In this competitive (and often intimidating) job market, the path from initial application to interview to job offer can feel like a road trip with no directions. The reality is that it takes more than just a solid resume to land a great job or internship. Similar to the college application process, it’s crucial to distinguish yourself from the other applicants and to convey who you are off paper to a hiring manager who has to sift through hundreds of resumes and cover letters.
Finding ways to stand out from the competition, however, is easier said than done. We asked the experts, and they gave us the deets on the qualities hiring managers look for in particular. Whether you’re submitting applications for summer internships or getting ready to apply for your first post-college gig, highlighting these skills will give you the edge you need to make your dream job a reality.
1. You know a lot about the company
Knowledge is power, and when you’re applying and interviewing for a job, it can be one of your best assets. If a hiring manager can tell that you don’t know anything about the company, they may think that you’re not serious about the position. Doing your research ahead of time will demonstrate your interest (and prevent you from getting caught off guard by a question you didn’t prepare for!).
Familiarize yourself with the company’s mission statement and values. Most importantly, be prepared to explain what it is about the company that made you want to work for them. Many companies have an “About” page on their websites, which is a great place to look for key details about the company as well as your potential boss. It’s also a good idea to check out current employees’ profiles on LinkedIn to get a better idea of exactly what kind of employee the company is looking to hire.
As for pre-interview preparation, showing that you have knowledge of the company can go a long way in your application. “Your cover letter should be tailored towards the specific employer and should also show that the candidate knows something about the organization and how their skills would fit,” says Darlene Johnson, senior associate director of Hofstra University’s career center.
She suggests incorporating words and main points from the job listing in your cover letter. For example, “if the job description calls for someone with leadership skills, the writer should make a point of discussing his or her leadership skills within the letter.”
2. You’re connected to someone within the company already
You’ve probably heard the phrase, “it’s not what you know, but who you know” over and over again, but networking truly is the best way to get ahead in the career game. Even the most impressive resume may be overlooked when thrown into the mix of lots of strong contenders. Barry Drexler, an expert interview coach, says “the best way to stand out is to be referred by someone. Being a relative of a senior manager, referred by an employee or referred by a client of the company is virtually a guaranteed interview.”
If you know of anyone who works or has worked for the company you’re interested in, be sure to contact him or her to share your interest and to ask about open positions. Although you may not know any internal employees personally, chances are someone you know does. Put that LinkedIn profile to good use and find the profiles of employees at the company. If you find a current employee who is a second- or third-degree connection, ask your intermediate connection(s) to introduce you two!
Connecting with coworkers, family friends, past employers and even alumni from your school will expand your network and introduce you to a slew of people with related career interests. Don’t be afraid to put yourself out there; after all, persistence is imperative for success!
3. Your proactive approach
It’s never too early to start thinking about where you’re going to apply for summer internships and post-grad jobs and what steps you can take now to secure those positions. “Set up informational interviews with the company you want to work for well before there are even opportunities available and even before you graduate,” says Vicki Salemi, a career coach and author of Big Career in the Big City: Land a Job and Get a Life in New York. “This way, when an opportunity comes up, you can follow up with the person you had coffee with to funnel your resume to the right person’s inbox and put in a good word for you.”
The best part about an informational interview is that it’s simply a relaxed meeting between you and an employer; you’re there to gain insight and advice about the industry, not interview for a position. You have nothing to lose! “You can just be yourself, and feel free to brag about your wonderful skills and experiences!” Salemi says.
Drexler also stresses the importance of acting early when it comes to applying for jobs. “Find out about openings before they are posted on the job boards, use LinkedIn effectively, register your resume on company websites and ask for exploratory interviews rather than asking for a job,” he says.
Don’t wait until the last minute to apply for a summer job or internship, especially if you’re hoping to work for a major company that has a huge applicant pool. Companies will post summer positions online months in advance, so the sooner you start your job search, the better.
4. Your strong communication skills
Good communication skills are an essential part of “selling” yourself to a hiring manager. During the span of an interview, you need to succinctly convey your professionalism, your relevant skills and experience and why you would be the best candidate for the position. Johnson suggests participating in mock interviews at your college’s career center as a way to practice proper interview skills. “Often during a mock interview, students will realize that they tend to say ‘um’ often or that they don’t really answer the question being asked,” she says.
Following proper interview etiquette means remembering to follow up with the hiring manager soon after the interview. Not only is sending a follow-up email the polite thing to do, but it will also serve as a reminder of who you are. Keep it brief, and be sure to thank the interviewer for his or her time and reiterate your interest in the position.
5. Your real-world experience
Although you may have spent hours putting together the perfect resume, standing out means having real-world experience behind the words on the page. Don’t just highlight your skills; show the employer how you’ve used those skills in past jobs.
“During the interview, if you say you’re a self-starter, that doesn’t demonstrate how you’re a go-getter,” Salemi says. “Instead, you can shine by providing a real example to showcase your prowess.”
Instead of simply saying that you’re “organized,” or “able to multitask,” describe how you planned and organized a charity event with your sorority. Instead of writing that you’re “hardworking,” mention that you were able to balance your time as an editor for the school newspaper while also working a part-time job.
Also, be sure that you’re mentioning your skills that are relevant to the particular job. Johnson says that “answers should always be geared towards the desired position. For example, if you are applying for a job in customer service, highlighting your proficiency in Excel during the interview won’t do you much good. However, talking about your interpersonal and communication skills are more in line with what the employer will be looking for.”
Johnson also suggests using quantitative information wherever possible. “Managing a budget of $25,000 and 15 employees will be more challenging than managing a budget of $25 with one employee, so numbers often help to paint a picture,” she says. If you raised $5,000 in donations for your sorority’s charity food drive, mention it! Including exact numbers gives the employer a clearer picture of your accomplishments, and it shows that you know how to achieve results.
The job market can be a seriously intimidating place, but by following these success tips, you’ll be on your way to snagging the job or internship of your dreams!