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Looking for Good Employees? Try Using Referrals as a Hiring Tool

April 20th, 2011 ::

By Rieva Lesonsky

Are you looking for employees, part-timers or even freelancers to help your small business carry its workload? Whatever option you’re considering, there’s one way of finding good workers that works great: using referrals.

I was reminded of the power of referrals recently when I read this blog post on BNet.com in which entrepreneur Grant Powell shares how he pulled together a standout team of creative people using referral hiring.

Referrals in hiring have always worked for me. Today, when so many of us use social networking tools like Facebook and LinkedIn to find people, it may seem like hiring with referrals is a no-brainer. But here are some tips that make this method work even better.

Know the source. If you put the word out on social media, you may get lots of referrals, and that’s great. But consider where those referrals come from. How well do you truly know that LinkedIn connection or Twitter follower—and how well do they know you and your business? People who have nothing to lose may throw out any old referral in an effort to “be helpful.” The best referrals come from people who know what type of worker you want on your team and what your standards are.

Enlist your employees. Your current staff is one of your best sources of referrals—after all, they’re on the inside of your business and know how things work. Encourage referrals by offering some type of incentive, such as a cash bonus or a day off with pay, for a referral that leads to a successful hire. (Note the key word “successful.”)

Consider contractors. Just like employees, your independent contractors can be a key source of referrals. Mindful that they could ruin their relationship with you if they refer you to a dud, they’re likely to be very careful about whom they refer. However, keep in mind that contractors don’t want to refer themselves out of a gig—so be sure you ask contractors only for referrals to people who aren’t competitive with them. For instance, if you are looking for a marketing copywriter or website designer, you could ask a graphic designer that you regularly use, since graphic artists regularly team with these types of people on projects.

Don’t ignore standard operating procedure. Just because someone is referred by your best employee, your top contractor or even your mom doesn’t mean you should ignore the essential steps of checking references, thoroughly interviewing the person and making sure he or she is qualified. In fact, it’s even more important to take these steps so your relationship with the person who referred the employee doesn’t go south if the employee fails to work out.

If you follow these steps, referral hiring can be a great way to find workers who are a perfect fit with your company’s needs and goals.

Image by Flickr user spring stone (Creative Commons)

Where Is It You Work Again?

June 7th, 2010 ::

by Robin Ferrier

Photo courtesy Mara 1. Flickr Creative Commons.

Today’s advice, gleaned from my 10+ years in the working world…

Where you work is as important — no, scratch that — it’s MORE important than what you do.

What do I mean by that?

If you’re the typical job hunter, you probably know WHAT you want to do. You want to work in marketing… in business development. You’re an accountant… an engineer… an architect… So you go to job search sites and look for jobs that sound interesting. You discount many jobs because the description doesn’t match exactly what you want to do. BAD IDEA!

Because here’s a secret most employers will never tell you: a job description can change in the blink of an eye.

I can’t think of one job I’ve had where the job I ended up doing matched the job description for which I was hired. My job — and the description of what I do — has always evolved, be it because I’ve exceeded expectations, because together we’ve discovered a new talent, or because the department itself has evolved to meet new company needs.

My point? Don’t go out there looking for the perfect job. Because even if the job description sounds perfect, chances are it’s not what you’ll end up doing.

Instead, figure out WHERE you want to work. Because the corporate culture at a for-profit company is VASTLY different from that of a non-profit. (I know this because I’ve worked in both.) Higher education is a far cry from Wall Street. And the opportunities that pop up in a smaller company are going to look different from what you’ll find in a large, Fortune 500 company. Research companies and organizations in your area. Visit their web sites. Read company blogs. Find employees on LinkedIn and connect with them. Use the newly launched LinkedIn “Follow a Company” feature. There are A LOT of ways to do your due diligence and find out more about potential employers.

Finding a corporate culture that matches your personality is as much — if not more — of an indicator of future career/workplace happiness as finding the job where your assigned “duties and responsibilities” are a perfect match for what you think you want.

And last, realize some of your best times and your best assignments and your best career discoveries and realizations will fall under the very real job responsibility known as: “Other duties as assigned.”

