Résumé is ready . . . palms aren't sweaty . . . no lint on the suit . . .
I admit it, I was talking to myself. But at events like these, even the smallest mistake and your résumé goes into the shredder.
Standing in front of the mirror in the bathroom of a downtown Toronto hotel, I started running through a checklist for when I would get face to face with the recruiter at the career fair.
"Make sure palm isn't sweaty when shaking hands.
"Don't hesitate when answering the questions.
"Business cards in front pocket.
"Résumés neatly placed in portfolio."
I muttered these to myself as I brushed my shoulders and inspected the back of my jacket to make sure it didn't have any lint. I then marched into the room of about 100 other soon-to-graduated MBAs who were also looking to schmooze recruiters and find that important first job out of school.
With that, my career hunt began.
While I had been networking and planting seeds with those in hiring positions since I began the program in 2005, only recently did my job hunt begin in earnest -- triggered by conversations with an increasing number of classmates who received job offers, the increasing balance of my line of credit and the fact that spring graduation is rapidly approaching.
But I'm a worrier, and the thought about having to set up informational interviews, attend career fairs, scour the Internet for job postings and make countless follow-up phone calls brought about a wave of nausea similar to the one that I endured seconds after quitting my job as a business reporter at The Globe and Mail.
However, the more I thought about how to land a job, the more I realized that -- just like studying business -- finding a job is as much about the process as it is the end result.
My process had begun a week before the career fair when I thought about some of the key lessons I've learned since beginning the MBA program 16 months ago. I grabbed a notebook, drew a line down a page, wrote a course title on the left side and considered how the various in-class concepts would apply to my job hunt.
Then it all came together and one of my first real-life managerial challenges emerged: finding a potential opportunity, researching the market, developing the brand and coming up with a sustainable strategy for selling Richard Bloom.
Here are some of the standouts from that page in my notebook.
Marketing class: As marketing theory dictates, know your target consumers inside and out and find a compelling way to tell them about your project. Who are they? Where are they based? What are their interests? What drives them to succeed?
Since I'm searching for a programming or marketing position in the media industry, I have been scouring corporate Internet sites, learning executives' and owners' names, subscribing to industry newsletters, attending industry events and spending countless hours online researching trends and so-called "best practices" in an attempt to learn as much as possible about how companies operate.
In terms of getting my message out to my targets, I have set up a personal website with my résumé, contact information and brief biography. My business card has that website address boldly splashed across it.
I have also uploaded my résumé to the major Canadian and U.S. job-posting websites.
Strategy class: One of the key questions a manager must constantly ask is what are the organization's core competencies? According to management-science experts, core competencies (i.e. technical know-how, relationships with customers, a manufacturing process) are what give an organization a competitive advantage and, if exploited properly, result in better-than-average financial returns.
What are my core competencies? My blend of traditional newsroom and new-media experience; my ability to tackle many tasks at once; my communication skills; and my outgoing, friendly and caring disposition.
Strategy is also about sizing up the competition.
The media sector, particularly in Canada, has very high barriers to entry as it is an influential and high-profile sector controlled by very few players. In turn, I should be prepared for a cutthroat selection process as those doing the hiring have significant power over applicants because of the limited number of positions available. My competition will be intense -- forcing me to substantially differentiate myself from my rivals and assure those owners that I will be able to add value to the organization.
Brand management class: As my professor said during the first class, a brand is a promise of value to customers. It is about past experiences, future expectations and associations (i.e. trendy, safe, reliable).
I'm lucky because the associations tied to my former employer are "high quality," "established" and "credible." In turn, those associations transfer to me and increase my brand equity. I should emphasize that affiliation with The Globe and Mail in all of my career-related moves.
Operations management class: Setting deadlines, milestones and goals are crucial for success.
I have set aside every other Wednesday morning for informational interviews and meetings with former colleagues to discuss potential job opportunities. If I don't have a job lined up by mid-February when my school is on a one-week break, I will use those five days to meet with human resources personnel as well as recruiting companies. I hope to have a position secured by March and begin my new job during the first week of June.
Arts and media management class: The cultural industry is not one that traditionally hires MBAs, although my professors say that is starting to change as the industry matures.
Very few media companies have formal recruiting programs in place with business schools, and managers are usually promoted from within after beginning at a young age in entry-level positions. One of the ways in is to form relationships with senior managers in the industry and make a positive impression.
My action plan? Leverage my existing relationships with people in the industry to get informational interviews with supervisors and decision makers. Even if it's just a 15-minute coffee, it can open a door to that first job.
And as one of my media-management professors opined: "It's all about getting that first job. Don't be afraid to take something you think might be below you because, odds are, you'll only be in that job for a short time."
Meanwhile, with my process now in place, it's time to see whether I've timed the launch of Richard Bloom properly -- and whether my target group is ready to buy.
Richard Bloom is a former Report on Business reporter who enrolled in York University's Schulich School of Business to obtain an MBA.
He writes regularly on the career lessons he is taking away from