Don’t just Show up. Have a Plan.

I ask every young job seeker I meet a question that ought to be utterly straightforward — “What is your plan?” Almost invariably, I receive a look that can be described only as a deer in the headlights.

What is it about the suggestion of a plan that so terrifies young people?

Could it be, that with their degrees and with all the impressive experiences and accomplishments that pack their resumes that they actually have never asked themselves this simple question?

When these same individuals were assigned research papers in school, they must have been taught that a great final product comes after following essential steps. Those include choosing a topic, researching, clearly stating the thesis, organizing notes, drafting the paper, editing, and producing a final copy. Those steps include a whole lot of planning that pays off at the end of the project.

So why can’t recent alumni mine their research experience and pull together a plan for their job hunts?

They would do well to internalize this simple tip: there’s more to succeeding at a meeting than just showing up. Showing up is essential, but it’s the beginning, and should never be confused with the ultimate prize.

Whether we are talking about a networking meeting, an interview, a meeting with a professor, or a meeting with a supervisor at an internship, every interaction represents a chance for you to showcase your talents.

Too bad most people don’t or can’t see it that way. If this doesn’t come naturally to you, here’s a plan for asserting yourself in those situations and maximizing the benefits.

  1. Understand the types of jobs that interest you (your “topic”). Make sure you are able to communicate your areas of interest, experience, and most important accomplishments clearly.
  2. Research. This is key. Simply put, the tools for researching the people you will be meeting or interviewing with are so cheap (mostly free!) and so easy to navigate, that you can’t afford not to use them. Look at their LinkedIn profiles, and find out if they have written any books or articles (if so, read them!). Knowing whom you are meeting and understanding their professional background and accomplishments will help you to focus on the areas where they can help in your search. Also, they will be impressed with your thorough preparation and will know you will be equally prepared if they offer to introduce you to people in their networks.
  3. Know your qualifications. Prove that you have the skills and experience for the type of role you are seeking. Like a thesis statement, this is how you will support your belief that you are a strong and qualified candidate to anyone you meet.

Also remember interviewers are busy people too, and they will truly appreciate not having to do all the work. Merely responding to questions shows no initiative. Go into any meeting with a plan and ready to explain why you want to work for a particular company or in a particular industry, what your qualifications are, and why they should hire you.


Lesley is president and founder of Priority Candidates, which prepares college students and recent graduates nationwide to get hired for their first jobs.   Previously, Lesley spent more than 25 years in executive search, working with candidates from entry level to C-Suite executives in organizations ranging in size from small, family owned businesses to large international organizations.  Her fundamental knowledge of what hiring manager’s look for is the core of what Priority Candidates does to prepare college students/recent grads to get hired now.  An alumnus of Duke University who is based in New York City, Lesley has been featured in USA Today, ABC’s New York Viewpoint with Ken Rosato, ABC News with Art McFarland, The New York Times, NY Nightly News with NBC4’s Chuck Scarborough, eCampus News and John Tucker’s Small Business Report on Bloomberg Radio.   Lesley always welcomes connections via LinkedIn, on Twitter or by email or phone, available on her website.

Related posts:

  1. No Internship? No Problem!
  2. Show Your Skills and Experience Through Stories
  3. What’s Your “Plan B” for Summer Internships?

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