Robin Ferrier is the editor of What’s Next, Gen Y? and Communications Manager for the Johns Hopkins University Montgomery County Campus. She is also the President of the Capital Communicators Group, co-chair of the Marketing Committee for the Tech Council of Maryland, and chair of the PR Committee for the Gaithersburg Book Festival. She has inadvertently become a frequent career / professional / job hunt resource for friends and colleagues due to a career path that has included five jobs in 12 years.

Why I will reject you…

June 2nd, 2010 ::

by Patrick Madsen

Photo courtesy smemon87 / Sean MacEntee. Flickr Creative Commons.

I am a part of what is known as “Generation X.” I am supposed to be your ally, part of the generation in the working world that understands you best. After all, we both come from a time of computers and the internet, and according to everything you read, we share a number of other characteristics and abilities. So why is it that I would reject your application, reject you during the interview, and may not even respond to you at all? Easy… because you are not showing me why I should.

Here are just a few reasons you may get rejected by me:

  1. Professional image: Yes, business attire has changed and business casual has become more of the “norm” in corporate American. BUT that doesn’t mean that you can wear flip-flops to work, not brush your hair, or wear “Saturday night” attire to an interview or to networking occasions. The people that are still in charge and making the hiring decisions will look for the professionally dressed.
  2. Your attitude: Just because I am not standing in front of you does not mean that I will not hear about EVERYTHING you said and did. I remember a student who showed up to our building for an appointment only to discover that I was not in the building. He threw a temper tantrum in front of our reception team, demanded to see my boss, and wrote a two page grievance letter to the dean. While printing this letter, he decided to check his email only to find out that he had mixed up the appointment day/time. He didn’t turn in the letter to the dean. But I still heard the whole story. So be careful about the image you are projecting AT ALL TIMES as it can affect your career opportunities in the future, especially when you don’t yet have a proven track record. No one wants to hire someone with a poor attitude or who cannot act professionally. (Side note: Even had I been wrong and gotten the date messed up, the temper tantrum in the lobby would have immediately put this student in the “no” pile had I been a hiring manager.)
  3. You don’t care: I can quickly pick out those who really care about the job and those who just see it as a means to an end. Find something you are passionate about and go after it. Don’t settle for something that you will hang onto only for a short time and then move on. Your passion, or lack thereof, can be seen on your face, your demeanor, and presentation. That said, I also don’t want you to think that your first job will be your “dream job” and will meet your every criterion. But there is a mid-point between those two extremes.
  4. Spelling and grammar: You’ve heard this before, I’m sure, but it bears repeating: One negative trend that technology has created is the lack of professional writing. With people instant messaging, tweeting, and texting, their ability to coherently develop structured writing based on the “rules” we learned in school has gone by the wayside. Emails that are poorly developed, resumes with one spelling mistake, or even a connection request on LinkedIn that has errors often will land you in the “no” pile vs. the “yes” pile.

People forget that a job interview is a sales call. You need to sell me your “value”! Why should I want to hire you if you cannot sell me on the idea of you? Think about yourself as a product. What would make a consumer purchase that product?

And remember that you are still playing in the world developed by those from the Baby Boomer Generation and Generation X. Learn as much as you can about how they think, how they work, and what motivates them. The more you know, the more it will help you interact with those from the generations doing the hiring.

Patrick Madsen, Director of Programs & Education in Career Services at the Johns Hopkins University Carey Business SchoolPatrick Madsen is the Director of Programs & Education in Career Services at the Johns Hopkins University Carey Business School. He manages the Programs & Education curriculum to include career advising services, speaker series, brand management training, and other events to help students prepare themselves for the world of work. His background includes a degree in Psychology from North Carolina State University, a masters degree in Counseling from East Carolina University, and a doctorate in Organizational Leadership/Student Affairs from Nova Southeastern University.

The Truth About References in the Social Media Age

May 18th, 2010 ::

by Robin Ferrier

It used to be easy. A company asked for references. You provided the names and contact information of those people you knew would say good things about you. Simple, right?

Not anymore.

In case you didn’t realize it, in today’s social media-permeated world of LinkedIn and Facebook and Twitter, it’s a lot easier for a hiring manager to get the “unofficial” scoop on potential job candidates. And it’s being done. I promise.

