Monday, November 16, 2015

Resumes and Cover Letters: Shifting our Perspective

Opinions vary about what should or should not be on a professional resume, so it can be confusing for a college student to know where to begin.  The key is to think strategically and to ask yourself what qualifications you would look for in a candidate if you were making the hiring decision.    

Like so many of us, employers are pressed for time and appreciate resumes that are concise and easy to read.  Use bullet points to emphasize key skills and achievements and keep your resume to a single page. 

Since you have limited space to sell yourself, make sure your content is relevant to the qualifications for the position.  It’s a good idea to review job descriptions so you know what is important to include.  Use quantitative language wherever possible to describe how performance is measured and, it goes without saying -always, always be honest.  

Use reverse chronological order to emphasize the most recent and, in most cases, relevant information toward the beginning of the resume. Education will likely be at the top– especially if there are specific degree requirements to be considered for the job.  Include degree type (A.A., B.S., B.B.A., etc.) and majors/minor.  A G.P.A. of 3.5 or above should also be included to emphasize strong academic preparation.  High school and related extracurricular activities should not be included on a college resume.  You should also leave off other colleges you’ve attended unless you earned a relevant degree or diploma.  

Hopefully, you listened to your campus career counselor and participated in an internship or two during your college experience.  This qualifies as relevant experience, so be sure to include it toward the top of your resume.  List projects you were assigned as well as results, and describe both technical and soft skills used to contribute to problem resolution.  

By now you might be thinking your job at the local grocery store is not relevant or important enough to include on your resume, right?  Wrong!  Most employers understand that new graduates have limited work experience in their occupation of study.  Listing other work experience of at least a year or more demonstrates that you have good work habits and that you are dependable and responsible- skills that all employers want but are difficult to teach, on-the-job.
Finally, extra-curricular activities such as athletics, school clubs and volunteer experiences demonstrate leadership, team work, civic-engagement, and a commitment to community –attractive qualities to employers in all industries.

Great- you have a strong resume that summarizes your skills and experience for the job.  Why write a cover letter?     
A cover letter is used to introduce yourself to the employer and explain the reason you are sending your resume (that is, to be considered for a specific job at XYZ Company).  The cover letter also serves as way to showcase skills, experiences, or personal values that set you apart from other candidates.   The main purpose is to motivate the employer to offer you an interview.  Although this seems like a simple concept, make no mistake…cover letters can be challenging to write.  It will be important for you to understand the position and the organization well enough to express why your qualifications are the best fit for the role.
The first and simplest way to do this is to emphasize your skills and experiences that match those in the job description.  You can do this by listing the qualifications word-for-word in your letter; however, you may also want to draw the reader’s attention to how these skills were developed and utilized by referring to your resume. 
You will also want to research the organization and understand their mission, values and work culture, and how the position fits within the overall structure of the company.  In addition to checking the organization’s webpage, consider reaching out to friends or contacts within your network and asking them what they enjoy most about working for XYZ. 
As you learn more about the organization, reflect on your personal beliefs and attributes.  Where do your values align with those of the organization?  Maybe the company sponsors an event for a non-profit where you happen to be a volunteer.  Speak to that connection in your letter.  Remember- you want to persuade the reader to offer you an interview, so point out what makes you uniquely qualified for the position.   
Clearly, you will want to be honest about your qualifications, but DON'T dwell on skills you do not have.  Many employers look for a candidate with the character and personality that fit within their organizational culture and may be willing to train where a candidate lacks experience. 

Finally, close the letter by asking for the interview.  Begin by confidently re-emphasizing your interest and suitability for the position.  Tell the reader how you can be reached and then, thank them for considering your request.
Written by:  Cheryl Redd, Mount Mercy University
Career Services Director

Edited by:  Maureen Fitzgibbon, Grinnell College
Assistant Director of Employer Relations & Employment Counseling


Monday, November 2, 2015

Networking… The Job Search Superpower!

