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What I Would -- and Did -- Say to new Grads

We all need to reinvent ourselves regularly. Here's how I suggest new grads--or anyone--go about it.

Rene Shimada Siegel

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On May 23, I had the honor of delivering the convocation keynote at my alma mater, San Jose State University, for the Department of Journalism and Mass Communications.

Unlike most graduation speeches, mine wasn’t esoteric or philosophical. I didn’t tell the graduating seniors to follow their dreams. Nope. I told them what they--and their tuition-paying parents--really wanted to hear: how to get a job. I shared practical job and career strategies I’ve seen work thousands of times. The full transcript, and a video, of the speech is here.

My tips aren’t just for college grads. We all need to regularly reinvent ourselves, no matter our industry or level of experience. Best of all, these tips come without a tuition fee.

1. Go out on a limb

In my college senior seminar class, we prepared for the real world by writing a cover letter and resume for a hypothetical job. I found a marketing coordinator position that requested three to five years’ experience, but I’d only done a single summer internship. I sent my cover letter and resume anyway. Surprise! The company hired me part-time while I was still a senior, and then full-time after graduation. For my fellow students, it was a 15-point assignment. For me, it was the beginning of a career in Silicon Valley.

The takeaway? Apply for everything. It costs nothing. Job descriptions are wish lists. And companies love people who are willing to put themselves out there.

As former President Jimmy Carter says: “Go out on a limb. That’s where the fruit is.”

2. Answer the frickin’ door!

Two years ago, I was asked to speak at a Student Leadership Conference, and made an offer to the audience. If a student would give me his or her name, email and major, I’d match him or her with a professional mentor from my personal network. For free.

One hundred students gave me their info. My team and I matched each student with professionals in similar career fields. We sent each student his or her mentor’s contact information and told them they were responsible for initiating contact.

Out of 100 students, how many do you think followed up with their mentors?

Zero.

Everyone wanted the golden ticket-;but nobody bothered to unwrap the Wonka bar. How many golden tickets do you think you’ll get in your lifetime? It doesn’t matter how busy you are. Or how intimidated you may feel. When opportunity knocks, answer the frickin’ door!

3. Make a sweet impression

My son, Adam, attends college in Los Angeles and wants to break into the entertainment industry-;along with everyone else in L.A.

In his freshman year, a Hollywood producer spoke to one of Adam’s classes. Afterward, Adam walked and chatted with her-;and learned they’d both worked at Baskin-Robbins and shared the same favorite ice cream flavor: peanut butter & chocolate.

The producer promised to connect Adam with a friend who owned a Hollywood talent agency for dancers and choreographers. He emailed to follow up and she kindly made the introduction. Adam got the unpaid internship at the dance agency. But that’s not the best part of the story.

After his first week at the internship, Adam bought a styrofoam ice chest, took a taxi to Baskin-Robbins, loaded the cooler with pints of peanut butter & chocolate ice cream, and delivered it to the producer’s office with a handwritten thank-you note. Total cost? About $50. Net value? Priceless.

Adam’s unpaid internship is now paid, and the agency sent him to work in their Broadway office in New York for the summer. Even though he’s just finished his junior year, they’ve already offered him a full-time talent agent job when he graduates.

People work with people they like, so pay attention and look for common threads with others. Then exceed expectations. That’s how you make a sweet impression-;to get that first job and excel throughout your career.

4. Work on your network

Your career depends less on what you know than on who you know. Don’t just connect with people you already know on social media. Reach out to people who know other people with opportunities. I’m getting resumes from friends of my kids, and I always take the time to reply. Buy a professional outfit and go to networking events where you can get face-to-face with professionals in your field. Then follow up.

If you don’t have a LinkedIn profile, whip one up NOW because employers like me will creep there first, and go to Facebook second. Your LinkedIn profile is accessible to millions of potential employers, while your resume goes to one person at a time (if you’re lucky). And if you’re on Facebook, get rid of those pictures of you downing tequila shots. Don’t post anything you wouldn’t want a potential boss to see.

5. Sweat the small stuff

I still see public relations spelled with a heinous typo on resumes. Try the word “public” spelled without the “L.” Yup. Would you believe there are 49,805 professionals on LinkedIn who’ve listed a job title as “Principle” instead of the correct “Principal?” Try it! Spell-check isn’t going to save you from either of these gaffes.

To be taken seriously as an educated, reliable professional, read and reread everything. Get fanatical about accuracy and integrity in all that you write, shoot or post.

And it’s game over if you spell my name or company name incorrectly.

6. Be a tiny bit braver

The economic news is getting better. The housing market is rebounding. The stock market recently reached a new high, followed by the S&P 500. Companies are hiring again. But in any job market, competition will always be fierce. Employers will always be picky.

It’s okay to be scared. I’m still scared every day. Deep down, I’m still the insecure girl who never dreamed of being a convocation speaker, writer for a global publication, or president of my own company. But when I’m scared, I know I’m still learning. Still growing. Fear is a great motivator. It gives you direction and focus.

I’ve found my passion for connecting and empowering people in their work and life. I get to do it with people I love and laugh with, every single day. And I had to create that from nothing. There was no template. If I can do it, you can too.

Just be a tiny bit braver tomorrow than you are today. In work, and in life.  

IMAGE: Courtesy Subject
Last updated: Jun 19, 2013

RENE SHIMADA SIEGEL is founder and president of High Tech Connect, a unique consulting partner for expert marketing and communications. After a successful career in Silicon Valley, she founded her company 15 years ago while juggling three kids under the age of five.
@renesiegel




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