Just to prove my point, here’s an example from my personal life that supports this theory, even if it doesn’t involve a hiring situation. One of my colleagues was looking to connect with someone from a local biotech company. They asked if I knew anywhere there. I didn’t. However, a quick search on the company’s name via LinkedIn showed that I had a 2nd degree connection to someone from that company. A simple email to my connector point and a few days later I had a lunch meeting set up with that 2nd degree connection. It was that easy.

And if it was that easy (and quick) for me to make that connection, you can bet that recruiters and hiring managers are doing the same thing to check up on you and your past. They’re doing it to check up on how well you did at your internships, your summer jobs, your college activities…

So what does this mean?

  • It means you’d better work your a** off – and look to prove yourself – at everything you do, even when you’re “only” in college or “only” working a summer job. And even if that summer job is “only” manual labor.
  • It means you’d better conduct yourself professionally when you’re leaving a company for your second job. (And yes, there is a right and a wrong way to give notice and leave a job. More on that in another post.)
  • And it means information you think is private online isn’t. Because who knows if a friend of mine is a friend of yours and has access to your supposedly private pictures or musings on Facebook. (Of course, if you haven’t picked up on that fact yet, maybe you should just stop reading now!)
  • And it means that all bets are off when it comes to references these days.

Disconcerting? Yes. But it’s reality. And it’s just another reason you’d better realize that what you do = who you are = your personal brand = your reputation = your chances of getting hired.

And it makes me all the happier that all this social media hoopla didn’t exist when I was leaving college!

Robin Ferrier is the editor of What’s Next, Gen Y? and Communications Manager for the Johns Hopkins University Montgomery County Campus. She is also the President of the Capital Communicators Group and the co-chair of the Marketing Committee for the Tech Council of Maryland. She has inadvertently become a frequent career / professional / job hunt resource for friends and colleagues due to a career path that has included five jobs in 12 years.

Best Of… Social Media — From Your Online Persona to Twitter to Job Searches

May 7th, 2010 ::

by Robin Ferrier

http://www.flickr.com/photos/benimoto/ / CC BY 2.0

There is so much good information floating out there in the Web-o-sphere — or the Interwebs, as one of my friends likes to call it — that it’s easy to find yourself in information overload. I see it every day with all the great articles my friends are posting to their blogs, their Twitter accounts, their Facebook pages… so I thought I’d start a regular “best of” feature for this blog that would be a regular round-up of some other great career resources/articles. (After all, why reinvent the wheel, right?) With that in mind, our first “Best of…” feature gets underway with a look at some of my recent “favs” regarding social media.

How I balance personal & professional on Twitter
from Denise Graveline (@dontgetcaught) of Don’t Get Caught communications

With tips ranging from why you should include some personal information in your tweets to advice on what you should leave out, Denise Graveline does it again, providing a thoughtful, insightful look at best practices in Twitter use.

MY ADDITIONAL TIP: Look at your tweet balance. By this I mean, how much is personal (in my case, my work on the Gaithersburg Book Festival, complaints about bad service at stores or restaurants, anything related to wine, dogs, or writing) vs. work (in my case, generally anything related to: marketing or PR, economic development, career development, or Johns Hopkins University)? I tend to think you should, in general, want to be 66-75% “work” and the remainder “fun.” (By the way, I tweet at @rferrier. Feel free to follow. You’ll find links to additional career resources and articles.)

Make sure your online self matches your real self during job interviews
by Jennifer Nycz-Conner (@JenConner), a Washington Business Journal reporter and blogger… and contributor to this blog

Jennifer writes about the importance of making sure your “online (unofficial) resume” matches the resume you’re presenting to employers.

Dear Bev: How Should I Use Social Networking In My Job Search?
from MediaPost Publications

A look at how you can EFFECTIVELY employ LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter in your job search.

MY $0.02: Yes, you should be on LinkedIn. Do it now. It’s one of the top professional social networking sites. As to recommendations on LinkedIn, make sure yours are not just from friends. The recommendations should come from your university professors, supervisors at summer jobs or internships, etc. Also, don’t underestimate the value of using the Answers section of LinkedIn. (In the interest of full disclosure, I don’t use them enough. But Jason Alba from JibberJobber is a pro at this and writes about the topic on a regular basis!) Ask questions. Answer others’ questions. It can help you start to establish your professional persona.

