One of the most common problems facing new graduates is how you should pitch yourself to target employers given your lack of experience, and how to do so in a way that differentiates you from the thousands of other people graduating with the same piece of paper that you have.
1) What’s Your Story?
The degree you’ve just obtained may not be unique to you, but your story is. That’s going to be your first differentiator.
You’re not trying to sell yourself into a job based on the degree and the course modules you completed, everyone else has those too. You need to craft a likeable, winning story about what put you on the path to where you are now. Think about the first moment you decided you were going to be a _____insert your profession here.
One of my clients from a while ago wanted to become a commercial airline pilot and one of the challenges he faced was in differentiating himself from all of the other people who had the same pieces of paper and hours of hands-on experience he had.
I remember asking him to think about the very first moment he decided he wanted to be a pilot. He told me a story of how his Dad would take him to the local airfield every Saturday afternoon and the two of them would grab an ice cream and sit and watch the plans land and takeoff.
He didn’t know it at the time, but that was the start of his story that we went on to use in the build out of his pitch. It’s that human factor, that initial spark that fueled your passion for a profession that you need to tap into. Crafting a story around something emotive like that transcends the pieces of paper and formal requirements of a job description.
A pitch like that can help spark the imagination of the reader and allow them to connect with you in a way that they can’t with other people failing to do the same thing. From that initial spark, you can build out the rest of your pitch all the way through to reasons you chose the courses you did and where you want to go with your career. Combining your genuine passion and long-held interest in a subject with a clearly defined understanding of where you want to go in your career is a powerful tool that should not be underestimated.
2) Academic Excellence
One of the standard ways in which an employer may choose to filter masses of new graduate applicants is by doing so using your GPA.
A hiring manager for a large organization told me recently that her process for screening entry-level job applicants was to run them through the applicant tracking system (ATS), and of the top candidates still standing after that, she would sort by GPA and interview the top 5. If you don’t know what an ATS is, go and grab my FREE eBook.
If you have an excellent GPA, then you need to promote that on your resume. On a college resume, I want to see your degree, school, graduation date (or expected date), and your GPA listed clearly neat the top of the document.
3) Jobs Matter
I’ve written before about the importance of working during your studies. I’ve come across a small number of people who chose not to work during their studies, and actually thought this was a wise choice for their future career. In one instance, an undergrad told me that her relative who happened to be the CEO of an import/export business, not to work in any low paid job as it would look horrific on her resume and would damage her chances of landed a job in her chosen field post-graduation.
With relatives like that, who needs enemies, amirite?
The truth is, working during your studies tells us that you can juggle priorities. It tells us that you’re resourceful, industrious, and independent. Working as a barista in a busy coffee shop, for example, can tell us about your ability to work effectively in high-pressure, dynamic, customer-facing environments.
It can tell us about your ability to work as part of a team, take on leadership responsibilities, solve problems, and deliver excellent customer service. It can also tell us about your ability to handle cash, process orders, operate computerized systems, think on your feet, comply with health & safety regulations, provide detailed reports to management. I could go on, but you get the idea.
Not having any work on your resume from your time at college is a red flag and you’ve put yourself at the back of the queue compared to your peers who held down work as they studied.
4) Internships / Co-op Work
Getting yourself an internship, co-op placement, or even a job shadowing opportunity is a wonderful opportunity to showcase directly relevant knowledge, skills, and experience of doing the work you will ultimately end up performing in your target role.
Be sure to capture every detail of the work your performed, and note any instances where you were able to collaborate with teams, add value, or otherwise contribute to the attainment of a work-related objective.
If you can obtain a reference from the supervisor your reported to, and the content of the reference letter was strong enough, you could even make a feature out of a line or two from the letter on your resume.
5) Extracurricular Activities
Involvement in and around campus is a good sign. It shows that you are social, engaged with your peers, and ready to contribute your time, skills, and knowledge to improve the common good. Showcase involvement in student associations, special events, or with industry bodies that are relevant to your chosen field. Make sure to list any big wins accrued by yourself or as part of a team.
Did you serve as the treasurer or as a board member for any student body? If so, catalogue the things you did in that role. This may be as close to relevant work experience you can get – maximize it’s value on your resume.
Participation in team sports is another item that many hiring managers look for. Some of them pay attention to whether the sports your play are team-based or require independent play. Teamwork and leadership is a big part of many sports and being part of a team, even better if it’s a winning team, is something to include.
Even if your team were awful, you can always take something away from the experienced – how did you cope with losing? What did you do to try to make it better? How did you keep team morale up as much as possible?
6) Tailoring The Resume
When all is said and done, and you have all the information you need for your document, you’ll now want to tailor the resume to target a specific role.
Make sure you pay close attention to the requirements in the job description. They’ve given you all the clues. They’ve told you what they want. Now you have to make sure you get as close as possible to addressing their requirements in a way that is entirely accurate and justifiable at interview. Do not put anything fake on there.
Clarify your unique selling points, make sure your resume is keyword optimized, and clearly present your unique value proposition early on in the resume.
Different resume structures and formats can assist in setting out the most relevant content in a high-impact accessible way. For more information about that, make sure you get my FREE eBook.
7) The Early Bird
Don’t wait until you’ve graduated to start looking for a job. Get a head start by attending relevant events on campus to build your network, gather essential information, and get yourself known. Depending on your own circumstances, it may be possible to leverage information you’ve gleamed at one of these events in your cover letter.
8) Social Media Awareness
Your social media profile must be controversy free.
Will an employer really look at my social media profiles? Yes, many do. I spoke to an executive at a national investigations firm and at the time we spoke, one of the highest growing areas of his business was social media profiling for large corporations.
Whether you are an existing employee or a potential employee, your social media activity will be of interest to a hiring company. I doubt they’d want to hire someone with a history of making controversial, rude, antagonistic, or otherwise inappropriate comments on public forums.
If a company searches your online activity and finds content like that, you can sure it’s lights out for your application.