Many recent college graduates are finding it very hard to get a job – or even an interview for one. The competition is stiff. On average, 250 résumés are received for every corporate job opening. And Forbes reported that half of recent graduates are either underemployed or not using their college degree at all.
The flip side of this situation is that employers don’t think most recent graduates have the skills employers are looking for. A recent survey conducted by the Association of American Colleges and Universities found that fewer than three in 10 employers think that recent college graduates are “well prepared.”
Over the years, we’ve reviewed hundreds of employment applications and counseled recent graduates on how best to get a good job. This process depends on getting in front of the prospective employer, and this means being invited to an interview. So here are five tips that will substantially increase your chances of getting that all-important interview.
- Identify the Employers for which You Want to Work
Sending out 50 – or 500 – identical résumés to as many different companies is likely to be a waste of your time and energy. Job applications need to be carefully crafted, individualized sales pitches. To do that, you must specifically tailor each application to what a prospective employer is specifically seeking. This means you should know a great deal about the organization and the open position before preparing your submission. Some of the things you can do in this regard include reading the corporation’s annual report, studying its financial statements, familiarizing yourself with its products or services, figuring out where the position you’re applying for fits in with the organization, the sort of people you would be working with, and the reporting structure. Perhaps most important of all: identifying the nature of its corporate culture and determining if you would work well in this type of environment.
- Match Your Skills with Those the Employer Seeks
Focus carefully on the qualifications required for the position. Then you need to identify how your abilities, experiences, and accomplishments uniquely qualify you for the position and distinguish you from everyone else who will be applying for it. Think broadly about what might set you apart. Teaching, research, travel, challenging sport experiences, extensive charitable work, similar work experience, and academic honors.
According to Forbes, employers most want recent graduates to possess the ability to:
- Work in teams,
- Make decisions and solve problems,
- Communicate verbally with people inside and outside an organization,
- Plan, organize, and prioritize work,
- Obtain and process information,
- Analyze quantitative data,
- Create and edit written reports, and
- Sell and influence others.
Don’t just “write” you have these skills, identify your accomplishments that demonstrate these skills. For example, if you taught a college-level lab class, you might list the skills this required as the ability to prepare progressively more difficult assignments, make complex concepts understandable, and lead a diverse group of people.
- Prepare a Standout Résumé
A résumé that grabs a prospective employer’s attention has two components: the substantive content and the story it tells. The content is your skills, achievements, and experiences. Describe with short but specific bullet points. Avoid low-power verbs such as “assisted,” “participated,” and “helped.” Instead, use action verbs such as “led,” “achieved,” and “accomplished.” If the position will involve the use of technical language, be sure to demonstrate your familiarity with it. Include an explicit, specific statement as to why you are qualified for the position.
Most résumés are immediately forgettable because they are boring; make sure yours isn’t. Rather than simply listing your skills, achievements, and experiences, tie them together so that your résumé tells a coherent story: Because of this, I was able to do that, which allowed me to accomplish this. Don’t exaggerate or make unsupported claims, but do highlight what makes you special. As a test, give a draft of your résumé to a friend and ask her or him whether you’d get an interview based just on the résumé.
- Use a Personalized Cover Letter
Your cover letter should be short, punchy, and compelling. Its purpose is to focus your reviewer on the salient points in your résumé that make you perfect for the job. A strong cover letter has three components: (1) a clear identification of the skills and experiences that make you a good fit; (2) evidence of those skills in action; and (3) an explicit connection between the job, your work ethic, and your interpersonal style.
- Proofread, Proofread, and Proofread Again
Never send an employment application that you haven’t reviewed several times and that someone else hasn’t reviewed at least once. Don’t lose an opportunity for an interview because of a typo or grammatical error. Your first impression is riding on your ability to compose an accurate, persuasive, and elegant résumé and cover letter. Don’t blow it with a careless mistake.
Following these five suggestions will not guarantee you will get the interviews you want, but it will significantly increase your chances of doing so.