yourself Well.

    Consider the needs of prospective employers and present your strengths accordingly. One-size-fits-all resumes are deadly. Employers do not really care about your personal career agenda. They are looking for people who can take direction, work hard, be accountable, show enthusiasm, play nice with others and add value to their organization.

  7. Avoid Prolonged Pain.

    Don’t take or keep a job that makes you miserable. Sometimes a job won’t turn out to be what you expected, and some jobs may change drastically for the worse. Don’t be afraid to cut your losses and run. Life is too short to be unhappy for a long period of time.

  8. Take Risks.

    As a new or recent college grad, you will never be in a better position to follow your dreams without substantial downside risk. Pursue your artistic or entrepreneurial yearnings. What you lack in experience, you will make up for with spirit and determination. The added incentive is that employers seldom handicap job seekers who are unsuccessful in a personal venture. They are more likely to respect your courage and creativity.

  9. Manage Your Career.

    In any job, know where you want to go at all times and take the necessary steps to reach those goals. Start planning for your next career-related goal (whether it be a job with another company or advancement within your current company) on the same day you start your new position. Career management is a fundamental factor in determining your personal level of happiness and self-satisfaction.

  10. Be a Street-Fighter.

    The past decade has confirmed that job security is a fantasy. Don’t expect your job to remain the same, and always be prepared for bad (and good) things to happen. Look for opportunities, create personal options. Learn to fly by the seat of your pants. It will make your life more exciting, a job more rewarding and you more valuable to your employer.

Got any career search insights you can share with us?


Gordon G. Andrew is founder and managing partner of Princeton, NJ-based Highlander Consulting Inc. His “Marketing Craftsmanship” blog examines the pursuit of excellence in business and personal endeavors.


  1. Lance-Robert on the 4th May

    Network, network, network. Establish a profile on LinkedIn, make connections with colleagues and industry leaders, and update your profile on a regular basis.

  2. Bryce Christiansen on the 4th May

    Great advice. I particularly liked the part about not feeling entitled. I recently graduated a few years ago and saw a ton of people like that. I had a Marketing degree and my peers were always talking about what jobs everyone was finding or not finding.

    There wasn’t alot in the marketing field in 2009 with the bad economy and most companies lowering their marketing budget. So, it was interesting to hear a large group of other Marketing grads feel entitled to not taking a job unless it was pure Marketing.

    I went into sales. I hated it, but it opened the door a year later for a Marketing position I would never have gotten otherwise.

  3. Sarah Mitus on the 4th May

    As a college senior myself, I am trying to do a lot of these items in my job search, but I agree most with number three. I’m graduating from a great school with a high GPA and do a lot of the other things you’ve described. Rejection email after rejection email (that is, of course, if the company gets back to you) is hard to take, especially when those around you are attaining full time positions. My best advice? 1- Let yourself vent every-so-often. 2- Have a mantra and actually say the words, “I will get a job. I will not be unemployed forever.” and 3- Find happiness in other things, like your loved ones or hobbies.

  4. Gordon G. Andrew on the 4th May

    There’s an added benefit to your career detour. The marketing and sales functions at many companies are siloed. Having walked a few miles in sales, you understand that world, and can be a much more effective marketer and a far greater asset to your employer. What most marketers fail to realize is that the person in the corner office usually values sales (revenue) more highly than marketing (expense). With experience in both sales and marketing, you have credentials that give you competitive advantage, career-wise.

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