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Sunday, September 28, 2008

questions from a recent grad

A reader writes:

I am a recent grad, working as a full-time intern in the field of my undergrad major. I couldn't have asked for a more nurturing and empathetic department; they give me semi-challenging jobs, find time to answer my questions, give me many opportunities to take initiative, and really prioritize me to have a meaningful intern experience. However, this was only supposed to be a summer internship, and my manager has already extended my employment to the maximum six months.

He jokes about a permanent position afterward, but, honestly, the long commute is much too draining and I'm not sure whether this is the field I would like to stay in. I wish I had this internship after graduate school because the internship has a lot of potential to become a full-time job offer, with good perks (and great pay). At my life stage right now, I want to explore other fields, such as art or teaching, both of which require time to develop a portfolio or get some professional training.

With that said, I have a series of questions that I hope you could offer your advice for:

1) Is it alright to let my director know I'm looking for other offers after the internship? I have the impression that job hunting is a hush-hush operation. Also, in that case, what are some steps I can take to leave my foot in the door at this agency to come back in maybe... 4 years or so?

2) Should I be looking for a job while I am still working? I have three months left, and from what I can tell, most job opportunities (a lot of really good job opportunities) would probably like the position to start earlier than three months. Do people ever interview, find out the timing isn't right, and then ask to be considered in a month or two?

3) Is it alright to apply for jobs that I might be under-qualified for? Most often, I don't meet the "years of experience" requirement. Looking at the job tasks, I am really up for the challenge; I could do a good job! Yet, with work, I can't find enough time to write so many cover letters, especially if I'm just under-qualified anyway.

4) Recently, my design work and all my back ups either got lost during moving or during liquid mishaps. Thus, though I am interested in working in design jobs, I have no portfolio. I'm taking a class right now to start getting some work samples, but was wondering whether you had any experience in this field and had any advice (since it takes a very long time to develop a portfolio).

5) Also, the experience I have that I feel demonstrates my skills and passions the most, such as leading groups, marketing events, planning campus art exhibits, and mentoring, all fall under one organization... that is religiously affiliated. Moreover, it is volunteer work. I am comfortable with putting the word "Christian" into my resume, but don't want to be screened for it. What is your advice?

5) I had the privilege of working at two solid institutions during college. Some acquaintances have asked, on a number of occasions, to help give them a reference for a full-time job. I'm not sure how this networking really works. Do I just email my manager and tell them, "Hey, I have a friend who wants to work here. She's a good worker"?

Okay, let's take these one at a time.

1. Because your director knows that the internship has a definite ending date, it's absolutely okay to him know you're job-hunting. It would be odd if you weren't (see #2 below), and he knows that. And as far as keeping the door open to come back at some point, you should let him know that you love the organization, are grateful for the experience they've given you, and would love to come back some day. And when you leave, make sure you keep in touch with him; email him periodically to check in and let him know what you're doing.

2. Yes, you should definitely be looking for a job while you're still working! If you have three months left, this is a good time to start. You should assume that job-hunting will take a while; even once you get an interview, the process can take some time -- I'm talking months at some places, although ideally only weeks -- so three months ahead would be completely normal. The absolute worst that can happen if you start too early is that you get an offer way too early and turn it down; the worst that can happen if you start too late is that you end up unemployed with no income. You're better off risking the former.

3. Regarding being under-qualified and applying anyway: Job advertisement are like wish lists. They will look at people who don't perfectly match all their requirements. Within reason, of course -- if they're asking for 10 years of experience and you have one, that's too much of a jump. But if the postings says four years of experience and you have two, and you think you could do the job, apply anyway.

4. Is there any way to reassemble your portfolio? Can you get in touch with others who might have samples of your work? If not, is it feasible to simply create some samples on your own, just so that you have something to show people?

5. I wouldn't worry too much about having a religiously affiliated organization on your resume. Some people will like it, and most won't care. If you run into the rare person who has an issue with it, you don't want to work for them anyway. (And I say this as a non-religious person.)

6. Last, if a friend asks you to recommend them for a position, first make sure that you really want to recommend them. Remember, when you recommend someone, your own reputation is at stake. So only recommend people if you have a solid opinion of their professional abilities. If you don't, or if you don't know anything about their professional abilities, you can always just pass on their application to your manager with a note saying something like, "I wanted to pass this on to you, but I should note that I don't know her well enough to give you a meaningful recommendation." You don't want to be the person who recommended the guy who embezzled from the company.

I hope this is helpful. Good luck!


Wally Bock said...

Let me share two experiences related to the "Christian" question.

In the early days of my consulting career, I was on the verge of working for an organization that I thought would be a great fit. After an interview with the Administrative VP, I was told that the organization wouldn't be engaging me because "Christians are disruptive."

We had not discussed religion during the interview. In some discussions of background I had mentioned that my father was a Lutheran Pastor. The VP was reacting to something somewhere else in his life. That happens

Later in life I took an engagement with a nonprofit organization headed by a former pro athlete that works with at-risk young men. He and the organization are professedly Christian. He engaged me in part because of my faith.

But we found out that our styles of Christianity were very different. So was much of our theology. Though we're still friends, we decided long ago not to work together.

With that said, I suggest that if you're comfortable with putting the organization on your resume and the experience from there is both relevant and material, do it. But be prepared for the fact that some people will react to what they think "Christian" means.

Like many other things in your background, this can go either way. People make judgments about you based on a host of things that have nothing to do with "qualifications." Some of those other things are legitimate. Some are not.

Anonymous said...

I have two points to add to AAM's advice:

I have interviewed and hired designers. If I meet with someone (who is qualified in almost every way), and they have no portfolio, than they will not get the job, nor will they be referred on to a hiring manager. Unfortunately, design work is mostly about vision and execution, and anyone who takes their design work seriously, has a portfolio. I'd focus on finding a way to salvage what work you have, and create samples of what work you're capable of before you start interviewing.

My other point is regarding references...take a reference really seriously. I have a rule that I generally don't refer friends, because I don't want to get stuck in the middle (but in reality, I just don't want my head on the line if they screw up). While references and networking are great tools, use it cautiously. If you have a friend who wants to work at a former organization, and you're okay with it but don't want to get too involved, tell them to mention all the great things you said about XYZ company in your tenure there. It's like a diet reference - they still have a connection, but you're not quite as liable. The manager might call you and ask for more info and you can be honest with what you're comfortable giving them. (EX: I'm great friends with Jane, and she's really creative/intelligent/etc. I haven't worked with her directly, but she's someone I respect.)

Tiffany said...

Hello -

Thank you so much for all your input! Your advice gives me a much better picture of my next steps.

Also, I'm hoping to catch "anonymous" again. If a position requires a portfolio immediately, is it worth showing work that demonstrates software knowledge, even though the design itself isn't impressive? I'm trying to rework some files I found, but want to apply soon as well.

I'll keep you posted on how things turn out with my manager, job, and references! Thanks a lot.

Anonymous said...

Hey Tiffany - I'm the original anonymous here. :) I'm going to say it's more about how you use the software. Consider it like a writer whose harddrive was destroyed, but they submit a couple Word documents to show that they know how to use a word processor. They focus on the technicals of italicizing and bolding, but don't say anything of substance, so you can't quite figure out their tone, structure and grammar, but you're positive they can use the software.

If you can truly articulate your design sense, then some samples using a program might do, but you should really invest time in one or two stand out pieces that show who you are as a designer. In the end, it's about fit and the wow factor. It's a visual game, so if you can find a happy medium (a couple stand outs a a couple samples), that might work, if you're able to explain the why's and how's of your design decisions.

Hope that helps!