Counseling recent grads trying to get jobs…tough work

Ok, here is one of the toughest and most frustrating parts of my work with university students: Counseling them on how to get a job after graduation. (Really they are alumni, but I still call them my students if they are coming to me for help)

Here is how many of our conversations start:

Student: Sir, I would like your help, please. I am trying to figure out how to get a job.

Me: OK, well, tell me what you have done so far.

Student: I made up a resume, searched and check the newspaper every day (the student’s face starts to look quite bleak at this early point in our conversation).

Me: So, what is the problem with your job search?

Student: Well, most of the jobs except telephone sales require relevant experience. And I have sent out 30 resumes to some possibilities that don’t require experience and I have never received one interview (at this point frustration is evident in their voice, facial expressions, and body language).

Me: What other reasons do you think besides experience might be resulting in you not hearing from potential employers? (No, I am not just asking questions to torment the poor student – I use questions as the foundation for most of my teaching and counseling).

Student: Sir, there is SO much competition from graduates at other universities. And I am new to Canada. And I don’t have straight ‘A’ grades. And I don’t know anyone (by now there are even tears peeking out around their eyes, and even possibly a quavering voice)

~~~~~~~~~~~~ TIME OUT ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Why is this so painful for the students, tough on me and so darn frustrating for both of us? Well it is clear why the student is so hurt by the process. For me, it is because I have had the same conversation a zillion times in my teaching career! And seeing the pain the students are in makes me just plain ache inside in sympathy for their unhappiness and feelings of inadequacy, rejection, inability to be part of the great employment machine, be valuable to the world, and be a whole human being.

Why do I feel so strongly for these students? Well for one thing, I really like seeing students energized in life and not beaten down by it. But another reason I feel for them when they are really hurting is because…at one time I was in their exact situation. Yup, I felt the same way when I was a recent grad. I just wanted a chance to succeed at a good job – why wouldn’t anyone give me a chance to do so?


Now, some 20 years later, I can look back with gritted teeth and recall those horrible feelings. And with my eyes closed I can even dredge up remnants of them and relive the intensity of the feelings for a brief time.

So what? Is painful job hunting just something you go through? A rite of passage? A trial by fire?

No way. The terrible gut wrenching pain of feeling beaten, worthless and left out should NOT happen to young people looking for jobs. These people are the future of our organizations. They are the future of our society operating effeciently, effectively, and fairly.

Unfortunately this sad tale will repeat itself as long as students are taught that life is about following processes and not also about building relationships and constructing and focusing on goals. Yup, there I said it: They all have the same problem: They are trying to use their dominant process orientation to get a “job”. And to boot, the world of the 21st century is not even much about “jobs” anymore, either.

“Huh? Not about jobs? Hang on, you are losing me – but I want a job!”

Yup. And that is the problem. Let’s review some of the language going on in the earlier conversation. What success orientation are these words and phrases:

– “…how to get a job”
– “resume” and “…sent out 30 resumes”
– “searched”
– “require relevant experience”
– “never received one interview”
– “competition from graduates at other universities”
– “…I don’t have straight ‘A’ grades”

The language is a dead giveaway of their thinking. The student is trying to work through a job hunt process that is at best useless (some ridiculously small number of people become employed by applying to advertised jobs), and at worst degrading and humiliating. But because it is a seemingly normal, recognizable, and logical way for organizations to get their employees (“If I was a manager, I would of course advertise my jobs and hire this way!”), these highly process oriented students want it to work. And they want it to work so badly that they are willing to suffer mental torture and pain until the system finally delivers them into a nice job at a nice organization with nice people and nice instructions to follow and a nice amount of pay that arrives every 2 weeks in their nice bank account.

A friend of mine went 6 months in this manner and chewed through some $20,000 of his savings waiting for the system to deliver him his job. A graduate from a year ago contacted me recently – she had been waiting for over a year now.

What Can Be Done?

Yes, there is hope. Really. Here is how it works: First you get the students to understand that the world is not about jobs, but is about problems and goals. Then you help them understand that they can be part of the team that solves the problems and achieves the goals if they put themselves in contexts where they can present themselves in this way. Then they find themselves gainfully employed.

Simple! Isn’t it? Well no, of course not. But understanding that private companies see “jobs” as expenses is the first step. Then seeing that organizations exist to solve problems and achieve goals (profits in the private sector) is important. Finally, understanding that placing yourself in the appropriate context where you can interact with people whose job it is to solve problems and see that goals get achieved is the last thing you have to do. Assuming you have some shred of confidence, ability, motivation, and sincerity, indicating that you are a catalyst for the solving of problems and achieving of goals will result in you becoming employed. Employed doing just that: helping to solve problems and achieve goals for your organization.

Really, it is that simple. I have job hunt success stories to match each horror story I hear.

Simple it is, but easy it is not.


Because most students have not developed, or been encouraged to develop, abilities in all three of the success orientations. More importantly, they have had their relationship orientations discouraged (“don’t talk in class”) and their goal orientations squashed (tests, bells, assignments, etc.) again and again over their entire educational career. It is no surprise that upon graduation from their post-secondary education they are faced with a new playing field and a lack of skills for playing in it.

So how exactly would many of them know that they had to network at conferences, chat and discuss online, mingle at association and industry meeting and trade shows, shake hands at chamber of commerce meetings, etc.? How would they know that they would have to seek out the goals of individual organizations and find out the exact needs of managers – and then let them know that they could fulfill those needs.

Well, in my role as some form of career counselor, I have to start somewhere helping my students understand these ideas and ways of doing things. So I created a process of my own. One that leads them down a mental path they haven’t been down since they were children and before they had their natural inquisitiveness, sociability, abilities to think, and confidence beaten out of them by process oriented school systems. A path back to being able to figure out for themselves how the world really works.

