JUST GETTING STARTED?
Depending on your field, the job market out of college might be more competitive than ever. That’s why literally hundreds of thousands of Americans with a college degree are nevertheless working minimum-wage jobs, according to the Wall Street Journal. You’ll likely need to work hard to differentiate yourself in a crowded field of candidates
SHARPEN YOUR RESUME
Be on the lookout for simple errors that could lead a hiring manager to set your resume aside. Typos, bad grammar and — worse of all — misstatements or lies are easily spotted by seasoned pros. Fabricating any portion of your resume can lead to disastrous results. Keep in mind that potential employers will follow up with references, research qualifications and fact check other details before they even consider scheduling an interview.
If you’re particularly worried about an incidental mistake sneaking through, have a friend or hired professional proof your resume before submitting it. The more people who look your application over, the better. Fresh eyes often find things like typos that are easily overlooked by those who create the documents.
Busy hiring managers might need a little nudge, in particular if you’re part of a more competitive search. Entry-level hires are often made based on how proactive you are. That begins with tailoring your resume and cover letter for the specific job, and the specific company. Send a reminder email after your resume arrives. Do a little research into the company culture and its leaders before the interview, so you can fashion more detailed responses.
All of that should help you in the moment, but don’t forget to follow up once you’ve left the building. Send a thank-you note with a specific comment after your talk. Just be aware the being proactive can easily drift into being a nuisance, so limit your follow-up communication.
If the company culture fits, consider getting creative with your application. Move away from the tried-and-true resume with storyboarded video by transmitting through LinkedIn or Snapchat. This next-generation approach might be particularly effect in more tech-focused areas like web development, videography or graphic design. On the other hand, industries like banking, the law or executive management may require a more traditional approach.
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THE BEST COVER LETTERS
Pair your resume’s familiar facts and figures with a dash of personality.
The paperwork submitted to a potential employer shouldn’t be limited to the required qualifications and personal information. A well-written cover letter can tell hiring managers things a resume can’t about your individuality and creativity.
MAKE IT SPECIAL
As with most things these days, the internet offers a variety of sample cover-letter material. Some candidates also choose to create a single all-purpose cover letter, and simply reprint it for each new round of applications. But in a competitive market, cookie-cutter options like that will not help you stand out. Once you’ve gotten past the initial culling process in which those who do not have the proper qualifications are eliminated from contention, a smart cover letter could make the difference in whether or not you secure the all-important interview.
DO YOUR HOMEWORK
Personalizing your cover letter isn’t just about selling yourself. It’s also about selling your ability to mesh with the job expectations and company culture. So do your homework. Read over the job description carefully, and visit your potential employer’s website. Check out their social media feeds, including company executive and manager posts on places like Twitter, LinkedIn and Instagram. Try to align with their vision for the company, matching their keywords and tone. Make sure you address the hiring manager by name in the letter. If possible, reach out by email or phone to ask relevant questions about the job beforehand, and mention that you spoke within the correspondence.
WHAT TO INCLUDE
Cover letters should be kept to a single page, since busy hiring managers are unlikely to read any more than that anyway. The Society for Human Resources recommends including two key elements: how your experience and your skills match the prospective job requirements, and why you’re interested in the open position. Anecdotes help tell your story in a way that a resume never could. So, try to include one short example of how you’ve
previously overcome a challenge that might be associated with this new job.
THE RIGHT TONE
Avoid beginning with the obvious — like including your name and the position you’re applying for. Instead, dive into an enthusiastic argument for your own candidacy. Avoid platitudes or humor, since both are tricky to land. Instead, be truthful, authentic and energetic. Give the hiring manager a reason to believe in you.
DO YOU REALLY NEED A DEGREE?
In many fields, secondary education has become a bed-rock requirement
Younger generations have long been encouraged to attend college in order to smooth the pathway to success. We’ve also been told that the best open positions will have certain degrees as a minimum requirement.
Americans who are 25- to 35-years-old are the best-educated generation ever. Some 35% have earned a bachelor’s degree, according to recent research. That’s up from just 13% for the same age category in the 1960s, and 24% into the 1980s. These degrees have given first-time job seekers a valuable tool that others didn’t have, both in terms of an expanded knowledge base and also a confirmation of their ability to focus and complete lengthy, difficult tasks. The wage gap between those with and without a college degree has nearly doubled over the past three decades. At the same time, the number of jobs requiring higher education has skyrocketed. Just 26% of middle-class workers had any education after high school back in 1970. Today, almost 60% of U.S. jobs require a college degree.
Those aged 25-to-32 with a college degree can earn as much as $20,000 more a year than those with only a high-school education, according to one analysis. This pay gap has continued to widen
over the years, as the economy becomes more information- and technology-based. Obtaining a degree helps in other ways, too. The college educated are more likely to enjoy full-time employment than those who only finished or didn’t finish high school, and those with a degree are unemployed at a significantly lower rate.
Workers with a college education are more apt to think of their job in long-
range terms, and to set goals for future advancement. Conversely, those with high school education or less are almost three times more likely to describe their career as something they simply do for money. More than 90% of those who graduated from a university said their education has already paid for itself, or would soon. The numbers aren’t much different for those who needed student loans in order to complete their studies, as 86% said pursuing their degree was worth it — or would be in the future.
How to MINIMIZE YOUR COSTS
Those who are out of work may spend weeks, or even months, looking for their next job opportunity. In fact, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics has placed the average search length at 18 weeks. CareerBuilder estimated that job searches last an average of 35 to 40 weeks during recessions. That adds even more stress to an already difficult situation.