4 Ways to Utilize LinkedIn’s “Follow Company” Feature
by Andrew G. Rosen on Social Times

Did you know LinkedIn has a new “follow company” feature? I didn’t… until I saw this post. (Thanks, @GenerationsGuru for the tweet about this!) Andrew Rosen provides some great tips on how to use the feature, including a reminder that you should be targeting companies you want to work for as much as you are looking for jobs that fit what you want to do.

MY THOUGHTS: Where you work is as important as what you do. It truly is. A lot of people would benefit from following Andrew’s advice. I think there’s a lot of merit in taking a less-than-perfect job — at least according to its job description — if it’s for a company you admire and for which you want to work.

So there’s a round-up of some of my recent career-related readings. What about you? Any good articles you’d recommend? Or do you have your own advice related to these topics? Let us know. Weigh in below!

Robin Ferrier is the editor of What’s Next, Gen Y? and Communications Manager for the Johns Hopkins University Montgomery County Campus. She is also the President of the Capital Communicators Group and the co-chair of the Marketing Committee for the Tech Council of Maryland. She has inadvertently become a frequent career / professional / job hunt resource for friends and colleagues due to a career path that has included five jobs in 12 years.

Personal Branding and Your Online Persona

May 4th, 2010 ::

by Patti Nuttycombe Cochran

Image: emdot / marya, Flicker Creative Commons

You need to be vigilant 24/7 on all sites where you have a presence, profile… or where you’re adding “interesting commentary or banter” publicly on friends or colleagues’ sites.

I know it’s cool to engage in “exhibitionist-speak” on Facebook or Twitter. You know what I’m talkin’ about: those self-absorbed status updates that completely don’t matter to anyone but the author?? Or posts from those whom I’m sure feel superior or RELIEVED when they’ve just blasted off on someone on some social media platform.

Stop thinking these are private sites where you can have a one-on-one confidential conversation or exchange. Always assume that whatever you post is visible, viewable, usable and confusable by the entire free world! When you operate under this assumption, your posts will be less hip, cool, clever and funny and boomerang-like…

But a lot more acceptable, safe, generic and worry free. With the fabulous internet, things are out there forever — good or bad. There are no make-goods, “ooops-I-didn’t-mean-its”! It’s forever. Always. Undeniable. Attributable.

So, with that annoying fact out in the open, here are a couple examples of career-ending blunder statements that one can’t recover from. I offer these in the spirit of helpfulness. Translation: DON’T MAKE THESE MISTAKES!

Career Ending Social Media Status Updates…

  • “I hate my client” – Never use the word HATE! Anywhere… but certainly not on a Social Media site! And, HATE and CLIENT in the same sentence???? What are you thinking? Goodbye direct deposit from your paying gig…
  • “I don’t want to deal with anymore STUPID customers” — Okay, this is only SLIGHTLY less incendiary than the example above! Goodbye direct deposit from that paying gig, AND you’ll never work for any of those clients, either!
  • “Supposed to be working” — now THIS ONE seems benign, right? I hope you answered No. Yet, Twitter is riddled with this dumb comment! Clients, bosses and others who might be depending on you read this and think, “Wait a minute… we’ve got a project to finish… he/she’s on our dime…”
  • Updating Facebook when you’re supposedly ill. This one’s particularly stupid, too, when the person has “friended” their Boss on FB! Nice. So all through the day that you’re “illin’”, the boss is watching your updates about the fun stuff you’re doing. Makes the next day at work interesting!

Remember: don’t put your brand AND your relationships at risk. Be extremely self-aware and DEFENSIVE of your image: In the flesh AND online!

Patti Nuttycombe Cochran is Vice President-Client Services Consultant at Right Management, a global provider of Career Transition services and consulting expertise on Talent Management, Leadership Development, and Organizational Effectiveness. Patti is an avid networker interested in building the region’s business and philanthropic communities.

Outsmarting your competition is easier than you think (but it does require some effort)

April 22nd, 2010 ::

By Jennifer Nycz-Conner

http://www.flickr.com/photos/pshan427/ / CC BY 2.0

I’ve been out of college for … well, let’s just say longer than I’d like to admit. Plenty has changed since then. Today’s twenty-somethings don’t have to battle the eternal questions surrounding the job application process: how many pages a resume should be, sending it flat versus folded in a regular envelope, to use a staple or paper clip.

