If you're ready to job search for the first time after graduating, odds are that you're tired of hearing how tough it is out there and you need to gird yourself for an uphill battle.
The bad news is there is some truth to those warnings. The job market has come a long way since 2009, but this is still squarely an employer's market.
The good news is no matter who you are, you have tools at your disposal to increase your rate of success against your competition.
Get Your Résumé Noticed
Your résumé is the backbone of your body of work. No matter how social-media-obsessed some companies are, it's your résumé that gets you in the door.
You're at a distinct advantage if you go into the résumé-writing game knowing that most of your competition is going to put in the bare minimum: They will use templates and make no effort to customize them. They will copy and paste bullet points from their spring internship and use the same ones, verbatim, to describe a fall one, because they can't be bothered to think more critically about the different things they learned in each position.
In other words, your competition will get lazy. By putting in the effort to write and design a clear yet eye-catching résumé, you ensure yours gets noticed amid the flood of graduation-season CVs.
The best tactic is to up the odds that your résumé draws the reader's eye quickly and easily to the most relevant pieces of information. That means learning how people's eyes view Web pages, since the hiring manager will most likely view your résumé on a computer screen first.
Studies report differently on how people read the Web, but they tend to agree on two things: Eyes scan pages for important, visible words, and eyes are most likely to see content that is visible without scrolling down the page.
For your online résumé, that means thinking about what words you want to highlight and where to place them. For instance, your contact section is important, but you sabotage yourself when that section's font size takes up valuable real estate at the top of the page. Consider including this information in a small sidebar, or minimizing that section's font.
Likewise, if a job description calls for certain skills or specialties, then it makes sense to start with a skills section rather than situating those bullets below your experience section.
For instance, if you post your résumé hoping a sales recruiter will find you for a junior account executive position with a digital advertising company, you'd want to highlight early and visibly any experience you have using platforms like DART Sales Manager, Omniture and Salesforce.
Get Yourself in the Door
How do you keep the momentum going once you have constructed a succinct résumé that easily draws the reader's eye, and once recruiters and hiring managers have started contacting you?
Again, you can get the best of your competition who will do a little laurel-resting by being prompt, professional and warm.
To be prompt, you want to respond to an email or voice mail as soon as you're able. That doesn't have to mean writing back 30 seconds after a message hits your inbox; you likely want to do some basic research on the hiring company or the recruiting firm ahead of time.
But you also don't want to promote an illusion of scarcity and wait the whole business day to reply. At this early stage in your career, you shoot yourself in the foot by playing hard to get.
To be professional, clean up your whole online act. When marketing recruiters or human resources managers find your résumé for a social media associate position and click through to your Twitter account, they should see content and commentary relevant to the industry you want to be in, not just bar photos run through every Instagram filter imaginable.
Finally, warmth is an important component in your communication with hiring professionals. The person reaching out to learn more about your education and experience is not your friend, but he or she isn't a hostile force either.
Thanking the recruiter or hiring manager for taking the time to reach out to you sets the expectation that you're considerate. People naturally want to work with those who are, among other things, considerate, enthusiastic and pleasant. You should leave a first impression of possessing these traits when you make that first email or phone reply.
So what should you do once your finals have wrapped and it's time to job hunt full time? For the most part, it's about simply buckling down.
You have peers who will put the minimal amount of effort into writing, posting and submitting résumés, and who will get the least effective response. Others will write back to hiring managers from their phones, not bothering to capitalize "I" or be accommodating with their schedules.
Holding yourself to a high standard will set you above a good portion of your competition consistently, no matter what school you're leaving or what field you're entering. The key is simply to get started on the right foot and maintain your best form throughout the race.
Alison Ringo writes about recruiting and job search strategy for sites such as Recruiter.com. She is also a founding partner of KAS Placement, a sales and marketing recruiting firm.
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