This is the time of year it starts for me.

Several times a week, I receive email requests from students from all over the world who are graduating in the Spring. They are looking for work placements, internships and full time jobs.

The emails take on all forms, and unfortunately, most of them are bound for the Trash file. It’s not because I’m mean. It’s not because I’m not supportive of students looking for work. My company has hired many new grads in the past and we actively promote up and coming talent. We firmly believe that giving opportunities to new grads is essential and beneficial not only to those looking to gain experience, but to our company, as our new grads always come with a fresh perspective and new ideas.

Most of the mass-emailed resumes I get are poorly written, hard to read, and provide no motivation for me to contact the person. When my inbox fills up with a bunch of faceless bullet points, it is of little or no value to me. I’m sure that many other folks that hire people feel the same way. The approach of sending out resumes this way is out dated and the rate of success is very low (i.e. I have NEVER hired someone via a resume sent blindly to me in an email).

What concerns me is, it seems that many post-secondary institutions are still not teaching students the basic skills required to get a job in our digitally connected world. The days of the email job application are fading fast, being replaced by what my pals Chris and Julien call the Trust Economy. Finding a job these days is not about firing off a resume to anyone who comes up in a Google Search for “Graphic Design companies”. It’s about seeking out the types of companies one wants to be involved with, and building a relationship with them.

Somehow, even in the Facebook generation, our students are not getting this message. If they were, I’d have fewer people reaching blasting me with their resumes via email and more people starting conversations with me on Twitter.

So what’s the solution? It begins with us teachers. The problem is, some of us haven’t had to look for a job in years. We remember the days when we would type our or CV and cover letter on a typewriter, then ask our Dad to make photocopies for us at his office, then put them in envelopes, address and mail them out, and hope for the best. Landing a job interview was like winning the lottery.

We need to get with the times, and start teaching our students the right way to find a job in the 21st century.

Is it really easier now?
It sure is. Back in the old days, we used to mail our resumes to “Hiring Manager” or “HR Manager” – a nameless, faceless cubicle dweller who may or may not read past the first paragraph. Following up was futile, since “Only those candidates granted an interview will be contacted”. That was the process and you had to follow it, lest you be cast to the bottom of the application pile.

These days, hiring managers have names. CEO’s and Presidents and Directors of Marketing have names. One only needs to do a bit of searching on Google BlogSearch or Twitter Search to find these people and start following them. Companies are run by human beings. And what better way to find out what makes a company tick than to follow the human beings that run it?

Now, I’m not advocating that students start bombarding everyone with CEO in their Twitter profile with job applications. What I am suggesting is that job seekers start to follow the leaders of companies that they find appealing. Read their blogs. Follow the links they post on Twitter. Learn about their philosophies, work ethic, and goals. Find a way to get involved in the conversations they are having – be it a reply to or re-tweet of an interesting post, or a comment on their blog. Open the door. Don’t ask for a job right off the bat. See where the conversation goes. Inject value, and be solution oriented in the approach.

The smart business owners and leaders are watching. They are scoping out the marketplace for new talent as much as they are scoping for new customers. Teach your students to hop onto the radar of company leaders, and in time, those leaders will be requesting your students’ portfolios.

Speaking of portfolios….
So, let’s say I do receive a resume from a student or new grad that catches my attention. The first thing I do (before even reading the CV) is click on the link to their online portfolio, which turns out to be a mish-mash of static HTML pages with a bunch of barely illegible thumbnails, no contact information, and that looks like it hasn’t been updated since they graduated.

And I promptly dump the whole thing into File 13.

Many college programs now encourage the building of an online portfolio, as a tool for students to promote their work to prospective employers. It’s a great idea, but sadly, the implementation is, in many cases, very poor. We’re teaching our students to design static web pages in a Web 2.0 world – a world where anyone can post a nice looking web site in mere minutes, with little or no web design or development expertise.

This is what a student portfolio web site should include:

  • A blog that is updated on at least a weekly basis that discusses their work, or their analysis and opinion on industry news and trends
  • Sidebar links to project work (updated every time a new project is added)
  • A link to their LinkedIN page, and a LinkedIN page that includes recommendations from previous employers, clients (even for school project work) or teachers
  • If the student has other interests, such as photography or video, a link to their Flickr or YouTube gallery
  • Links to other social networking profiles (Twitter, Delicious, Digg, etc.)
  • A Bio/About Me page
  • A Contact Me page

This is what I, as an employer, want to see when I hit someone’s portfolio. I want to see their take on their industry and work. I want to see what else they are interested in. I want to see how they interact with other people. And if I’m impressed, I want to be able to click a button and connect with them.

The times they are a changin’.
As an employer, I’m thrilled because it’s much simpler for me to find good people to hire these days. I can get to know someone pretty well through online interaction alone. I can build a relationship with that person, and when the time comes to hire, I rarely have to promote my intentions – I have a whole pool of candidates to draw from, and I get to pick and choose who I approach.

For students, this means they have to find ways to be in the conversation – by both getting on the radar of the companies they want to work for, and by adding their own voice to the mix.

Students need to start spending less time bulk emailing resumes and links to static portfolios and far more time talking to real people. And as teachers, we need to set them up with the tools to do that.

The job search has changed, and we have a responsibility to ensure that our students’ habits change, too.

[photo credit: kafka4prez]