For this week’s installment of Maroon Weekly’s Senior Scramble, we sat down with Texas A&M’s own, Dr. Billy McKim. For the past six years, Dr. McKim has served as a professor in the College of Agriculture & Life Sciences. Specializing in broadcast media and production, he has helped develop the Agricultural Communications & Journalism program into one that truly focuses on professional development of its students. We asked Dr. McKim to weigh-in his opinion on some key issues that college students should be aware of.
MW: What is a skill and/or personality trait that you often see lacking from student’s résumés?
Dr. McKim: Students often do not know when to find an answer on their own versus asking because it’s easier or convenient. Also, it’s not enough to list knowledge, skills, and abilities – people need to demonstrate that they can apply them. For example, there is a difference between listing “Microsoft Excel” as a skill and explaining that you “used Microsoft Excel to track more than 1,500 transactions, totaling $17,000 during a six-month period. During that time, you identified and corrected 20 transaction errors, which saved the organization more than $2,500.”
Perhaps, most importantly, students often seem to create a single résumé, and then don’t tailor it to the position. Look at the position announcement. If is specifically includes a required knowledge, skills, or ability, it’s imperative to make sure that the exact requirement is clearly addressed. For example, if the position announcement includes a requirement for experience with Microsoft Outlook, don’t list Microsoft Office and then call it good. Be specific. Explain how you meet the requirements and use evidence to demonstrate you’re doing more than listing random skills.
MW: What is your opinion on experience vs. education?
Dr. McKim: Education is important, but there are few – if any – replacements for experience. It’s a credibility issue. Think about a professor with no experience outside of a university or classroom who is trying to tell a class how it works in the “real world.” How does that compare to a professor who can give examples she or he has personally experienced? No comparison. However, professors who have not been engaged in the world outside of the university for many years also run the risk of being antiquated. It’s the same with young people looking for a job.
Similar to the issue I noted about listing knowledge, skills, and abilities, versus explaining how they were applied, students often miss opportunities to make note of the experiences they had during their education. A class project may have enabled a student to work in a team, overcome adversity, and meet deadlines. How do those experiences translate to the job he or she is applying for?
MW: How important is an internship in the field or city a student wants to work in?
Dr. McKim: I always ask people how they will stand out. There is a bare minimum expectation, and then there are the things that set people apart. If an internship is the minimum, make sure you complete the internship, and then note how you exceeded the expectation.
Location may be a requirement of securing a job, but students often self-impose location limitations. At least a dozen times each semester, I hear students explain why they can’t: Why they can’t live more than two hours from home. Why they can’t leave Texas for a couple years. Why their dog can only drink water from a faucet in a certain county.
The take home: Do what you have to do to get experience. Getting unique experience at a place like ESPN might mean you have to move to Connecticut for two years, but then you come back to Texas with experience that nobody else has.
MW: Is it too early to be on the job hunt (sending in résumés/making calls) if you graduate in May or December…maybe even August?
Dr. McKim: If you want a job, start building your network during your freshman year. Introduce yourself. Make connections. Ask people to introduce you.
MW: How should seniors be marketing themselves outside of a flashy résumé? What is your opinion on LinkedIn, online portfolios, and business cards?
Dr. McKim: Build a quality LinkedIn page with links to an electronic portfolio. Make it easy for potential employers to creep on the good stuff. Business cards are meh. Handwritten thank-you-cards are gold!
MW: Here’s the painful one, what is the happy medium of being on the job search and active on social media? Should seniors wipe their accounts clean, delete them (but risk looking elusive), or just carry on as normal?
Dr. McKim: If a potential employer can’t find you on social, it’s a red flag. Learn everything you can about privacy settings. Don’t be lazy – customize your settings.
Don’t put illegal things on social. Even if it’s legal to smoke in Washington or Colorado, would a company want you to represent them in Texas after seeing a picture of you at a dispensary on your Facebook timeline? Also, there is a difference between a picture of you holding a beer at a tailgate and you doing a keg-stand. Lastly, consider if you’re willing to work for a company that’s values are different than yours. Do you always want to be looking over your shoulder or worried about being yourself? I doubt the job is worth it if it gives you an ulcer.