In this episode, Grace Saathoff (CFA’22, COM’22) and Emily Worden, a CFA Arts Leadership and Innovation lecturer and career coach, tackle some of new graduates’ biggest concerns about entering the job market for the first time. Tune in for some practical advice and helpful job hunting tips for recent graduates.
Emily Worden suggests seniors take three actions before the end of May:
1. Decide what job or industry you’d like to be in, and then tell the world about your career goals
2. Build your network. Make sure your LinkedIn profile is fully set up and ask to go on informational interviews
3. Clean up your digital footprint. Potential employers will be searching for you online
Dana Ferrante: This is Question of the Week, from BU Today. With Commencement just weeks away, we thought we’d tackle a question on the minds of many graduating Terriers: how do I get a job after college? To help us answer this somewhat daunting question, we’ve brought on…
Grace Saathoff: Grace Saathoff. I’m a senior at BU, and I’m set to graduate with a BFA in costume production and a BS in film and television.
Ferrante: And career coach extraordinaire…
Emily Worden: Emily Worden. I am a professor at BU in the College of Fine Arts. I teach career development in the arts. And I’m also a career coach.
Ferrante: In our final episode for this season, Grace and Emily talk through some of seniors’ biggest concerns when it comes to entering the job market for the first time.
So whether you’ve had a job lined up since last September, or you’re just starting to casually peruse the job boards, stay tuned for some helpful, practical advice on starting your professional career on the right foot.
Saathoff: Well, hi, Emily, it’s nice to see you here. We have some questions from seniors here at BU who are going to graduate and are a little bit nervous about going into the professional world.
Our first question we just wanted to ask you is: how do I get a job after college? What are the three things that students can do before the end of May in order to ensure a level of career success?
Worden: I might go over three, if that’s okay, Grace, because I love this question.
Saathoff: We do have some specific follow-ups, but yes, what are your top “wikiHow-with-pictures” to obtain career success with a collegiate background?
Worden: Okay. Well, first of all, congratulations to the graduating seniors, you’ve worked really hard to get here. The real world is not as scary as sometimes it’s made out to be, but I do have some action tips that you could be taking right now, if you’re about to graduate.
First of all, just decide what is it that you want. What job do you want to do? Where would you like to work? What kind of industry do you want to be in? And I know that sounds silly, because you’ve been studying this for years. However, once you’re very clear on specifically the kind of job you want and where you’d like to work, then you have to tell the world about it.
Talk about it on social media, share it on LinkedIn, and you have to be your own mom. And what I mean by that is if you know moms, they like to go out and tell [people], “My Grace is in school and she’s studying this and that…” I want you to do that for yourself, and have no shame in telling people what it is you’re looking for.
The reason why is because once you start putting it out there to the world exactly what it is you want, the opportunities start coming your way. So I have a great example. I had a student years ago who their mom was at the dentist, and the dentist said, “How’s your kid doing?” And they said, “My kid wants to break into the film industry.” And the dentist said, “I know someone, I can help you.” And within just a few weeks, the kid was working on a film set.
These are the kind of opportunities that you have if you just tell people what you’re looking for, and you have to be specific about it. So that’s my first piece of advice. The second piece of advice is very much connected to that, which is, you’ve got to build your network.
You could have the most perfect résumé and perfect cover letter, and the job can still go to someone else just because they know someone. And so when you’re building up your network, first of all what you want to do is make sure your LinkedIn profile is fully set up, and there’s loads of online resources to help you with that.
To be connecting with people on LinkedIn, asking to go on informational interviews, which are not job interviews, but where you talk with people who are doing jobs you love, and find out how they got there. You can join industry groups on LinkedIn, professional associations. You can attend events for your industry and volunteer at those events.
Definitely get in touch with the BU Alumni Network. One of the things you’re paying for by going to BU is access to this alumni network. As you’re reaching out to your network and you’re building your network, I love to tell people to have a 30-second commercial.
Just a really quick way that you can explain your background and what it is you’re looking to do so that people very clearly understand who you are, what you want to do, and how they can help. So number one would be to figure out what you want and tell the world.
Number two would be to build up your network. And I’ll stick with three, what I would say for three is to clean up your digital footprint. What I mean by that is
Saathoff: Delete all of those thirst tweets that you have.
Worden: Yes, exactly, because what happens is when you go out and apply for jobs, people are going to be searching for you online.
