Article originally published in the Philadelphia Business Journal on January 21, 2020
It’s that time of year when college seniors approach me and ask for advice as they start the search for their first job after they graduate. I tell them that their resume needs to show that they are different from their peers. The advice I share is based on my experience, having hired dozens of individuals for all organizational levels.
My advice to college seniors is not much different than what I share with any job seeker, regardless of where they are in their career. Your resume needs to demonstrate that you are different than the other individuals applying for the job, so you get through the screening process and invited in for an interview. Your resume should list not activities, but what you have accomplished in previous positions.
If you are a college senior searching for your first job, list your co-op or internship experiences, and note the improvements that you have suggested and implemented to your company’s business processes. Include your successes in your on-campus or off- campus organizations.
All resumes should use action words for past achievements in former positions, for example: created, developed, expanded, implemented, improved, launched, led and restructured. These words show that you have a bias for action and indicate initiative, not passivity. Some career advisors suggest that these be written in the present tense. I disagree. It is more powerful to attach the action word to previous accomplishments that you can talk about at an interview.
Seniors are usually advised to keep their resume to one page to accommodate resume scanners, which are used by some companies to quickly eliminate those that don’t fit the job. I never liked that rule, especially if your experience and accomplishments need more than one page. Try to determine if you must submit a one pager to make the scanner cut. Later, you can send the interviewer a multi-page resume before your interview.
Research the company at which you are applying for a position to ensure this is the type of company you want to work for. The company will conduct due diligence on you. Do the same on the company. Determine if the culture of a prospective employer is a good fit for you. Stay away from a company that has a reputation for unethical dealings with employees or with customers, or has a toxic culture.
When you are interviewed, not only should you prepare questions to ask HR and the hiring manager about the company and job, but also prepare what you want to share with the interviewer about yourself to indicate you are the best candidate for the job.
Talk about the following traits/skills during the interview:
Talk about the results that you achieved in your previous positions. How did those results support the goals of your organization, or those of a customer or client? Show how you have been innovative and have exercised initiative. A potential employer will assess what you can do for their company, based on what you accomplished at your previous employer.
Focus on the customer/client
The Holy Grail of any business is to be the preferred provider to its market and the company that customers/clients will choose first when purchasing products/services. How have you helped your previous employer travel the journey to be the preferred provider to its market?
All employees have internal and/or external customers/clients. If you held a staff position, your job was to help other staff and line units within your company be successful in achieving their goals. If you held a line position, your job was to help your company’s clients or customers be successful in their businesses. How have you done so? Talk about how your style is to collaborate with others within the company to achieve results.
Dedication to continuous improvement
In your previous jobs, if you felt there was a more effective approach to accomplishing your organization’s goals, did you challenge paradigms and the accepted ways of doing things within your area of responsibility? Challenging the status quo shows initiative and your desire to improve the company’s operation.
You should talk about how you share your expectations and jointly develop goals with your direct reports without micromanaging how those goals are achieved. Talk about how you help create a sense of ownership in your employees for what they do and hold them accountable for results. Share how you have communicated your expectations to your direct reports, ensured they had needed resources and cut them loose to do their thing.
Effectiveness at selling your ideas
People who are in sales aren’t the only ones who sell. Everyone is selling their ideas to their boss, their peers, the teams they serve on, and their direct reports. This requires good presentation skills. It also requires good listening skills, not only to address objections, but to be open to other ideas. Share examples of how you have sold your ideas to your organization and valued the opinions of others.
Technical skills are threshold skills – those that qualify you, but don’t necessarily get you your next job. The skills identified above are commonly referred to as soft skills. They are not. They are power skills. Power skills are essential for achieving success. When competing for your next job, give examples of how you have demonstrated your power skills in previous positions.
The key to landing your next job is to differentiate yourself, demonstrate that you are an effective leader, possess both technical and power skills and develop a reputation for achieving results within your field. Do this well, and employers will seek you out.
Stan Silverman is founder and CEO of Silverman Leadership and author of “Be Different! The Key to Business and Career Success.” He is also a speaker, advisor and widely read nationally syndicated columnist on leadership, entrepreneurship and corporate governance. He can be reached at Stan@SilvermanLeadership.com.