I’m thankful for the wisdom, feedback and support of mentors, co-workers, colleagues, and recruiters throughout my career. Below is some of the most useful advice that I’ve received—and that I still consider to this day.
1 – Do what you love
You’ve heard it before, but the best advice when choosing a major is to do what you love. Not what you think will get you a job. Not what will land you the biggest paycheck. And definitely not what your parents want you to do. Study what you’re excited to learn and I promise that you’ll be able to apply transferable skills to just about any career path you choose.
2 – Be curious
We all want to work with capable and driven teammates. But I also want to sit next to someone—likely for 10 hours each day—who’s interesting. Inquisitive. Inspiring. Perhaps you take a class seemingly unrelated to your major each semester, volunteer for an education startup, recently traveled to Bhutan, or initiated a cycling team in your city. These passion pursuits are just as critical as traditional qualifications. Cultivate a hobby, participate in cultural events, attend lectures, go on adventures, and read a lot.
3 – Know your strengths
Recognizing and articulating your strengths will help you better identify and secure optimal job opportunities. Your core competencies can include a range of tactical and soft skills. Maybe you’re exceptional at Excel or have a ton of followers on Tumblr. Or maybe you’re a persuasive negotiator, deft at diffusing conflict, receptive to critical feedback, or a master of time management. Knowing your strengths—and summarizing them succinctly—is one of the best skills to sharpen.
4 – It’s not about you
When writing a cover letter, sending a message on LinkedIn or updating your resume, remember, it’s not about you (or what the company can do for you). Don’t lead with lines like, “I’m seeking a creative work environment,” “I’m passionate about digital media” or “I’m looking for a position that offers growth.” Instead, prioritize what you can offer the company, such as two years of experience in a related field, proven success illustrated by accolades or a demonstrated commitment to over-delivering. It’s about them, not you.
5 – Show results
Infuse your resume with measurable results, don’t just list responsibilities. For each line on your resume, communicate your accomplishments. Did you increase your team’s annual revenue? Deliver all projects under budget? Expand into two new markets? Increase traffic to social media platforms? Produce more content in a quarter than in the previous year? Transform your resume by quantifying your successes.
6 – The art of brevity
No computer can replace the ability to write cogently and concisely. Nurture this craft. It will be useful throughout your entire career—for emails, letters, thank you notes, presentations, creative briefs, contracts, and more. Take Professor Spear’s news writing class. Read The Elements of Style. Avoid using the qualifiers really, rather, very, little, or pretty. Edit your work and then edit it again. The need for effective writing transcends all roles and industries.
7 – Be specific
When asking for help, be explicit about what you hope to get out of the connection. Do you want someone to review your resume? Do you want to learn more about his or her company? Do you want the person to send your resume to a hiring manager? People are swamped and time is scarce, so specify what you’re seeking when you solicit support.
8 – Influence the interview
Before an interview, identify three things that you want the employer to take away from talking with you. Maybe it’s the pivotal role you played at an internship, that you’ve repeatedly been a creative team leader or that you’re more knowledgeable about the vertical than anyone else. During the interview, tailor your responses around the themes that you’ve chosen. That way, you don’t need to rehearse contrived responses to a multitude of anticipated questions and you’ll drive home a compelling personal story.
9 – Negotiate
If you receive a job offer that doesn’t meet your expectations, there’s often room to negotiate. While the company may not accommodate your ideal salary, for example, there are other components to explore, like a signing bonus, additional vacation days or your title. Make your request assertively yet politely; negotiating an offer shows an employer that you can artfully navigate sensitive conversations as well as balance your needs with those of the company. Take advantage of this opportunity: you will never have more leverage than before you accept a job that’s been extended to you.
10 – Give thanks
This is obvious, but a thank you is imperative. After an interview, phone call or introduction, send a thank you note. It doesn’t have to be long and e-mail is sufficient. But if the circumstance isn’t time-sensitive, a handwritten note is nice. Keep it simple, personal, candid, and timely and this small gesture will go a long way.
Kaitlin Yapchaian, an ’04 graduate, is an Executive Producer at Prototype Studio, R/GA in NYC. Earlier this year Yapchaian freelanced for Google Creative Lab and has previously worked at Vogue as well as on the Nike account at the advertising agency R/GA. Kaitlin is also a member of the UR Career Services Advisory Council.
Like her advice? Check out her other post “How to Ensure Your Resume Gets Read.”