But there are still plenty, less tangible, attributes that remain constant. A big one? How to make yourself stand out from the masses. In a good way.

With many years as someone who’s both been hired and done the hiring, I’ll let you in on a secret: It’s not really that hard to do. It will require some effort, however.

Steve Buttry has a fantastic example of this on his blog. As the Director of Community Engagement for Allbritton Communications’ new Washington, D.C. yet-to-be-named Web site, Buttry is on what in this economy could be referred to as a hiring spree, with plenty of qualified candidates from which to choose. But in his latest hiring announcement for a social media producer, candidate Mandy Jenkins popped to the top of the pile:

“Other excellent candidates interviewed before Mandy, though, and I thought of this as a crowded field when she arrived for an interview. I saw good signs even before she reached the office. She checked in from the Metro station nearby about 20 minutes before the interview, then from a nearby coffee shop. When I commented on that as I met her in the lobby of our offices, she told me she was using the beta of check.in, a new service that checks you in on multiple location-based platforms at once. There’s a good interviewing tip for you: If you’re applying for a social media job, start the interview right by telling the prospective boss even before you sit down that you’re using something he’s never heard of.”

That is a classic example of doing your homework, getting into your potential boss’ head and finding a way to use actions, not words to demonstrate why you are the right choice.

Here are some tips to make yourself stand out throughout the entire life cycle of the application process. It sounds like common sense, but many people do not do any of these, let alone all:

  • Spelling. Yes, this is basic, but you’d be amazed how many people don’t check their spelling. Want to show, not just say, you’re detail oriented? Spell your potential boss’ name correctly.
  • Do your homework. There is no excuse not to have done research on a potential employer today. It’s too easy not to. Don’t stop at the first two Google links you see. Go on LinkedIn and see where that hiring manager has worked previously. Check the news sites to find out what the company, and more importantly, its competitors, have been grappling with. Looking through social networking sites to find people you may know in common, or people that have worked at that company in the past. Ask them for guidance on what life is like inside the company. All of this is critical to prepare for the dreaded, “So, do you have any questions for me?” question. Which brings me to the next point…
  • Have a topic — or topics — ready for the dreaded, “So, do you have any questions for me?” question. You know it’s coming. Prepare for it. Better yet, use it as an opportunity to show what you know about the industry, your critical thinking skills, and your ability to add something to the team.
  • Think like your potential boss. If you were him or her, what kinds of questions would you ask? What kinds of answers would you want to hear?
  • Outthink your competition. What are your best competitors likely to do? How can you do it better, faster, different?
  • Follow up. Send the thank you note, and quickly (yes, it matters, says the girl who cringes at the thoughts of the ones I should have sent). Stay in touch, about the job, about the company and particularly with the person.
  • Be passionate. Anyone can have experience, or be shown how to do a job. Enthusiasm and passion cannot be taught. If you have it, show it.

Jennifer Nycz-Conner is a Senior Staff Reporter and Media Strategy Manager for the Washington Business Journal. You can read more great advice from Jennifer on Working the Room, her blog for the Washington Business Journal.

Your Personal Brand: An Individual Evaluation

April 16th, 2010 ::

by Patti Nuttycombe Cochran

As a result of my recent offer, several courageous readers requested a Personal Brand Evaluation and the process was interesting and happily very positive!

Let’s take the example of Glen Montgomery, a passionate video editor from Ohio who submitted himself and his online persona for a Brand Evaluation. After googling, twittering, yahoo-ing, myspacing, facebooking and Linking-In…here’s my evaluation:

Glen’s image is consistent and passionate. There’s a terrific alignment within his multiple profiles.

His Twitter following is impressive and he incorporates multimedia links which give his profiles depth. His passion for filmmaking, editing and the world of film is palpable on all sites. I came away really admiring his drive, passion and interest in his profession!

His photo image on Google and Yahoo and LinkedIn is a wonderfully happy photo. Facebook, while a different photo image, shows someone fun-loving yet is “safe” from judgment or scrutiny by recruiters or employers. He’s used filters well, so that what he chooses to keep private is kept private. Smart!