~~~~~~~~~~~~ END TIME OUT ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Me: So, if you were a manager, what do you think would be the problems you would face in your day to day job?…

Marketing Manifesto – #5: You have to do marketing

I recently saw the delightful movie “Up in the Air” (2009), starring George Clooney, Anna Kendrick, and Vera Farmiga. The story line revolves around the firing of employees in the current economic recession. Clooney’s character is hired to go into an organization and fire people, ostensibly because their bosses are too afraid to do the firing themselves.

Anna Kendrick plays the new college graduate who wants to change the firing process – from face-to-face interactions to firings done over the internet by video conferencing. The process of firing is mechanical and can be made a technical exercise, she believes. 80% savings on travel expenses is the payoff, in her view.

Clooney knows that firing people remotely via video conferencing won’t be as effective as doing so in-person. The core value of hiring a “firing professional” is their ability to carefully move a person from complete shock at the news of being fired to some form of stability and ultimately hope – a win for the firing organization and a win for the employee. To do this kind of work requires direct, interpersonal interaction and a very, very careful mixing of tried-and-true script, improvisation, a lot of compassion, and skill gained through practice. Clearly not a mechanical process.

Clooney takes Kendrick on the road to learn this reality. And learn it she does…the hard way.

What has this to do with marketing?

Marketing is often viewed as a science and something that can be studied and learned academically, much like Kendrick thought that firing someone can be made into a mechanical process and still be effective.

But marketing is all about people, who are anything but mechanical. And every marketing campaign is unique, requiring insight, life experience, an understanding of human emotions (Marketing Manifesto Principles 1 and 2), and figuring out the right questions to ask at the right time (Principle 4).

Which of course leads to my next Marketing Manifesto Principle…

A Marketing Manifesto

10 principles and practices of great marketing:

#5: Marketing is a practice. You do marketing.

Like walking or riding a bicycle, the real learning of marketing takes place in the doing of it, not in the talking about or studying of it. If you want to get really good at marketing, practice it.

When my son, Alex, was 8 years old he decided to run a cookie and lemonade stand out front of our home.  His mother bought lots of frozen pink lemonade concentrate and helped him bake a big batch of chocolate chip cookies for sale.

Lemonade Stand
The quintessential lemonade stand: Learning marketing by actually doing it!

Alex set up a table with a sign on the sidewalk in front of our house and began selling.  This was a busy Saturday in the summer and lots of traffic came by. He made a few sales in the first bit of time, but not much. I suggested to Alex that he make a big sign and go up to the street corner and stand there to catch drivers’ attention as they turned the corner and came down our street, giving them time to decide to stop before they drove on past.

Being a true showman and totally enthusiastic about his business, he made up a big sign, skateboarded up to the corner and began directly encouraging drivers to buy his lemonade and cookies by joyfully hollering at them as they turned the corner.

Well, his lemonade and cookie stand was quite a hit. Alex had to hire two friends to work his lemonade table and kept his mother busy with lemonade and cookie production while he went and did the marketing.

3 hours later he closed the business due to lack of supplies.  The result?  He met some new people, felt fabulous about himself, and made money. A few dollars you might think?  Heck no! He grossed $37 from 3 hours of selling lemonade and cookies (prep time excluded).  After paying his mother for the supplies and his employee-friends for their efforts, he walked away with a tidy sum and a big grin on his face.

The lesson?  He did marketing. He went out and made it happen. He didn’t sit behind his table, safely shielded emotionally, waiting for some hidden marketing process to kick in and deliver him sales success. He latched on to the idea that he was the marketing, and went and made it happen with a big sign and his skateboard. Loudly and enthusiastically.

