Career Quick Reference

By Scott Westerman
“Great achievement is usually born of great sacrifice, and is never the result of selfishness.” – Napoleon Hill

Listen to an audio version of this message.

One of the regrets I have about the intensity of my great gig at MSU is that I don’t have nearly the time I would like to spend with people who want to talk with me about career advice in person. I always start by guiding them to our superb MSUAA Alumni Career Services team. Our approach is a lot different than the resume-polishers many of us may have experienced in the past. It’s all about figuring out what you love and building a personal tool box to help you get paid for doing it.

On the occasions when it’s impossible for me to sync up my schedule for a one-on-one, I share the high points in an email. Here they are:

Discover Your Passion – Life is always much more fun if you’re doing something you love. Here is my take on the topic.

Pick Your Company Carefully – Too many people jump into cultures that are totally out of sync with who they are. To paraphrase Jim Collins in Good to Great, “first where, then what”. What are your top five favorite companies? Why? How could you add value there?

Draw a Map – Steven Covey says, “Begin with the end in mind”. Where do you want to be ten years from now? The more detailed a picture you can paint of your current ultimate objective, the easier it will be to design a road map to get you there. To follow up on picking your company carefully, which organizations might have your dream job? Where are the entry points for your dream career? What are the steps others have taken to get where you want to go? Here’s an essay I recently wrote on “The Way In” that has some more detail.

Assess Your Assets – Once you know what makes you happy, it’s a lot easier to aim toward that end. How have you prepared for that life? Are there any additional skills you need? How will you create and promote your personal brand.

Build a Productive Network – Connect with people who are already where you want to be. LinkedIn’s power isn’t in the quantity of people in your network, it’s the quality. One of the best things about LinkedIn’s search functionality is how you can parse your network for the companies and job types you’re interested in and then seek Spartans who already work in these places. These are the connections that will be most important to you. Read Keith Ferrazzi’s “Never Eat Alone”. It’s not only the best networking book on the market, it’s the best relationship book out there.

Add Value Before You Are Hired – Too many people ask me to “help them find a job”. In fact, we hire solutions and ideas, not people. If you have identified a company where you want to work, study it thoroughly. What are their strengths and weaknesses? Who are their competitors? What is their biggest current challenge? Think of ways you can help them overcome their problems and grow more successful. Imagine that you are a consultant that they have hired to help them grow the business. What would you recommend? How would you implement your idea? What would it cost? What resources would it require? If you’ve done this exercise, your career conversations will be much more fruitful. This is being proactive and it pays off.

What if the job you want doesn’t exist yet? –  A growing percentage of our graduates are working in positions that weren’t around 5 years ago. Some even discover that their research reveals an opportunity to create their own gig. Don’t be afraid to create yours.

Be Professionally Persistent – You will most likely get rejected a number of times before someone realizes your value. That’s ok. Keep in touch with the people you meet who work where you want to work. Share helpful links and productive ideas with them from time to time. Don’t swamp them with email, but share ideas of real value when you find them. If you have been able to learn about their interests outside of work, seek ways to help improve the quality of their lives. We tend to be attracted to people who genuinely care about us as individuals. We are repelled by pests.

Keep the Faith – If you maintain a focus on your objective, listen and act on the feedback you receive, build a productive network and find ways to add value, you will inevitably get the job you seek. Never lose your capacity for hope.

Oh yeah.. and Pay Attention to Detail! Note the following email I received some time back:

As a recent graduate from Michigan State University, I’m highly interested in a career in NYC. I have an interest in investment banking, real estate investments, and private equity. At this time I’m looking for any opportunities that will help me gain exposure to these industries.

I was hoping to speak with you for ten minutes regarding networking with MSU alumni in NYC. Are you available for a quick call at any of the time below?

Tues, 08/06: After 12PM ETWed, 08/07: After 12PM ETThurs, 08/08: After 12PM ET

Thank you for your time and consideration.

All good… except he opened the email with, “Dear Mr. Turner.” I have many perceived identities, but Mr. Turner isn’t one of em.


If you’re thinking of writing an email like this to someone you don’t know well, it’s also a good idea to include a connection to your LinkedIn profile, so the person can check you out.

Ponder these points You’ll be able to ask the “Can you help me?” question much more effectively. When you get that face time with an adviser or mentor, the conversation will be much more productive. and in the end, you’ll discover that the question isn’t “can you help me”, it’s “how can I help you?”