In May and June, it’s a common and pleasant sight in New York: young men and woman wearing graduation gowns, boasting hats and mortarboards which threaten to fly off into the breeze. They are smiling, as well they should be; their years of hard work have paid off in the form of the diplomas that they clutch tightly.
The next logical step for many graduates is to enter the job market. A lucky few will have jobs waiting for them. Most students have worked with their college’s placement office to optimize their newly acquired skills, but that is a far cry from actually applying for a specific position, let alone nailing a job.
Many new graduates will struggle in the search for work this year. Obviously, a sluggish economy plays a role, but that factor holds true for each new graduate. Yet some new grads will struggle more than others. Why is this so?
Most new graduates underestimate the level of competition out there. The exact degree of competition for any particular position varies by industry, company, and job, but on average, 250 résumés are received for each job opening. According to BeHiring, the first résumé is received within 200 seconds after a position is posted.
- Résumé Issues
Of course, many college placement offices conduct seminars on how to write a résumé. Many students don’t take the course or don’t apply what they’ve learned.
The smallest error on your résumé can disqualify you for a job. According to CareerBuilder, 61% of recruiters will automatically dismiss a résumé because it contains a typo(s). The use of an unprofessional email address will get a résumé rejected by 76% of hiring managers, says BeHiring.
Recruiters are more overworked than ever in a lean economy. When you ask individual recruiters directly, they report that they spend about 5 minutes reviewing each individual résumé. But a recent study by TheLadders reveals that when recruiters are directly observed, 5 minutes is a vast exaggeration. The average recruiter spends only 6 seconds on a résumé.
A less than stellar LinkedIn profile can also hurt a new graduate’s chances. Many recruiters and hiring managers use LinkedIn profiles to supplement résumé information. Eye scanning technology used by TheLadders revealed that recruiters send an average of 19% of their time on candidates’ LinkedIn profile looking at the photo. And much like résumés, recruiters prefer LinkedIn profiles that are logically organized and easily scannable. Profiles that are less than professional and/or poorly organized may actually work against a candidate.
Most companies use computerized Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS) to screen résumés. Before a résumé ever gets to a human being, it has to match some of the” keywords” in the position description. If the job description says “Must speak French”, and a candidate does not use the word “French” in his/her résumé or cover letter, the ATS system will not find a match in that résumé. Making it through a keyword scan is critical; if they are not easily spotted, it will never see the light of day.
- Interview failure
Remember, the only purpose of a résumé is to obtain an interview (not a job, an interview). New grads need to practice interviewing with as much zeal as they apply to writing their résumé. If all other hurdles are passed and an applicant secures an interview, they have already passed Round 1 of the process. From there, the interview is the make-it-or-break-it next round in the employment process. Since phone screens are common in first interviews, candidates must practice interviewing in that mode as well as the in-person mode.
Improving a candidate’s chances
While the hurdles outlined above are significant, the good news is that there is a great deal that job candidates can do to improve their odds of landing a sought-after job.
Let’s start with the résumé. As we said earlier in this article, typos and grammatical mistakes can land a candidates résumé in the shredder. This is easily avoided. Use spell and grammar checks that typically come with word processing software. Have others carefully read your résumé before you finalize it. If you are not a good writer, recognize this fact and hire a professional to write your résumé. Consider the fee as an investment in your future.
Be certain that your email address is a professional one; this is not the place for email@example.com.
Learn the keywords for your profession and sprinkle them liberally throughout your résumé. Keywords are not magical; they are ordinary words that pertain to your field. Try to think about similar words or multiple ways that the words can be used. For example, if the position requires a Certified Public Accountant designation, make sure that your résumé not only contains that phrase, but “C.P.A.” as well.
Some résumé writers actually list keywords in their own “Keyword section” on résumés. Either way, give an A.T.S. every reason to find you.
Before you start applying for jobs, create a LinkedIn profile that reflects and expands on the information contained in your résumé. Be certain to get at least a few references on your profile. Since a disproportionate amount of a recruiter’s time is spent on the photo, be certain to upload a professional-looking photo, preferably in business attire. You can get a professional photo taken fairly inexpensively at Sears and other stores, but it isn’t strictly necessary, a home version is fine. Try to have a friend or family member snap your shot against a neutral background.
- Interviewing Skills
Practice makes perfect. Many colleges and other locations such as local libraries and adult education offer seminars on interviewing skills. Take the course, repeatedly if you can. Tape yourself in mock interviews and make notes on what you could do better. Most major job-related sites (Monster, Career Builder, etc.) have helpful interview advice sections. Applicants can find the most common interview questions for a particular firm on www.glassdoor.com.
While snagging that first job out of school can be a frustrating experience, candidates should keep the process in perspective. Eventually almost everyone does get a job. Using the tips in this article should help increase a candidate’s “job worthiness and shorten the time spent searching.