So you have a diploma. Congratulations! You have earned your license to fledgling adulthood. After the graduation parties, bar crawls, campus photoshoots and copious social media updates, you’re left with the sinking feeling of, “Now what?”
Although the release from a hectic student schedule is liberating, putting off your job search will cause more stress as you acquire more financial responsibility in the form of student loans, rent (either on your own or with your parents), phone bills and basic living expenses.
With a competitive job market and a sluggish decrease in the unemployment rate, landing a full-time, professional position may feel overwhelming or unlikely. To further confuse young professionals, listings on LinkedIn, Monster and CareerBuilder commonly feature entry-level positions requiring three or more years of experience.
You have ideas. You have passion. But how can you get picked out of the freshly churned pool of talent?
Conquering the Résumé
Your résumé is your springboard into an interview. The purpose of a résumé is to advertise what skills, expertise and technical savvy you can provide your potential employer. A common mistake is to treat this essential business document like a chronological biography of your employment, detailing your job titles and frequent duties.
For example, a poorly written retail position may look like this:
Cashier, XYZ Convenient Store May 2014–August 2014
– Interacted with customers
– Conducted transactions with credit/debit, cash and EBT
– Organized impulse aisle products
– Restocked products and inventory
Hiring managers will give these kinds of generic descriptions 10 seconds before passing you up for the next candidate. Why? Because it gives them no indication as to what you can do to improve their business.
Instead, develop your résumé with these pointers in mind:
1. Research your target audience and how industry leaders represent themselves.
In this case, your “target audience” is the desired company or, more specifically, the hiring manager. The application-to-hire process is highly subjective. Each professional sector has its own standards, expectations and quirks; consequently, every résumé you create should cater specifically to the position and company to which you apply. Unsure of what your industry standards are? Turn to Google, your network of professors, former employers and LinkedIn connections. Informational interviews are a great way to gain a better understanding of what to expect in your job search as well as strengthen and broaden your professional contacts for references and future job leads.
2. Create your personal brand.
Unfortunately, a ready-made professional identity is not included with your degree. Although an intricate five-year plan is not required, you need to envision who you want to be and how you want to be remembered. Are you well organized? Creative? Social media savvy? Make your résumé reflect that in your design and content. Your brand and your specific skill set is what you’re pitching to potential employers. Strategize your tone, design scheme and typographical choices in your résumé, and keep it consistent across all business documents.
3. Tweak your brand based on workplace genre and environment.
The acceptable aesthetics of a résumé submitted to a tech startup generally will not be permitted within more conservative, suit-type corporations. Typography, layout and (when appropriate) color are just as important as content and help send a holistic message of who you are as a candidate. Keep in mind that a graphic designer may have more leeway than a mechanical engineer. Use your knowledge of your target audience to determine what risks will help you stand out in the right way.
4. Identify translatable skills in your experience.
Experience does not have to be paid, nor does it have to be in your field of study. Have you ever completed a group project that produced a major deliverable? Did you have a part-time retail or food service gig? Were you involved in student government or community service? It all counts. Employers want candidates who have practice initiating tasks, communicating, working in teams and other “soft skills” commonly needed to function productively in the workplace. Use keywords from job postings and company websites to get past tricky computerized algorithms that are often used to screen résumés before human eyes see them.
5. Demonstrate how you take action, continue learning and produce results.
It all comes down to phrasing. As in the aforementioned example, a list of job duties won’t tell an employer what a great candidate you are. In your bullet points, use action verbs and quantifiable data to concisely state how you used your translatable skills to take initiative, improve upon your existing knowledge base and make a process or a product better. If you can, list industry-related experience (e.g. internships and undergraduate research) with more bullet points to better convey applicable knowledge.
A revised version of the cashier position at XYZ Convenient Store with action and result-oriented sentences could look like this:
Cashier, XYZ Convenient Store May 2014–August 2014
– Provided daily customer support by addressing questions regarding product details and location
– Ensured timely transactions for an efficient, pleasant customer experience
– Assisted in restocking inventory to improve product knowledge base
– Increased sales of impulse aisle items by 10 percent by engaging customer interest during checkout
In other words, you don’t need to be an expert to show you’re willing to apply yourself and to grow in a professional environment.
No classroom can prepare you to transition from a student paradigm to a professional one. Have faith in persistence and hard work. Above all, be confident in what you have to offer. Defining what you want from your career path will take patience, dedication and plenty of wrong turns.
What has worked on your résumé? Share your tips with us in the comments below or join the conversation on Facebook.