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Recession-proof your job search

Kevin Bacon and you — there may be more similarities than you think

Published: February 27, 2009
Section: Features


Do you remember the movie, Hollow Man , starring Kevin Bacon that came out a few years ago? It did ok at the box office, but not great. It had wonderful special effects, but the story line is a bit thin. If you are unfamiliar with the film, you can probably guess the plot. Kevin Bacon’s character becomes invisible and eventually his life unravels in all sorts of ways.

We have all heard of Kevin Bacon in another context too. His movie career has been so productive that a game has been named after him – Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon which rests on the assumption that any actor can be linked through his or her film roles to Kevin Bacon. The game requires a group of players to try to connect any film actor in history to Kevin Bacon as quickly as possible and in as few links as possible.

So what does any of this have to do with you? A lot, actually. You can choose to be the Hollow Man or play the Kevin Bacon game. With graduation and summer on the horizon, many Brandeis students are understandably worried about their job and internship prospects. Every day more headlines emphasize the gloomy economic situation and it is easy to accept the notion that you won’t be able to get a job. I am constantly speaking to students who feel like they are “invisible” to employers like the Hollow Man, and when I dig a little deeper it is understandable, particularly given the current economic climate.

“I send my resumes to the job portal on websites and to Hiatt NACElink and never hear anything. I thought I would at least get some sort of response.” “I am looking for a job in marketing or public relations and they don’t hire until a specific project comes along so I’m not doing anything now.” “I want to work at a museum and those employers don’t come to Brandeis so I don’t know what to do.”

The challenges that lie ahead for you are very real. I am very sympathetic to this situation but you can exacerbate it when you act like the Hollow Man. For reasons many students perceive to be outside their control, they have become invisible to employers because their job search techniques are incomplete or not as strategic as they could be.

On the other hand, I work with students who are masters of the Kevin Bacon Game and they have far more success with their job search. Take, for example, Jill Seplowitz ’08 (Anthropology and HSSP) who recently landed her dream job at the Epic Theater Ensemble in New York City as a development associate despite the current economic uncertainty. Non-profits and the arts have been disproportionately affected in a negative way because they rely heavily on the financial contributions of corporations, individuals and foundations – all of which have been hit extremely hard by the downturn. Yet, despite having the odds against her, Jill landed the “job of her dreams” despite the lack of any development experience. “Networking doesn’t mean anything until you live it,” Jill told me. “It was the key to my job search.”

Ask yourself: have you been playing the Kevin Bacon game like Jill or have you been invisible like the Hollow Man? Here are some steps to get you started to win the Kevin Bacon game and conduct an effective job search.

First things first: Job Search Basics

A job search takes longer than many students think. It is perfectly normal for a job search to take up to six months or longer from the time you begin to the day you receive that offer. In a down economy you should expect that the search process may be drawn out, which is why it is important to be prepared straight out of the gate. Search for jobs through personal, academic and professional connections like Jill, not just on the internet, HiattNACElink or any particular job board.

The number of positions for which you apply will directly correlate with the number of interviews you receive, provided you are truly qualified and have a stellar cover letter and resume. Make sure you are qualified, but don’t limit yourself to jobs for which you fill every qualification. If you find a particular employer that interests you but they don’t have a job posted, reach out anyway. You never know when a new opportunity might arise.

Be Prepared!

Before you apply, have your resume and cover letter reviewed by at least one qualified person, such as a Hiatt counselor. Once you have an interview lined up, do your homework. Do you know how to interview professionally? Can you provide specific examples of ways you have excelled in your coursework, work experiences and volunteer activities? Be able to talk about yourself in concrete measurable ways that showcase results you have achieved. The most common mistake students make is not to research the company or industry well.

“Knowledge of the company and sector goes a long way to demonstrate your interest in the position and gives you credibility as a candidate,” one seasoned recruiter who visits Hiatt several times a year said. “I love Brandeis students and their resumes reflect so many attributes that our company is seeking.”

The recruiter continued, “What can be disappointing though is I can walk into an interview and sometimes they can’t articulate their accomplishments well or, even worse, it is clear they haven’t done any research on my company. I want to hire them – but I can’t when students at other schools have clearly done a lot more homework.”

Networking – Do I really have to?

Yes, you really do, and it is not as painful as you think. In fact, you do it all the time, but you often don’t know it. It is the way we make new friends, learn of new restaurants or clubs or find someone to give you a ride home for break. Networking is perhaps the most important aspect of the job search. Forget the image of the annoying used car salesman and think of Jill’s experience. Have you been leveraging your contacts like she has?

Flexibility

In this market, don’t underestimate the importance of being flexible. For many it would be ideal to wait until the end of summer to start a job, but if you get an offer and the organization wants you to start in June, you have less leverage this year to ask for an extension. Similarly, I would encourage you to be open to starting at a job you didn’t initially consider.

For example, many students who are interested in finance will find excellent opportunities within companies for financial roles, even though they may have had their hearts set on Wall Street. The same type of logic applies to the nonprofit sector. If you are passionate about working at a particular organization, you might have to consider another organization that works on similar issues. Either way, you will still be getting great experience that will help you in the long run.

On Campus Opportunities/ Job Search Resources

Hiatt is focused on finding and creating opportunities for students, and we encourage you to take advantage of the workshops, programs and events that are occurring on campus throughout this semester. Did you know that you can speak to over 400 alumni who want to help you with your career decisions (including Jill); that we have employers on campus for brown bag lunch sessions this week where you can learn about different careers in an informal setting; that we have an upcoming nonprofit career fair on March 5; that we have eight employers coming to campus on today to let you practice your interview skills; that 10 employers are scheduled for on-campus interview sessions in the next few weeks and that we have over 700 jobs and internships posted on our website right now? Take a look at our calendar and access our job database (HiattNACElink) to learn about all the activities and programs we have.

Reflection

I don’t mean to downplay the challenges facing students looking for opportunities in this economy. They are significant. On the other hand, entry-level hires are less expensive than more seasoned professionals, and with the right combination of skills and determination you can find opportunities even in a down economy. Employers are looking for individuals who are savvy, flexible, demonstrate some level of relevant experience, and are able to multi-task successfully. In other words, they are looking for Brandeis students.

While adaptability is always important in a job search, the current economy makes this even more crucial. Approach your job search with an open mind and consider that you may need to cast a wider net in order to land opportunities that fit your skills. Think carefully about where and how you add value and what makes you stand out from other applicants.

Hiatt can help you tailor a job search that meets your specific needs and interests. In other words, you need to be strategic and get out there. Don’t be the Hollow Man. Instead, play the Kevin Bacon game with your own job search and you might be pleasantly surprised with the results. Jill and you can be too.

Joe Du Pont is the director of the Hiatt Career Center and in the spirit of full disclosure his brother-in-law, KeeSuk Hahn was nominated for an Oscar for his special effects work on Hollow Man. Ken didn’t win, but Joe gets free movie tickets a lot.