A couple thoughts:

  • Glen’s LinkedIn page was updated one month ago… perhaps more regular updates would keep his name active in LinkedIn’s status updates thereby creating a more prolific impression.
  • He also describes himself as “trying to find himself in the world of post-production.” This description is wistful, but suggests desperation or someone who’s seeking. A bolder description that claims his ability and passion would be stronger as an overall description.

But, generally, Glen’s done a terrific job of presenting himself to the world as a focused, passionate individual with clear direction.

I hope Glen will stay in touch with us — and perhaps even submit some blog posts for us talking about his quest to “find himself in the world of post-production” so we can see if he’s successful.

Patti Nuttycombe Cochran is Vice President-Client Services Consultant at Right Management, a global provider of Career Transition services and consulting expertise on Talent Management, Leadership Development, and Organizational Effectiveness. Patti is an avid networker interested in building the region’s business and philanthropic communities.

Your Job Search: Is it like looking for water in the desert?

April 12th, 2010 ::

Desert Landscape

http://www.flickr.com/photos/sidavid/ / CC BY 2.0

Guess what? The world changes constantly. (Big surprise, right?)

It wasn’t that long ago that we were riding high with the many new industries opened up by the introduction of the world wide web and the fascination of what a company could do with computers. Jobs were abundant. Nationwide, headhunters were gathering candidates before graduation. It’s not happening like that today. (But you already know what that. You’ve probably experienced it first hand.) Why, you ask? Well, in case you’ve been living under a rock – and if you have, you’re going to have other problems in your job search – our economy has hit a few road bumps, budgets have failed, and companies have gone under. This can make it very difficult for today’s graduate to locate a job that is worth all the time and money spent in college.

I have had numerous students come into my office with the same complaints: Where are the jobs? Why did I even go to college if there is nothing out there for me?

Let me clue you in: There are jobs out there.

I definitely believe that. It’s just a matter of finding them. And that is the key: Companies are not going to find you anymore… you have to find them! So what does that mean for you, the job seeker? It means you need to learn a few new tools and techniques so you can creative in your job search. And that’s why I’m here. I’m going to teach you how to be assertive and aggressive in your job search by getting to know yourself and your potential and options.

Getting creative means looking for jobs in areas or with techniques previously not used. Did you know that only about 20–30% of jobs are actually published to the general public? (One of my fellow bloggers knows this is true. She wrote about it.) Yet, despite this fact, 80–90% of people looking for jobs concentrate their efforts solely on finding published jobs. So where are the rest of the jobs? They’re centered around an employer’s wish list or they’re just “thoughts,” waiting for the right person to come along and make them a reality.

All employers are thinking about the future: where the company is headed, what projects the company needs to undertake, and who they will need to hire to meet these goals. Many professionals network to find the person to fill positions rather than publicize it to everyone and chance hiring the wrong candidate. This means to you that you need to start digging for jobs rather than searching for them.

Digging entails networking with professionals already working in your desired industry/career field. It means getting to know the people, talking with them and picking their brains for ideas. Networking also may mean interviewing professionals about their career and how they got there (not necessarily just handing them your resume, but rather hinting at your search in progress).

Digging also can mean taking on more volunteer work, part-time work, or internships in the areas you are interested in. This will allow you the chance to get “your foot in the door” and gain contacts in the field. I cannot expect to just jump into the computer industry without first having some experience in computers or by not having any contacts to “back me up”!

Using this train of thought means you need to follow some simple steps:

  1. Get to know your interests: What is it that interests you? You must first learn the product you are going to be selling before you can create a marketing plan!
  2. Market yourself: You must continue to learn new things so that you have opportunity to move to different areas. Learn effective job search strategies from Career Services or from your contacts.
  3. Take away the bumps in the road: If your industry is feeling a pinch in your area, be willing to move somewhere else. I can remember a student who asked me the potential job market in the Greenville area for fashion design. I couldn’t help her much because, let’s face it, Greenville is not the center of the fashion world. Keep this train of thought in the forefront of your mind.
  4. Be positive and energetic: It will be hard in some instances…believe me. But, remember to keep your energy high and your mind positive. The more negative you become, the harder the process gets. Employers pick up the negativity in the interview and this will count against you. No one wants to work with a sour-puss!