So you have to make sure that’s cleaned up. As I’ve mentioned, you want your LinkedIn, but also if you have a website, making sure that’s updated, and polished, and your portfolio is on it, that your social media is cleaned up, that it’s something an employer could see. And then there’s two other things that I like to say about your digital footprint.
Number one is your signature block. You know that little block, at the bottom of your email, oftentimes that’s really underutilized. On your signature block have your name, talk about what you do or what you’re looking to do. You can say, “Recent graduate looking for graphic design jobs in New York City.” You can even put that in your signature block.
You would list your social media, your LinkedIn, your website. If you have a brief tagline that describes what you do, a picture of your work, a call to action—these are all wonderful elements to have in your signature block. The last piece of advice I would give about your digital footprint is to get a professional email address now.
As you’re reaching out and you’re making network connections, you’re going to stop using your BU email address within a few years. And so, as you’re making these connections now, it’s just better for them to get to know you with a regular email address that’s ideally just your name.
Saathoff: You spoke about cleaning up your social media, you spoke about websites. Would it be beneficial to connect that professional email, the social media, and your website, with one name, one brand, so that people are able to recognize you, and I assume that boosts your searchability on Google?
Worden: Absolutely! Your instinct. This is why you’re wonderful. We talk a lot in class about developing your personal brand and making that consistent across all of your platforms, and so that’s a great example of it, absolutely.
Saathoff: Students have this plethora of online connection tools at their hands. We have LinkedIn, as you mentioned, BU I know uses Handshake. But do you have any tips on how to successfully shoot your shot online through Twitter or Instagram, where sort of the bar of connectivity is a lot lower? And you’re able to personally message people within your field to get those informational questions, such as, “Hi, I’m just reaching out to sort of find out how you got where you are because I want to be there in x number of years.”
Worden: What you’re talking about, that last part, is very similar to informational interviews, which I just adore. If you haven’t done informational interviews, it’s [that] you find someone whose career you admire and you just interview them for like a half hour. How did you get there? And there are loads of tips online about how to approach that.
But to answer your question, to take a step back, regardless if it’s LinkedIn or Handshake or Twitter or Instagram—I mean there’s so many ways to connect now—there’s a couple things that you want to do. First of all, you definitely want to have your professional profile set up. Just saying off the bat what it is you have to offer in your professional profile on any of these sites is always a beautiful thing to do.
And then having some pictures on the sites as well, maybe of you doing your work or sharing some industry knowledge, that goes a long way. And then what I like to do is once your professional profile is set up on any of these sites, then make a list of companies where you would like to work and start following them.
Find the company’s social media accounts, follow them, interact with them, but then also take it another step further. And on LinkedIn…can you tell I’m really emphatic about LinkedIn?
Saathoff: That should be in your bio, “Number-one LinkedIn supporter.”
Saathoff: They should start paying you some royalties for being the first LinkedIn influencer.
Worden: Talk about jobs that haven’t been invented yet, that’s a good one. This is how you all are going to find your jobs—it’s through LinkedIn. So even if you just think, I’m going on there, I’m going to set up a profile and then I do nothing with it—that’s the wrong way to handle it.
LinkedIn is a social media network. You should be on it every day, liking, commenting, sharing something for several reasons. First of all, LinkedIn likes to promote profiles that are actively being used. But also potential employers are searching for you on there. And so the more active you are on LinkedIn and the more you’re sharing your industry knowledge, the better you look as a candidate.
Saathoff: I was wondering if you could speak to the differences in the social sphere of LinkedIn versus Twitter or Instagram, which college students are probably more used to. Are there certain things we should be doing on LinkedIn, as you said, following, commenting, posting, that can boost our engagement and make us look more professional?
Worden: I’m so glad you asked this. Even if you just go on 10 minutes a day and you congratulate someone on a work anniversary, you share an article that you thought was interesting, you like a couple of people’s posts, that could be it. That could be what you do for the day.
In terms of items that you would post yourself, this kind of goes back to the personal brand, and positioning yourself as someone who is knowledgeable about your industry. If you can go on LinkedIn and say, “Hey, I just read this great article. I thought you all would enjoy it too.” Or providing some sort of comments or feedback to what other people are saying about it, those are all beautiful ways of kind of boosting your profile and showing that you actually know what you’re talking about.
