With the end of the semester only a few weeks away, many students have turned their attention to what comes next: joining the workforce! We have seen many students in the last few weeks who are feeling anxious about this next step in their lives, while others have shared their concerns about all the headlines surrounding uncertainty in the labour market.
Feeling anxious and concerned about transitioning from student to employee is a normal part of the process as it involves change and the unknown. “What if I find a job, and hate it? Worse yet, what if I can’t find a job at all?” These are the type of questions we see students grappling with.
The first thing we remind students is that there are things within their control, and things outside of their control. We cannot control the global markets, economic conditions, the companies that are hiring, the number of jobseekers in the labour market, or the methods companies choose to advertise their job openings.
What we can control, however, is our response to the uncertainty. And the best way to navigate uncertainty is through preparedness. How are you going to make yourself stand out in a sea of job applicants with similar credentials or more experience? What can you do now to increase your chances of finding meaningful work? Preparing for your job search is well within your control so understanding what factors you need to consider is your first step.
The first factor within your control is your mindset. In a tight labour market, it can be easy to feel discouraged, deflated, and impatient with the process. Approaching your job search with positivity and being prepared to put in the effort and time to be successful will help. Every single job you apply to will require your very best effort. Every. Single. Application.
Why? Employers notice the amount of time you invested in crafting your resume/cover letter or preparing for an interview. The better prepared you are, the more appeal you will have to them because that in itself says something about your work ethic and interest in them as an employer. They want engaged employees who care about the quality of their work. Going into your job search with a positive mindset, attitude, and willingness to invest the time and effort to produce a high quality application, will set the foundation for success.
The second factor within your control is getting to know yourself. Many students laugh when we say this to them, but how much time have you honestly invested in thinking about your skills, abilities, and competencies so that you can make them relevant to different contexts? According to job search website, Glassdoor, “on average, corporate job openings attract between 100 – 250 resumes. But only 4 – 6 of those applicants will be called for an interview, and only 1 will be offered a job” (Economy, 2015). And based on a survey conducted by LinkedIn, employers will only spend 6 seconds to initially review your resume (Friedman, 2017). So out of 250 resumes sent to an employer, and a 6-second look at each, which resumes will stand out? The ones that quickly, concisely, and clearly relate their skills, abilities, and competencies to the specific job. It is not up to the employer to determine from your resume IF your skills will fit. It is up to you, the jobseeker, to tell them EXACTLY how they fit. So back to the original question….how much time have you honestly invested in thinking about your skills, abilities, and competencies so that you can make them relevant to different contexts? When students answer this question honestly, the vast majority say hardly ever. Yet this is a critical part of your job search. It helps you to identify where you would be a good fit, why you would be a good fit, and guides you in preparing a good resume and interview.
The third factor within your control is research. Benjamin Franklin said “an investment in knowledge, pays the best interest”. The more you know about a company, the more you know about yourself, and how this knowledge intersects will be beneficial to both you and the company. When conducting research, review the employer’s website – what are their values, what keywords are common, what can you ascertain from this information to determine how you would be a good fit? When you find a job ad, look once again for the keywords – what qualifications and skills do they mention? What is important to them in a job candidate? Then use this information to tailor your resume and cover letter to match their needs.
Which brings us to the next factor within your control: Self-Marketing. Self-marketing is how you describe and differentiate yourself to others. When you see ads for products, the companies want to highlight a certain image of their brand to entice you to buy it. In self-marketing, you are the brand, and the image you convey should appeal to employers to entice them to meet you for an interview. Your resume, cover letter, portfolio, email content, social media pages, and interview are modes of self-marketing. What message are you conveying to others?
Your cover letter, resume, and portfolio each serve specific purposes within a job search. A cover letter introduces you to an employer and provides specific details as to what job you are applying to and why you are a good fit for the organization. The resume is an overview or ‘evidence’ of the skills, experiences, and education that you have to meet their unique needs. A portfolio provides further support and proof to back up what you are telling them. We like to compare these three documents to a movie trailer. It provides just enough information to capture the interest of the viewer and encourage them to want to see the feature presentation (which in this case, would be you, for an interview).
