As part of Bryant & Stratton College Online's efforts to bring resources and information to improve students' and graduates' employability skills, our blog staff sat down with career positioning expert Bob Prosen, president and CEO of The Prosen Center for Business Advancement, to talk about new career management strategies students can.
Q: You advise students to think like a hiring manager. What do you mean? What steps should students be taking?
A: This can be a bit of an intimidating subject for students because they really haven't studied anything outside of their education and can be unsure about the way businesses operate.
When I say think like a hiring manager or think like the employer, I mean the only reason anybody in business hires a person is to solve a set of problems that they're faced with. Employers are only going to hire someone if they find someone who can help them solve those problems faster, better, and less expensively than they could doing it on their own.
So, if a student can get themselves in a position where they deeply understand what I've just said and believe that's why employers hire, the question then is: What kind of problems are the job seeker trying to solve? They could be things like growing the business, developing new products, treating their customers more effectively and retaining them, improving their cost structure, building their online marketing capacity, improve their image in the marketplace, buy another company, integrate the people from one company with another, dealing with governmental regulations, on, and on, and on.
Once a student figures out that those are the problems their potential employer faces, the question then becomes one of: How do you take your skills, whatever they may be, and begin to offer some advice on how this target employer can solve some of those problems with you helping them do it? And the minute you can connect with somebody at that level, you begin to develop a relationship. And, if you can continue building that, it could culminate in a great job
Q: Part of thinking like a hiring manager is speaking like a hiring manager, how do you recommend students change the way the "talk?"
A: First students have to figure out what their strengths are and, once they do, they have to convert those strengths into a language that employers understand, namely job titles and descriptions. As a student reads job descriptions, it will tell them about what's expected from that job and will confirm that that's the right job for them. By converting their strengths to align with job titles and descriptions, students show themselves as having some, if not, a lot of the qualities that are being looked for in that job description.
For example, say I want to be a project manager, what I really should be saying is, "not only do I want to be a project manager, but I know how to bring projects in on time and on budget and work interdepartmentally with people to ensure that we have a good relationship and, ultimately, achieve what the business is trying to achieve." If a student can articulate these characteristics versus, "I just want to be a project manager," then they are going to get the attention of the hiring manager because, although they need to hire a project manager, that's not what they really want; they want somebody to do be able to say how they'll accomplish the job.
Q: What are some of the biggest mistakes that you see new college graduates making?
A: The students I work with first of all don't know the job they want specifically. So, they have to refine that and know exactly the job titles that they're interested in. If you don't know that and you're just firing off résumés, the chances of getting a job are reduced significantly. Most companies don't hire generalists. They hire people with specific skills for a specific problem. So a lot is riding on a college graduate's ability to understand the connection between what skills they have and what employers are looking for, then focus their job search on that particular skill set and corresponding job title.
The second is they stick to the classic résumé. There's wonderful career services in a lot of universities, and they teach their students - their graduating students - how to put together a résumé. But that résumé is the same résumé that everybody else is putting together, so at career fairs or when submitting a résumé to an employer, it's just one in a stack of maybe 100 with no differentiation. By putting some creative thought behind a résumé a student is more likely to stand out. I recommend making what I call a one-sheet that is written in the language of the hiring manager. A one-sheet addresses the solution a student can provide a company on the front and on the back offers the information about what a student has done and what his or her degree is in and maybe past work experience.
Q: How important is emotional intelligence to hiring managers? And, how can students communicate these employability skills best?
A: I think it's essential to hiring managers because the hiring manager these days doesn't have the luxury of having additional people on staff. They only hire the people they absolutely need and most of the people they have are doing more than the normal job because they're overworked.
Therefore, they need to ensure that whomever they bring into the organization has the ability to work well with other people, understand nonverbal cues and understand the impact they might have on their co-workers, how to facilitate conversations and how think creatively to create win/win situations.
The ability to have that dialogue and interaction with people in addition to all the technical skills or your specific area of expertise is essential in business today.
Q: What's one piece of advice all students should hear about looking for a job?
A: Never ask for a job. What the student should be doing is networking with people. And, when you network with people, the goal is to tell them the area that you're interested in and not ask them for anything other than who do they know who might be able to put me in contact with someone who might be interested in having me work for them?
So, I never put the person on the spot that I meet with. I only ask them if they know others that I should spend time with. And, could they introduce me to them? Using your network in this very sophisticated way is the most powerful thing you can do because getting a referral from someone is far better than sending in a blind résumé.