WSJ.com has a new blog series that follows seven college seniors as they transition into the “real world.” Since these seven young people are no doubt no longer in need of employment, I will address the thousands of young folk out there without a blog on WSJ.com.
There is a wealth of advice and information online about how to write a resume, do an interview, get a job, etc. I interviewed and hired a number of recent college graduates as CEO of my start-up and this is what I would have told all those candidates if I’d had the chance before they met me.
Lose the objective. I don’t know who taught young job seeks to put an objective at the top of their resume, but I’d like to shoot them. Your objective is to get a job. Period. I will be able to tell if you get this job if the meat of your resume addresses it. So you should have several resumes for all the different types of jobs you are going after.
Have someone else proofread your resume. Spelling errors are the kiss of death. It automatically tells someone you don’t or can’t pay attention to detail.
Don’t just list what you did but highlight achievements and wherever possible make them quantifiable. Did you increase membership by 150%? Were you able to raise over $100K for your alumni donation drive? Even if your only prior work experience was babysitting the iguana next door, find something to highlight.
There are a number of signs that give young, inexperienced candidates away: the poor handshake, failure to look me in the eye when talking, not coming in prepared–haven’t thoroughly read the Web site, don’t have questions for me, didn’t spend time looking up key terms/vocabulary used by the industry.
Come prepared. For instance, have ready examples of behaviors that put you in a good light. Like an example where you had a difference in opinion with a boss, what was it and how did you handle it. Did you speak up? Did you pout?
Practice interviewing with a friend–for the first 15 minutes, answer every question as wrongly as you can. For example, what is your greatest weakness? I like to procrastinate. How would your last boss describe you? As always late. Then spend the next 15 minutes coming up with solid answers. When you interview you’ll remember the session and probably not take yourself so seriously.
Dress appropriately. This doesn’t mean suits in every case but it does mean I don’t want to see your cleavage or the waistband of your underwear–ever.
Be prepared to answer any question on anything you have listed on your resume. One of the number one ways I learned about a candidate was around the listing of Excel on their resume. If someone said they were an Excel genius or Excel expert on their resume I would ask them about that.
Alicia: “I see here you are an ‘Excel expert.'”
Candidate: “Yes, I can do anything in Excel.”
Alicia: “Oh. Good. So you can pivot table?”
Candidate: Slight pause. “Yes.”
At this point I would know this person does not know what I’m talking about, so I would up the ante.
Alicia: “What about writing a macro?”
Candidate: “Yes, of course.”
Alicia: “Okay. Please give me an example of a macro you’ve written.”
Candidate: “Um. “
Kids, don’t let this happen to you. If you don’t know how to do it don’t put it on your resume. And if you are asked about your level of proficiency with something, just be honest. That’s all the boss is looking for–will this person fake it or will this person own up but emphasize an ability to learn?
At the end of the day, when you’re running a business, you don’t have time for the fakers. You just want someone who will be accountable and honest.
Also, remember that you are interviewing them. Someone who comes in with a sense of worth (but not cockiness) is a much more enjoyable interview. If you approach it like, “I’m here to make a connection with another human being,” I guarantee you will have more success.
The Follow Up
Usually you won’t know right away if you got the job. I still think it’s good form to send a follow up email of thanks. You can even ask for a business card at the end of the interview if you don’t have the boss’s email. Just show good manners.
Finally, if someone who is interviewing you opts to give you feedback–do yourself a favor and listen. If someone cares enough about you as a human being to go past their trepidation and tell you something about how you are coming across–consider it a gift. What they say is obviously not the word of God, but feedback does tend to point in a direction. You may want to consider what that direction is telling you.
In my time as CEO, I found most recent college graduates had no skills whatsoever in online advertising, but you see, I didn’t expect them to. I was looking for something else: integrity, a work ethic, and a willingness to learn. That, I know, you have in spades.
Finding a job is tough. It takes a lot longer than you would think. My advice? Become an entrepreneur.
For more salient advice from Alicia, visit www.aliciamorga.com