Your Six Best Friends In The Job Hunt

Every student I meet knows they should be networking. However, many will admit they don’t – or at least not nearly enough! When I ask why – the most common reasons I get are:

“I feel intimidated and don’t know what to talk about, especially to more senior executives. Why would they want to spend their time talking to me?”

Let me reassure you.

Every employer I know likes to help students who are clearly trying to take the right steps to align themselves to an employer’s needs.

Their maternal/paternal instincts to help you are strong. They want to see you succeed! The key is not to feel pressure to impress them. The meeting is not about you. The meeting is about them, their story and what they learned along the way.

The purpose of this article is to arm you with some simple questions to make that conversation easier and more worthwhile in terms of the quality of information you get. These questions will give you confidence to help you enjoy these meetings, keep them focused and start the beginnings of valuable relationships.

The secret lies in using open questions (i.e. those that start with what, where, when, why, who and how). They get people talking and can help you understand any situation. This includes understanding the employment market, what job you want, how to get it, and how to succeed in it.

Here is why they must become your ‘best friends’ as you network throughout your job hunt.

Although a college degree is a huge achievement and often a requirement, it is by itself not enough to differentiate you as the winning candidate when you are competing for a job. Employers will look beyond a college degree, and use questions to identify candidates who:

  • Know what they want to do.
  • Have goals for where – i.e. which employers.
  • Know how to understand the specific needs of those employers.
  • Know how to proactively develop their skills to meet those needs.
  • Have goals for when – which drive them to act with urgency.
  • Know their reasons why – which motivate them to persevere and overcome challenges.

This means you will need to:

  • Identify jobs with target employers you are excited about and be able to explain why.
  • Develop a clear understanding of the requirements of those jobs versus your strengths and weaknesses.
  • Build a targeted self development plan to align yourself to what your employers of choice are looking for – against which you can demonstrate significant progress.

If you just show up to an interview without any of the above you will be at a significant disadvantage.

Employers want to know you made decisions, and took actions, which ensure that you are highly motivated and driven to succeed in their jobs.

For you to be able to make the right decisions and actions you need the right information. It is therefore essential that you carry out many information gathering interviews – armed with the right questions!

This is where our friends come in.

I have used these questions to create some simple checklists below which you can use to guide you as you make connections and interview them.

Note: Many students think an information gathering interview is something they should do a few times early in the job hunt to help them find a direction. It is the correct first step, but in addition to often doing too few interviews and not asking the right questions, they also forget that they need to do more information gathering interviews in the next phases of the job hunt. You can not ask too many questions all at once. You have to build relationships and be selective as to who you ask which questions, and at what point in the process.

I have therefor created handy lists of questions to help you get the specific information you need in each of the first three phases in the process of landing a job.

Here they are:

PHASE ONE – TARGET

The first step is about finding your direction – what do you want to do? These are questions you need to be able to answer for yourself, and although they look easy and obvious, many people spend far too little time on them. I regularly meet people in their thirties who still don’t have a direction and the resulting impact on their career is obvious.

The most effective way to find your direction is to combine your personality tests and online research with as many information gathering meetings as possible.

You can use these questions below, on everyone you meet – then see how you relate to their answers.

  • What are the key activities that make up your job on a day to day basis?
  • What activities do you enjoy or dislike? Why?
  • What activities are you good at? How did you become good at them?
  • What personality type tends to be best suited to this job?
  • What management style and team dynamics do you enjoy? Why?
  • What aspects of the job give you a sense of pride and purpose? Why?
  • What opportunities or threats do you perceive to the job such as industry growth/decline, competition or automation from artificial intelligence?
  • What industry publications do you read? 
  • What actions would you recommend I take to secure a job like yours?
  • What kind of job shadowing, internships and mentoring opportunities do you offer?
  • Who else would you recommend I interview to learn about this type of job?

These are simple easy to ask questions. Apply them to as many people as you can! Why?Because your direction and your commitment to it is so important to both employers and your own well being.

It is very expensive and time wasting for employers, (and a disaster for you) if they select you, and you do not enjoy the job, fail at it and leave. Interviewers will therefor ask you many of the above type of questions.

This is therefor a good check list of questions you regularly need to ask yourself as well as the people you meet.

Recommended Actions: The best way to help you find answers to these questions is to use them during your information gathering networking interviews to see how other people targeted their careers. Practice using these questions on friends and family first, then branch out and meet as many people as you can. Set your self goals to meet at least two or three people per week.

