5 career questions — Sarah Landrum of Punched Clocks

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I’m starting a new occasional series where I ask five questions of other work/job/employment writers I respect out there on the web. I’m very happy to present this first interview with Sarah Landrum of Punched Clocks, a new site that has some great advice for work.

Here are the questions:

In your original About page, you noted that after you graduated from Penn State, you had numerous classmates reach out to you to help them navigate the job market. What were the top three pieces of advice you gave them?

Each classmate was in a unique situation and needed different advice. I was already helping several friends throughout college to revise their resumes, prepare for interviews, and stuff like that. After graduating, I got the same kind of questions for the most part.

When it comes to resumes, the three biggest pieces of advice I gave were probably to:

  1. Include strong action verbs!
  2. Use numbers and results to show off your accomplishments!
  3. Be concise! Bullet points should not exceed one line.

You may have “managed” several different tasks, but that doesn’t mean you should explain them in that manner on your resume. Many students think that “manage” is a strong verb because it shows you were responsible for something, but that’s not the case. Instead of saying “Managed XYZ” try something like: “Implemented ABC process in the management of XYZ for [result achieved].”

When it comes to interview preparation, the best advice I gave was always to research the company in-depth and show your passion for the company. Time and time again, recruiters forego a more qualified candidate in favor of one who is genuinely passionate about the position and the company. Be careful not to be too stiff – recruiters want someone who can fit into the company culture, so let your personality shine through!

They’re all pretty common pieces of advice, but are overlooked far too often. Usually, giving a little guidance in these areas can make a huge difference.

What do you think is the biggest adjustment graduates need to make upon getting that first job?

(Laughs) Getting thrown into the real world is tough. Besides having to wake up early and put on big girl clothes, you can’t just show up and cram just enough to get an A on a test. I think the biggest adjustment is simply having to be on your game all the time and constantly working to improve – in and out of work. You’re constantly learning and adapting, and that’s a big adjustment from the memorize-and-forget nature of a classroom.

That, and having to keep up with bills. The bills will kill you if you’re not careful.

What do you think are the top mistakes graduates make on their first job?

I actually just wrote a post about the worst mistakes graduates make and how to avoid them a couple weeks ago! I’ll let you check it out, but basically the worst mistake you can make is letting fear guide your decisions.

Fear of failure is so detrimental to a career. Graduates are afraid they’ll lose the job to someone else if they ask for a higher salary, so they don’t negotiate. They’re afraid to be seen as incapable, so they don’t ask questions. They’re afraid to say no, so they end up stretching themselves so thin that the stress almost breaks them. They’re afraid to put themselves out there and try new things, and they end up limiting themselves socially and professionally.

Worst of all, they’re often afraid to pursue their passion. They do what they think they’re supposed to do and chase the high-paying, prestigious jobs that are supposed to make them happy. But guess what, you’re never going to happy – or successful – if you’re doing something for the wrong reasons. Studies have shown that happiness leads to success – not the other way around. It’s astounding how many people are stuck in unhappy careers because they’re afraid to do what they love or take a chance on pursuing their dream. Don’t make that mistake.

What do you think are the biggest contributions graduates can make coming into the workplace to help their companies?

That’s a great question! Each graduate brings their own set of skills and creative thinking to the workplace. Their contributions – and their ideas – will be just as diverse. That’s the key to growth, in my opinion. Forget the “progressive” education and “applicable” experience. They help, of course, but the biggest contribution is in the ideas new graduates can bring. Fresh insight and perspective from an “outsider” can be the difference between a company that remains stagnant and one that takes off.

Of course, the bright education and familiarity with technology are valuable contributions – but without novel, boundary-pushing ideas, they’re not going to progress the company past the barrier of what’s already been done.

What would you advise Juniors and Seniors to do to align themselves correctly to finding a job out of college?

Don’t limit yourself. Don’t listen to the conventional “rules” saying you need to study this, participate in that, and so on. You don’t need to be the president of every club, fraternity, and organization on campus that aligns with your major.

Go out and join the clubs you want to join. Chipotle club calling your name? Don’t pass it up for a meeting with the business club you can’t stand. Take the courses that interest you. Apply to the positions you would want – and don’t waste time on the ones you don’t. Then, spend that extra time advancing your career in other ways. Read. Stay up to date on the industry. Get a certification. Immerse yourself in what’s actually going on in the industry and you’ll learn much more valuable lessons. Not only will you be learning, but you’ll get your name out there by interacting with industry influencers and make connections that are much more powerful than having some club membership on your resume.

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