You did it! You finally have your degree in hand. After several years prepping yourself for the job market, you are running into a new challenge: Finding that first full-time role after school. Don’t stress. The road ahead may be a challenge, but in my eight years pouring over resumes and interviewing candidates, I’ve found there are some things that may give you a leg up on the competition. Here are some tips.
Get your resume right
HR teams are flooded with candidates for entry-level roles and, yes, sometimes we need to take shortcuts to narrow the field. When you’re just entering the job market—and probably for your first couple of roles—avoid padding your resume. Keep it short and simple. Try to make your qualifications clear on one page with simple formatting. LinkedIn is a great place to go into more detail about other experiences.
Please, please, please review it for typos. Even better, have people close to you—friends, parents and mentors—proofread it and provide feedback. Maybe you’ve stared at it too long and can’t see a typo. Maybe a sentence that makes perfect sense to you is confusing to others. It’s better for your friends and family to catch a mistake rather than a hiring manager.
Know that there is a great deal of subjectivity about exact formats, styles and content in a resume. Likewise, different hiring teams look for different things. Don’t freak out, just make the best decision for you and don’t be afraid to ask for feedback.
Research and prepare
Many candidates fail to take advantage of early opportunities—like a cover letter or questionnaire—to separate themselves from the pack. Take the time to really study the company, job description and what they are looking for. Think about what you bring to the table that helps them. Articulate why you fit their role and corporate values. Share why you are interested in their specific company. If you are really interested, taking the time to indicate why can help your candidacy.
Similarly, be prepared for the interview. Review the job description and company beforehand (LinkedIn, Glassdoor, PR announcements) and take note of questions you want to ask. Be genuinely curious about how the role will fit you and your goals. Interviewing is a two-way street and I expect you to want to understand the culture, challenges, expectations and other details about the position. Interviewers can tell when you are unprepared. A lack of relevant comments or questions usually indicates to me that you are looking for any job, not this job specifically. While I can be sympathetic to that (I’ve been there myself!), as HR or a hiring manager, it increases risk because I’m questioning whether or not I’ll need to fill your role again in 6-12 months.
Put in the time to research and prepare throughout the process. I’d even go so far as to recommend you do it before even applying. Your time has a value—applying for roles or at companies that are definitely not a fit isn’t worth your time.
Go the extra mile
Make the hiring team remember your name for the right reasons. This won’t get you the job alone, but may help your chances if the hiring manager has to make a tough call between several equally-qualified candidates.
- Send a short thank you after phone interviews (email is fine).
- Be polite to and thank everyone you meet when on site. Hiring teams can, and often do, ask the opinion of everyone who has interacted with the candidate for feedback (including the receptionist!) when making a tough decision.
- Send a handwritten thank you note to the hiring team if they invite you on site. Email is an option, but how much better do you feel when you open up snail mail addressed to you?
- If you talk about something interesting or a problem the team is facing during the interview process, don’t be shy to follow-up with an idea or link to a resource. Again, be brief and respectful of their time.
To me, these signal that you are willing to put in an effort, want to be a part of our team, and can add value. But be careful not to overdo it. You should always be respectful of the team’s time and privacy. Keep notes clear and succinct. Stick to relevant information and avoid dipping into the creepy zone (I really don’t expect you to know where I did my undergraduate degree or cite press releases from several years ago, for example).
Realize that getting your foot in the door means hearing a lot of “No’s” or settling for something you think you are overqualified for. It may be a tough pill to swallow, but you will pick up invaluable experience in your time there…while earning a paycheck.
Obviously, part of the experience will be the time you can now add to your resume in a “real” job that will hold value in helping you achieve the next level in your career. But you’ll get a lot more than that—even from the worst job. You’ll learn about office operating systems. Office politics. Different styles of working. What you like. What you don’t like. What you really don’t like. What a good (or bad) manager looks like. What culture you like. What benefits you want. Be open to the experience and focus on the long game. It’s going to take a while to get the career you want. Experience will help you find the best path.