RESETTING YOUR BUDGET
It’s important to reset your monthly budget when facing such a potentially lengthy timeline. Online budgeting tools like Goodbudget, Consumer.gov and Mint can help. Either way, you’ll need to determine how much is needed each month by separating all essential and nonessential expenses — keeping in mind that the costs associated with job seeking are now part of the “essential” column. That includes money spent on transportation, clothing and appearance, and the application process.
A good rule of thumb is called “50/30/20,” with 50% of the money you have on hand through savings, unemployment benefits or severance devoted to necessities like groceries, rent, fuel and utilities. Budget 30% for extras, and place the remaining 20% in savings or investments. Saving is, of course, much harder when you’re out of a job, but might become critical should you experience an unexpected mishap like a broken-down car.
SEARCHING FOR LESS
Look for opportunities to apply for jobs online, rather than going through the time and expense of printing lots of paperwork, using gas to drive to the post office and making large expenditures for mailing it off. LinkedIn, local job boards and other sites allow you to sidestep all of those hassles, while saving significant money along the way. Ask for a phone or video interview, rather than traveling there — or try to negotiate a stipend to cover travel expenses. If you can’t afford to buy new clothing to improve your wardrobe, head to the thrift stores. Just keep in mind that you’ll need to look your best when the big interview is finally set, and clothing that is noticeably old or ill-fitting might inadvertently send the message that you are unfocused or unprepared.
INVESTING IN YOURSELF
Consider hiring some help for your search, or taking part in specialized training or degree work. Career coaches and head hunters can offer tips and find tucked-away job opportunities that you might have missed. Look for certified professionals with a proven track record of success. If you find yourself on the outside looking in because you lack certain educational requirements, enroll in university or community-college programs to help shore up your resume. There may be financial aid programs in place that make it
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Having a sharp resume is only the beginning of this process.
You’ve found the perfect job, turned in a focused application and secured the coveted interview. Now what? Let’s face it, there is sure to be pressure associated with this moment — if only because there’s so much on the line. Being a little nervous is probably always going to be part of the deal. You’ll need to channel that nervousness into research, practice and execution in order to cross the finish line. There are also critical mistakes that must be avoided.
DOING YOUR RESEARCH
You should arrive with a working knowledge of what the company does, its general approach to the work, who its top management is, and what they’re expecting from someone in this position. It’s also smart to learn as much as possible about the company’s recent work product. For instance, if you are applying for a position in marketing, become familiar with their most recent campaign. You’ll be better positioned to answer a common line of questioning in these situations: “What do you know about this company and our goals?”
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You’ll also be presenting as someone who grasps the bigger picture, which could very well lead to a promotion or two down the line.
PREPARING IN ADVANCE
Experience in the interviewing process, online searches and common sense about the field can give you some sense of what might be asked in the interview. Write these questions down, and practice answering them until you can offer smart
and fluid answers to them all. Practice with a mirror, with a video camera and in front of family and friends so that you can get a better idea of how you’re presenting yourself. Ask for tips and tricks to sharpen your execution. Practice does, indeed, make perfect.
MISTAKES TO AVOID
Turn your phone off before entering the building for your interview. Recruiters and hiring managers identified in a Harris
Interactive poll that texting or answering a call is the most critical mistake candidates can make. The question of why you’re considering a move will inevitably arise. Avoid disparaging your previous employer, even if you feel like improvements could have been made. Companies are looking for mature, professional new hires who can turn obstacles into opportunities — not office malcontents or serial complainers. You don’t want to come off as embittered, but instead eager to get to work.
IMPRESS THEM IN JUST SECONDS
In some cases, that’s all the time you have with hiring managers
It’s said that the average potential employer spends as little as six seconds reviewing an applicant’s resume. That means you need to grab their attention with pertinent and conveniently displayed information right away.
WHAT THEY LOOK FOR
Facing an avalanche of resumes, recruiters and hiring managers begin their evaluations with a tight focus on required qualifications and notable keywords. That helps them quickly eliminate dozens or even hundreds of applicants who don’t appear to fit their parameters. These scans may take only a few moments, whether done by hand or with help from software. Once a smaller stack of applications that seem like a better fit has
been created through the culling process, hiring managers return to take a deeper look at those who remain.
Even if some recruiters take far longer than a few seconds on their initial reading of job applications, the goal of quickly highlighting your best qualifications remains sound. Make it as easy as possible for your next employer to understand why they should make you their next hire. You don’t want to be
one of the qualified applicants who may be passed over, simply because their paperwork didn’t quickly and succinctly present the desired information.
WHERE TO FOCUS
Applicants should make sure the most important elements of their candidacy are highlighted in order to make an impression during this quite limited amount of time. Name and contact information should be in a place of prominence, along with current job title, relevant education details, certifications and professional designations. Your work history, including titles and start and end dates are also part of the initial focus points. If your credentials are in order and easily found, you should ace the sixsecond initial evaluation.
WHAT HAPPENS NEXT
Potential employees should illustrate their capacity to be conscientious and responsible by following up with a phone call or email after applying. Remind them of the recent application, while briefly highlighting qualifications and skills that make your candidacy stand out. End with a message of thanks for being considered for this open position. If you are in close competition with others for the role, a follow-up call might make the difference. This kind of communication might also convince a hiring manager to give your resume another look if you were initially passed over.