The most important thing to remember when writing resumes and cover letters, is to create them from the employers’ perspective. Everything in these documents should tell the employer what’s in it for them? What will they get, and how will they benefit, from hiring you? Every skill you mention, every educational experience, and work experience you highlight should be written in a manner that makes it relevant to their job, company, and industry. For example, if you have worked in food services for the past 5 years, but you are applying to a job in human services, how can you connect the experience to what the employer needs? You don’t want to just list the tasks you performed working in food services, and expect the employer to consider how those tasks have prepared you for a human services role. You make it relevant to the employer by focusing on the transferable skills gained and describing how you would use them in the new position. Instead of saying “Took food and beverage orders and served to customers” on your resume, focus on the transferable skill, which in this case would be customer service and interpersonal skills. Instead, you could say “Provided professional and respectful customer service while utilizing strong interpersonal skills to establish a positive rapport with clients”. The first example lists duties, whereas the second example highlights the skills gained through the performance of those duties, but in a way that is beneficial in the human services environment.
When emailing or communicating with employers, use professional terminology and proper business etiquette. Do not just email an attachment to an employer, without stating in the email what your purpose of contacting them is. Employers will judge your communication skills based on how you email and contact them, so make a good impression. They may also judge you based on your social media image so ensure you know what your social media accounts are saying about you. In fact, around 3 out of 4 employers state they will use your social media pages to learn more about you in order to gauge whether they want to interview you (Ranosa, 2019). Things that get you disqualified from the running include inappropriate videos, photos or GIFs, information regarding substance use, discrimatory comments, poor communication, bad mouthing companies/employers, etc. Many employers feel your email and social media provide clues on how you will interact with their customers, and whether your image/behaviours will reflect positively or negatively on them as an employer.
The last mode for self-marketing to talk about is interviews. Prepare for an interview by reviewing the job ad and company website to refresh in your mind what they are looking for in a candidate and what is important to them as a company. Be sure to practice answering typical interview questions ahead of time so that the answers will come more naturally to you in an actual interview. Your answers should include examples from past experiences (work, school, volunteer, life in general) that support the skills, competencies, and knowledge you are trying to emphasize. The more relevant examples you have to back up what you say, the stronger your interview will come across. During an interview, try to be aware of your non-verbal cues as well. Constant fidgeting or use of filler words (‘um’, ‘like’ etc) often indicate a lack of confidence. In order to convince an employer that you are the best fit for the job, you need to speak with conviction and demonstrate that you are confident in your ability to fill this role. If you are not convinced, how can they be?
Finally, the last factor we will discuss is support. Before you begin your job search, reach out to the Student Employment and Career Centre. We offer free services to all students and alumni in creating a job search plan, resume and cover letter development, portfolio creation, interview tips, interest and personality assessments, career advising and more. We have numerous tools to support you in your job search ranging from handouts, job posting boards, employer networking events, and career-related software that you can access from home, as well as in-person consultations. For more information, or to arrange an appointment, please call the Advising desk at 403-529-3819. Until then, we wish you all the best in all your new endeavors!
Economy, P. (2015, May 5). 11 interesting hiring statistics you should know. Retrieved from Inc. This Morning: https://www.inc.com/peter-economy/19-interesting-hiring-statistics-you-should-know.html
Friedman, A. (2017, February 16). 6 seconds is the average time spent reading a resume. Retrieved from LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/six-seconds-average-time-spent-reading-resume-andrew-j-friedman
Ranosa, R. (2019, October 29). How recruiters check for red flags on social media. Retrieved from Human Resources Director: https://www.hcamag.com/ca/specialization/hr-technology/how-recruiters-check-for-red-flags-on-social-media/189897