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Job-Search Tips for Recent Graduates

by John D. McKay and Darwin King

One of the major concerns of college and university graduates is the problem of the job-search and the related interview process. With the completion of the spring semester, many graduates find themselves in a peculiar position. The typical fall and spring recruiting seasons are over, and graduates have to decide whether to continue their education or enter the job market. If the choice is the latter, they must begin the job-search process. This procedure is often very demanding. Graduates must develop job contacts, arrange interviews, and prepare for these interviews.

Most graduates can get a quick start on building a network by talking to alumni or professors at their alma mater. The other alternative is to begin calling companies for which the graduate desires to work and asking to whom a resume should be sent. Finding the name of the head of human resources (or of another contact person) is very important research. Many resumes, addressed to a position such as "head of personnel" or (even worse) "to whom it may concern," are very often discarded soon after their receipt. After receiving these answers from the firm, graduates must develop an enticing cover letter for their properly prepared resume, and then mail it to the contact person.

If graduates do not receive an answer within two or three weeks, they should further this process with a follow-up call. Graduates should attempt to get the contact person on the phone and discuss their resume and career options available with the firm. If productive, graduates will be invited for an interview.

Many interviews begin with a social the night before. This is the opportunity for the individual to prove that he/she is a well-rounded and adaptable person. It shows that graduates can converse with strangers and do it quite comfortably. During the social, graduates should introduce themselves to everyone that they will be meeting the next day. This should be done gracefully, not jumping from one person to the next as if it were a contest. Be on guard; even though the social is billed as a relaxed atmosphere, a certain amount of judging does occur during this evening.

For the interview, plan to arrive at least ten to fifteen minutes before the scheduled time. This will allow for reviewing notes and questions, and possibly brushing up on the morning paper for any topic that might relate to the firm. Graduates should have reviewed information related to the firm prior to the interview. This includes data found in annual reports, employment ads, libraries, professional journals, company marketing literature, and current magazine and periodical articles. When greeted by the interviewer, be sure to shake his/her hand firmly. Typically, this will be followed by small talk, but soon the serious questions will begin.

Today, firms are using two basic types of interviewing styles. First, there is the traditional resume-based Q&A session. This interview style is normally very relaxed and seems like a general conversation about the graduate's accomplishments at school and work. Some recruiters prefer this style due to its relaxed nature; other firms are progressing towards a behavioral type of interview methodology.

This second style, called the behavior method, is more structured and proceeds in a predetermined pattern. The impetus of this style is that past actions are indicators of future behavior. Therefore, if the graduate handled a complex situation well in the past and is able to describe that event intelligently to the interviewer, it communicates the fact that the potential recruit will be able to handle a similar situation while on the job. The typical graduate will have a difficult time preparing for this interviewing style. It involves a significant amount of reasoning and analysis in a situation that is often quite stressful. The only true way for graduates to be better prepared for this type of interview is to make a list of potential questions. These questions should relate to how the graduate has displayed his/her abilities in such areas as leadership, motivating, communicating, and interpersonal skills. Most interviewers enjoy a discussion pertaining to the graduate's internship or volunteer experience(s). Whether graduates attempt at least one internship experience appears to be a major concern of many recruiters. The existence of at least one internship shows, once again, that the graduate is a well-rounded individual who has done something other than just going to class during his/her four or five years of education. The behavior interview normally lasts between thirty and forty-five minutes, which is similar to the traditional resume-based style.

After graduates have completed the first interview, they should follow up with a thank-you note and wait for a reply. If the first interview was successful and an offer comes from it, then the graduate must decide whether to accept or reject. However, the process could continue with a second, much longer interview at the firm. This second interview might encompass an in-depth review of the firm, complete with a series of interviews with numerous individuals in many of the functional areas of that company.

These interviews may be resume- or behavior-based, or even a combination of both given the number of individuals contacted over the interview period of four or more hours. This possibility requires graduates to be prepared for either style. After a morning interview session, potential recruits might be treated to lunch with other members of that company. Once again, this mealtime is meant to be informal, but graduates must still be on guard since judgments and evaluations will continue throughout the meal. The graduate must still be careful of what he/she says and does, because this is an additional test to see if the newcomer can interact with people who are well-established within the firm.

After lunch, there will normally be a closing interview to wrap up things and discuss items that might have been omitted in the earlier interviews. This is a chance to reiterate your virtues and significant accomplishments. The day is then over, and graduates should follow up with a thank-you note and wait for, hopefully, the final decision. If this answer is affirmative and a cause for celebration, the interview process should be complete. If graduates do not receive an offer, this process must begin again with another firm.

The key factor for graduates to keep in mind is that they remain highly motivated during the search for a new position. The job market is not the same as that of ten years ago. The number of graduates recruited each year by organizations, such as the Big 6 accounting firms, has taken a significant drop over the past decade. Many of these firms prepare publications, such as Ernst & Young's brochure called "The Campus Interview," in an effort to aid graduating students.

This article was meant to provide some guidance to recent graduates on that very vital process of searching for a job and handling the subsequent interview(s). This entire process is both stressful and tedious. Many graduates are unsure of how to proceed. If the authors have offered just one useful idea, then our goal has been accomplished, and recent graduates have something from which to build.


Successful Hints:

  1. Be prepared. Research the firm (check WWW sites).
  2. Dress appropriately, portraying a strong professional appearance.
  3. Give a good firm handshake.
  4. Relax and act naturally. You will sound and feel better.

John D. McKay is a graduating senior in the five-year accounting program at St. Bonaventure University. John was successful in the interview process and will be joining BDO Seidman in Richmond, VA, in the fall of 1997. Darwin King is an assistant professor of Accounting at St. Bonaventure University.

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