Creative Ways to Get Your First Job Out of College: Part 1

"Success Against the Odds" author Vonda White

With the news this week of Standard & Poor’s downgrade of the U.S.’s financial rating, the trickle down is not going to be pretty. But that doesn’t mean jobs for new graduates are not available, it just means graduates are going to have to be smart about finding them. As I’ve said before, the days of mass mailing resumes and then waiting for the job offers to roll are long gone. Getting a job today takes the same marketing ingenuity as being self-employed, however, in this case YOU are your product.

But where does one start in terms of ingenious self-promotion? To help you get ahead in the employment game I’ve interviewed some very adroit people who used clever means to successfully land their first jobs out of college. This two-part series uncovers the secrets of job-hunting from a creative aspect, but it’s important to note that all of these people used their own brand of networking to land their first jobs. Now more than ever, networking is the key to finding employment—you just have to discover the best way for you to do it.

Don’t Be Afraid to Knock on a Slammed Door

When Vonda White, founder and CEO of Collegiate Risk Management, LLC, and author of the book Success Against the Odds, graduated back in 1988 with a degree in Communications from Jacksonville State University in Alabama, she was determined to find a job in her field. But first she decided to do a practice interview at Parker & Parker Insurance, a company she had learned about when she served as president of Student Government in college. Unfortunately, the interview did not go well.

“I applied for a sales position, so my interviewer asked me if I was into competitive sports. When I replied, ‘Not really, but…’ he cut me off and wouldn’t let me finish. To him, the interview was done.”

Ms. White left feeling her abilities were not accurately portrayed, and the more she thought about the job, the more she wanted it. So she didn’t give up.

“Afterward I wrote a thank-you letter to both my interviewer and the other partner in the company. In my letter I politely finished my answer [about competitive sports], and told them that I’d work for free for six months to show that I had a strong work ethic and that I believed in my ability to be a great salesperson.”

The partners at Parker & Parker were so impressed by her commitment and determination that they had her back for a second interview, which went much better. As a result, they hired her and paid her against a draw, which she doubled in her first 12 months at the company. She became a vice president at the age of 27, then resigned eight years from the day she was hired to start her own firm. What was it about her letter that clicked with the partners?

“I just knew I’d be better at this job than anyone else and my passion came through in my letter. Plus, the fact that I would’ve worked for free showed I truly wasn’t afraid of competition. I firmly believe that nobody owes you anything. So when it comes to getting a job, you do whatever it takes to prove to an employer you’re the best choice over anyone else.

Ask “How Can I Help You?”

Sarah Marr graduated in 1999 with a degree in Film from Chapman University. She wanted a career in the highly competitive film industry, but knew launching that career would be tough. So while still in college she let everyone know she was in the market for a film-related job. Her networking paid off.

“I had built a relationship not only with my college dean, but also with his personal assistant. One day the assistant told me her son [who was in the film industry] knew of an assistant editor opening at a company that created shows for Disney and Nickelodeon. I gave her a resume (which I carried everywhere), she faxed it over, and from that I landed an interview.”

If all that sounds like luck, consider the fact that once Ms. Marr got the interview it was up to her to close the deal. So how did she convince them she was perfect for the job?

“I thoroughly researched the company, which means that during the interview I was able to ask intelligent questions. And before I knew it I had actually turned the tables to the point where I was interviewing the interviewer! My preparedness impressed everyone at the company.”

Ms. Marr got the job, but what clinched it for her was her willingness to offer solutions to issues that came up during the interview. Within six months she was promoted to associate producer, and since then she’s had steady work at various film/TV production companies doing exactly what she wants. Currently, she works for Merit/Andrew, a full service production and motion graphics production company specializing in short form creative storytelling.

“My advice to job-seekers is to think outside the box. You can’t follow the herd right now. Sending out resumes won’t get you employed. It’s all about networking. Whenever you meet a new contact ask ‘How can I help YOU?’ Be willing to make someone else’s life easier (without asking for anything in return), and I promise people will remember you when they’re handing out the jobs.”

In both cases Vonda White and Sarah Marr landed interviews through relationships and NOT by blindly sending out resumes. And they both followed up on leads that many people might of thought were dead ends (i.e., a job rejection and befriending a personal assistant). The moral of the story? Never underestimate the potential of a new contact. For all you know someone’s secretary might be a CEO’s mother.

In the upcoming Part 2 of this series, we’ll meet two more successful people that came into their first jobs via the proverbial backdoor.

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