Never eat lunch alone. That's one core piece of advice a career coach passed along to stock analysts and financial advisory assistants finishing up their summer internships at Merrill Lynch recently.
Connie Thanasoulis-Cerrachio, co-founder of New York coaching firm SixFigureStart, emphasized that these days, "It's a jungle out there and you have to fight for your very survival. There are multiple qualified candidates for each job so you absolutely have to distinguish yourself in every way possible."
For instance, you must always have a pitch at your disposal. No more than 20 to 30 seconds in length, it should highlight your own unique value proposition and how those qualities will "ease the pain" of the employer you are talking to.
You have to network with decision makers and follow up each interview with a stellar email about how interested you are and how perfectly aligned your strengths are to the position. You need a resume documenting measurable results, and may need to go through the extra expense of doing mock interviews with a professional.
Here are some of the tips Thanasoulis-Cerrachio passed along to Merrill assistants:
· Young people starting out may be especially nervous about networking, but don't be afraid to get feedback along from your manager and also some of the key people you've been working with. The best way to do that is to let them know you are open to their opinions and suggestions.
· Get to know people outside your immediate department first, and then Approach people outside of your immediate department, including other interns.
· A great question to ask anyone at the firm, to get a conversation moving, is, "How did you get your start in this business? "What do you enjoy most about what you do? And if that goes well: What advice would you give to someone like me, just starting out?"
· Join employee networking organizations, be they women's groups, Hispanic groups, or softball teams. "Go even if it's just to cheer everybody on," says Thanasoulis-Cerrachio. Go to each and every firm-sponsored event.
· The art of the follow up is often even more important than the art of the approach. Two or three days before you leave your internship email everyone you know in your department thanking them for the experience you received. Send a special note to your boss, letting him or her know you would like to stay in touch. Take all the contact information you can so its easy to follow up.
· Make that a no-brainer by putting a reminder in your calendar to write or call once you're back at school or out there on the job market. Tell them how your experience at their company has aided you. People always get a kick out of compliments like that, says Thanasoulis-Cerrachio, and it will give them an added incentive to want to get you back.
The mock interview
Thanasoulis-Cerrachio is always amazed at how people trip themselves up in terms of getting hired.
In one of her mock interviews, she asked a college student looking for an internship to list his strengths. "He sat and thought about them and was obviously grasping as I interviewed him. When I asked about a weakness he actually said, 'Well...I do tend to get angry and impatient with people sometimes.' No one would hire such an applicant."
In another instance, Thanasoulis-Cerrachio was conducting an interview with an HR executive who had 20 years experience at a top financial services firm. When she asked, "What is one of your weaknesses?" the HR woman responded "E -learning." Yikes: "Your weakness can't be a core component of the job," says the career coach.
Another applicant described one of his weaknesses as being "Not that interesting a person." Also a mistake. "Here was someone who sails, scuba dives and has made $500,000 at a Fortune 500 firm literally calling himself a boring person. Who would hire this person?"
"You never really know what you're going to say until you sit through a mock interview," says Thanasoulis-Cerrachio. In fact, this can be conducted by a good friend in the industry or in some cases even your Alumni Services people, if you don't want to spring for an independent career coach. If all else fails, says Thanasoulis-Cerrachio, you should consider doing a mock interview with a career coach who knows how to critique your interview performance. It will cost you money but it could be money well spent.