What do 13 years in grade school plus 4 years of college equal? The knowledge and skills necessary to secure a job in your chosen career field. As simple as it sounds, landing that first job out of college is challenging, despite being qualified for the responsibilities that lie ahead.
I’m fortunate to be working for a company that cares about its employees and strives to achieve success everyday, but it took a great deal of effort to make it here. Having applied for countless positions and faced multiple interviews, I’ve learned a few tips about the hiring process that I think are worth sharing.
1. Impress them on paper
An unfortunate reality in today’s world is that a company’s first impression of its job candidates is often on paper. Instead of bemoaning this truth, use it to your advantage. Let employers see why you’d be a great fit in their company before they get the chance to meet you. Think of your cover letter as a formal introduction that paves the way to a good first impression and your resume as the list of reasons why you’re the best candidate for the position at hand.
When creating your cover letter, think of it as your opportunity to share with a potential interviewer what you believe is worth knowing. Did you work in a team environment with a leadership role? Did you solve a problem in a new, creative way? Did you qualify for a high stakes competition in your future career field? Tell them. They want to know about you, and this is your chance to introduce yourself.
Make your resume visually appealing. Resumes contain a lot of information, so be sure to arrange it where it’s easy on the eyes. Place your most relevant experience at the top, providing key details of your responsibilities where appropriate. The order of information on a resume doesn’t follow a strict guideline, but it would typically include relevant skills and education next. For an entry-level position, the resume should be no longer than one page.
2. Build connections
When it comes to securing a job, seek the help of others. Spend time networking in your desired career field and get to know as many people as you can. Don’t be afraid to ask someone to meet for coffee to discuss the industry or your career path. Most people would be happy to sit down and talk with you; they’re just waiting to be asked!
Talk to your professors and mentors about the type of job you’re looking for and see what suggestions they have to offer. Learn from what they say and apply it in your own job search. Use resources like LinkedIn to connect with leaders in your industry and stay in touch with contacts from previous internships who could be influential in your field.
Some job openings are announced only through word-of-mouth, but most can be found online. Be sure to research current job postings in your industry on a regular basis and apply when you qualify. If you haven’t heard back from a company after applying online or via email, it’s appropriate to call and confirm they’ve received your application after a few days. The rest is in their hands, so this part requires patience.
3. Prepare for the interview
If you’ve been selected for an interview, congratulations! It’s a big step in the right direction and not something to be taken lightly.
I strongly believe that if someone is willing to sit down and listen to you, you should be willing to sit down beforehand and prepare to make his or her time worthwhile. First, review your resume. Nothing’s worse than being asked a question about last semester’s internship and struggling to answer because you’ve forgotten which projects you had been assigned.
Next, brainstorm some questions you might be asked. Look over your previous experience as though you’re reading it for the first time. What questions stand out to you? Where do you see the potential to clarify or elaborate one of your experiences? Jot those questions down and consider how you could best answer them.
Spend time researching the company. Many interviewers will want to know if you took the time to learn about their company. Be able to answer key facts about the company such as when it was founded, what types of services they specialize in and which market they focus on serving. Familiarize yourself with the content they produce, especially blogs, articles and social media posts.
It’s also a good idea to brainstorm your own questions to ask the interviewer(s). Job candidates often forget that an interview is a two-way conversation; this is your opportunity to determine whether or not the company is a good fit for you. Figure out what matters most to you – office culture, flexibility, career growth opportunities – and discuss these in your interview.
4. Present your very best [real] self
There’s no denying that presentation matters in an interview. This is likely the first time you’ll be meeting the interviewer(s) in person, so pay attention to your physical appearance. The appropriate attire depends on the type of job, but for a public relations or similar position in business, it’s best to dress business professional.
This could probably go without saying, but don’t give false impressions in an interview. If you’re not the outdoorsy type, don’t tell the interviewer(s) that your favorite weekend activity is hiking. By the same token, if you’ve never worked on a certain type of task, don’t lead him or her to believe that you have. Be true to yourself and don’t undermine your real experience by misleading the interviewer(s).
5. Show gratitude
A dying art in today’s society—a handwritten thank you note is one of the simplest yet most meaningful gestures to show someone your appreciation. A college professor once taught me to bring thank you notes, envelopes and stamps in the car to an interview so I could write and mail one immediately afterwards. A thank you note could make all the difference in an interviewer’s mind because it reveals the willingness to make an effort to show gratitude.
Remember to be patient as you wait for a response following an interview and be confident that you will be hired when the position is right for you. I know from experience that this process takes time, but finding the right job is worth the wait. You may hear “no” a few times, but each “no” puts you one step closer to the next “yes!”