By: Sharna Johnson
Training – “Check!”
Parachute – “Check!”
Possibility you’ll freeze up, the parachute won’t open and the ground will rush up to meet you, or worse yet, you will get stuck in a tree, lost and suspended helplessly forever – “…gulp…check…”
Celebratory as it may be to move past your formal education, achieving a college degree is not really the end, it’s the beginning and the challenges of stepping into the next phase of life can feel a little like jumping out of an airplane.
You probably didn’t realize it then, but that first shopping trip for fat crayons started something – countless hours of homework, years spent sitting on hard chairs listening to teachers, book reports, projects and more tests and exams than you can count – all leading up to one thing.
Getting a job.
But finding a job after graduation doesn’t have to be terrifying and is far more likely to be successful if you approach it with the right mindset.
Job candidates that follow a few simple steps can dramatically increase their chances for success, according to Dr. Kerry Parker, Assistant Superintendent of Human Resources for Clovis Municipal Schools.
A school district that employs more than 1,000 professional educators and support staff, Parker said the hiring process begins as she and her staff sort through dozens of faceless, electronic applications.
Ultimately, the job candidates selected for interviews and inevitably those offered positions will be the ones that stood out – in positive ways – to prospective employers.
Having seen what works and what doesn’t, Parker offered some tips for college graduates-turned-job seekers as they begin the hunt for their first job after school:
“If you’re just getting started and waiting until your bachelor’s degree is over, in some fields you’re behind,” Parker said.
The term “networking” can seem complicated, but it really is quite simple, Parker explained. While you’re still in school it’s a good time to start getting to know people in your field and make yourself known to them. That familiarity will go a long way when the job hunt begins.
Take internship, part-time, temporary or substitute positions with organizations in your field, especially those you think you might want to work for after graduation.
If those opportunities aren’t available, become a volunteer. Even volunteering for civic organizations can forge connections in your community that will help later. The value of being there when opportunities arise or just having people recognize your name among other applicants cannot be underestimated.
“Connections and those people relationships matter,” Parker said, explaining she often sees people who have worked as substitute teachers rise to the top of applicant pools because their work traits are known. “If you have a substitute (you’ve worked with before) and then there’s some other applicant you don’t even know, who are you going to go with?” she said.
Online networking is another valuable tool that shouldn’t be underestimated, Parker said.
Job recruiters routinely search networks such as Linkedin for candidates, and job offers can result.
To make online networking work for them, candidates should familiarize themselves with the keywords that appear frequently in job descriptions in their field and make sure those are included in online profiles and resumes.
It’s become increasingly more common, she said, for job seekers to be “discovered” by prospective employers because their online profiles catch the attention of recruiters, who conduct exhaustive searches of those systems.
Anyone looking for a job should know quite well the importance of a good resume and has likely agonized and toiled over creating the perfect summary of their life’s efforts.
While that’s a good start, however, it’s not quite enough, because one resume does not fit all.
Job hunters should be prepared to tweak and rewrite the resume for each position they apply for.
“If you know you’re targeting a specific job then whatever they put in the job description, those things need to be embedded in your resume – tailor your resume for the job,” Parker said.
Key words cannot be stressed enough and applicants need to be sure they’ve read the job description carefully and included elements of its specific language in their resume.
In doing so, however, candidates need to make sure they are being accurate and honest about their skills and abilities and that they actually know the meanings of the terms they are using, Parker said.
“Don’t lie. People do that and you get caught in the lie and that’s not good,” she said.
If specific key terms don’t match you exactly, research the terms and try to find things within your own experience and training that do align with their characteristics.
Then, “use a different word choice to align with that job description,” Parker said, but no matter what, “make sure your skills and abilities align with the job description.”
Above all else, have a professional, well-formatted and well-articulated resume – that means no typos, no grammatical errors, standard, easy-to read fonts and formatting.
The bottom line from the employer perspective, Parker pointed out, is that with the vast information available on the internet, from tips to free resume templates, there is absolutely no excuse for a subpar or unprofessional resume.
And be brief and concise.
Employers are busy and have a lot to read, so get to the point.
“I read bullets better than paragraphs,” Parker said.
You’ve spent days on your resume, had friends and professors proof-read for you, now it’s perfect and you’re ready to turn it in – but wait, you have to fill out a generic online application?
Surely it’s just a formality that you can speed through, after all, they will see everything they need to know about you on your perfect resume, right?
To candidates, online applications may seem like a waste of time or irrelevant, but if not given the proper time and attention, guess what, no one will ever see that stellar resume.
Of all the mistakes job seekers make, one of the most common and detrimental is not taking the standard application seriously.
Parker said she has seen applications filled out the same way people text message, from partial words to acronyms and emoticon symbols – and yet, she said, the applicant wants an employer to believe they completed college and can conduct themselves professionally.
Short-cutting the application and failing to use proper capitalization, spelling and punctuation will get you, and your attached resume, ignored.
“If I start reading your application and it’s sketchy, I’m not going to open your attachments,” Parker said.
“Applications matter, whether they’re electronic or hard copy – I make a lot of judgements about people’s ability to complete an application accurately,” Parker said. “If you can’t complete an application correctly then I eliminate you from being interviewed.”
Another mistake job seekers often make is in not taking advantage of every opportunity the online application gives them.
Some applications allow for additional comments from applicants.
This, Parker said, is just one more area where you can enrich yourself and stand out. Use comment areas to explain more about your professional background or showcase things you couldn’t go into detail about in your resume.
“It’s a good opportunity to give the high points and hopefully that’s just another opportunity to sell yourself,” Parker said.
This is important, because remember, at this point, the person reviewing your application hasn’t looked at your attachments yet, and you want to make sure they do.
And finally, attach a cover letter, resume, transcripts… submit as much supporting material as the application will allow, because if you make it through the application screening process, the attachments and their quality, will see you through the next cut and hopefully secure you an interview.
A lot of work went into the resume and application, but clicking submit, believe it or not, was not the end.
Still faced with the challenge of standing out from other job seekers, after completing the application process, candidates need to follow through and make themselves known.
Parker said it’s not only appropriate, it’s advisable to follow up, make sure your application has been received, check to see if there is anything else you can submit and ask about the hiring timeline.
If an application or job description lists the name or contact information for the supervisor or hiring manager, consider it an invitation.
“There’s a reason why the person is (listed) there,” Parker said.
Employers that list contact information are open to, and in fact welcome communication from applicants, with a couple of caveats.
If you plan to contact a prospective employer, “have some legitimate questions and have a reason to do that,” Parker said.
“I’ll answer calls, I’ll answers emails,” she explained, but the nature of the contact factors into the impression an applicant makes and employers know a fishing expedition when they see it.
If an applicant makes contact but doesn’t have anything substantial to discuss or suggests scheduling an ambiguous meeting to just to talk – they aren’t likely to be received very well.
Asking legitimate questions about the position or hiring process is acceptable, however, and can help a candidate stand out among others, she said.
Another way to follow through goes back to the concept of networking – talk to people who work for the organization where you applied, discuss the position and pick their brains – because being known will help you stand out.
When it all comes down to it, despite new technologies, getting a job hasn’t changed that much over the years and the traditional rules are still as important as ever – making good impression, networking, impeccable applications, accurate and concise resumes and professional presentation are the keys to getting that job – and beginning the life you’ve worked so hard for.