And the other thing that’s great to do on LinkedIn is to join groups. There are tons of groups on there that headhunters actually search. So you can join groups for your industry or any sort of groups that interest you. And you offer support, you ask questions, and become part of the community that way as well.
LinkedIn, definitely I recommend that’s not a place where you want to be selective on who you connect with, you definitely want to cast a wide net. And when you’re looking to connect with someone on LinkedIn, there’s a standard message that says, I think, “I’d like to join your network on LinkedIn.” If you’re looking to connect with someone, you [need to] erase that standard message and put in a personal message.
Saathoff: Sort of continuing with this theme of professionalism online, I’ve noticed that a lot of companies in this—I’m going to put in quotes—”post-pandemic” time are still conducting interviews online, or asking candidates to send in a video with their application. Do you have any advice for these kind of interviews or even baseline interview advice for graduates, on how to nail those first impression interviews that we know are so important?
Worden: So there’s two parts to that question. Video résumés are a bit controversial, because on the one hand, it could really help you stand out. But on the other hand, it can also unlock a lot of hidden biases. It could also make the application process a bit unequal.
Because it’s only accessible to people who have video and editing skills and they’re comfortable in front of the camera. But it can also help you stand out, so I like to say it depends on your industry and the type of company you’re applying to. I work with CFA students, right? So, many of you all are already expected to have these kind of skills, being comfortable in front of the camera and editing, and speaking in front of a group, so I just say, go for it if you’re in that industry.
Some [other] companies say, “Well, can you just submit an elevator pitch?” So if you do decide to do a video résumé, I have some tips: you would want to keep it under a minute, if possible, definitely under 90 seconds. And if you’re doing your video résumé, you’re not just reiterating your résumé. You’re telling something new. You could highlight something from your skill section, you could tell a story about your background. If you think there’s potential objections to why they wouldn’t want to hire you, you could address that in the video.
And believe me, they’re already thinking about it, so you might as well address it. So it doesn’t replace your regular résumé, it just kind of enhances it. In terms of virtual interviews and conducting interviews online, you want to test your hardware ahead of time. Your software, check your setup, make sure your background is clean and there’s nothing distracting.
Saathoff: Mute the discord notifications.
Worden: Turn off your notifications, set your computer and phone to do-not-disturb. And then I tell people, dress professionally from head to toe, because it puts you in the right mindset even if they only see your shoulders. And then one of the other things that I like to say, and this is kind of an insider tip, is if you’re doing a virtual interview, look at the camera of the computer, not at the screen.
If you look at the camera, it feels totally awkward, but it mimics eye contact. If you’re just looking at the screen there’s not really that connection there, but if you’re looking at the camera, they feel like you’re looking right at them. Put some post it notes, or some sticky notes, next to your camera on your computer with notes that you want to reiterate during the interview.
And that will kind of keep your eyes glued to the camera. So that’s a little side tip, but I like that one a lot.
Saathoff: I think you could also probably put some googly eyes up there.
Worden: Yes, I had a student a few years ago suggest that and I thought that was so cute.
I don’t know if that would distract me too much but I think it’s adorable. Just some general interview advice. Find out who’s interviewing you ahead of time and see if you can search for them online. Maybe guess what kind of questions they might ask. It just kind of helps to also realize they’re an actual real person as well.
Saathoff: As graduating seniors who have never worked in the professional field, one of the things that we’re nervous about is negotiating salary. How do we make sure that we are being fairly compensated for our work? What tips do you have for being a competent negotiator?
Worden: Yes, okay, I’m going to jump right to salary because I’m very passionate about this.
I’m very passionate about people getting paid what they’re worth. First of all, if you’re in an interview, if they ever ask, “What’s your desired salary? What are your salary expectations?” you do not answer that. The reason why is because it puts you in a weaker position for negotiation.
So if you say a number and it’s way lower than they were expecting to pay you, they will gladly accept that number. It just puts you in a weaker position, so if someone says to you in an interview, “What are your salary expectations? What are you looking for?” Turn it right back on them and say, “Well, what’s the salary range for this position?” Or you can say, “I’m still learning about the role, I haven’t set salary expectations yet.” If they say to you, “Well, what did you get paid at past jobs, or, what’s your salary history?” First of all, that’s an illegal question—they can’t ask that.
