Having earned my undergraduate degree from a business school, I was shocked to learn how little other students in my graduating class knew about the job search.
The little things that I had learned in class and from experience – what to wear to a career fair, how to write a cover letter, and other skills – had eluded them for the past three years. If you are a college senior just now starting your job search, or even beginning to think about starting your job search, it is important to get the basics down first.
Your resume should be accurate, professional and to the point. Despite a common misconception, you can write it in bullet-point form. In fact, bullet points may be better than full sentences, since they make your resume easier for recruiters to read.
Regardless of form, the content of your resume should be action-oriented. In college, I learned about the STAR method, in which each bullet point outlines a Situation, a Task at hand, an Action, and a Result, as opposed to just detailing a particular job duty. I like the STAR method because it helps you highlight what you have accomplished.
Your resume should be no longer than one page, so it is important to use the space wisely. If you have internship and extracurricular experience that spans more than one page, you should remove out-of-date activities and honors, such as those from your high school years. If your resume still exceeds one page, you should then remove experiences and skills that are not relevant to the position to which you are applying. If you are applying to a wide variety of jobs, I recommend drafting multiple resumes, one for each job description. This will allow you to better highlight the skill set a particular job requires, which improves your chances of landing an interview.
Like your resume, your cover letter should be professional and concise. It should not regurgitate what you have already said in your resume – namely, your past job experience. Instead, you should use your cover letter as an opportunity to brand yourself to the company. Your cover letter should illustrate your values and passions and how those values are compatible with those of the company. It should also highlight your soft skills and other relevant non-work experience, and how those skills will help you succeed in the position.
The same formatting principles apply to your cover letter as to your resume. Incorporating bullet points is acceptable, although full sentences are necessary. After all, you are writing a letter. Your cover letter should also be no more than one page, and every letter should be tailored to the position and company in question. I advise against copying and pasting from a previous cover letter. Too many applicants make the mistake of forgetting to change the company name, which is a sure-fire way not to get hired. Instead, I recommend that you pull up two documents side by side and work from there.
You should address each cover letter to the recruiter if possible. If this information is not available and you have exhausted all of your options to track it down, you can address the letter as follows: “Dear Recruiter” or “To Whom It May Concern.” However, the more personal the letter, the more invested a recruiter is likely to become in your application.
Contrary to popular belief, the interview process does not begin when you walk into the interviewer’s office; it starts the minute you submit your application. It is important to extensively research every company you are interviewing at before you arrive. What are its values, vision and ideals? What is its mission statement or value proposition? What is its current business environment like? Who are its competitors? How does it differentiate itself from them? What is its corporate structure like (and what opportunities or limitations does it present)? What are its recent projects and corporate announcements? Are there any additional details available about the position to which you are applying beyond what was in the job listing? By answering these and similar questions before your interview, you improve your ability to tailor your responses to the company and job opening.
Though every interview is different, general rules of etiquette apply. Be on time; dress appropriately; look your interviewer in the eyes while speaking; and thank him or her for meeting with you when the interview is over.
Whether or not your interviewer asks if you have any questions, it is imperative to ask some at the conclusion of the interview. These questions should either stem from the information that was communicated during the interview or from your extensive research beforehand. Too many candidates forgo this opportunity to not only differentiate themselves, but also demonstrate a genuine interest in the company. However, be selective with the questions you ask. You want your questions to give additional insight into your character, as well as the issues that interest you as a candidate. If you cannot think of any questions offhand, you can always ask the interviewer about his or her experience at the company, where he or she can see it going in the next five years, and what internal opportunities the company offers for a candidate in your position. You should also come prepared with some questions before the interview begins, and ask any that your interviewer has not already addressed by the time the interview wraps up.
After every interview, it is important to send out a thank-you letter, preferably handwritten. In the letter, you should thank the interviewer for his or her time and mention what you enjoyed about the interview. Bringing in details about what you discussed shows your interest in the position and your attentiveness during the interview. Finally, briefly reiterate your interest in and qualifications for the position and include your contact information for any follow-up.
These basics are invaluable. However, in my time at business school, I learned much more. Through experience and observation, I gained priceless knowledge about the job search. Here are my three main strategies for getting a job.
Use Your Resources
I know too many seniors who opted to hold off on job searching until after graduation. This is a mistake. Only on campus do you truly have an abundance of resources that will best prepare you for your job search.
The first – and most obvious – of these resources is your career center. Not only can it guide you to the career paths that may be appealing to you, but it also provides networking, resume-building, and cover letter tips. Career centers will often even review students’ job applications. You should check in with your career center to see if it offers this service, and definitely take advantage if it does. In addition, your career center will almost certainly maintain a large employer database. You can use it to find job listings and gather research on companies before interviews.
Your career center also probably offers mock interviews. These practice sessions can help you develop the skills and confidence you will need to excel in a real job interview. If they are offered, you should do at least one – if not for the experience, then for the feedback.
Finally, your career center probably hosts information sessions with large companies, organizes outings to various companies in major employment hubs, and oversees on-campus career fairs. All of these activities can help you simultaneously research companies and network with them. Be sure to attend as many events that align with your interests as you can.
Another resource available to you on campus is your professors. They want you to succeed in your career as well as in their classes. Many of them are more than willing to write letters of recommendation should you need them, and they can offer useful advice. Professors in your field can help you come up with insightful questions to ask at the end of an interview.
While you may not yet have established a professional network in your chosen field, your professors most certainly have; they can often put you in touch with respected professionals in that industry. These professionals can serve as either additional mentors throughout your job search or as contacts who can help you find a job.
A job search should not be taken lightly. It consumes a lot of time and energy, and it requires a great deal of attention and organization. Your senior-year classes may be keeping you busy, but ideally you have polished your work and study habits so you can handle a job search too. These diligent habits are prone to evaporate quickly after graduation. Take advantage of your current college mentality to get the job you want today rather than tomorrow.
Network, Network, Network
Networking is essential when job hunting. The more contacts you make, the more opportunities you will have to land interviews at companies. Do not just limit your networking to career fairs. Use your extensive alumni network; reach out to graduates from the organizations you have joined on campus; and contact relatives and family friends in your chosen industry. You never know who may prove helpful in your job search. The most important thing about networking is to stay in touch with your contacts. Even if the contact does not land you a job today, he or she could open a door for you, or someone you know, tomorrow.
Be Open to Compromise
My last piece of advice is to be open to compromise. I know too many college seniors who would not compromise, for example on their desired location, and almost ended up unemployed because of it. Do not let this happen to you. You need to accept the fact that you may not get your ideal job directly out of college. In fact, you probably will not, because most college seniors envision themselves in higher, more managerial roles than their experience merits. If this describes you, make a list of the job attributes you are looking for (such as location, industry, position and salary) and determine which attributes you are willing to forgo for the time being. This list will help you broaden your job search if you do not land your ideal job right away. You may have to compromise on an attribute or two today, but whatever job you do secure will only add skills and experience to your resume, and those may help you move toward your ideal job in the future.
While you may not want to spend your final year in college devoting your time to a job search, bear in mind that it is the most important extracurricular activity for your post-collegiate life. Follow these tips and you will thank yourself later, with an offer letter in hand.