Tuesday, August 18, 2015

How to Land that First Job

All of us need guidance on how to do things, and soon-to-be graduates are just the same.   Here's a question a reader posed, with my advice below.  Hope it is useful for all job seekers out there.

Good afternoon Amy,

I am a senior at Washington State University studying Viticulture and Enology. I wanted to touch base with you about reaching out to wineries and winemakers via email. My goal is to work for a great winemaker as an intern and do whatever it takes to show how hard of a worker I am and the value I can bring as a leader and a team member. I am always learning and I am always trying to get better. 

If you have any advice for me, it would be greatly appreciated.

         Butch T. Cougar
Dear Butch,

Great to hear from you up at Washington State University, and Go Cougars!  I'm glad to hear you are in your last year in the Viticulture and Enology program there.  This is a great time to be graduating with a degree, and a great time to be looking for a job.  The job market is quite a bit different than a few years ago.  It is really active now, and salaries have come up in the last couple of years.

This is a great question and I encourage people to take an active role in the job search.  Contacting wineries and winemakers directly is ideal.  That's what I do, and how I've built my network.  Here are a few things to think about when you are planning your email campaign:

  1. Timing is everything.  Right now might not be the best time to start contacting winemakers.  Here in California, at the end of August, winemakers are thinking about one thing--HARVEST.  If an unsolicited email came into their inbox right now, they'd most likely ignore it and forget all about it in a few days.  I would recommend getting these emails out in December through March.  
  2. Beware the spam folder!  Your email might get in the spam folder.  This happens.  You'll never know if it does.  And if it does, the person you are contacting most likely will never know you emailed them.  So I encourage you to follow up with a phone call, or if you are able to, an in-person visit to the winery.  
  3. Strategize.  Start a list of wineries and winemakers you would really like to work for.  I'm a fan of geographical lists if you need to live in a certain area.  I'd take a map and start contacting wineries closest to home first, and move out from there.  Who doesn't want a 5 minute commute.  It is good for you, for your car and the planet.  
  4. Learn everything you can.  Educate yourself on the wineries and people you are contacting.  Know if they are Cabernet houses, Pinot fanatics, or are trying some funky new varietals and blends.  Put this information in the message to them--it shows you took the time to research them, and you are making a case for why you could be a great intern or employee for them.  
  5. Cast a wide net whenever possible.  If you are hoping to get in with a renowned winemaker, contact everyone you have been interested in working for.  You'll never know if you could have worked for Rock Star Winemaker if you never asked her.  
  6. Follow Up.  This is key.  Follow up with each contact after you send the email (maybe within 3-4 days), and then if you are really serious about a certain place--try to contact them again.  I think I've outlined this in past posts, but try to be pleasantly persistent, not irritatingly hounding anyone.  
  7. Be professional, conscientious and gracious.  Yes, you may be dying to work for that Rock Star Winemaker, but she may just not have anything right now.  And if Ultimate winery hiring manager gives you a call, make sure you return it right away.  Thank everyone you deal with and come across professional and eager.  Hiring managers want to hire people that want to work there.  Make sure they know you want the job if you do.
  8. Informational interviews can get you in the door.  If you get a winery that is open to discuss career paths or the winemaking team, but they don't have an opening today--take the informational interview.  These are generally with people you have contacted, and that you have expressed interest in.  Information Interviews are way you can learn about their company and to get guidance on your career.  You can learn a lot about the industry and jobs, and they may just have an opening come up down the road or know someone who needs Butch Cougar to help out at their winery, right away.  
  9. Interviewing, thank you's, next steps.  If you get that interview, maybe look at some of my posts on how to do it right.  After any interview, informational or regular, send a thank you.  And always see if you can find out what the next steps are during the interview process so you have an idea of the timeline and recruitment process at the company you are meeting with.  
Butch, I hope that is helpful.  Let me know how the search goes--I wish you the best of luck.