How to Get a Job — Interview With Adam Capozzi, Director of Career Services, Assessment and Student Success at Syracuse University



TUN sits down with Adam Capozzi, the director of career services, assessment and student success at Syracuse University, to discuss what students should do to get a job. 

TUN: Adam, thanks so much for joining. 

CAPOZZI: I appreciate it, Jackson. It’s always great talking with you. 

What can students do while they are in college to boost their chances of landing a job after graduation? Are there any specific clubs or maybe campus resources that they should be utilizing?

That’s a great question, and this is one that comes up quite often with students. 

I would say, now more than ever, it’s getting connected with career services, especially early on in your tenure. I know when I was a student, I really wasn’t looking at this aspect until later on in my junior and senior years. But, getting connected as early as your freshman or sophomore year will help you get a better sense of how to position yourself, whether it’s attending career fairs, on-campus programming, connecting with alumni, you name it. 

You want to be thinking about three or four steps ahead in this process. But also, just staying active with your online CRM platform that the school is utilizing to post internships and jobs. There’s always new information that’s being posted there each and every day, and you’ll be surprised at how much of it actually correlates to your major and the coursework that you’re working on. 

Outside of those simple things, I say from the clubs aspect, if you’re in a professional major, definitely try to be looking for those organizations that align with your career interests. Those different business fraternities or different creative organizations on campus are going to be great ways to build on your skillset. 

But don’t silo yourself to just those. You want to make sure that you have a full repertoire of skills and responsibilities during your four years. So, look at something that might interest you that might not be directly aligned with your career. These could actually lead to great conversation pieces when you’re speaking with employers and when you’re speaking with alumni because you might find some correlation in those conversations from these experiences that could be extremely helpful. 

And then definitely LinkedIn. Get on LinkedIn as early as possible, because establishing an online brand presence is probably one of the most quintessential pieces that students particularly overlook in their first year to two years. 

Great. So, I know students are really busy, but how can students build up their resumes while they’re in college? 

So, you’ll be surprised that students don’t recognize the in-class and out-of-class projects, programs and issues that they’re taking on are great pieces to be adding to their resumes. 

I say schedule those meetings out with career services to come in and speak with us. We can take that in-class application and put it to pen to paper so you can really showcase your skills and attributes. 

You don’t even have to schedule a full-time appointment. You can even just do drop-in sessions to review quick questions. This is a great way to just get edits and suggestions or just make sure that you’re putting your foot in the best position. 

Then, as I mentioned with the out-of-class experiences, just keep a log of this. I would say create an Excel sheet, a Google Doc, you name it. Just keep a running checklist of everything that you’re working on, and go back to it as reference points. Maybe it was a group conversation or something that you presented in a class that can really showcase one, two or even three of your skill sets that really dictate time management and your personal professional development. 

Great. So, I know that even entry-level positions will often call for candidates with one or two years of experience. So, do you have any tips to help students and recent graduates make it appear as if they have more experience than they actually do?

Definitely. It’s important to get internship experience during your undergrad career. I always say try to get one to two before graduating. One could be from an exploratory aspect of just figuring out your best footing, whether it’s a professional sector or a geographic location. And then the second one could potentially be better aligned with your major after you get a sense of what you want to be doing. This hands-on experience is a great way to showcase your skills. Also, if you perform well, it could potentially parlay into a full-time offer. 

But outside of that, get certifications. All schools and universities offer many different options. Excel or any of the other Microsoft Suite programs are probably my top recommendations for students, especially Excel. I use it every single day. You’ll be very surprised how much it goes into your day to day within the professional world. So get into it. Learn it as best as possible. 

Now that tech positions are actually becoming more at the forefront than ever, you should learn to code. This might sound like a foreign language, but you would be surprised about the doors that this opens up. If you learn Python or you’re able to talk the lingo of writing specific information in code form, this could be a great asset, both short-term and long-term.