“So, sitting in a classroom, safely behind a desk, with a textbook in hand isn’t really learning to do marketing?”

Most of my students, consulting clients, and job seekers I mentor have never done any marketing. They come to my classes, workshops, and meetings to learn it for the first time.  They come to study marketing, like you would study an instruction manual on how to ride a bicycle.

Do they learn something from my work with them? I hope so, and regularly hear from them that they did. And I hope it is because I insist on making them do marketing. I require my students, for example, to do lots of case studies, create marketing campaigns for real products, and even demand at times that they start a micro-marketing businesses for real, right in the course.That’s right: Actually sell stuff.

Doing marketing is not for everyone.

Being a mix of a goal oriented and relationship oriented kind of person and one who is very visual and kinesthetic, I love getting to the heart of things, understanding how people think, and practicing marketing by creating physical things…preferably with my own hands.  I love sitting in a cafe and observing human behavior, learning how people think and behave. Facilitating a focus group is career nirvana for me. Crafting a creative ad that delivers an emotional message is an exciting challenge for me.

But all these things are not as interesting to most people.  Particularly if they are more process oriented, auditory, and reading kind of people – which is what most students in universities are today. The goal and primarily relationship oriented students get too frustrated and either never start university or leave before they complete their under-graduate degree. The visual-kinesthetic ones never graduate high school. Seriously – typical high schools deliver a process orientation so strongly that the profile of a majority of drop-outs includes “kinesthetic”.

Where does this lead us to?  Well, marketing is a messy, messy business and requires a fully fleshed, well-rounded, eyes-open kind of person who wants to make things happen and is ready to take action to learn marketing by doing it.  Some characteristics of a person who will do well in marketing is someone who..

  • …has a high tolerance for uncertainty.
  • …wants to continually explore human behavior by observing and considering it.
  • …is not afraid of talking to people – better still, enjoys talking to people.
  • …is goal and at least partly relationship oriented (how else will they like talking to people?).
  • …has a high level of self-confidence and a secure self-image.
  • …is able to communicate at a highly skilled level, including very acute listening skills.
  • …learns independently.
  • …is active and proactive and likes making things happen..

I always add to such a list that it is not a prescriptive list.  Many people who are excellent at marketing do not have all the characteristics listed. But most great marketers have many of these characteristics.

In summary, you have to want to do marketing, must develop or already have an active attitude toward achieving goals, and enjoy working and learning from people.

Success Orientations
Success Orientations - one way of considering how people go about achieving success...

(An aside:  I used the terms “goal orientation”, “process orientation”, and “relationship orientation” above. They are from my Success Orientations behavioral model –  I also used “visual”, “auditory”, and “kinesthetic”, which are from the Neuro-Linguistic Programming VAK model. “NLP” was created by Richard Bandler and John Grinder.)

OK, so I want to learn to do really excellent marketing…how do I start? A lemonade stand?!?!?

Ha, ha!  No, you don’t need to run a lemonade stand to become excellent at marketing. But yes, you need to start doing it on a regular basis – practicing it and getting more and more understanding of the richness and depth of skills and attitudes you need to develop.

There are many easy and fun ways to get started doing marketing.  Some ideas:

  • When students leave university in June they sell their books, furniture, cars, computers and other belongings cheaply. They are desperate to get rid of them at the last minute. Ask around to see which items, specifically, will be in demand later by incoming students.When you find bargains, buy a few of them yourself.  Store these items until August 15th. Then post them for sale at higher prices on bulletin boards, online want-ads such as Craigslist, and through email to incoming students arriving at the end of the summer.This game takes very little money and is a fabulous, low-capital way to do marketing. Learn what advertising works. Learn how people bargain and how to interact with them to close a sale. Learn what is more in demand and what is harder to sell. Practice listening carefully to people and learning how they think. And make a profit doing so.
  • Stuff for sale
    Sell stuff...and practice marketing by doing so!

    Sell off anything you don’t want anymore through similar systems as the first example. Find things at garage sales and sell them for higher prices. Or bundle them together with similar items and charge a much higher price. From this exercise, learn how customers define the “value” of what you are offering. For example, I recently put up for sale on Craigslist a Nintendo Entertainment system, TV, and portable DVD player which my sons no longer needed. I had offers for the whole bundle for $40. Most queries, however, were for the NES system, which we subsequently sold alone for $50. Other calls were for the portable DVD player, which we have yet to sell. The TV may not sell at all. More marketing learning – some bundles work; others do not.

