When I was teaching a workshop to college students recently, I asked how many would be comfortable standing up and talking about what they’re really good at. Not many were. But being able to do so is one of the many requirements of getting an “A” in the job search.
In this post I want to share 7 strategies I encourage grads to embrace and practice in the job search. They are intended to address a new way of working, and of thinking about yourself, in the world of life after college.
1. Learn to Talk About Yourself in a Positive, Value-added Perspective
Pontificating on your own excellent qualities isn’t something you do a lot of in academics. In the job search – and in the job – you must learn how to do this!
Here’s an exercise I have clients do to get in the self-promotion mindset.
Can you name 25 positive things about yourself you want an employer to know?
If not, start thinking about it, and make a list. Ask others to give you feedback about what should go on that list. Make sure you have at least 25 items on your list. Descriptors could include:
- I am a hard worker.
- I’m easy to get along with.
- I have a sense of humor.
- I have a good understanding of financial models.
- I’m excellent at written communication.
…and so on.
Then start reading the list aloud. Read again. And again.
This will help you start formulating a description of you, and, give you practice talking about it. It seems pretty simple, but it will help you start training to speak about yourself in a promotional way.
You’ll probably come up with some additional descriptors that you might not think of off the top of your head.
2. Customize Your Marketing Materials (And Make Them Perfect!)
This is not a junk mail resume market.
By that I mean, you can’t craft one resume and/or cover letter and send it out to a zillion employers. Customize letters and resumes for each hiring manager. In a recent Glassdoor survey 36% of employers said resumes are too generic and aren’t customized for the position.
Additionally, nearly 60% of employers said the most common problem with the resumes are typos! Yikes! Both of these snafus can be prevented if you customize, and then scrutinize, your resume and other documents.
Now, what if you don’t know exactly what you want to do and you aren’t sure exactly how to write that resume? My recommendation is to break it down into pieces that you can pull in when you need them.
For example, craft a list of core competencies you have, and the evidence of your performance. Just capture a one or two sentence description. Then, use them as building blocks to interchangeably customize your resume or cover letter for each application. Customize the document for each job, and you’ll be a rock star – speaking directly to that hiring manager’s needs.
3. Learn to Speak in Numbers
Throughout your career, you’ll need to learn how to quantify your work. Depending on what you studied, this may be an entirely new concept for you.
So when you’re preparing your resume and cover letter, as well as your interview prep, share the numbers of your past experience. Some grads get stumped on this one. But here are four different ways you can use numbers to support the experience you have:
- The scope of the work – e.g. I served 300 customers per shift.
- The delta of the work – e.g. I reduced cost by 30%
- The growth of the work – e.g. I increased revenue by $200,000
- The scale of the environment – e.g. I worked in a retail store averaging $40,000 per week in sales; a company with 20,000 employees, or a non-profit that raised $2 M per year
Numbers do a couple of things:
- They make you sound smarter.
- They give you a competitive advantage.
- They give eyes a resting place on your resume and cover letter.
College students and grads often tell me they don’t have much to quantify. But I’m always able to prove them wrong. To get started, think about anything you did (whether you got paid or not) and ask: “What work did I do? What can I measure?” Come up with at least two ways to quantify everything you’ve done.
Start now, and learn to speak in numbers throughout your entire career.
4. Ask Better Questions
It’s not a matter of “do you know someone who wants to hire me?” That’s the wrong question.
The right questions help you understand what the employer needs, so that you can respond with talent you have, that addresses those needs and showcases you as a strong candidate. That includes questions such as:
- What’s keeping you up at night? What business problems are you trying to solve?
- What’s the most important outcome the person in this role needs to deliver?
- Where is the organization already strong and how can I add to or complement that?
- What skills do I bring to the table that match up and what employer has the most pressing need for what I can offer?
You get the idea. Your research will also help you come up with good questions as well. Remember that part of the reason you ask questions is to demonstrate your engagement and interest before being hired.
It’s also a way for you to sniff out any red flags that would lead you to believe this is not a good match for you.
5. Do Your Research
I think it’s great that articles about interviews are often the most popular and get many views. Interviews get offers, and they are very important.
The bottom line is, however, that if you don’t do the research before hand, if you can’t talk about yourself easily, it doesn’t matter how many interview articles you read.
I’ll trot out the old statistic that when people blow an interview, 86% of them say it’s because they didn’t prepare well enough. The sad part about that is that it’s a completely avoidable situation.
So research the organization in a way that allows you to differentiate yourself from your competition.
6. Use the 80/20 Time Allocation Rule
According to a recent GlassDoor survey, there were 3.6 million job openings at the end of 2012. About 80% never advertised.
A client recently said to me, “I don’t like the jobs I’m seeing posted online.”
I suggested she stop looking at the posted jobs, and instead, look for organizations she wanted to work for. Then, find out how to burrow into that organization by having conversations with her connections.
A quick LinkedIn search of “nonprofit + Portland” yielded a host of organizations she didn’t even know about. Yet she was connected to quite a few and could start building relationships almost immediately.
Online search should take up about 20% of your time. 80% of your time should be spent looking off line, having conversations with key connections, doing research, attending networking events, leveraging social media and working on your marketing materials.
7. LinkedIn Is Not Optional
I know that LinkedIn can be intimidating because it’s a bit more formal than other social media tools you’re used to. However, it’s essential for your job search.
Here are a couple of things I’ve heard recruiters say on numerous occasions:
If someone tells me to consider someone for a role, the first thing I do is go to LinkedIn and check them out.
When I get your resume, I go to LinkedIn and check you out. If you aren’t in LinkedIn, or I can’t easily find your profile, I’m going to put your resume in the discard pile.
If I were you, I’d want to be (i) in the database that is LinkedIn, and (ii) pretty darned easy to find!
Ok, what are you going to do differently this week in YOUR job search? Leave a comment below and let me know!
For this post, YouTern thanks our friends at Degrees of Transition!
About the Author: Lea McLeod helps recent grads and mid-careerists navigate the job search. And once you have a job, she’ll coach you to the brilliant performance of which you are capable! Her “Developing Patterns of Success” Workshop has been deployed to help thousands of college hires worldwide do just that. Follow her on Twitter and her blog: DegreesofTransition.com.
Image courtesy of teachersofcolor.com… thank you!