Hey Team Just-Graduated-From-College! You're probably nursing your post-college woes on a futon in your parents' basement... or gearing up to apply for your first-ever gigs, if you're really on the ball (seriously, I'm impressed). Let's assume you’ve mastered the basics: You squeegeed your social media presence. You selected an acceptable font and crafted a clean, stand-out resume no longer than a page. You can compose professional correspondences without a whiff of entitlement. (Right, Team?) For those who've honed the fundamentals after years of summer internships, these next-level tricks and tips I’ve gleaned from 10 years working and hiring in the media industry can take your job application to the next level. Not all apply to every situation and field, but deploying one at the right time could tip your chances of getting hired.
Step 1: Before Sending Out An Application
Track Yo’self in a Google Doc
Not only does it elevate your job search into organized and methodical territory, but it keeps your progress honest and encouraging. In one column, write down the companies you’d love to work for. Find the job listings URL for each and paste them into the next column. While you’re at it, spin through websites and social accounts and jot down initiatives or news about the organization you'll use in your cover letter. More columns to create and eventually fill in: Contacts, When I Sent In My Application, When I Followed Up. It can look something like this:
Put Internet Stalking Skills to Productive Use
While you should apply via the process outlined on the company website (hat tip, HR pals), you’ll up chances of a callback if you also send materials directly to the hiring manager. A few ways to ID this person: Check with your university alumni office or database to find out if fellow grads work there. If so, send an email introducing yourself and inquiring whether they can point you to the right person. Of course, there's always the old-fashioned method: Google, LinkedIn, Facebook, and even Twitter. (Never message a potential employer through social media, though. We think it’s creepy.) Did you discover you have friends or former managers in common? Even better! Ask that person for an introduction. File all the info in your tracker.
Don’t write off an organization that doesn't have the right opportunity listed. Contact someone in the department you're interested in and ask if she's available for an informational interview, which is a brief networking session. In your email, introduce yourself and offer to buy her a cup of coffee if she’d be willing to chat for 15 minutes about her career path, experiences with the company and job-hunting insights. (Reaching out to directors and VPs works, but sometimes assistants and junior employees offer up more unfiltered and useful advice.) Do your homework and show up with smart questions. This way you've established a relationship with someone to contact once the right position opens up. If you impress her, she may end up messaging you first.
Step 2: Crack Your Resume And Cover Letter
Slow Your Resume Roll
Don’t rapid-fire one-size-fits-all resumes and cover letters to every job listing you encounter. It’s like the guys who copy-paste the same message to every single OKcupid match: It’s totally obvious. (Oh, we have a lot in common? Way to mention what those things actually are, bro.) Don’t expect a response if it’s clear you neither researched your audience nor customized your materials.
Add a Filter to Your Resume
An objective is a succinct statement at the top of your resume that declares your professional purpose, and it’s like Apple TV: Not always necessary but good to have in some cases. Obvious objectives like “College graduate seeking full-time position in marketing.” are outdated. Instead, use it to filter your professional story. If you were an undergrad warrior with a variety of internships and activities that seem incongruous, an objective is a logline to help a manager understand why you are applying for a certain position. “Dedicated, disciplined graduate with background in science and volunteering seeking challenging role at an organization committed to wildlife conservation." puts biology major, first-chair viola player, soup kitchen manager, and equestrian club trainer in context.
Be Flexible with Format in Each Application
Recruiters spend about, oh, six seconds deciding whether your resume hits the "yes" or "no" pile, according to research from TheLadders, so put the juicy stuff front and center. Note that the "juice" will likely differ for each application. Sending your resume to an alumnae? Paste your education info above your work experiences so you have something in common off the bat. Were you the social media director for a local indie rag with zero name recognition? Reorder the headers of your work experience section so titles appears first. Were you the interns’ intern at a Fortune 500 company? Position the company before your job title. Also, reorder bullet points so you lead with responsibilities most relevant to the job you are applying to. Just make sure to pick and stick to a single, consistent format for each blurb.
Brag About Any Impact You Made
I review resumes that list impressive job responsibilities, but I’m blown away when they quantify tasks or identify how their efforts impacted the organization. How many grants did you write during your internship and did any result in funding? How many new Twitter fans or Facebook followers did the indie rag rack up when you published 40 posts per week? How many extra appointments did the veterinarian fit in per week when you implemented a Google calendar system?
Use Your Voice in Your Cover Letter
Do not rehash your resume and call it a day. As a mentor once told me, cover letters answer the questions: “Why you? Why me? Why us?” Not literally, of course: Start with an authentic story only you could tell about why you are passionate about the company, role, or industry. After all, a recent Wright State University study found that recruiters' perceptions of your personality play a big part in the hiring process. So, did you discover that food writing was your jam after a culinary tour of Paris? Share that.
Do Your Homework, And Use Flattery To Show It
Call out and compliment specific details relevant to the company or hiring manager. Did she just publish a unique take on Hillary's campaign? Was an initiative covered favorably in a recent trade publication? Are you excited that they are taking on social justice cases pro bono? Pull from the material you originally researched for your tracker.
Show What You've Got to Offer
Throw in a story or two of previous professional experiences that punctuate the point that you are ready for this role. Also, don’t assure us that this job would be beneficial to you; we know that. Instead, call out what you have to contribute and even toss in an idea or two to illustrate your industriousness — oh, and do this all in less than a page.
Step 3: Follow-Ups
Solve a Case of the “Should Have Saids”
Maybe a tough interview question stumped you or you gave a wishy-washy response in an area you usually excel. Perfect lines inevitably pop into your head minutes after leaving a meeting. Don’t dwell or barge back into the office: Bake those better responses into your thank you email. (“I thought more about viable strategies to bring smart phones to the unicorn population, and ...”) It may prove that you are a committed problem-solver.
Send at Least One Thank You
Email a thank you note before the end of the day following your interview. In addition to the usual thank yous and “should-have-saids,” recall topics of conversation and if it’s appropriate, include a few ideas. I like sending an email because you can be assured the manager will receive it before she makes decisions. Then also follow-up with a handwritten letter. It’s old-school, but it never hurts to be thoughtful (and memory-jog how awesome you are).
Don’t Be Thirsty
When you send in a resume, it withers along with others in an Outlook folder until a manager has compiled enough to review all at once. If you've had an interview, she may have to screen other candidates or get the signatures of five executives before extending the official offer. In both cases, resist the urge to check in more often than every two to three weeks. Otherwise, you may irritate the manager and edge yourself out of consideration. Exceptions? Perhaps you received another offer but, if given the opportunity, you would choose this position first.
Commission a Drive-By Reference
Often employers won't call your references until they are certain they'd like to hire you. If the interview went well and you know someone who has an excellent working relationship with the hiring manager, ask your contact to drop the manager a few lines about what a pleasure it is to work with a team-player who is so sharp, independent, and awesome (i.e., you). A “serendipitous” positive review could tip the scales.
Turn Rejection into Something Real
Just because a manager ultimately swiped left on you professionally doesn't mean it was all for nothing. If you advanced in the interview process and she clearly liked you, ask whether she’d refer you should an opportunity open up in another department or say you’d be open to freelance or contract work. This happens: I’ve been rejected from plenty of full-time jobs, but I've stayed in touch with managers and worked with some in other capacities.