You’re studying to get a degree that will help you get a good job, but what happens when you’re about to finish your degree? Oh, yeah…the job application process. If you’re anything like I was during my senior year, this process is hanging over your head like a dark cloud – having to sell your skills in order to feed yourself is a daunting task for recent college grads.
It’s okay to be nervous - in today’s economy, finding and landing a job in your field right out of college isn’t always easy. However, there are plenty of factors that are in your hands. As taught to me by my parents, teachers, professors, career advisors, staffing agents and my own experiences, here are some dos and dont's of the job application process:
Thoroughly read the job description. This is key. A job title of “digital media consultant” may have a different initial meaning to you than your employer intended. Relying on the job title alone may result in you starting a job you’re not passionate about.
Use keywords and phrases in your resume and cover letter. Employers often use phrases such as “customer service” or “production management experience” in their job postings. They do this because they’re looking for applicants who have followed the above point, but more importantly they want to know that you have the skills they’re looking for. Even if your degree is in media communications and they would prefer someone with a degree in marketing or business, using key phrases provided by employers can show them that your skills are equivalent – if you’re being honest, of course.
Follow up with the employer’s contact person. Job postings often include a phone number or email address of who to contact. If you haven’t heard from a potential employer in a week or two, it is acceptable to follow up with them to let them know you are still interested in the position. Be sure to let them know when you submitted your application.
However, some employers do not want applicants calling them - for example, when acknowledging that my application was received, an employer once let me know they would contact me if interested and to assume they are not considering me further if they do not contact me.
Use the same cover letter for every application. This ties in with the use of keywords and phrases. Potential employers are looking for someone who will benefit them specifically, so a cookie-cutter cover letter that you give out to six different companies doesn't necessarily show how you will fit in with them. But in addition to using the words they are looking for, be personal and attentive to each company in order to attract them and leave them wanting to know more about you.
Ignore the employer’s application instructions. Some employers request specific information entered on their applications or have specific methods of submission. Follow the application steps they provide. Even if you know you are qualified for the job, missing a step in the application, such as forgetting to enter a request ID number or sending it via email when they wanted it submitted at their website, could keep you from even getting to showcase your skills to the employer.
Send in your application without proofreading. A professor of mine once told me that when initially screening applicants, he would toss an application after seeing more than two spelling or grammatical errors. How unfortunate would it be if you failed to get a job you might have excelled at when you committed one too many typos?
AT THE INTERVIEW
Ask questions. When the interviewer asks if you have any questions, they truly want you to ask questions. If you’re sitting there wondering what to ask, here are some good things to ask about:
- -How long the interviewer has worked there (and what position changes)
- -What the company atmosphere is like
- -The interviewer’s favorite part about the job or the company
- -Can the interviewer describe a typical day of someone in this position
Research the company. This may help you come up with more questions you can ask the interviewer, but more importantly, it will help you show them your understanding and interest in the company. For example, last fall I interviewed for a position in a nonprofit company that was known for its service projects in the area, so when the interviewer asked me to “tell me about myself,” I managed to throw in that I got my degree from a Franciscan university, where we prided ourselves in our service to the community.
Know the company’s dress code and kick it up a notch. Many companies have “business casual” as their dress code – that usually means no jeans and a dressy, modest shirt. For the interview, it’s better to err on the side of too fancy when choosing your outfit. My go-to outfit is usually a red tank top under my black blazer with white polka-dots, black slacks and black or silver flats.
That being said, not every company has a strict dress code, so it’s okay to dress accordingly. When I interviewed for a position in the marketing department of a newspaper chain, I wore a bright pink sweater and black capris (it was late April and the interviewer was wearing jeans and flip-flops.) Regardless, always look polished for the interview.
Be vague. This tells the interviewer that you don’t care about the company and that you really want to get out of there. While employers understand that you don’t want to starve (and you probably want to be able to go out with your friends or take a vacation in the mountains), they are looking for someone who will benefit them – it’s a two-way street. Many of the initial questions in the interview will be tied directly to your resume. Talk about specific projects, accomplishments, and skills and how they relate to the job you’re applying for.
Give irrelevant answers. The interviewer will often say, “Tell me about yourself,” or ask you, “What’s your biggest weakness?” Even if these things are true, do not say, “I like to go to the bar with my friends on Friday nights,” or “My biggest weakness is that I get the urge to check Twitter every 15 minutes.” These statements do not give the interviewer a good impression of you, let alone have anything to do with the job opening.
Instead, make your descriptions something that will make the interviewer believe you are still a good fit for the position, such as, “I enjoy accomplishing important tasks that often go unnoticed but tie large projects together,” or, “I sometimes lack self-confidence despite my proven ability to [insert skill here], which makes it hard for me to be a self-starter, but I respond well to direction and encouragement.” Check out this article for other ways to answer the weaknesses question.
Act overly fake. The interview is a way for the employer to get to know you as a person. Who you are on paper only shows the employer your qualifications and accomplishments – not you. While you need to be specific in answering questions about your job history and expectations, don’t be afraid to let your personality shine through. When the interviewer knows your personality, he or she will get an idea of how to treat you as an employee – what makes you tick, how you will perform your best and how you will interact with your potential coworkers.
And remember, not every application or interview will lead to a job. But don't give up - a company out there is looking for someone just like you!