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Job hunting tips for recent and soon-to-be grads

These tips were adapted from a presentation CareerBuilder President Sasha Yablonovsky gave to Elon University students in August 2020.

First – congrats! You are powering through this year, finishing your education and entering the working world in an extremely hard time. In addition to the usual stress of graduation and finding a job, you have a pandemic and recession on your mind.

I am here to tell you that the environment is not as bleak as it seems. We’ve seen jobs come back and employers start hiring again, and we’re here to offer a little bit of advice for landing your first job in this employment landscape.

Tip 1: Ignore the years of experience

Your job coming out of college is to show that despite having less years of experience than other candidates, based on your course work, projects, internships and volunteering, you possess the skills that hiring managers desire. When you see an entry-level job posting, don’t be intimidated by the “x amount of years required” if that’s listed. In your cover letter and resume, position your skills to reflect the knowledge and experience you do have. Companies look for employees that can be adaptable and who will work well with others under pressure – workers who can grow on the team. Demonstrate that you have the skills needed to perform the job duties, such as team work, taking initiative or your attention to detail. Look at your projects and course work for examples of how you’ve executed on these sought-after attributes.

Tip 2: Find yourself – and show off!

We’re all born with innate sales tendencies, whether to convince our professors to extend a deadline or when we were kids negotiating with parents about having dessert before dinner. Remember to use that skill when you have an interview. Think about what makes you unique and what you bring to the table. Hiring managers and employers want to see why you, specifically you, are good for them. Show off the things that set you apart from others. One way to figure this out? Find a person who knows you really well, and who you trust, and ask them to describe three things you’re great at – and three ways you can improve. Most people find it hard to highlight their best qualities and skills so asking a trusted source to help will remind you of all the great things you are capable of. Have these insights in your back pocket and use them to your advantage in your job hunt and in interviews.

Tip 3: Communicate effectively

You have two sources scanning your resume – an applicant tracking system (ATS) and a recruiter. The ATS is the program looking for keywords and how closely your resume matches the job description. Don’t be afraid to use the same words as you see in the job description, and customize each resume and cover letter for each role you are interested in. Don’t fluff, and don’t lie, but if the job description includes language that describes your experience, skills and knowledge, use it. Then, you’ll need to add your flair and personality. Once your resume makes it past the system and into the hands of a real person, the recruiter will want to assess your skills for themselves – they will further evaluate your skills, interest level, and your level of engagement and fit for the team. Do you have a strong writing voice? Use it. Have you been working a lot with teams or in group projects during COVID? Highlight this tremendously valuable skill. Did you develop a quarantine hobby that is related to this job? Infuse your cover letter and resume with these details that give an employer more insight into your personality and grit.

Tip 4: Lean in to this strange, new world

For example, if your internship was cancelled, put “selected for highly-competitive internship” on your resume. Or highlight how you improved and mastered your communication skills via Zoom and your virtual internship or classes. Showcase how you used your quarantine time to take additional courses, learn something new, or any other activity you did to try to push your education and experience forward.

Don’t forget about your soft skills – if you maintained a (safe) social life and made new connections remotely, share those experiences too! Your ability to establish and grow relationships in a socially-distanced, remote world will help you stand out. Organizations are still navigating how to infuse company culture into work-from-home setups, and demonstrating that you have the ability to bring people together through technology will make you a valuable asset in this current environment.

This is a hard time for everyone. From family member Zoom cameos to kitchens-turned-offices, your potential employer has dealt with the same things you have. Knowing that, test your interview environment, make sure you are prepared to put your best foot forward and you’ll feel confident in any situation. Think about how these challenges have given you a new set of skills. Highlight your flexibility, adaptability and problem-solving by sharing how you’ve navigated this pandemic. CareerBuilder is rooting for you!

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