Selling Yourself and Telling Your Story To Get Your Target Job Offer

It can be hard knowing where to start when looking for a job while you’re still in college. Knowing what to put on your resume when you don’t have a lot of work experience can be confusing. And once you get called in for an interview, how do you know how to effectively communicate to your potential employer? Kelly Kennedy, a student development and outreach career development, instructor, and coach at UConn talked with Hanna and Cari about how college students can use certain strategies to help them land their ideal first job.

Kelly, why don’t you introduce yourself and tell us a little more about your educational and professional background?

My background has been primarily in higher education. I’m currently at the School of Business at UConn. This is actually my sixth college, so I’ve done many different roles in higher education, but I also worked in corporate America and nonprofit. The work that I’m doing right now is sort of a combination of all of the positions that I’ve had in the past.

Kelly Kennedy

What exactly does a career development instructor and coach do?

I’m an educator. I handle all the Career Education for the School of Business. And I teach a Career Development required course for our business school students. I serve as a liaison for companies that want to recruit UConn talent. I also raise the bar by being a solid resource for students in any way that I can, in any learning modality that I can, so that they are a top candidate for the job that they are hoping for.

UConn School of Business

How has COVID affected you helping students?

It changed the way students would casually walk in, make an appointment, or sit down and chat with us about different challenges they’re having while they’re at the University. It was a challenge for, I would say, a good five to six weeks when the school shut down, and they asked us to go work from home. This is not a normal function for a university, administrators, or faculty to not be interacting face to face with students. We really needed to make sure that our communication structures, whether that be podcasts, social media, email, correspondence, etc., really had to be looked at to make sure that students were going to get what they needed. I think everyone has changed the way they communicate with COVID. Everyone has made some major adjustments, but that communication issue, I think, has been the biggest change that most people have implemented.

COVID-19 Has Changed the Way People Communicate

What exactly is the Immersion Boot Camp at UConn School of Business, and how is it beneficial to students?

When we started the program, we were looking at ways in which Sophomores could engage with companies in a way that were recruiting based, because companies would definitely notice talent when they were interacting with students. We also saw that there was a tremendous need for students to be developed. We were able to engage the students for two to three day programming where selective students, it was very selective, would be able to attend programming that Prudential provides to train our students so that they walked away with some skills. At the same time, it was beneficial to the company to meet up with our talented Sophomores. It was a win-win. The program is five years running, and now we are doing it in many different areas. This coming fall, I will be doing it for marketing students, and some healthcare programs. It’s really an opportunity for students to jump into the industry, see what it’s like, and see if it’s really a fit for them, as well as getting trained.

Can you explain what the UConn Summer Business Program is, and why would a student want to participate? And I also want to know how did COVID affect that over this past summer?

The summer program is actually one of my favorite things to run: 10 credits in seven weeks. I mean, what an incredible opportunity for students. It really serves as a gateway for students who are not in the Business School. It allows students to take business courses with our business faculty in a short amount of time. We also have students from non-business majors wanting to prepare themselves to apply to the school of business take this course. We had students take an analytics program this year, and they were able to catch up while home for the summer. We actually had some Georgetown students. We had Southern Connecticut State students who came home for the summer in May and realize this seven week program was going to help them gain some access that they were hoping for.

Students Working on Business Classes

It’s a four class program. In this particular case, we did business fundamentals, analytics, and an experiential learning component that ties the whole thing together. You can get my class and me as a career coach as a bonus, and the students are just absolutely love it. To answer your question regarding the COVID, we quickly transitioned to online. Normally this group of students would have had a in class experience. We just translated that to an online program, and it worked beautifully. We were really pleased with the results.

How do you help a student plan their career? Are there any common career mistakes that someone should avoid?

I find strategic ways where students learn a methodology of reflecting on their own skill, set their goals, researching their industry of choice, and identifying target companies. Within the class structure, we have identified a real job search methodology that students can take on and learn as a life skill as well. It’s not just for their first internship or first job. It is for a lifetime skill. Say 10 years from now, they want to change careers or maybe they got laid off, I want to provide for them a methodology that they utilize whenever they are in that situation.

Students Learn a Methodology For Job Search

I think there’s a lot of mistakes that students make when they’re applying for jobs. One of my most pet peeves is when students start applying as if they are part time jobs. When they’re in high school, and they’re applying for that lifeguard or that waitress position, they run around applying for a million different things, just hoping that something is going to take place. I call that throwing spaghetti against a wall and hoping it sticks. That is not the methodology you want to take. When you’re looking for a professional internship or position, you need to understand the differences that you have as an individual and how those are differentiators in the marketplace of the world of work. Students are not expected to know the world of work, but they definitely should have some understanding, and do some research around their particular industry. That’s the difference that we show them that makes the difference when they are competing against very other talented students, or other talented people, for full time opportunities.