But if they do, you can just say, “This position is not the same as my last job, I want to discuss what my responsibilities would be here.” Even if it is the exact same job, same job title, same everything, it could be a different industry, a different company, different target customers…
So it’s never the same job. If you have to do that salary question, punt it off and put it back on them until they actually make you an offer. And then you can get into negotiation, but until then just keep pushing it off and make them say the number first.
Saathoff: And that sort of ties into another question we had about COVID and the huge impact that it’s had on the job market these past two years. I know that COVID has changed the job landscape, and I was wondering if you could speak to how it has changed, and what sort of things we can be on the lookout for, both in new avenues that can maybe accelerate us in our career, but also red flags that we might see in new job postings and what to avoid.
Worden: In terms of the COVID question: this is such an exciting time for labor right now. I am genuinely excited for the labor market. What’s happening is the power is in the people right now, the power is in the employees. This is a great time to graduate, certainly more than your colleagues from a year or two ago.
What happened is, during COVID, people left their jobs in droves, for many, many reasons, health reasons, they needed to be a caretaker at home, some people took early retirement. But a lot of people were just kind of reexamining what’s important, and saying, “Why am I in this terrible low-paying job that doesn’t treat me well?”
“And so maybe I’ll go back to school or go to a new industry or try an entirely new career.” So what’s happening is the world’s opening up again a little bit, and there’s this massive, pent-up demand for goods and for services, and that’s driving up labor demand. So on the one hand, you have employers desperate for workers, and on the other hand, companies are also getting a lot more selective in their hiring process.
So what I’m hearing is people are going on a third interview, a fourth interview, a fifth interview even. Because it takes a lot of money to hire people, it takes a lot of time to invest and train people. Even though there’s such a demand for labor—particularly in the entertainment sector, in the hospitality sector, in some other sectors—they’re kind of saying, “Well, we want more experience and more skills than before. And we want to interview you three more times before we decide to hire you.”
What I would suggest to people in those industries: don’t rely just on your college degree. Keep upskilling, keep figuring out what’s happening with the trends in your industry, keep networking. Also, a willingness to go back to the office is huge, because companies and CEOs want everyone to go back to the office, and older employees are saying, “Nah, not for me.” I suggest graduates go into the office anyway, it’s a wonderful way to learn about the company culture and interpersonal communication and hands-on experience, and hopefully get a mentor.
But if you show that willingness to go into an office as well, that kind of gives you a leg up. In terms of red flags and things to look out for, when you’re reading job applications, there’s a couple of words that you can kind of pay attention to that might potentially be red flags.
If you hear things like, you must work hard under pressure or handle stress well [sighs], yeah…that’s a red flag. That usually means that they don’t have a great work-life balance. Or if you hear someone has to wear many hats, or be flexible, or have high energy—what that usually is an indication of is that company is not very well organized, and things might be poorly planned, and you have to make up for it.
Whenever I hear, “We’re a family here, we’re just a big family” [sighs]—families are tough, right? So if you’re working at a company that says they’re a family as well, what that sounds like is they have a lack of boundaries, they can be pretty demanding, they want you to pitch in and not pay you.
But there’s also other kinds of red flags in terms of scams. If a job application asks you for personal information, like your credit card or Social Security number, that’s definitely a scam. A big red flag to look for is if they say, “Let’s conduct the interview over text or Slack or WhatsApp.” That’s also a huge red flag, because real jobs at real companies would want to meet you in person or over the computer.
There’s red flags to look for in legitimate jobs in terms of the language they use, but then also just to be aware that the job isn’t a scam.
Saathoff: Don’t send anyone your mother’s maiden name or your childhood pet.
Saathoff: We have one last question here for you, Emily, and it talks about a point that you’ve touched on really briefly.
Your expectations going into the job market after college and what sort of jobs to look for, and continuing your education—rather than “I am now the Wolf of Wall Street, let’s make millions, be a Minecraft YouTuber” or something like that. Do you have any advice on how to negotiate yourself from an entry job that you really enjoy into one with more benefits? Or work your way from a job that’s maybe not aligned with the career path you want, into one that is? And how you know when it’s time to move on from your beginner job?
Worden: The first thing about moving on from your first job: you really need to stay at the job a year at minimum.
Just in terms of future jobs, if you have less than a year on your résumé, assuming it’s not a seasonal job, that’s sort of a red flag to employers. Particularly if they’ve seen you work somewhere six months and then somewhere else six months, because, again, it takes a lot of money and time for them to invest in you.