  • When you travel, bring a few things back you think you could sell to people in the area where you live.  Try selling them.
  • As a part-time business, offer some form of service…translation, custom cooking, walking dogs, …anything. Learn how to offer your services to people, how to price effectively, how to invoice people, how to generate word of mouth advertising, and how to close your business down when you have learned all you feel you can learn (and your customers are satisfied, of course!)
  • Volunteer to help a non-profit, charity, or community group with their marketing.  Listen, learn, and do marketing with them. No cost to you or them and lots of side benefits, like making new friends building your network for career reasons.

Get the idea?  It doesn’t take a lot to start practicing marketing.

But it does take a lot of practicing to become really good at marketing.

Success Orientations and brain hemispheres

I am working through a book called “Unleashing Your Brilliance” by Brian E Wash and ran across a page comparing the traits of the opposing brain hemispheres. The right hemisphere has interesting traits as “recall’s people’s faces”, “people-oriented”, and “seeks similarities”, among others. The left hemisphere has traits such as as “recall’s people’s names”, “structure-oriented”, and “seeks differences”.

Sound familiar?

Quite clearly there is a big crossover between how the different hemispheres of the brain look at the world and success orientations. Left-brained people – those who look at the world through a logical, organized view seem to line up quite nicely with process-oriented individuals and right-brained with relationship oriented people.

Process and relationship orientations are not by any stretch of the imagination new or terribly unique. They do, however, provide a new and particularly useful perspective when used in conjunction with the goal orientation. Everyone wants to achieve success. How they do so, with their particular mix of relationship, process, and goal, makes them come at challenges in different ways with very different side-effects and outcomes.

Studying left and right hemisphere traits, and learning to use both together, is really fascinating and useful stuff. Check out Brian’s excellent book for more on how the brain works.

Another perfect fit!

patisserieAnother perfect fit! My teenage son went to work for a bakery recently. Being a process-goal mix, he latched onto baking in a Patisserie – AKA a fancy French bakery making everything from bread to quiches to muffins and wedding cakes – as the perfect job. His brother, when visiting him at the bakery said:

“I have never seen him so happy!”

A bakery is a perfect job for a process-goal mix person. Why? You have to follow a variety of recipes (set processes) , you get to work on batches of goods (repeating processes) and you get to achieve goals “It is so cool seeing 400 muffins come out of the oven – and you made them!”. There is enough repetitive process to allow you to feel grounded, but enough variety in the different processes to keep you from getting bored…and of course, lots of goals every day to fulfill.

Other perfect jobs for process-goal oriented people?


Aligning yourself with the best organizational culture…for you.

universityYou would think I would know this stuff, right? Here I am, stressing over whether I should leave my (now past) employer and step into the unknown. Did I once include my natural success orientation mix into the decision? Did I relate my uncertainty and stress back to who I am and what the organzation I had been working for was like, and what they were transforming into?

Heck no. All I thought about was my loss of financial security and my stress as I tried to continue to fit into what was getting to be a harder and harder institution to work for.

Ack. It was definitely time for an epiphany. And it came: My employer was now more process oriented than relationship oriented and shifting rapidly even more so. What had been a small, community focused institution with a strong relationship oriented leadership was now transforming into a larger, process oriented one. Now, the new hires, mostly PhD process oriented academics, were pushing hard to get rid of the relationship aspect and force a new, more predictable (read: process oriented) structure into place. Don’t get me wrong: Bad things happen when institutions grow and they are trying to be run on relationship alone. But education as a whole, particularly at the post-secondary level which on the surface espouses departure from the norms (‘process”), should not be about process, but about achieving goals and doing so while learning what processes work and don’t work, and learning to get along with peers and build relationships across boundaries.

So, here I was, a strong relationship and goal oriented person, becoming increasingly more uncomfortable as the symptoms of this change were becoming more painful for me: I would be almost in tears when I heard things from my peers like “the student used a non-standard font in the footer of her paper” and “the standard structure for the thesis was not followed” (with marks deducted for both). Needless to say, there is no “standard font” and the whole concept of forcing a student into a “standard structure” is so scary to me that I almost gagged when I heard it for the umpteenth time. Where was the “relationship” or the “human development” in this picture?

Well, I got the message and not long ago I left the security of a predictable paycheck and started in a new city at a new instition to me. “As one door closes another opens” is an old saying. Well it was true: The new institution is very relationship oriented, with people-centred communication, relaxing staff social events, and a real focus on getting to know students (read: relationships and human development).

Big sigh of relief for me.

And a wry shake of my head: I should have known better. I work with this stuff all the time. Align your success orientation mix with a job and an organizational orientation mix that matches yours and you will be a MUCH happier. Period.