So, you spent the last three and a half years studying the Civil War, cognitive psychology, Japanese poetry, and Russian literature. Now you’re about to graduate -- and s#!%’s getting real.
You've gotta finally start thinking of an answer to that question that's been on your mind the past few semesters: What will I do with my life?
Don’t worry. There are lots of exciting technology startups looking for smart, motivated, recent graduates to fill business-side jobs. If you play your cards right, you could end up with one of those positions.
For those interested in getting their careers off on the right foot, here’s a step-by-step guide to getting one of those jobs:
1) Decide where you want to live.
If you care about geography, you should be clear about that from the start. Use it to focus your search. A focused geography is helpful because many professional and personal networks are local. That means it’s easier to make connections and get introductions.
2) Determine how big of a company you want to work for.
Fortune 500 monolith? Two-person startup? Medium-sized growth company? They're very different experiences, and you need to decide which is the best fit.
Choosing between a well-run big company and a high-potential startup is like deciding how you're gonna learn to swim: You can dive into the pool on your own (the startup), or you can get coached by a world-class trainer (working at a big company).
Some people prefer the independence and challenge of a startup, while others favor the opportunity to train and learn best practices that come at a large, well-run company.
The good news is that medium-sized growth companies often offer the best of both worlds: You get some of the training and scale of a massive company as well as the growth potential and opportunity of a startup.
3) Find companies that excite you.
Are there companies that you admire? Companies that you’re obsessive about? That you stalk on Facebook? That you think could make a real impact on the world? If there are, focus your search on these companies.
If you don’t know of any companies that excite you, well ... get your butt of the couch and start looking! Read. Go to networking events. Talk to people.
If you're looking for a job in Boston, read Scott Kirsner’s Innovation Economy blog and BostInno. Scott writes about startups, and BostInno is a hub for the Boston startup community. If you're not in Boston, find the blogs that cover your city.
4) Figure out what kind of role fits your skill set.
It’s great that you found a few companies that excite you -- but they’re not going to hire you to look pretty. What are you going to actually do for them?
To answer this question you need to learn about the roles available -- and be honest with yourself. Take a look at the jobs pages for the companies you're interested in, read the descriptions carefully, then pick a direction.
Here are some common options for recent liberal arts graduates.
Business Development Rep
This is an entry-level sales role. It's a great opportunity to learn one of the fundamentals of business: selling. You must be: persistent. You must love: talking to people.
Working on a support desk is an awesome way to get your foot in the door at a company and learn the ropes. You must be: patient. You must love: solving problems for people.
A great job for writers and content creators. You’ll learn how to attract people to businesses. You must be: able to write. You must love: the company you decide to work for.
Finance or Operations Analyst
These are great opportunities for recent graduates with quantitative skills. You’ll find yourself managing software systems and working with data. You must be: able to think analytically. You must love: data and systems.
These are exclusive programs that give you the opportunity to rotate through different roles at a company. Rotational programs can be highly competitive, but they can give you a great window into different parts of the business. You must be: willing and able to learn a new role every few months. You must love: the company you choose.
5) Learn about companies that interest you.
Any smart company will have loads of information on places like their website, blog, Facebook page, and LinkedIn page. Take the time to dive into all of these resources and get to know the company.
The context you gain will help you understand if the company is actually a good fit -- and it will make you a stronger candidate. And as you learn about the company, identify the hiring managers for your areas of interest.
6) Find connections.
Once you know something about the companies you're targeting, figure out how to move from a resume to a relationship. How are you connected to the key hiring managers? It's hard, but if you can engage somebody in a conversation, you get a free pass through the most difficult hiring round: resume screening.
How do you engage hiring managers? LinkedIn and Twitter are the best tools. Follow them on Twitter and see if you can find an opportunity to start a constructive conversation. On LinkedIn, you should take a different approach: Use the LinkedIn network to figure out how you're connected to people at your company of interest, reach out to your connections for informational phone calls, then see if those connections can steer you to the right hiring managers.
7) Prepare for interviews.
Don't be one of the knuckleheads who shows up to the interview unable to answer basic questions. Make sure you have good answers to questions like these:
Can you describe what our company does?
Why does our company interest you?
What the ideal role for you after you graduate?
What are you really good at?
What gets you really excited?
What are your two most important accomplishments during your college years?
8) Experiment with your early career options.
Here’s a little secret: No college senior knows the exact career path that's right for them. So how do you deal with career questions you can’t answer? It's simple: Run experiments. Identify the things that you know are important, use those things as guides, then run deliberate experiments to find the best path.
For example, maybe you know you want to be in Boston and work at a mid-sized technology company, but you're really not sure about the right role. Totally normal. Here's what you should do: Find a company that interests you, look at the various roles available, find one that you think might work, and give it a shot.
Think of the role as an experiment. It's not a necessarily what you're going to be doing forever. It's something you're doing to get more information to help you make your next career decision and steadily get close the career path that's perfect for you.
Bonus Advice: Apply to attend the Inbound Business Bootcamp.
All this stuff can be hard to wrap your head around -- particularly if you're coming from a liberal arts background.
The bootcamp, to be held at HubSpot Headquarters on February 7, is a day-long series of classes for top college seniors interested in jobs at technology companies in the Boston area. You'll hear from people at HubSpot, Nanigans, InsightSquared, and other great Boston technology companies.