Employer's Tough-Love Letter To New College Grads

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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17 Comments

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dedndogyrs

I think what the person who wrote this means is that he wants to feel important by seeing someone grovel and beg. I wonder if he's one of those ones who asks what kind of tree someone would want to be if they had to be one, or "why should I hire you" when the applicant knows nothing about the other people applying for the job. Pompous ass.

May 31 2013 at 5:36 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
dedndogyrs

I don't participate in Facebook because I'm not interested to hear that someone in Mississippi is brushing her teeth and going to bed or that someone in North Dakota is cleaning his garage floor. And women are inundated with green card hustlers who want to marry an American and escape their rat hole countries. Does that mean nobody will hire me except some fast food place?

May 31 2013 at 5:32 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
jjaytdad

I do have to add one comment here. If you post your resume to any of the countless job boards, you might not get the results you expect. I' ve gone throught the biggies: Careerbuilder, Monster, Indeed, Beyond, and many, many others. Very few send you leads based on your location. I' ve gotten many that were located 500-700 miles away. When I contacted them about this, I was told that I would have to correct the error. Excuse me? My information is correct, your system fouled it up, and you want ME to fix it? Do your own legwork. Research the company/companies, check where they are on Forbes, research their products, and make up new interview questions. And, one more thing: thank the secretary/EA. They helped you get in the door. A handwritten note goes a long way.

April 23 2013 at 11:30 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
thomsammo

Had a young grad working for me and he believed that all he had to do was play volleyball, basketball, etc., with the CEO and friends and he was a shoe in for my position when I retired. Then, the following year, I hired a new intern and he was an assistant manager. This kid could and would do whatever was needed and never complained. When I left, my last act was to promote him over the volleyball player.

Why did I do that? Because the kid earned it.

April 22 2013 at 11:30 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to thomsammo's comment
Jacqueline

Good move!!!

May 30 2013 at 7:34 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
martynhappyone

I am one of those \'Baby Boomers\' who enjoy now being retired. Note to all employers: This is a bunch of B.S. posturing. You are looking for the skilled suck up who feeds you the drivel you want to hear. That same individual can be a very adept liar/manipulator/con artist and the sincere desirable individual will be ignored. I saw it every day of my working life with the lazy ***** sitting around while I was carrying them and in essence doing two peoples work. You didn\'t care I was getting screwed because those same ***** were smoozing up to you! They got to \'cherry pick\' what they got to do and I got all the dirty jobs. I once used to say that I could never imagine being retired because I absolutely loved my profession. You drained every scrap of joy out of my professional environment until I couldn\'t wait to get out of there! I know full well that the place will never change and they are climbing all over each other like cockroaches. That brown noser will cut your throat in a heart beat if it benefits them and they can get away with it! Remember \"Yon Cassius has that lean and hungry look\"?

April 22 2013 at 11:05 PM Report abuse +8 rate up rate down Reply
Retro Leds

This article is SO very correct. I see a lot of whining and "I need respect too" commentary below - screw that, you're getting paid, quit taking it so darn personally. There are all sort of good jobs out there but an awful lot of bad employees. As I've told more than one of my children, "get all the education you want, you STILL will need to learn to be an employee". Thank you Mr. Defren.

BTW. 52, great computer skills, legal background, no dependants, can move/travel for work.

April 22 2013 at 9:15 PM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply
socraticknight

dear millenials,

because of the current prez' ineptness and broken 2008 and 2012 campaign promises, we are sorry to inform you that social security WILL have to be cut drastically in order to help keep the United States of America from being owned and controlled by foreign entities due to the first black potus' mishandling of the economy and his voters' trust. the prez' inability to motivate people to study and work out of welfare, and from providing the wrong jobs to people who never qualified in the first place. his hope and change policy has become hopeless and has changed for the worse. stop using drugs, don't listen to rap, and learn great character......"

April 22 2013 at 7:44 PM Report abuse -4 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to socraticknight's comment
Retro Leds

You are obviously a high-school dropout with a bad ATTITUDE. NEXT!!

April 22 2013 at 9:11 PM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply
samz616

The problem is a lack of motivation. Dissatisfactory work environments aren't encouraging people to aim higher, they are encouraging people to just give up. First jobs are supposed to suck. They are what should make you thankful for what you've earned.

April 22 2013 at 6:51 PM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to samz616's comment
Retro Leds

Sounding spoiled - next!

April 22 2013 at 9:08 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
hsenpfeffer

You are the same kind of jerk that whines about why you cannot find any good employees and wonders why they are not loyal. The relationship is a two way street. The employee and employer each has something the other wants. Oh and by the way I am one of those old school guys who you are sure is overqualified. Nothign is good enough to satisfy you. No wonder no one wants to work for you.

April 22 2013 at 6:20 PM Report abuse +4 rate up rate down Reply
3 replies to hsenpfeffer's comment
ashgreymane

There's a reason I am the only comment here; you are pretty full of yourself. Mercy. One can ask for a job without begging for it or being degraded. This was a snarky, snotty article full of bad attitude. By the way, I'm 45 and a Gen X-er. I've held an assortment of positions and have never had to grovel the way you seem to think people should. Get over yourself.

April 22 2013 at 5:54 PM Report abuse +6 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to ashgreymane's comment
Retro Leds

I think you lie sir, not a day over 35. And very spoiled - next(again)!

April 22 2013 at 9:10 PM Report abuse -2 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Retro Leds's comment
Colette

Retro why don't you NEXT YOURSELF!!!!

May 31 2013 at 9:20 AM Report abuse rate up rate down

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