We talked about experiential programming already, but participate in some outside of the classroom experiences, whether it’s career offerings off campus, such as different immersion programs or alumni networking events, because these different professional atmospheres and cultures could give you a little bit more insight on how to best prepare for the job interview process.

And then on-campus jobs also. I know students are very busy. But working in an office like career services or student records or even working in the library will help you gain a skill set that you never were aware of. It’s going to teach you how to best manage your time and also interact with people that are full-time professionals who can speak to how well you perform in different duties and responsibilities. 

Great. So, now I want to speak about creating effective resumes. I know that a lot of companies use ATS systems to evaluate resumes and as a way to weed out candidates right from the start. So, how concerned should students be about these systems, and do you have any tips to help them get by? 

Yes, we’re not going to sugarcoat this. It’s becoming increasingly common that larger organizations are utilizing this technology. 

But at the same time, I wouldn’t recommend that students stress too much about it. As long as they’re focusing on looking at the job description, looking at their tangible background and tying those keywords and the skills within the descriptors in their cover letters and their resumes (and weaving the words and skills into every little form of the conversation), they should be fine. 

A good example, as I was mentioning with Excel, is that you’re going to see a lot of these entry-level jobs wondering about your data management skills. You can utilize a case study or a class project that utilized Excel and put that into your resume to showcase what you’re capable of. 

Great. So, we could speak about cover letters for a long time. But briefly, do you have any major dont’s surrounding cover letters?

The biggest misconception is trying to make a fancy first sentence. I say don’t do that. Don’t lose them with this piece because, on average, the cover letter and the resume really get anywhere from a 30- to 60-second glance. So, the first line is either going to take you over the top or potentially take you out of the running. Let’s find that common ground to make sure that they continue reading it. 

Also, don’t use a generic cover letter. It never works. Don’t go to Google. Don’t download something and just plug in the information. 

A lot of employers are actually turned off by this, and they have seen it all. If it’s on Google, they’ve seen it. It’s not something that’s going to be new and innovative, so trust me on that. 

I’d never begin with saying, “I’m applying to position X off your website or off a job posting.” This really fails to address the skills that you can bring to the job. This could prevent them from actually looking at you further. 

And hiring managers hate typos. So just carefully proofread. I do this with my emails. I do this with all my documents. Make sure you proofread your cover letter and resume because these are going to be two important documents that are going to be out there in the world. 

Try to keep everything on one page. You are a student. I know you have some great experience, but you don’t have the experience to be going into that two-page platform yet, especially with the cover letter. That’s where you start to have that overkill mentality of trying to put too much into too little space. 

Great. So, what should students do in their cover letters?

These documents are the best way to sell your past results and what you can really be bringing to an organization. This is going to be your first impression. 

So, demonstrate your excellent writing skills. Mainly utilize the cover letter as your communication piece to showcase what you can bring to the table compared to other candidates. Also, by listing your qualifications, you give them more insight into why you’re actually the person that they want to be pursuing even further. 

And make sure you put your contact information into the cover letter and your resume. So many times people overlook this. But trust me. Put it in there. You want to make sure they know how to follow up with you because you want the job and they obviously want to be connecting with you. 

Great. So, do you have any tips regarding the job search?

I recommend starting the search process as early as the summer before your senior year. I know it might sound a little crazy to think that far ahead, but getting an understanding of the types of jobs that are out there will actually help you so much in the search process. 

You’re not going to be playing from behind once springtime comes. You’re going to know what your realistic possibilities are, especially within those professional majors and concentrations. I know that for the creative side, it is more towards the end of the academic year when positions come up. 

But going into the fall by preparing for the job search and going to your career fairs is essential. You want to make sure that you are getting a head start on this so you have enough time to network, connect with alumni and connect with the employers to build strong relationships. That can better position you for full-time success.

Great. Thanks, Adam, for joining us today. 

I appreciate that. It’s always a pleasure, Jackson. 

This interview has been edited for clarity.

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