Employer's Tough-Love Letter To New College Grads

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new grads work adviceInspired by Kent State University professor Bill Sledzik's blog post, "Dear Millennials: Your Parents Lied to You," Todd Defren, an employer, wrote an open letter to college grads. Defren gave AOL Jobs permission to reprint his letter here. Share your thoughts in the comments section below.

By Todd Defren
Hi, gang,

When Professor Sledzik suggests that the real world is tougher than you think, he's spot-on. Everything counts when you are job prospecting in the early days, including your writing style and use of grammar in resumes and cover letters, as well as your clothes, your advance research and relevant questions in the interview, and, your attention to the niceties of follow-up.

When you are hunting for a job, it's not about you
It's about me, the employer. I recently chatted with a fellow industry vet who regaled me with stories of 20-something job candidates whose questions included, "Why don't you tell me why I'd want this job?" (That's a terrible approach, in case you're wondering.)

Your cover letter should be flawless and interesting
Grammatical errors are perfectly acceptable -- so long as you don't mind if we immediately trash your letter. Get a friend, parent or professor to take a look. Does the letter stand out, in a professional way, or is it generic? Don't try to be extra clever, just be sincere. I expect that you've done some research on potential employers and have made my agency your top choice. So, why is that? And how can you help us?

Your resume should not be overstuffed with extraneous details
I already know you don't have a ton of experience; I don't really expect it. However, before you even send in that cover letter and resume, you should already be fairly visible on Twitter, Facebook, and/or your own blog. You've got time to surf the Web for fun, so carve out 30 minutes a day to post relevant content that prospective employers will find when they Google your name (which they will, by the way). If I already know of you, I'll be glad to get to actually know you; I'll be excited to see your resume come through.

Your choice of clothes is also important when you come in for the interview
Once you get the job, you can wear jeans to the office pretty much every day. Until then, wear a professional outfit. We need assurances that you care about your appearance -- that we can trust you to wear appropriate attire to a client meeting.

More: Are You Really Qualified For That Job?

Take out the nose ring for now, too. While it may be a "part of your personality," in the job search it's about sublimating the all-important Y-O-U for the sake of the organization.

Yes, we do have a couple of employees who sport (subtle) body-art and metal accoutrements, but they weren't worn (or showing) during the interview.

Got the job interview scheduled? Great! Now do some research
Read the agency's blog (or all of them, if there is more than one). Read several weeks' worth of posts. Take a look at the client list. Take a look at the newsroom. Read the bios of the principals and other top execs. Read up on the competition, too. Then come with questions. If you don't have a handful of thought-provoking questions, it's a fail, dude.

Ask follow up questions
And if you've been in a round-robin of interviews and exhausted all your questions along the way, I still suggest you never tell your last interviewer, "All my questions have been answered by your colleagues -- thanks, though." Instead, either a) re-ask those same questions, to make the interviewer feel important, or better yet, b) ask follow-up questions based on previous answers. This shows that you can think in the moment. That's a big plus.

OK, now, you got the job
Congrats! Give me two more minutes to suggest what you do with it.

The Millennial Generation is already known for being self-involved and in a rush. Luckily, many of you have the talent and drive to impress curmudgeonly Gen-X and Boomer employers, and we soon learn to look past those smarmy qualities. But the fact remains that those perceptions will be hard to shake. It will only get worse if you engage in a lot of job-hopping to find the perfect fit.

There is no such thing as a perfect fit
My advice then -- and you may see it as biased -- is to stay put for a while. I am talking three to five years, at least. There is no such thing as a perfect fit. You must create the perfect fit.

This is your apprenticeship period. It is supposed to suck
There are supposed to be crummy days when you feel underappreciated. Such days will occur no matter who signs your paycheck.

But there are rewards for loyalty, I promise
When I look around the table of my senior staff meetings, for example, most of the people at the meeting have been with the agency for five to 10 years. Some of them started as interns, and now they run million-dollar teams. All of them are under 40 (read: it doesn't take forever to get there). I am sure there were many days in the course of their careers when they felt underpaid or under-appreciated. But sooner or later, those situations were rectified; adjustments were made; it is a process -- one that required loyalty to something bigger than their bank account.

Meanwhile, I can't tell you how many resumes I receive from "former vice presidents" of large PR agencies who are pretty clearly not VP material. They were overpaid and over-promoted -- prizes often awarded to folks who skip from agency to agency in search of a new title or extra money. And when the economic downturn made that fact tough to hide, they find themselves scrapping for account manager positions.

So, cultivate your personal brand
  • Do your research.
  • Commit to quality.
  • Align yourself to the agency's cause for the long-term.
  • Remember that it's not all about you.
  • Then go kick some ass.
  • Thanks for listening,

Your Future Employer (who is hiring, by the way),

Todd Defren is a CEO at SHIFT Communications. A version of this story first appeared on his blog PR Squared.
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