Advice to Job-Hunting Grads: Keep Your Handbag Smaller Than Your Skirt

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Here’s some unusually fresh–and wise–advice to job-hunting new grads, courtesy of the University of Southern California’s planning and placement center:

1) Your handbag should not be bigger than your skirt.
This one’s for the ladies, but men, take heed too: Interviews are not the place for trend-setting. If you want to dress to impress, take time to know what the office culture is. You may not need a suit for a start-up but showing up in jeans and flip-flops, even if that’s what the CEO wears, may not be the best choice either. Let your personality and smarts be what they remember–not your outft.

2) You’ve gotten an offer. Don’t take it!
2007 is shaping up to be a hot job market once again, which means you have more power than you realize. Yes, it is great that the first place you interviewed wants to hire you, but look before you leap. When companies pressure grads to accept an early offer, they are doing both a disservice. Take the time to find the best fit for you, and both you and the company will win in the long run.

3) Memo to the Me Generation: It’s not all about you.
If you really want to stand out, be a team player. Ironically, that is what will make you unique. You may be a future leader, but right now you are applying for an entry-level job. In the workplace you are part of a large, diverse community and your success will depend on how well you work with those above you. In their eyes, you are not entitled to anything until you prove yourself through hard work and cooperation.

4) Loyalty isn’t only for dogs.
The average grad stays at his or her first job for 18 months. It’s not that we think you owe them more, but think of what you could get out of a longer stay. Corporations are increasingly offering two-year management training programs for grads, and we think they are worth considering. Here you get opportunities to work in all areas of a company, so you can learn on the job, whether sales, marketing or finance fits for you. Also, you get management experience early on. Hopping from cubicle to cubicle, it may take you years longer to break out from the pack.

5) Parents are not a reference.
Of course they think you’re perfect for the job and can go on and on about your strengths. But take it from us–we’ve seen it before and we know it doesn’t work. Your parents should not:
a) Call the person you’ll be interviewing with before or after the interview
b) Call the HR director and demand to know why you didn’t get the interview/job
c) Call the career office and tell the counselors you are looking at all the wrong jobs

Helicopter parents, take note: you’ve given your wunderkinds all the skills they need. Now let them fly alone.

6) Your major is a minor thing.
Yes, we want our doctors to understand science, and our accountants to be able to add–but for the vast majority of post-college careers, being well-rounded and well-versed in a variety of topics is the key. Liberal arts majors often bring creativity, and an ability to write and an analyze that set them apart from other candidates. Also they have broad background that allows them to talk about just about anything for five minutes, which is useful in developing and maintaining customer relationships. In school and in your job search, find what you are interested in and success will follow.

7) Think outside your area code.
College may be the time to expand your horizons figuratively, but in your job search you should do so literally. Big cities offer more choices–but more competition, too. Smaller towns may not be as exciting, but may allow you to do more in less time–not to mention that you might be able to afford a nicer place to live once mom and dad aren’t footing the bill. Here at USC, grads are increasingly being offered jobs in cities like Vegas and Phoenix. There is no right answer, but remember that it is not your address that determines your quality of life.

8) Know when to say when to technology.
Do: Get your résumé to a real person even if you have to hand-deliver it. Those electronic job applications put all the power with the employer and don’t allow you to highlight your strengths.
Don’t: Spend your time at work text messaging on your cell phone with your iPod plugged in your ears.
Do: Use company websites and podcasts to get information about companies you are interested in. They are increasingly offering more and more data online so you can get a sense of the company culture and philosophy so you can learn it the fit seems right for you.
Don’t: Forget about the importance of penmanship. Employers tell us a hand-written thank you note still means something. An e-mail will do, but make sure you say thank you one way or another.