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How I Snagged My Dream Job before Graduation—and You Can Too

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This post was originally written in the December 2012 issue of The Torch, Wittenberg University’s student-run newspaper, just before I graduated college and headed out to Minnesota to start as an Associate Roleplaying Game Producer at Fantasy Flight Games. Looking back, I think it’s still applicable to anyone who wants to break into a relatively competitive niche industry.

I’m not entering a career related to my major. Surprise. Still, if I hadn’t gone to Wittenberg I wouldn’t have gotten the job. It’s all about making the most of your time here and giving your all. Unless you’re planning on continuing on to graduate school, the facts and figures taught during class are unlikely to translate directly into your job. The skills you are learning, though, will: communication, problem solving, and leadership are key in almost any career. Nevertheless, you can’t just acquire those skills, you need to show your prospective employer where you’ve applied them.

Here a few tips:

Have the credentials. Sure, you can take and pass all the required courses and graduate. Congratulations, you are now at the same baseline as the rest of your competition. Get involved in an extracurricular activity or two as well. Try to rise to the top if you can, taking on extra responsibility and learning to manage others. Submit your work for publication and awards. Make presentations. Get that internship. Do things to put on your resume.

Don’t be afraid to roll up your sleeves and work. When I took a break from school I worked at Home Depot, but I took advantage of my time there and worked my way around different departments and up the ladder. How? Willingness to learn. Willingness to go the extra mile. I cared about my customers and took pride in my work. I knew I had sterling references from my bosses there because they knew if they went to me I could get the job done and get it right. Don’t be a lazy worker. Don’t be prissy about working a job that is “beneath you” in the meantime. One, you need a job to get a job and two, it’s a prime opportunity to get practical experience. Let the road bumps teach you something.

Get the cover letter and interview right. If the job listing details the required duties for the position, use the cover letter to show how the items on your resume relate directly to the job. Be succinct to hit all the major points in a few short paragraphs. The phone interview is a chance for the company to see you back up that resume, explaining experience and responsibilities in greater detail. If you get invited to the in-person interview, look the part, bring a portfolio, but also do your homework. Find out more about the company. Figure out questions to ask about the job. It shows that you really thought about the position and your fit there. Don’t forget to follow up via email and phone, to show your prospective employer that you’re the one who wants this job the most. Enthusiasm can make all the difference.

Show how you stand out. Figure out why this employer needs you above all other applicants for the position. What void do you fill or new perspective do you bring? In my case, I would be the first woman in the department, a necessary viewpoint when 30-40 percent of your customers are women. Hone that niche and sell them on it. Sometimes, you can even turn a weakness into a strength. I wasn’t an expert on the intellectual property I was going to be developing, but that meant I brought a fresh mind to a setting with thirty-five years of stories, characters and tropes populating it.

Finally, “follow your bliss.” They say if you do what you love, everything else will follow. Even in this economy, I would still give that advice. Chances are, what you love is also what you are best at, and what you are willing to work the hardest on. Employers will pick up on that. You just have to show them. And if you don’t know what you love yet, well, then that’s what college is all about.

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