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Business students: The first three steps to landing that dream job

Students typically enter business school with the hope, and sometimes expectation, that their Career Management (CM) group will get them a job. Classes, assignments, exams, "wine tasting" clubs - these activities often take priority over résumé development and interview preparation. However, before you apply to job postings and wait for the offers to roll in, it is important to understand an important point: It is up to you to get yourself a job.

There are five steps that will help you along your path to success. In this article, let's talk about the first three steps - in which you get up to speed on the companies you're applying to, document your work experience and get your résumé in shape.

Step 1: Conduct due diligence on your target industry, and answer the three "whys"

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In business school, preparing for a class usually means reading the textbook or case, reviewing your notes, researching online, and perhaps having a discussion with your classmates about the content. Preparing for a job interview requires more work: performing due diligence on your target industry. Due diligence means getting to the bottom of what makes an industry tick: What is the current state of the industry? What issues and trends - economic, geographic, political, technological - are affecting the industry? Is it growing or shrinking?

As well, you need to ensure you understand the job interview type that is given by your target firms within the industry. Is it strictly a behavioural interview? Will there be a case interview component? Will they ask technical financial questions?

The good news is, your business school has a wealth of information to help you. The library or online database will have access to analyst reports on various industries, and your CM group will have first-hand knowledge of the interview process across various firms. You should also leverage your network, including second-year students (who may have job offers from your target firms), professors and alumni to learn more about the industry.

The due diligence process should not end until you receive your offer. Even when you are doing first-round interviews, you should be using those interactions as an opportunity to conduct due diligence for final rounds.

At the same time, develop answers to these questions:

1. Why do I want to work in this industry? The fact that it is a "challenging industry" that presents strong "growth opportunities" is not good enough, so push your thinking harder. You want to focus on the value you offer, not on what you will get out of working in the industry.

2. Why do I want to work for this company? Every firm is different, even if they operate in the same space, so you need to figure out what makes each one unique. The best source for this information are alumni working at your target company.

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3. Why should this firm hire me? Come up with the three key reasons why you are the right candidate. Hint: "hard worker", "persistent" and "dedicated" are not qualities that will differentiate you in today's job market. Leadership, analytics, creativity, communication - these are skills that employers are seeking.

Step 2: Develop a Work Experience Matrix

This is essentially a grid (think Excel spreadsheet) with two axes: the X-axis (or columns) lists your prior jobs or different roles within a job and your extra-curricular roles (separately, one in each cell.) The Y-axis (or rows) lists your key skills in each cell. You then fill in the grid with examples from your background that demonstrate these skills.

For example: Let's say you have had two jobs, and you start with the "leadership" skill. You would come up with leadership example(s) in your first job, and other examples from the second job. Repeat this for all of the key skills employers are looking for: Leadership, analytics, creativity, teamwork, project management, communication, etc.

With this matrix completed, you now have a full summary of your work and extracurricular experience history in a format that will be easy to reference and memorize, and will help you write your résumé and prepare answers to behavioural interview questions.

Step 3: Write "action-oriented" impact statements in the work experience section of your résumé

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The goal of your résumé is not to describe what you have done in the past, but to convince the employer of what you are capable of doing to create value for their organization today. What will differentiate you from other candidates is your ability to convey that you have the transferable skills required for the job. The work experience section of your résumé becomes the key to doing this.

Each impact statement in this section of your résumé should have a context, an action and a result (the "CAR" framework.) With that said, you should emphasize exactly what you were doing in each example - so the focus should be on "actions." Let's consider an example: "Analyzed a financial institution's travel spend data, identified opportunities for airfare price reductions, and developed an optimized travel booking model that drove 8 per cent in savings across the entire spend base."

What was this candidate doing, specifically? A, analyzing data, B, identifying price reductions and C, developing savings models - highly analytical work. Analytics is a skill that is transferable to virtually any industry and job.

Develop each impact statement to touch on one or multiple transferable skills for which the employer is looking, ensuring you cover all key skills. You will be well versed in these skill requirements as a result of your due diligence.

I will address Steps 4 and 5 - taking part in mock interviews, and effective networking - next week.

Darren Lafreniere is the founder of career advisory firm Final Round Prep, the Director of the Ivey Consulting Project, and a Lecturer in the MBA program at HEC Paris. He holds an MBA from the Richard Ivey School of Business.

Special to The Globe and Mail

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