The economy is on the rebound, but at the end of the day, finding a job is still no cake walk for our generation. Where a good college degree once offered graduates an array of opportunities, many recent grads are now left picking at the dregs of an economy blighted by unemployment, job insecurity, and that dreaded phrase: “unpaid internships.” Getting into a great school is no longer the career boost it once was; you have to know how to stand out from the sea of qualified graduates, just like you. Here are my tried and true tricks for grabbing employers’ attention and getting those offers on the table.
Seriously. Be a nice, genuine person. You’ll be surprised how far it gets you. This doesn’t mean being unambitious in your goals, or a pushover in interviews. It just means being a person who isn’t hard to get along with, who makes others’ lives easier and workloads lighter. Find a job listing that sounds great, but isn’t right for your qualifications? Pass it onto a friend. Have a strong connection with your interviewer? Keep in touch, even if the job doesn’t come through. And when you finally do land a job, be the new employee who is known for being great to work with.
Work ridiculously hard on passion projects
Employers will never have a deficit of top-notch graduates to choose from. Never. To stand out, you need to be someone who has a distinct passion and who works distinctly hard to realize it. Sure, it’s great if your passion is saving the world’s oceans and you launch an NGO. But your passion can just as well be social media: the sad truth is, a humorous Twitter account that goes viral is far more likely to get you a high-paying job offer than any of the courses you took in college. Whether it’s through volunteer work, social media, musical practice, or any other number of myriad ways you can let your passion shine, pour yourself into the things that get you up in the morning and watch the job offers roll in.
Have a sense of humor
No one likes a bitter, sad grad! It can be hard to keep a good outlook with student loans and rent to pay, but remember: it won’t always be like this. Perseverance goes even further when you’re able to laugh at yourself and keep your chin up in the face of let downs.
Expand your search to different arenas
When I pursued my own job search, I made sure to expand my hunt not only to media companies but to publishing houses, tech start-ups, and thinktanks. Cast a wide, wide net. You’re young! You never know where you’ll be most in-demand; even if you think you have a strong idea about what you’d like to do, be open to the possibility of being surprised by an unexpected opportunity.
Strive to learn new skills:
Employers want to know that your ability to learn didn’t stop once you left the classroom. Starting new projects and using self-directed learning methods to pick up new skills will not only show potential employers that you are motivated, but curious and capable of working well on your own. (To find out the 10 essential skills you need that you might not learn in school, check out this post).
Don’t be afraid to put out a call
There’s nothing wrong about an earnest call for help. A quick post on Facebook (“Hey! I’m looking for a job in product design or marketing. Anyone know someone who’s hiring?”) can go a long way, and look: we’re all in the same boat! There’s no shame in leveraging your network to get a foot in the door. It’s how future CEOs have been getting hired for decades.
Make that resume shine
Imagine the life of an HR person: staring at boring Times New Roman over, and over, and over again. I’m not telling you to punch up your resume with Wingdings, but aiming for a sleeker design will help your piece of digital paper stand out in the tall digital stack of resumes. Keep it professional, but let your personality shine through a bit. Always highlight your most unconventional aspects first: did you volunteer in Nepal for six months? Put that right up top. Speak Finnish? Highlight that! Cum Laude won’t get you as far as an unusual experience project leading. For some great examples and templates, check out these from The Muse.
Cover letters matter, but your work matters more
Don’t slack on those cover letters. The older generations already think that we don’t know how to communicate or talk on the phone — don’t prove them right with a stilted, awkward, tone-deaf cover letter, or worse: a generic one! (Engineers: there’s no shame in paying an English major to polish yours up, seriously. Know your strengths.) But at the end of the day, your cover letter is only going to work if you can hyperlink it to a portfolio of your work. HR does their research these days, and if you talk a big talk but don’t walk a big walk, you’re not going to hear that phone ring. Future marketing guru? You need pithy writing samples. Designer? Get your portfolio online. Engineer? Here’s where those long hours finishing off university projects can finally pay off.
Don’t rest on your brand name college
Nobody likes the Harvard kid who never shuts up about how he went to Harvard. Same goes for Stanford, or Duke, or the University of Michigan. If you went to a school with clout, rest assured that that will be acknowledged by HR, and move on. You’ll go much farther with humility. Say it once, then let it go. Show that you’re working to establish yourself as much, much more than your university’s name, that you’re not someone who rests on her laurels. College should never be the best or the most impressive years of your life. Even if you went to Yale.
Know your stuff
Never, ever walk into an interview without having done the requisite research. Know the company. Know its strengths, sure, but far more importantly: know its weaknesses, and know exactly why you’re the person to bolster their vision where it needs bolstering. Be ready to cite recent press coverage of the company; watch interviews with the founders; get a sense for the culture before you walk through the door. The only way to be a “natural” fit is to be an informed fit. Consider it market research: how are you supposed to sell yourself as an employee if you don’t know your audience?
Believe me. I understand how eager you are to land a job, announce it on Facebook, and harvest those paychecks. But sometimes, holding out for the right offer is worth the wait. Re-frame your search as a mutual one: companies are looking for you, but you’re also looking for the right company. An extra month living at home or on a friend’s couch can be worth it if it means ending up in the right place at the end of your hunt. Think of the job search like dating. Patience is a virtue; it’s important to know your worth; and remember: no one likes desperation.
This post was originally published on the UnCollege Blog