Written by: Sonny

May 1, 2013

In May of 1997, I walked across the stage within Cassell Coliseum proudly receiving my degree in Business Management from Virginia Tech.  After the graduation party, couple slices of cake and packing up my apartment in Blacksburg, I returned to Richmond like many college graduates today – without a job.  It’s a daunting feeling.

I used the career services provided by the university.  Attended the job fairs on campus.  I sent out a bunch of resumes, but nothing materialized.  Once I was back in Richmond, jobless, I sought advice from family and friends hoping that someone would have the proverbial “foot in the door”.  I was so desperate to just secure a meeting with someone, I wasn’t even asking if they were hiring when I made my initial calls.  My unassuming approach worked.  I was able to get in front of a number of business professionals by dropping a name from my personal network and requesting to meet for advice in my job search.

One of those informal meetings led to a follow up call that was actually an interview for a potential job.  I eventually sat down with nine different people from that company, spending about thirty minutes with each of them.  It was terrifying and awesome all at the same time.  I remember as soon as I was done with my meeting I was sitting in my car, still in their parking lot, drawing a makeshift layout of their office.  In each office, I wrote the name of the person I met, a few things we chatted about and if I thought it went good or bad.  The next day, I got a call from Rich, the branch manager, asking me to come back in for a final meeting – YES!

When I walked back into the CPI office, I remembered everyone’s name and tried to tie in a tidbit from our initial conversation.  Maybe it was in my head, but I saw some approving nods as if to acknowledge their pleasure in my ability to recall those details.  I go through a few more questions with various members of their team…and then I’m taken to Rich’s office to sit and wait.  I’m not sure how long I sat there alone.  But, it was long enough that I thought they had forgotten about me – this couldn’t be a good sign.  While sitting there, the realization of not having a job was sinking in.  Four years at Tech; the sacrifices my folks had made to enable me to go to college; the student loans…If I get a job, I don’t care about benefits, I don’t care about paid time off.  If I get a job, I don’t care how much they pay me – I’ll take it, because I just needed that “foot in the door”.

When Rich returns, he finally reveals that they are gonna offer me a shot to be a junior recruiter for the summer…if it goes well, they will hire me on full time.  For the summer, I would make a whopping 10/hr.  I didn’t hesitate – “When can I start?”

In retrospect, I unknowingly did some pretty simple, but wise things that any recent college graduate could use. I firmly believe these few subtle things were essential to getting that edge in a tight job market:

  • Tap your network – Family, neighborhood friends, college alumni network
  • Also, when making those calls ask for advice rather than a job.  Would you believe that summer internship at CPI ended up being a job I would occupy for 13 years?  All from an introduction to someone from my personal network.
  • Take notes…remember names and details.  And then find a way to recall those details in a second or third meeting.  People will appreciate it.  It shows you are a good listener and are an effective communicator.
  • Have an open mind.  Asking about vacation days and what are the typical hours worked in a week are not the most flattering questions to be asking a prospective employer.  Who knows where a small start in a small role will lead?  In my humble opinion, all you really need is a foot in the door!