Don’t Start Applying For Part Time Jobs – You’re Not in High School Anymore

It’s my role to serve as that coach, that liaison, that person who can provide them with some real work knowledge that could help them raise the bar and be a better candidate using a systematic method. We love spreadsheets. My first questions to every student, whenever they sit in my office, and they’re having a challenges is, “Where’s your spreadsheet? Where is your list of target companies? What do you know about them? What do you know about your industry?” These are the things that really have to drive them rather than “see a job apply, see a job apply.” The more research you do, the better job you will get.

How important is having a resume, and what should a college student put on their resume if they don’t have a job history?

Resumes are a necessary evil. Perhaps that at some point, I’m hoping in the next five to ten years, we’re going to go to a LinkedIn format to sort of remove the paper resume, but it is absolutely necessary for a student to have a resume. The most important piece of the resume is gathering the data and translating that to the workplace. Yes, it is important that you’ve had part time jobs. Yes, it is important that you’ve had experiences on campus. But how will you be translating that on that piece of paper? Is it jumping out? Are you using buzz words that are in your intended industry of choice? I always say, read the resume and ask the question, “Who cares about what I’m writing about?” Does it mean that you have the analytical skills that is going to match the job that you’re hoping to gain?

It’s Absolutely Necessary For A Student to Have a Resume

There are a lot of students that don’t have a lot to put on their resume and that’s okay. I would engage them earlier rather than later. Their freshman or sophomore year, we’re going to say to them, “You don’t have a lot on your resume right at the moment, what are you going to do about it?” We’re going to encourage them to join clubs based on their major, join leadership programs, or take a leadership role. These are the things that are not only going to stretch them as a muscle, as far as knowing what their strengths are, but also they are going to showcase that they’ve moved in the direction of their intended industry which, quite frankly, is all a company wants to see.

I say a million times that people get nervous about having that white space on the resume, and they’re afraid to apply, or they’re afraid to move forward. You either have to put some action behind that white space, and see what’s available, particularly at a school like UConn. UConn has about 300-400 clubs available for students to invest their time and energy in. There are people all over the place that can give them advice on how they can engage on campus and fill that white space with more strategic things that are going to make a difference in the end.

Take a Leadership Role at Your College to Fill In Your Resume

Let’s say a student puts together a resume, they apply for a job, and then the company wants them to come in for an interview. Do you help prepare students for their job interviews? If so, what advice would you have for them?

We do prepare students for the interview process. That that is the second step in our course description. We give them a very good understanding of the types of interviews that companies will be asking for. That could be phone video or a prepared video taped. We use a practice video tape system called Spark Hire. We give the questions and the student is able to answer on video. We do a lot of giving them feedback on how they are perceived, and how well they’re answering the questions. Most importantly, we look at if the student is storytelling well, because I think students have a tendency to be sort of insecure about the experiences that they currently have.

I would caution students to not doubt yourselves. You are exactly where you need to be in the process, and you just need to own it. You need to own it and sell it to the company. I think storytelling plays an important part in that practice. It’s coupled with the research they have done in their industry of choice. That storytelling really is the proof to the company that not only are you interested in this marketing role, or this healthcare role, but you’ve also identify your own strengths, and you see the synergies between the two. We do a lot of different things that will help the student gain that skill of interviewing. That storytelling function is definitely a reflection that they would have to go home, write out the story, and practice it with friends. Your practice really should examine the job description, and it should research the company.

Practice Your Interview Storytelling With Friends

When you develop those stories around the common interview questions, like tell me about yourself, you can raise the bar in the answers that you give. I mean, as you’re asking questions to me, I’m thinking about how I’m going to frame the actual conversation we’re having. That is when students really raise the bar in their skill of interviewing. They really think about, “How is the company receiving this information? Do I start at the beginning? Do I add important details that is going to be important for them to know me better?” One of the things that always happens in an interview, particularly when we’re watching a video interview, is a student will drop the end of the story. Okay, that’s it , I’m done, or they don’t clean it up.