So stick it out for at least a year. Usually now, on average, people are staying at jobs for two years or so. So while you’re there for that first year, even if you absolutely hate it, there’s some first things you can do right off the bat to kind of ensure your success.
My students will know, you’ll know this, Grace, I talk to people about their brag book. So what you should be doing from day one on this job is writing down your accomplishments. If someone said something nice about you, they wrote a nice email, copy and paste that, put it in your brag book.
If you solved a problem or accomplished a specific task, write that all down in your brag book, because you’re going to forget when you’re job searching later. Or if you end up asking for a promotion, you can also use your brag book. So that’s really important—keep track of your accomplishments from day one.
While you’re at the job, what I say is don’t get comfortable in the job. Continue to upskill, stay up to date on trends, what’s happening in your industry, posting on LinkedIn, all that good stuff. Keep networking, keep going for informational interviews. Because what I like to say is, you build your network when you don’t need it so that it’s ready for you when you do need it.
So just because you’re employed doesn’t mean you’re not hustling anymore. Challenge yourself, sign up for new projects at work, take the initiative, so that when the year is done and if you’re ready to move on, you’ve at least gotten everything you can out of that experience. When you change jobs, it is usually on average about a 10 percent pay increase.
That’s what you should be shooting for every time you are going for a new job. Research what the average pay is for that kind of job in your area. Get that knowledge about what’s out there already, so you get a good idea of what you should be getting paid.
And then what you do is, when you’re ready to go for your next job, you’re packed with that knowledge—but again, you don’t say your number first, you wait until they give it to you. But if you’re ready to ask for a raise or a promotion, you would typically do that about six months into the job, maybe a year into the job.
Maybe if you’re coming off a big win at work, you just finished a big project, that could be a good time to ask. And regardless of if you’re asking for a promotion or you’re looking at a new job, the thing to remember is what’s called “total comp,” which means total compensation.
It’s not just about money. If you’re lucky enough to work in a company that also gives you benefits, there’s vacation days, there’s health insurance, there’s flex time, there’s educational reimbursement. There are all sorts of things in your total comp that you can use as negotiation. So you can ask for the money that you’re looking for, and you might ask for a few extra things as well.
And I always recommend over-asking, like another 10 or 20 percent more than what you want, because that gives you room to negotiate. If they say, “Gosh, Grace, you’ve been doing such great work here, I’d love to give you that raise, but we don’t have it in our budget right now.” You say, “Okay, well, how about I get extra vacation time or you pay for an extra course of mine?” or something like that, so you have some room to negotiate a little bit.
One thing that I like to say to students as well is, you have to adjust your expectations. Oftentimes when we graduate, we think, “I’m going to go out, I’m going to get my job, and I’m starting the real world.” What happens though is career paths, they twist and they turn, and they’re no longer just a straight path.
You graduate, you get the job, you work there 40 years, you retire—that’s not today’s job market. And so I actually like to say that the first job you get out of school is almost like a continuation of your education, in that you’re experimenting, you’re learning, you’re seeing what works for you.
You can take these risks right now, because you’re probably going to be on your parents’ health insurance, you don’t have a mortgage to worry about. It’s not the end-all and be-all, that first job you get out of college, it can just be an extension of your education.
So that’s what I mean by adjusting your expectations. Don’t put so much pressure on that first job, because it’s just a stepping-stone to something else.
Saathoff: All right, thank you for talking to us today, Emily, you gave a lot of great information. I’m sure that so many students will use this to be successful as they graduate from BU and go out into the world to make the best of their careers.
Worden: Thank you, Grace, for making the time. And I just want to say congratulations again to all of you graduating seniors. You’re going to go out and make your dreams come true. You’ve got your whole life ahead of you and I’m just really excited for what you’re going to get done.
So thanks for listening.
Ferrante: Thanks to Grace Saathoff and Emily Worden for joining us on the final episode of this first season of Question of the Week. We’ll be taking the summer to work on season two, and promise we’ll be back in your feed in September.
This episode was engineered by Andy Hallock, edited by BU Today executive editor Doug Most, and produced by me, Dana Ferrante.
Congratulations again to all the graduating Terriers, and have a great summer!
Saathoff: I Googled this microphone; this microphone is $400.
Worden: Take it with you, Grace.
Saathoff: This is the nonmonetary negotiation.