So what happens when you do all this and still hit a brick wall in your search? Easy. Back up and find another road to follow. This is where your resources come into play.

Contact your school’s Career Services department. Contact friends who can provide you with an outside view. Contact alumni groups for your university. Contact your parents’ friends and your friends’ parents who work within a relevant field. And read further into this great blog! Anything to keep you moving forward with your job search.

Patrick Madsen, Director of Programs & Education in Career Services at the Johns Hopkins University Carey Business SchoolPatrick Madsen is the Director of Programs & Education in Career Services at the Johns Hopkins University Carey Business School. He manages the Programs & Education curriculum to include career advising services, speaker series, brand management training, and other events to help students prepare themselves for the world of work. His background includes a degree in Psychology from North Carolina State University, a masters degree in Counseling from East Carolina University, and a doctorate in Organizational Leadership/Student Affairs from Nova Southeastern University.

My First Job… or Learning to Appreciate the "Menial" Tasks in Life

April 8th, 2010 ::

http://www.flickr.com/photos/valerianasolaris/ / CC BY 2.0

A recent post by blogger Tom Madrecki has generated some conversation — both on the blog and in other outlets — so I thought I’d respond by reflecting on my experience at my first job.

Like Tom, I left college ready to take the world by storm. After all, I had a college degree. What more could I need in order to make my mark on the world, right? Yup, you guessed it. That would be a big, fat WRONG.

I quickly learned that college degree = menial labor when it comes to your first job. And though I wasn’t happy about it, since my parents made it clear that a paycheck was key to my survival, I knew I had no choice. (I grew up in a very practical household. Aspirations were great and all, but first you paid the bills!)

My first job was as a literary assistant at a literary agency. Don’t get me wrong, I got to do some fun things. My favorite was reading the unsolicited queries from authors seeking representation and writing memos as to why I thought the agency should or shouldn’t sign the authors as clients. But that was a small fraction of my time, and it was often done at night or on weekends because the other, menial, have-to-get-done-now tasks took priority during the work day. These were things like inserting my bosses’ fixes to book contracts (using a typewriter!), answering phones, filing, ordering supplies, organizing (read: cleaning) my boss’s office, sending royalty checks and statements to clients… tasks I’d always thought of as “secretarial” — the sort of thing I’d gotten a college degree to AVOID doing.

At the time, I hated those menial tasks. Now, I can appreciate them for what they were: an incredible learning experience.

I learned more about the business by performing what I’d before thought of as “menial tasks” than I ever would have otherwise. One reason was that I decided if I had to do these things, I would do them well. (Not to mention I had a boss who was a stickler for details.)

What I found was that once I proved I could handle those detail-oriented tasks, my boss gave me increasing responsibilities. I was given the opportunity to edit one of the proposals, which was so much fun. And eventually, she asked me to supplement the public relations activities being done for her authors by the publishing houses. It was my chance to shine… and boy did I. It’s the reason I have the career I do today.

So what’s the moral? Or morals?

  • Those “menial tasks” you may think are beneath you right now present some of the best learning opportunities… if you let them.
  • Everyone has to work their way up the ladder, and sometimes that means taking a job that isn’t “ideal” just so you get your foot in the door.
  • Oh, and those “menial tasks” you think are beneath you? Trust me. They aren’t. Those “menial tasks” are often part of some of the most difficult jobs out there, and it takes a special person to be able to do them well and do them gracefully. (Case in point: When my current boss’ assistant goes on vacation, I handle my boss’ calendar. It’s time consuming. It’s challenging. I do it without complaining, despite being 10+ years into my career. And I’m always more than relieved when her assistant returns!)

Now I’m going to call on all of you. Please comment below and share your first job stories — both the good and the bad. I’m sure we’re all learn something from what you have to say.

Robin Ferrier is the editor of What’s Next, Gen Y? and Communications Manager for the Johns Hopkins University Montgomery County Campus. She is also the President of the Capital Communicators Group and the co-chair of the Marketing Committee for the Tech Council of Maryland. She has inadvertently become a frequent career / professional / job hunt resource for friends and colleagues due to a career path that has included five jobs in 12 years.