College students looking for a job after graduation should know that a step-by-step manual that works for everyone simply doesn’t exist when it comes to landing a job.
With that said, the goal is to direct you to a starting place and give you some tips that can be applied to most, but not all, professions.
So, let out a deep breath. You have a journey to take.
Be strategic from the start
When applying for jobs, many job seekers waste a lot of time by randomly sending out the same resume to hundreds of positions on LinkedIn.
According to Glassdoor, while many job seekers may boast about sending out 30 resumes in one day, this strategy is ineffective because they are sending the same resume to multiple positions.
So, take time to organize your interests and skills to decide what type of company, position and lifestyle best fits you. Research not just big names, but medium or small-sized startups as well. Ask around to see what it means to be a market researcher or a sales assistant. You’ll be surprised to find both mistakes and new opportunities.
Customize your documents
When you have a list of positions to apply for, start customizing your resume and cover letter to specific skills required by each position. Even in the same field, different employers look for different skill sets and will not waste their time reading resumes that look out of place.
According to a CareerBuilder survey, 61 percent of employers said they liked resumes that are customized for their open positions.
While they don’t have to be drastically different each time, you can highlight one skill over another depending on what each employer is looking for. For example, if a position requires great communication skills, don’t go rambling too much about your organization skills.
Tell a story
Your documents need to tell a coherent story. What kind of a person are you? What do you want to do in life? What have you been doing to achieve that?
Let’s look at what part of the story each document should play.
Your resume should impart concise and self-explanatory facts about what you did, more than who you are, that will help you make that first-cut line. You tell recruiters what you did and they will infer what kind of person you are.
But, keep things concise and on-point.
Also, rather than listing your general duties at previous team projects or internships, use result-driven verbs that have a clear beginning and end, such as “built,” “created,” or “pitched,” to show what you contributed. Results with numbers are always better. But even without them, always focus on showing the results.
For example, rather than saying “attended weekly editorial meetings,” say “researched story ideas and pitched them at weekly editorial meetings.” While recruiters can learn from both phrases that attending weekly meetings was one of your general duties, from the latter, they can infer that you are well-prepared and full of new ideas.
Even if none of your pitched ideas were finalized, the latter has a clear beginning and an end that shows something about you as a worker.
If you need help with your resume, check here.
While your cover letter should still highlight your experience, you can use your “voice” to tell your story.
Know before writing that cover letters should not be a rewrite of your resume. If your documents tell a story, nothing is more boring than reading the same chapter over again.
So, carefully think through the key skills you want to highlight. If you’re unsure about your strongest skills, ask yourself what others come to you for help with. Stories about a special project or hardships you overcame at work are most appropriate for cover letters.
If you need help with a cover letter, check here.
Depending on the position, you might need to send additional documents. But even if not required, any of these additional documents will make your story richer.
- Recommendations and referrals: A well-written recommendation makes your resume credible. By confirming with your managers and professors, recruiters get to know that you really are who you say you are.
In many instances, it will speed up the process if you email your resume and brief summaries to your managers or professors to remind them of your work. Professors who have to write many recommendations for different students appreciate those who send a recap of what they achieved and learned in their class.
- Portfolios and samples: While these apply mostly to art, music and writing jobs, recruiters in other sectors, such as UX or marketing, are increasingly requiring applicants to show their work visually. Especially in this digital age when influence means power, personal blogs, websites and social media accounts with thousands of followers all help to show recruiters that you have something that draws people to you.
- Certifications: For those who want to pursue a career that is totally different from what you majored in school, certifications can come in handy. Even if you don’t have a degree in design, when recruiters see that you’re a certified Adobe user, they will know that you’re qualified with those skill sets. Sometimes, these may even look better than school degrees because certificates ensure tested and approved expertise.
- Be creative: Outside of traditional documents that you have to submit anyways, use your creativity to seek out ways to show your abilities. Come up with a launch campaign for a new program or design a website for a company’s new product. Show recruiters that you’re already this much invested and interested in the company.
In the meantime
After all the documents are sent in, job seekers usually think there’s nothing more they can do but wait. Not really. Waiting time is actually the most important part in your journey.
Although your documents are in, you should always update your resume. Proofread, take out what’s dated, and add new experiences. Experiences don’t have to be so big as another internship or even a school project. They can be as small and daily as volunteering for free, taking audit classes, attending culture events, or reading the news or books related to your field to stay updated.
All of your experiences build who you are, and the fuller you are as a person, the more interesting you will be. Whether in an interview or a job fair, an interesting person always does well. You never know what will start that first conversation with your future recruiter.
Waiting time is the perfect time to build your network. If you are a natural extrovert, freely reach out to all possible contacts, such as families and friends, previous managers and recruiters, professors and alumni, and LinkedIn connections.
However daunting this career journey may look, it’s a journey that everyone is going through or already went through. So, when you ask for help, most people will know exactly what it feels like to be in your position and be willing to help.
Even if you’re an introvert, there are less awkward and spontaneous ways to network. Make use of job fairs and company talks on campus. Go to your college career development office and ask counselors for contact emails of alumni who are currently working in your field of interest. Alumni contacts are regularly updated, and the office is there to provide them for you.
Waiting time can turn into golden time, if you allow it. Especially those who recently graduated but are still looking for a job, realize that unemployment is a full-time job. So, treat your job search like it is your full-time job. Don’t use your unemployment as an excuse to be lazy or a time of self-pity. Whether you’re employed now or in the future, the truth is that no one wants to work with a pitiful person.
Finally, the interviews
If you pass document application, you’ll most likely go through interviews.
While everyone knows that this is when recruiters decide whether they want to work with an interviewee or not, many job seekers overlook the fact that this is also the first time for interviewees to see what it would be like to work where they applied. So, prepare your questions as thoroughly as your answers.
Since interviews will be vastly different depending on positions and companies, let’s focus on things to avoid in all types of interviews.
Don’t get too personal.
Although it’s great to come off as likable, don’t get too personal in interviews. Unless asked or necessary, avoid talking about your family or childhood memories.
Save the money talk for later.
According to Glassdoor, career experts advise not to ask about salary during interviews, especially in phone interviews. While there is nothing wrong about salary negotiation in and of itself, it should be saved for after they offer you a position.
Don’t think it’s over.
Even after you walk out of that interview room, there are things you can still do. Unless you’re strictly told not to, follow up with a thank-you email after your interview.
For more on how to interview successfully, check these 10 tips from Stony Brook University’s career center.
Make your journey unique
No matter how advanced our computers will be in the next 10 years, we will still be without a perfect, fit-for-all manual on getting a job. But on the brighter side, that makes everyone’s career journey their unique story. So, again, let out a deep breath, think through, take it seriously, but enjoy it as you stride through.
Hyeyeun Jeon is from South Korea and a recent graduate from Carnegie Mellon University with a double major in Professional Writing and International Relations. She is passionate about non-fiction storytelling. She loves reading, watching, writing and producing stories about extraordinary lives of everyday people.