Originally Published in The Huffington Post | August 9, 2012 | By Paul Mandell
This year’s new college graduates in pursuit of work have reason to be grateful. The economic landscape has improved, resulting in more opportunities at the nation’s biggest employers, as well as within a wide array of startups fueled by new capital. But let’s not kid ourselves; this remains a relatively difficult environment for job seekers.
Despite the circumstances, there are plenty of opportunities for strong candidates. At Consero Group, an events company startup that I co-founded a couple of years ago, we see lots of prospects, but only a few stand out as exceptional. Not surprisingly, among those exceptional candidates are some common traits and behaviors that virtually guarantee them an in-person interview. If you are a recent college graduate, or planning to enter the workforce in the near future, here are some suggestions to put yourself into the circle of most-appealing employee prospects for companies like mine.
Personalize Your Cover Letter
To begin, always include a cover letter. I don’t mean a standard cover letter that includes an “insert company name here” field with boilerplate text, but rather a thoughtful, customized letter. Candidates who indicate a basic understanding of the company to which they are applying and can explain how their skills and experience make them a good fit have a much stronger chance at landing the interview. By using a well-written (and properly formatted) cover letter in this way, candidates demonstrate genuine interest in the company, initiative, and quality. As an employer, knowing that a candidate understands my business and wants to be there, and can effectively communicate the value proposition that he or she offers, gives me much more confidence that it will be a good fit for both of us. By contrast, when candidates fail to include a cover letter, I presume either that they lack genuine interest in my particular company or are lazy. In either case, those candidates rarely get an interview.
Customize Your Resume
Next, be sure to tailor your resume in a way that highlights the characteristics and experience that employers value. If you took initiative, point that out. If you had the chance to lead or manage any kind of mission, make that clear. And always highlight activities that involve teamwork or competition in pursuit of a goal. Employers put a premium on these kinds of experiences, as the skills you developed in such activities will certainly come in handy within the workplace, and you will appear more likely to possess the drive and passion needed to help the company achieve its goals.
Proofread Your Materials
In addition to the substance of your cover letter and resume, be sure to proofread both a number of times, and then have someone else do the same. Finding an error-free resume is a lot like finding a four-leaf clover; you never expect to find one, and when you do, it is a bit magical. I virtually never see an error-free resume, but when I do, I am usually willing to grant an interview on that fact alone. A candidate who uses hyphens consistently throughout the resume, uses tenses consistently, and has eliminated punctuation and spelling mistakes indicates strong writing ability, which has a great deal of value in many jobs. That said, if writing simply isn’t your strong suit, and you have no friends or family to help, be sure at the very least to spell addressee and company names correctly.
Build Your Experience
To the extent that you have a good chunk of time before you pursue post-graduation employment, it is never too early to get started on building a competitive resume. College activities, internships, and even part-time jobs provide a great opportunity to develop and demonstrate the traits that companies value most. Consider opportunities that enable you to be entrepreneurial and competitive, and pursue experiences that let you lead and collaborate with a team. Just be sure not to sacrifice your grades in the process, as there is little substitute for a strong GPA.
Despite these suggestions, some dynamics that impact your job search are out of your control. And there is no guarantee that you will have your choice of jobs even if you are a strong candidate. But if you follow the above suggestions to put your best foot forward and stay positive, you’ll certainly have a leg up–particularly if I see your application.