Posted October 4, 2021 by Mark Perna
Despite the tight labor market, many recent college graduates are struggling to get hired. Cover your bases with these hacks to present yourself as a true professional. Mark’s article, “Top Hacks For How To Land Your First Job,” published at Forbes.com on September 21, 2021.
In today’s hot job market, it seems that experienced workers can largely take their pick of positions as companies look to restock after the shutdowns of 2020. But the upward trend in employment numbers doesn’t always reflect the experience of young people, especially recent graduates, when they go looking to land their first job. In fact, they often get the cold shoulder.
It’s a bit of a catch-22 scenario, where employers are looking to hire employees with certain skills and years of experience, but recent grads can only get those skills and years of experience if they’re hired first.
If you’re finding yourself in this spot, you’re not alone. The good news is that there are several hacks young job seekers can use to put their best foot forward to land that first job.
The cover letter is your opportunity to go into more detail about your experience and demonstrate that you’ve understood the job requirements and would be a good fit. You need to explain how your skills and achievements will translate to the job you’re applying for and the value you would bring to the company.
“It’s also a great way of showing your hunger for the role,” says Andrew Hunter, Co-Founder of Adzuna, a job search engine that helps tens of millions of job seekers in the U.S. access more than four million listings each month. “The cover letter is your opportunity to talk about why you want the job.”
The cover letter is also the opening to explain any gaps or inconsistencies in your resume. For example, if you changed your major in college, or you dropped out for a semester or two, you can explain your reasoning and proactively clear up any question marks in the hiring manager’s mind.
If you’re looking to relocate, the cover letter can also be a good place to share your intentions. “Just remember to keep it clear and concise,” says Hunter. “The hiring manager won’t thank you for having to read a multi-page essay.”
Finally, hack the salutation of your letter by steering clear of a generic greeting such as ‘to whom it may concern.’ “All cover letters should be addressed to a named individual,” says Hunter. “Otherwise, it is an immediate red flag to the company that the job candidate has not done their research. Instead, use LinkedIn to see who the hiring manager is and address the cover letter to them.”
Your resume should showcase how your skills and experience align with the open position you’re applying for. One top hack, Hunter says, is to play back any keywords mentioned in the job ad. “This means taking the skills mentioned in the job ad and using examples to demonstrate how you have applied them in prior experiences,” he says. “This also helps ensure that the resume will pass through any AI resume-parsing tool set to screen for certain keywords or traits and into the lap of the hiring manager.”
If you don’t have an abundance of experience, your resume should reflect examples of how you learned professional skills—such as communication, punctuality, honesty, self-motivation and other traits that reveal your quality as a person and a candidate. Hunter says this is all about gaining trust that you will do a good job, “even when you’re out of sight.”
Wherever possible, you should include numbers to highlight how your achievements can have added value to the company. For example, saying that you managed the Twitter page for a certain brand or client during an internship and increased the follower count by X%, from Y to Z, is a good stat to add, says Hunter.
Young job seekers should also consider adding their pronouns to their resume to show their support for transgender or non-binary workers. “Not only will this tell employers that they recognize the importance of inclusivity in today’s work environment, helping to showcase maturity, it also helps the hiring manager know how to address them correctly,” says Hunter.
Resumes should be kept to one page—two at the maximum, if necessary. As with the cover letter, including too much information on your resume might distract the employer or recruiter from understanding how you can add value to the position. “It’s likely that a recruiter spends just seven seconds reviewing a resume,” says Hunter, “so it’s important candidates make it count with short sentences starting with an action verb.”
Remove irrelevant experiences that don’t showcase any of the skills needed for the role and don’t include a headshot, as it will only serve as a distraction from your skills and experience. Also remove any personal details (date of birth, marital status, et cetera) along with full addresses to protect your privacy.
You should also choose a common font, such as Arial, Times New Roman or Calibri that is easily readable for the person who will be reviewing your resume and cover letter.
While it might seem obvious, always make sure there are no spelling or grammar mistakes on your resume. “These kinds of mistakes shows the hiring manager that the candidate didn’t take the process seriously and isn’t fully committed,” says Hunter. “Proofread your work and have a second set of eyes before hitting submit.”
Something unique to your generation is how you’ve likely been documenting much of your life on social media. Life is full of ups and downs, and a public timeline that gets too personal about those moments can present challenges during a job hunt. Ideally, anything less than flattering should be put under wraps (at the very least, check your privacy settings). But you’ll want to spend most of your time updating your profile on professional social media platforms like LinkedIn.
Three hacks Hunter shares for honing your profile include:
So you land an interview. Now what? Interviews are stressful for everyone, even experienced workers. The key to a confident interview—virtual or in person—lies in your preparation. “Practice with family and/or friends and develop answers to potential questions that may be asked during the interview,” says Hunter. You should also be ready with questions to ask the employer, such as the type of clients the team works with, what the company culture is like, any major company milestones or initiatives and other questions. “This not only shows that job seekers are engaged with the company and the conversations they are having with potential co-workers, but that they have done their background research and are really interested in the company as a whole.”
Typically at the end of the interview, the hiring manager will ask if there’s anything else that the interviewee would like to share. “This is a perfect opportunity to include a 30-second elevator pitch expressing your career goals and aspirations, showcasing what you want to do and how the company can help you grow,” says Hunter. “Interviewers need to be aware of their body language, presenting themselves as eager, interested and confident.”
And finally, no matter how the interview goes, be sure to follow up with the hiring manager afterward to thank them for their time.
Getting your foot on the first rung of the career ladder can be time-consuming and even demoralizing at times. “If you don’t hear back, try not to be disheartened,” says Hunter. “Stay positive!” Continue applying again in a few days if the position is still open—don’t give up. You might just get to the top of the queue. Strike the right balance of kindness, understanding and persistence, and you will get through it all and finally land that first job of your burgeoning career.
You may be young, but that can be an asset when you present yourself as the professional you are. You’ve got this!