Don’t Drop the End of Your Story When Interviewing

They don’t finish the conversation because they perhaps might be thinking they’re talking too long. As far as I’m concerned, you’re never talking too long in regards to interviewing, because this is your chance to shine. So writing out the story, eliminating some details that are really not important, can really frame a story by showcasing your strengths. We always close with what’s important to the company. You might even say something like, “What’s important that you remember from this story…” You definitely want to think about how are you going to begin this story, and how you’re going to end it, because those things are what’s most memorable to the recruiter or the person interviewing you on the phone.

Let’s say that you have your resume, you’re prepared for your interviews, but you still having a hard time finding a job in your specific field. Should a student accept a job that isn’t in their field?

I think if I was sitting across from a student right now and they said that I’m having a hard time finding it in my field, I would ask them more detailed questions, “Have you researched your field? Do you understand how your field recruits?” I’ve had so many students in particular fields not even realize that the recruitment process is in the spring. And they’re saying to me, “It’s in the fall right now, and I don’t see any jobs available.” I think they have to do a little more research in their field and understand who are the players in their fields. I would ask them the questions, “Have they networked? Have they talked with their alums from their university? Do they have a list of target companies? How do they spend their time job searching?”

Have You Spent Time Networking When Looking For A Job In Your Field?

Students really need to feel that they are not just students right now. They are potential employees of that industry. The more they do that on an interview, in a resume, in a cover letter, and they act as if they are professionals already, then they are hirable. That’s when they become super credible. Students will say, “Oh, well, there’s just so many college students.” They feel overwhelmed with the competition. I tell them, “You are going to have a hard time finding a job in your field, because it is competitive. So what are you going to do to make that happen? What are you going to do to differentiate yourself? What are you going to do to have a systematic methodology?” That’s going to help you find the hidden job market to find the jobs that perhaps people can recommend.

There’s certain circumstances where you would want to do something that would break into an industry. Even with a downturn economy, it really is about the skills. Are you taking this job because there’s nothing else, or are you taking the job because you’re excited about it? Many times I will tell students, “Don’t take an internship that doesn’t pay, because you’re a business school student, and you really should be able to find an internship that that is not for free.” For example, the Boston Red Sox is a free internship. It’s an unpaid internship, and many of our students are interested in sports management. That’s a particular one, if you are able to get that internship at the Boston Red Sox, there’s no doubt in my mind that I would say there’s benefits to you by being part in or breaking into that industry through the Boston Red Sox. So I don’t think there’s a yes or no of whether or not they should accept a job that isn’t their field.

Sometimes a Free Internship is Worth It for the Work Experience

Do you recommend other job search methods besides online search?

I think with regards to searching for jobs that are currently posted, I would say that is very well respected and would recommend tremendously. The second one that I would recommend would be the LinkedIn Jobs tab. Those two sites do a tremendous amount of work behind the scenes to make sure that job is still available. The LinkedIn Jobs tab is very quick overturn, and you can actually see how long the job has been posted. They’re very specific and very accurate with their information, which I absolutely love. The third piece that I always recommend for students is their particular school. If you were to look at what we call Handshake, the Husky career link, these are the jobs that companies have posted specifically for University of Connecticut students. Those would be the three websites I would recommend when making job applications.

Follow up is the key. For example, if you’re looking at some of the opportunities that are on LinkedIn or Indeed, or on the UConn website, we look at those and say, “Well, which ones of those are recruiting at UConn?” As far as methodology goes, we’re going to be looking at ways that are going to, what I call, add sugar to the application. The student may have dreams of working at Google and Facebook and eBay, but do we have alumni there? Do they recruit at UConn? Is there a recruiting structure there? How can I get closer to the application through a person?

Don’t Chase Jobs, Chase People. People Create Jobs

My students will hear me say time and time again, “Do not chase jobs, chase people, because people create jobs.” So if you’re chasing jobs, just because it’s listed on a website, that’s tough as a young professional, because you don’t have as many professional contacts as you hope. If you take a look at the companies that are recruiting on a regular basis at your University, those are the ones that have a little sugar attached to them. Those are the ones that are looking for you, as you’re looking for them. If you don’t know the companies, and you don’t understand the companies in your industry of choice, then you’re going to miss a lot of great opportunities. These are the things that we’re working on in class by teaching students how to find that hidden job market.

How has COVID-19 affected the job market for recent college graduates, and how long do you think the job market will be affected by this pandemic?

COVID has definitely affected the job market in regards to communication. I think we just received an email yesterday about campus recruiting going 100% online. It’s going to change the way you interact. Even when students thought the applicant tracking system was very impersonal, it’s going to go even more so. I really look at it as an opportunity, because whether you’re in a downturn economy or of COVID, which is certainly unprecedented, you still have to have a strategic way to look at your job search. You have to have a way you can showcase your skills, that will make you shine. I think entry level professionals will have a harder time, just because it’s job search, but there is always a need for that young professional to keep the company going.

