I was delighted to be asked to write a blog for The Placement Exchange website. My topic was all about being prepared and “doing your homework” for the looming job search. Thanks to Nekesa Straker and the TPE blog for the opportunity to write about researching, while not creeping, on future employers and positions.
If your job search turns out anything like mine, you will hear the advice of “do your research” over and over again. You will hear it so often, it may start to lose its meaning, but doing your homework is often what will set you apart from other candidates. Showing off your research will help convince employers you want their job, not just any job.
- Ask yourself, “What is the university all about?” Community college? Research 1? Liberal arts? HBCU? Religiously affiliated? Urban campus? Showing you have a comprehension of the type of university is the first step to doing your research and showing it off in your cover letter, interviews, and on-campus experience. For example, I have always worked at Jesuit institutions. If a candidate doesn’t mention anything about Jesuit education anywhere in their cover letter, or gives a blank stare during an interview when we ask about their understanding of the Jesuit mission, they will likely not be moving forward in our process.
- Get the basics right. Nothing turns off an employer more than getting small, easy details wrong like the name of the position. Writing “Residence Hall Coordinator” when the job is actually “Hall Director” shows a lack of care and makes an employer wonder if you can bring an attention to detail to the position. Take a moment to check the spelling and titles of search committee members before you fire off a cover letter or thank you note. This means taking your time, and making sure you are applying to jobs in a slow, methodical fashion and not in marathon sessions, because this is often when details get missed. This also means reconsidering your plan to make a template cover letter and simply cut and paste specific details. Employers can smell a template a mile away!
- Think about the resources already at your disposal. Reach out to your network, your professors, your cohort-mates, your mentors, and co-workers to ask if anyone has connections at the university. Even if there isn’t a direct link to the specific department, you can still connect with folks to learn so much! You can gain knowledge about campus culture, student life, what it is like to live in the location, or if there are good support networks for your specific identities.
- Social media is your friend, when done in moderation. There are so many online resources for you to access information about the jobs that make your heart flutter. Official and unofficial Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram accounts, LinkedIn profiles, YikYak, SnapChat, university hashtags, student newspapers online, and don’t forget the tried and true departmental website. If you ask a question for which the answer is easily accessible from online resources, it may give the employer pause and wonder if you are serious about the position. Also, I offer a small caveat around online resources. You can be informed and ask thoughtful questions without coming off as a creep. For example, perhaps you notice an interviewer tweeting on a conference hashtag. Don’t ask them how their dinner was with their grad school bestie, but perhaps ask a question about their favorite session they have attended at the conference.
- Find a way to keep yourself organized and a way for this to be sustainable. It is great to have your stuff together during the phone interview season, but if you don’t keep this up during the TPE experience, you could sabotage yourself. One method I found helpful was to compile all of the information about the university, department, and position into a comprehensive folder with tabs. I also created a one-page overview of the most important information as a “cheat sheet” which I could quickly review during time between interviews. This helps keep it fresh and at the forefront of your mind to incorporate all of that hard-earned knowledge into your conversation with the employers. Whether it be note cards, file folders, a Google drive, setting up an Evernote account, or Post-Its, do what works for you to feel centered and as balanced as possible as you go into interview season.
- Allow yourself to be surprised. You should absolutely be prepared, but don’t make the mistake of thinking you know everything about a department or position solely from your extensive research. Ask thoughtful questions and be receptive to the answers. You could find out your dream school isn’t a great fit after all, while an underdog may race to the front of the pack.