What Jobs Should I Apply To?

IMG_6376Monday evening I led a college to career transition workshop at William Paterson University in Wayne, New Jersey. As we were planning the content of the workshop, my host made the specific request to provide, “pointers about what jobs to apply to [because students] seem to be lost in that area.”

This is one of the topics I get asked about most by clients in all stages of their careers.

The first thing I say is that I do not work for employers. I work exclusively with candidates. Recruiters and headhunters work for employers, trying to fill vacancies–not trying to find a good match for the candidate.  Placement agencies (to which I do refer clients) work with both employers and clients.

The next thing I do is push students to re-frame their question.  It usually starts out as some version of “What can I do with a degree in ____?” Regardless of your major, there will never be job ads for “Psych majors.” You’ll never see a sign that says, “Help wanted: econ major.”

The real question is “how do my university studies enhance my chosen career?”  You have to choose the career.

Normally, I would leave it at that and turn to the usual topics of my workshops and blog posts: how to represent the skills and experiences from your college experiences in resumes and cover letters, how to prepare for job interviews, how to develop gatekeeping and written & verbal communication skills for use in the workplace.

But for Monday’s workshop, I decided to open with “pointers about what jobs to apply to” since I am uniquely positioned as both a university language department insider and a career coach.

Most language department faculty don’t know much about the job search and careers outside of higher ed. Departments tend to provide theoretical lists of what you could do with your language major (medical professions, legal professions, government and diplomacy, teaching and social service, etc.) without any explicit instruction in how to connect the college experience to such careers.

Most campus career service offices are staffed by generalists who have to help all students from all majors prepare for the college to career transition so they might not understand the unique qualifications of a language major. For example, they may think language majors complete professional translation and interpretation projects (when in fact those are specialized fields that require advanced training).

I know the specifics that are missing from both of those perspectives.

Here’s what we went through in the opening of the workshop:

First, some context: this is your entry level job–the first of many jobs you will have. Conventional wisdom says that current college students should expect to have 7-8 careers.

Don’t get that first job and stagnate—you have to keep refining by identifying what you like most about your first job so you can try to find a second job that focuses more on that while also identifying what you like least about it so you can try to minimize that in future work.

But don’t think you’re making the decision now that you’ll be stuck with until you retire. That’s not even really possible nowadays.

Second, go broad.  Working from the frame of what will be my first, entry level job out of college, go broad. Use job boards to see what’s out there that’s interesting to you. Experiment with different keywords (I like to enter “Spanish” and “Chicago” in indeed.com regularly to see what kinds of jobs are trending—it varies from interpreter, sales, education—once, 3 jobs at a local zoo popped up). Find local and regional job boards. Find non-profit job boards. Find industry specific job boards. They are out there.  If you have a dream company, monitor their internal job boards (often linked from their homepage under “Careers”). Organizations’ own job boards have more and more-current “real” jobs than the broad job boards do.

Third, narrow it down.  Once you’ve spent some time exploring the landscape of job openings, refining your areas of interest, and identifying keywords from the job ads that you will have to highlight in your own job search documents if you are to apply, narrow your search to 2-3 areas or specific organizations and check those 2-3 online job postings regularly enough to know trends. That way you will be immediately aware when there are new postings.

During this process, you can revisit and refine your job search materials to match your own narrowing picture of “what jobs to apply to”—and that brings us back to the specifics of crafting resumes and cover letters, preparing for job interviews, refining the skills & experiences gained over four years of college.

Finally, don’t forget to network: 80%+ of jobs are internal hires or referrals.

2009 Head ShotDarcy Lear is a career coach specializing in academic writing, job search documents, professional school applications, and interview preparation. She is the author of the forthcoming volume from Georgetown University Press, “Integrating Career Preparation into Language Courses.” To schedule a campus workshop or for help navigating your career transition, contact Darcy: darcylear@gmail.com


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