It’s a question plenty of college grads ask themselves once they’ve been handed their diploma: I did it! …Now what?
Whether you’ve already planned your search for your first job after college or are just getting started, the process of finding a job is nonetheless intimidating. But it can also be exciting, empowering, enlightening and – yes! – even fun. If you’re a recent grad in need of some pointers for your job search, then this edition of Shop Talk is for you, Aerie fam.
In this three-part series, we’ll cover everything you need to know to get started on your career journey. We’re kicking off Part One with a Q&A with Brenna Kennelly, Campus Recruiting Coordinator at American Eagle Outfitters Inc. and Trenita Finney, Associate Digital Designer at AEO Inc. Drawing on their years of experience in the recruiting and design fields, respectively, Brenna and Trenita share their tips for landing an interview, creating professional connections, making a great impression at an interview and, of course, choosing the interview outfit that makes you feel like your best self.
Get the full interview with Brenna and Trenita below!
When did you first know you wanted to pursue your specific career and what attracted you to it? Did your career aspirations change at all over the years?
Brenna: My journey into the world of recruiting was a non-traditional one. I was definitely not the student who went into college 100% knowing what they wanted to do for the rest of their life. Matter of fact, I didn’t even realize that a recruiter is usually the first person that you talk to when applying for most jobs! I learned about this career path from the amazing recruiters who are on my team, and now I truly could not imagine myself working in any other role.
In college, I was a Marketing major with a Hospitality Management minor, but by senior year I still wasn’t absolutely set on what my next step post-graduation would be. I think the best line that I’ve heard from someone also in our AEO family, is that your career is like a jungle gym – there is no perfect, linear direction for how you will grow and the opportunities that you will encounter. Be open to the opportunities that come your way, even if some make you realize that you want to change your path.
While my career aspirations have definitely changed over the years, the two things that have always remained consistent were my love for connecting with people and building relationships. It didn’t happen overnight, but by internally identifying my skills and passions (and with the help of some recruiters on my team) I was able to find the perfect career for me!
What are tips that you would recommend to help with landing an interview?
Brenna: I think there are two tips that I would have in this area and they would be:
1. Show up. Whether it is a networking event, a company-specific information session or joining a professional group on LinkedIn (if you haven’t looked into this check it out – tons of cities have these) make yourself known. Bonus benefit, these are also great ways to build relationships.
2. Everybody knows somebody, so making connections and networking is key! This can be as simple as reaching out to an advisor to connect you with someone in their network, or leveraging tools like LinkedIn to connect with alumni or employees who work at a company that you are interested in. You never know if you don’t ask or put yourself out there!
What resources and strategies are helpful in looking for jobs and preparing for interviews?
Trenita: LinkedIn and Glassdoor are my two favorite tools for finding design jobs. I also like to check what are the salary projections for the field I’m going in. This will help you when you negotiate your rate.
I like to read the posts from companies I’m interested in working at. Seeing how the employees feel about the company and what values they uphold or are expanding. I’m Black and queer so I like to see if the company I want to work for reflects value that make me feel seen. I want to know that I have a seat at the table.
For you, have awareness of what you need in a company to work there and if you are aligned with their values. It helps so much!
How would you recommend approaching your professional network about interview advice or leads?
Trenita: I love networking with my peers because it’s a way to self-promote during your job search. I like using the 80/20 rule: 80% of your results come from 20% of your effort (so say the marketing experts).
Communicate what, where and who you’d like to connect with and let your peers do the rest. When I was searching for my job during COVID, I shared that with my network.
Then my peers reached out to me about an opportunity at Aerie as well as contacts that worked there.
This was a huge stepping stone because I could speak with someone at the company I wanted to work with. The word spread and soon hiring managers at Aerie were hearing recommendations about me from other team members.
So yes, share with your network that you are looking and what types of opportunities you’d like!
What types of questions are good to ask at an interview?
Brenna: I recently had a candidate ask me how I saw our values showing up in the workplace – I loved this question and it is one that really stuck out to me as a deeper, more thoughtful way to ask about our company values and culture. I would challenge all candidates to think of the “typical interview questions” and how they could be asked in a different and creative way.
How do you recommend dressing for interviews? Any special tips in the virtual landscape?
Trenita: I like to dress for virtual interviews the way I would in real life. My style involves wearing my hair big, wearing crystals and bright colors. So this is heavily included in my work wardrobe. Even though we’ll only see the waist up, wear the entire outfit. It will help you feel more confident and take it seriously. As for virtual landscape, pick a nice bright area that’s quiet. Grab your headphones if you need them. You can even take advantage of virtual backgrounds in your tools screen!
How do you recover from mistakes in an interview?
Trenita: I think mistakes are natural and they occur. I’ve gotten lost on the way to an interview, in full panic only to have been delightfully surprised that I was hired.
If mistakes happen, it’s okay. Communicate what you need and move on. Sometimes, you are the only one that notices the mistake so don’t let small things trip you up. Do your best and don’t be hard on yourself. Your talent, hard work and commitment will speak volumes.
How do you keep the nerves calm while interviewing?
Trenita: The best way I stay grounded during interviews actually has way more to do with how I prepared for it. I’m at my best when I’ve:
· Practiced my questions and answers out loud with my accountability partner.
· Set up my virtual interviewing space
· Chosen what I’m going to wear
· Had breakfast and drank water
All of these helped me because it allowed the whole process to be stress free. And because I’ve already done it, I know I can do it again. Practicing helps get most of the nerves out. You can go the extra mile and dance or shake it out before you interview it you need it!
What’s your advice on follow-up protocol after an interview?
Brenna: My biggest piece of advice here would be to send a thank you note and in that note highlight something memorable from the conversation. Typically, directly following an interview recruiters and/or teams do not have all of the decisions finalized just yet. Schedules are busy and sometimes it might take a few days to hear back, but you can always reach out to your recruiter for a status update, and I can promise you that they will tell you all of the information that they have at the time.
We hope Brenna and Trenita’s insights will help you pursue your first career steps fearlessly. What else would you like to learn about in our upcoming Shop Talks? Let us know in the comments! And keep an eye out for Part Two of the series, in which we’ll talk about identifying the types of opportunities that are right for you.