Initially as you do the above research it is important to spread the net over a wide range of opportunities. The more people you meet, the more astounded you will be at the different types of jobs and careers there are out there.

After a while however you need to use the information you have gathered to focus your search on a narrower set of targets that seem appealing.

This is because you cannot differentiate yourself in a relevant and aligned way – to a wide range of jobs.

Hence this next set of questions will help you narrow your choices down by confirming the desirability of the target job to you. At the same time you will learn their specific needs in as much depth as possible so that you can subsequently align yourself to meet those needs more accurately.

  • What are the job’s key objectives & results?
  • How are these results measured?
  • What are the top priorities? Why?
  • Which activities have the most impact on the top priorities?
  • What are the most critical skills needed for each activity?
  • Who is affected by these activities? How?
  • What team dependencies are there?
  • What are the most difficult challenges?
  • What are the consequences of success and failure?
  • What attitudes and personalities impact success or failure in the role? Why?
  • What are the top three reasons people typically succeed or fail in this job?

You need this granular level of understanding if you are going to pick a job you are likely to enjoy and be able to prepare yourself for it.

This takes us to the next phase.

PHASE TWO – PREPARE

Once you have selected a target employer and understood their needs, the questions in this phase of informational interviews should focus on how to align yourself to their requirements. i.e. How should you build your relevance to become their ideal candidate? Again these are questions you should also regularly ask yourself, particularly as you are very likely to find yourself at the receiving end of them in an interview too.

  • What are the most important competitive advantages I can build for the job in terms of skills, drive and team fit? How do I go about building them?
  • What are my biggest weaknesses for the job? What actions should I be taking to fix them?
  • How can I get relevant experience by going through similar Situations, Objectives, Actions & Results (S.O.A.R.s) so that I can demonstrate I have the knowledge and skills they need?
  • How will I know that I am aligning successfully enough to become “The One” they will want? Who within the target employer could coach me on how to get selected onto the team?

Recommended Actions: Set targets to identify and meet individuals who have the job you want or people who manage others in the job you want. LinkedIn is a great tool to identify such people, connect and start a dialogue with them to identify the above information. Then prepare and start executing a self development plan to meet your target employer’s needs. (The ‘how to’ on developing and executing a targeted self development plan is a separate subject covered in The Career Cycle – Lesson 7)

PHASE THREE – WIN

The focus of the questions in this phase are to make sure you understand the selection process and how you are going to win it! Again these questions are a good check list for yourself, but you will only be able to gain the information you need by addressing some of these questions directly to your connections.

  • Who makes the decisions?
  • What are their key decision criteria? Why are those so important?
  • How can you demonstrate your most relevant strengths to meet their decision criteria? What would impress them?
  • Who influences the decision maker? Why would they recommend you?
  • What are the key steps in terms of: On line aptitude and personality tests, video interviews, face to face interviews, presentations, negotiating compensation etc?
  • How can you rehearse & practice each of these steps?
  • How can you build your references & how can you align them to communicate yourspecifically desired strengths to your target employer – to clinch the deal for you? (Remember employers are much more likely to believe a relevant third party than anything you say about yourself.)

Recommended Actions: Set your self goals to find out the above through more information gathering interviews, do some personality tests, practice some video and face to face interviews. Do not make your dream job the first time you try a video interview! Start identifying people who could become references and build the relationship you will need for you to be able to rely on them.

Start Now!

All this takes time and dedication. Those who leave it until after graduation are by definition likely to face a lengthy period of underemployment as the statistics show.

The best time to select your target employer and make the extra effort to become more aligned to their needs is while you are still a student.

SUMMARY – THE GOOD NEWS

The good news is you don’t need some “out of reach” talent to differentiate yourself.

Anyone can use these questions to help them build relationships, find their interests and understand how to land fulfilling job opportunities. Knowing the answers to the above questions and acting upon them will give you a huge advantage when you reach the job selection interview.

For those of you in the College of Business Administration at UCF these are exactly the activities the Career Professionalism Courses are driving you to do. Their purpose is to maximize your chances of graduating with a job that you are likely to enjoy and succeed in.

Once in the job use these questions to make sure you remain fully aligned with your boss and their objectives. Use them to make sure you understand and exceed expectations every day. After a period of over-performance do not just wait to be promoted. Target a specific promotion and apply all the above checklists to make it happen! 

Good luck. Take the above friends with you at all times!

Written by Alex Groenendyk

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