Experienced Professionals May Have a Harder Time Finding a Job During COVID-19

There’s a tremendous amount of low level positions that really make a company. To be honest with you, I actually believe that my more experienced clients that I work with are going to have a harder time, because they have a higher salary demand. They have a geographic demand. They may have a spouse or young children that prevent them from relocating. They have a lot more complexity to their job search than our young professionals do. We should look at how COVID can actually help us in job scenarios. For example, we’re going to be launching a program on micro internships, and they are across the country. Wow, that’s pretty amazing. Maybe a student who was really set on staying in Connecticut is now going to be able to work with a company in Chicago online.

I think the fact that companies are not going to be physically present recruiting on campus, can open the door for not only new and exciting companies, but it can also open the door for you being an applicant as a student to that company. For example, if we looked at Goldman Sachs or really elite finance programs, they have their core schools that they currently make relationships with where they hire a lot of students. Well, guess what? They’re not traveling to those core schools. The playing field is open as far as I’m concerned. I’m going to encourage my students to open their eyes, sort of dream bigger, so that the pandemic can be a way in which they grow, instead of thinking that it’s a limitation. Not to mention this generation is certainly technically savvy.

Companies Are Not Recruiting On Campuses. Turn It Into An Opportunity.

Do you feel that today’s college students are being fully prepared to successfully enter the workforce, and are there any changes you feel that need to be made?

Yes, I do think students today are ready to enter the workforce. I think there’s a couple of ways in which you can be prepared to raise the bar. One is confidence level. I’ve worked with over 7,500 students over the last 12 years in helping them find a job. I’m always fascinated by students who don’t feel they’re ready. It’s sort of an ownership of the moment they’re saying, “Well, I’d really like to apply for this position, but I don’t have any experience in X, Y, Z.” I’m sitting across from them, and I’m thinking to myself, “I know you, and I know how amazing you are.” I can’t imagine that any company would actually expect that a college student, 18 to 21 years of age, would have an amazing experience on their resume.

Be Confident In Your Abilities

Companies know how old you are, and they know what you’re capable of. What they want to see from you is, are you the student that can take in information? Are you credible? Are you knowledgeable? Are you somebody who is likable to work with? These are the things that students don’t realize are the soft skills that actually are what companies are looking for. Again, some of my sayings that I say to students all the time, “Likability wins every time.” Students are sitting in the interview worrying about the white space on their resume, when really they should be spending the time owning and being authentic to who they are, and not downplaying their experiences. Any experience they have has some skill building value to it. And a company sees the value. If you have a really good recruiter on your hands, they will ask the right questions to get those answers. I always say, “You’re never sure if you’re going to get asked the right question on that interview. So you want to make sure that you are putting your best self out there.”

Likeability Wins Every Time

The second part is the professionalism part. On our first day of class, we will be having a good 20 minute conversation about professionalism. What does that mean? Our Office of Academic Advising is sending out information on how to be more professional, because that is one of our cornerstones of the School of Business. Students are going to showcase this in their confidence. You showcase professionalism in your email structure, how you respond, and how quickly you respond. Are you showcasing that you’re ready for work? Any work? How much is the company going to have to change you? How much are they going to have to train you to be a person who can work in an office, who can send an email, who can send professional letter salutations?

One of the biggest pet peeves I have is using the word, “Hey.” Students will write, “Hey professor, Hey Mrs. Kennedy.” That is not going to play well in the workplace. You have to play the game. You have to be that professional. Saying you want an analytical position in finance at a bank is not enough, just because you say you were finance major. You have to showcase this through professionalism. We do this in our class, we raise the bar. We ask them to be that professional person. We say to them, “If you can’t come to class, you need to email your teaching assistant. You need to let us know why you can’t come to class.” Because if I couldn’t come to work today, I have to email my boss.

Step Up Your Game and Be More Professional

We play this game by saying, “Step up your game, be more professional.” Do the research that’s in your intended industry. I think students are completely ready when it comes to the energy and enthusiasm they have for the workplace. If I was going to say there were a couple of things they could work on: One would be the professionalism set, and the second would be the confidence that they have with their own abilities and their own abilities to learn. This is a long road they’re going to have. This generation is going to have 40 jobs in their lifetime. You might as well start from the beginning.

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