Up, up and away! At some point in our lives we have all thought about having a superpower; for me, it was flying. Something about getting from point A to point B as the crow flies was appealing. We all know that having a superpower is impossible…or is it? 

With the help of technology you can get from point A to point B as the crow flies, and with some help from friends and contacts you can land a job! Networking is a major component of the job search process. If you have not considered developing your networking superpower, I highly suggest you get started. Lou Adler, author of The Essential Guide for Hiring and Getting Hired, states that 60% of your job search process should be focused on networking. Networking can be your superpower.

Getting Started
If you think you do not have a network, think again. Networking is as easy as getting to know people. Talking with the parent of a friend who works in the industry you are interested in, meeting an individual who majored in what you are majoring in or researching, and reconnecting with friends on Facebook are all forms of networking. Each person you meet can assist in moving your job search forward. Here are a couple of ways to jump start your networking process

  • Join a professional association. Often these associations will have a student membership and if you join, you have direct access to individuals who are working in the industry in which you would like to work.

  • Seek out alumni from your institution. The alumni office or the career development center will have connections with individuals who love to help students from their alma mater. This kind of student connection makes a lot of sense to alumni, especially if they are unable to support their institution financially. This is a great way for them to feel as though they are giving back.

  • Talk with faculty. The people who teach you are often connected in the field as researchers or consultants and they know other people. Ask for an appointment and pick their brains about professionals in the field that they may be able to connect you with.

  • Family members can be a perfect connection to networking. No one wants to see you succeed more than a member of your family and their professional connections are a great resource to tap into. They can make the introduction and you can take it from there. 

  • Check out your circle of friends. The parents/older siblings of your friends can be another great resource. Talk with your friends and inquire as to the connections they have and if they are willing to introduce you.

Build Relationships
Now that you have researched and developed a list of potential networking contacts, you need work on building professional relationships. Networking is a two-way street and it is as much about giving back as it is about taking. The networking contact is also interested in you and you need to build that relationship. If you come across an interesting article you think they may be interested in, pass it on to them.

Developing the relationship is simple if you keep these things in mind:

Be authentic – being the real you should be the goal. Don’t try to be someone you think they want you to be.

Be considerate – if the contact is someone you personally know, take time to catch up. If they are a busy professional, get to the point and be respectful of their time.

Ask for advice not a job – keep the pressure off. Professionals are very willing to give advice about how to break into the industry, but asking for a job can make them feel ambushed.

Be specific – do your homework and know what you want. Articulate what you are looking for in a succinct and concise way. What is your overall goal? An insider’s take on the industry? A referral? An introduction to someone in the field?

Keep the Conversation Going
Maintaining a networking contact involves conversations. Along with being a good conversationalist it is important to be a good listener. This may include maintaining eye contact and providing verbal and non-verbal cues that show you are involved and interested. Being a good listener also supplies you with information that you can use to keep the conversation going.

Dig Deeper. Take your time during conversations and don’t be afraid to ask follow-up questions that dig a little deeper. For example if one of your contacts mentions that they are beginning a new protocol at work, ask questions about what it involves.

Be appropriate. Certain topics and conversations may be suitable for one event and off limits at another. Always err on the side of caution. If you even suspect that a topic may be inappropriate, chose another “safe” topic instead. Also, be wary of bringing up personal relationships or family issues; you may end up regretting it.

Don’t dominate the conversation. Remember you are developing this relationship to gain information from them, and you can’t do that if you are only talking and not doing any listening.

Respect others and their opinions. You may not always agree with something someone tells you, but it is important to always be respectful and not put anyone down.

Continually Work on Networking!

Remembering these networking tips will assist you in developing the superpower that will be important in assisting you in your job search. Stay positive throughout the process. It will not happen overnight, but it will happen!

Written by:  Bill Minnick, Northwestern College
Director – Career Development Center 

Edited by:  Stacie Hays, Morningside College
Career Counselor, Career Services