I loved college hunting. Loved it. My mom and I would make fun weekend road trips of visiting schools, scoping out dining halls for Lucky Charms, talking with current students and professors on the lawn, exploring surrounding neighborhoods, maybe even sneaking into a class or two.
As a high school senior, I read the entire Princeton Review guide (read as: ultra-nerd) and spent many hours pouring over the website College Prowler (now Niche) until I narrowed down a list of schools that felt authentically “me.” I wrote and rewrote my Common App, and I did alumni interviews. And, when it was all said and done, I arrived on Georgetown University’s campus for accepted students weekend knowing that my hard work had landed me exactly where I needed to be.
But, four years later, I graduated with a human science degree that I knew I didn’t want to use for medical school. I had no clear idea of what I wanted to do, and I began to panic. The endless stream of internal alarms started sounding: “I’m not ready for this.” “Why the hell did I take Buddhist art?” “Why didn’t they teach me how to find a job?
Basically, where was my Princeton Review guide for life?
Job searching quickly became this terrible, horrible, no good, very bad thing that no 4.0 GPA or summa cum laude recognition could have prepared me for. I felt young and dumb and disempowered — a deer in the brightest of headlights.
Then, I took a step back and asked myself, “What did 18-year-old me know that I’d somehow forgotten?” What if applying to colleges and applying to jobs were, like the phrase I'd heard over and over again living in Southeast Asia, ‘same same, but different’?
Newsflash: Applying to College Taught You How to Job Search
Time travel back to your senior year of high school and you'll realize that the same process you used to land a spot at your dream school is pretty similar to what you need to do to land a job you’ll love. You already know what to do, but here are six tips to refresh your memory:
1. Show Interest
Universities increasingly want to see that applicants have “demonstrated interest” before they extend admissions offers. Like with dating, universities want the security of knowing they won’t be rejected if they make the first move. As a prospective student, you probably signed up for college mailing lists and webinars, went to on-campus information sessions, and connected with admissions officers at local college fairs. Why not do the same for companies you are interested in working for?
Job applicants can express demonstrated interest by seeking out recruiters at local job fairs or on LinkedIn, signing up for company newsletters and blog subscriptions, following the company on social media, and attending community events and webinars the company hosts, like the Build Your First Web App workshop or the Latinx Students networking event. This will not only give you better insight into the company, but will alert the hiring team that you are not just sending one-off applications to anyone and everyone. You’ve clicked on them, swiped right, and are sending the first message.
2. Tell Your Story
If you filled out the Common Application, you probably slaved away over your personal statement as you attempted to bring personality to the page. Cover letters should do the same. Rather than focusing on rehashing past internship experiences and skills, your cover letter should try to weave those points into a larger narrative about yourself. Just like with your personal statement, aim to draw readers into your cover letter from the very first line. It should read more like a story than a resume recap, so consider starting with a short (maybe humorous) anecdote that will keep you top of mind for the recruiter.
Another great way to make sure you stand out from the crowd is to extend your story beyond the cover letter page. Don’t be afraid to dabble in inbound marketing and draw potential employers to you by writing a personal blog and maintaining an up to date social media presence. Recruiters will be sure to check your LinkedIn profile and overall online presence, so letting your story come to life in multiple mediums can help give you that extra edge you’ve been searching for.
3. Quality Over Quantity
College applications are expensive. When I was applying to college, I felt like I was shelling out at every turn, from SAT registration to application fees themselves. Most people apply to five or ten schools, maybe twenty if your application budget is quite large. But, today’s job applicants send out hundreds of online applications without even blinking an eye.
As a new grad, time becomes your currency. So value your time and target a few key companies you would die to work for. Spending that extra time you might otherwise use to shoot off another generic cover letter to instead fine-tune a tailored resume for a company on your target list will help you produce higher quality applications that truly demonstrate why you want to work for that particular organization and what makes you (and you alone) a great fit. Try to integrate key words from the job description into your application materials and reflect how your experiences mirror the mission of your target company. Hiring managers are smart cookies. They can tell when you are blanketing the job scene with the same tired resume and cover letter. Don’t be that person.
4. Do Your Research
Georgetown, like many other schools, had a required alumni interview for all prospective students, an invaluable opportunity to showcase yourself and put a face to a name in the huge stack of student applications. When I sat down with my alumni interviewer that cold November day in 2009, I felt prepared. I’d done my homework: I knew the potential majors I was interested in, I knew what clubs I was thinking of joining, and I knew why Georgetown was uniquely positioned to get me where I wanted to go.
The value of research does not diminish when you transition to the working world. In fact, it only goes up. Hiring managers want to see that you’ve done your research: look at the company’s mission and Culture Code (if it has one), read the latest news updates, browse company financials, and come prepared to know what you want to accomplish in the role and what unique perspective and expertise you bring to the table. Countless resources exist to help you in this pursuit. Dive deep into the College Prowler of the job search world – Glassdoor. While it won’t rate the attractiveness of employees for you like its college counterpart, it will provide a behind-the-scenes look and help you decide whether or not the company is a best fit.
5. Tour Campuses
When I walked onto Georgetown’s campus, saw hundreds of students studying on the “Healy Beach” front lawn, and stared up at White Gravenor for the first time, I instantly felt a visceral connection and knew that this was somewhere I could make myself a home. Similarly, when I conducted a series of internal interviews at HubSpot, I found a recurring theme. A majority of our employees had the opportunity to visit one of our offices before they applied, and having that visual not only catalyzed their application, but also helped them envision themselves working and thriving at our company.
Charles Duhigg, Pulitzer Prize-winning NY Times Reporter and author, talks a lot about the power of visualization and creating mental models. Allowing yourself to visualize the future "you" in a certain location, doing certain projects can actually help you achieve that goal. We tour colleges because we want to see where we will be living and studying for the next four years. At a certain point in the hiring process, we should make it a priority to visit the offices where we may be working for the foreseeable future. Environments affect us and our productivity, so investigate the ones you aspire to inhabit. Does an open office floor plan jive with you? Are standing desks and nomad spaces a priority? Are nap pods a non-negotiable?
6. Do the Smile Test
The single most important thing I did during my college search was something called the “Smile Test.” At the first college tour I went on, my tour guide told me his hack for evaluating how welcoming, happy, and inclusive a campus was: while you are on the tour, smile at ten people and see how many smile back at you. Sounds simple, right? Sometime the most effective things are.
On some campuses I visited, the average was two or three smiles. At Georgetown, I went ten for ten. And the students I smiled at even came up to introduce themselves to me and ask if I had any questions they could answer. When it comes to job searching, you want to want to work at a place that practices what it preaches regarding employee culture and satisfaction. At your next job interview, smile at ten people you see in the office and see what happens. It will likely be a good litmus test of the kind of colleagues you’ll be surrounded with and the support and welcome you’ll receive as a new hire.
For recent graduates, job searching can be scary and seem like unchartered territory. But like Cat Stevens sang in “On the Road to Findout,” “the answer lies within.” You already know what to do. You’ve done it before.
And if you are looking for a place to test out the Smile Test with great results, HubSpot is growing quickly! We’ve got tons of interesting new jobs popping up all over the world (USA, Dublin, Singapore, Sydney, Tokyo, and Berlin). Check them out here.
Originally published Apr 20, 2017 8:00:00 AM, updated April 19 2017