Job Advice for New College Grads

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Posts Tagged ‘application’

Online Application Resume Tips

Posted by James M on November 6, 2009

This will just be a quick post to give a few small tips regarding resume submission when completing an online application.  There are basically two types of submission methods used depending on the company.  Some companies offer a direct way to browse, select, and upload your resume in Microsoft Word (or a similar) format.  This is easy enough, my advice would be the same as if you were submitting a hardcopy resume (See my list of Resume Tips articles for more information).  

So let’s focus on the other form of resume submission.  This common method requires you to submit your resume in text format via a text entry box.  Companies like this submission process because it allows the information to be dumped into the company’s own database which optimizes keyword search and resume review.  

When submitting your resume via this system, consider these helpful hints.

1)  Replace bullets with asterisks to ensure your resume’s formatting is properly rendered.  

2)  Consider replacing bolded headings (which won’t show up in a plain text format) with all capitalized headings to help segment your text resume.

3)  Simplify your resume’s formatting so that all lines are left aligned.

4)  Add extra info.  As you may know I am a big advocate of the one-page resume for most recent graduates.  The online resume submission, however, does allow you to “cheat” and add a little extra information to your resume since there is no idea of a “page” in text format.  Be cautious however, the fundamental philosophy of a susinct and powerful resume still holds.  Click here for a post on the reason for a one-page resume.

5)  Try it out first!  Have a copy of your resume available in text format so that you can simply cut and paste when filling out online applications.

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What Should I Focus On To Help Make Me A Good Candidate (More Than A Year Before Graduation)?

Posted by James M on January 9, 2009

This post is dedicated to those students who have a year or more left before they graduate from university.  For those that have less than a year, I’ll be writing a post for you soon.

In this post I’ll rank the key areas of focus in order of importance.  These rankings are not absolute and we’ll talk about some of the exceptions as we move forward, but all things being equal this is how I would rank them.

  • GPA
  • Work Experience
  • Research
  • Volunteer Experiences
  • Study abroad opportunities

Let’s break this down a little further:

GPA

For better or worse your grades are the number one factor influencing employers (at least on paper).  That isn’t to say if you don’t have a 4.0, you can’t get a job.  You most assuredly can.  But if you have 1 year or more left in your college career, you have enough time to significantly alter your GPA.  More importantly you have the chance to establish a strong upward trend in your academic performance.  So although you may not be able to say “I have a 3.8 cumulative GPA.”  What you might be able to say is, “Although I struggled early on in college and only achieved a 2.8 GPA going into my last year and a half of college, I was able to focus and achieve an overall GPA of 3.4 in my final two years.”

It is also important to note that your GPA is the only piece of your application that has minimum requirements for some entry-level positions.  Often times I have seen companies who require a 3.0, 3.2, or 3.5 GPA to apply for a particular position. This is not true of work experience, volunteer experience, undergraduate research, etc.  So, while your lack of work experience or research may inhibit your application, your GPA can, in a very real way, completely exclude you from particular positions.

The final reason to focus on your GPA is more of a philosophical one.  You are going to college to learn and your GPA is as good a measure as is readily available of your success in learning the target subjects.  Volunteering is good for the planet and work experience provides professional self-enrichment, but you are not going to school to work.  You are in school to learn, so that later in life, namely after you graduate, then you can begin a career.  Someone is paying a lot for your education, maybe your parents or a family member, maybe the government, maybe yourself, but either way your time in class is being paid for.  Do your best to respect yourself and your personal academic pursuits and the parties that are paying for your education.

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Work Experience

Work experience is the next most beneficial item for boosting your application.  Although, a terrific research opportunity or volunteer experience may be worth giving up an internship or co-op for, work experience inherently offers something the other two options can not—a chance to work in the “real” world.  The chance to earn a paycheck.  The chance to be a legal member of a corporation or non-profit and have the responsibilities that go with that position.

Work experience is also the most practical of the areas I’m discussing here.  The reasons are obvious—if you are looking to work at a corporation or non-profit after graduation, what better way to prepare than working for one of those entities before graduation.  Make the most of your internships and co-ops, taking on extra responsibility when possible, turning in only the highest quality work, and doing as networking as possible.

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Volunteer Experience

I am a big fan of volunteer experience, and I think it only becomes more important and applicable as your time in university diminishes.  My belief is based on the wide array of so-called “soft skills” (leadership, teamwork, etc.) than can be gained while volunteering.  Many of these skills and experiences are highly sought after by employers and are one of the key components they look for in work experience that we discussed above.  Work experience often has the benefit of being more relevant, however volunteer experience has the advantage that it is often more accessible.  Given a year or more, it is not at all uncommon to be able to lead multiple major projects, one every few months or so, at one or more community organizations in your neighborhood.  These projects don’t have to be complex, leading a park cleanup, organizing a food drive, or helping to make partnerships with new clients are all exceedingly valuable experiences that will really make your application stand out when recruiting season comes.  So start talking to organizations in your area and see what leadership roles that have now, or in the near future that you can hop aboard.

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Research

Research has both benefits and drawbacks.  Because research takes place in the academic environment it offers a great chance for personal enrichment in a particular area of academics.  Indeed most research projects involve very specific investigation and experiments in search of an answer to a specific hypothesis.  This narrow focus, benefits the student by making them a subject matter expert, at least in principle, on a particular topic.  But because of this specificity, the broader subject knowledge and body of skills used in a typical entry-level position in a corporation are not developed.

This has to be weighed against one’s ultimate career goals.  For some, who hope to go back to graduate school or get a post in a research laboratory or academic facility, research may be the most important experience to acquire while getting an undergraduate education.  However, for most students that is not the case, and in general an undergraduate research post does not offer the practicality and breadth of experience as more traditional internship or co-op work experience.

That being said some school’s research programs partner with outside organizations in more of a joint approach.  If this is the case, especially if the collaborative program is with one of your companies of interest, you should well consider this opportunity as one of the most valuable available to you as an undergraduate.

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Study Abroad

Studying abroad is a great opportunity, especially if it incorporates a language component.  However, from an academic point of view, these experiences still amount to you attending classes at a university which has no more value than what you would have been doing if you stayed at your home university.

There may be exceptions to this rule depending on the company or field you want to work for.  For example, if you know in your heart of hearts that you want to work for a company in Italy or with a company with very close ties to Italy, then a study abroad experience in Italy may well be worth its weight in gold.  Barring such a situation however, study abroad experiences may not significantly change your application status.  This does not mean that you should avoid it however.  Studying abroad may well be your most enriching personal experience, and ultimately personal growth is more important in the long term than career growth.

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The Final Word

All of this must be taken in context.  Of course there are amazing internships, research projects, and volunteer opportunities available that would shatter this structured hierarchy.  And if you come across such an opportunity then I strongly encourage you to take it.  What constitutes a great opportunity will vary depending on your career and life goals, but be bold and trust your instincts and these opportunities will reveal themselves to you.

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Negotiating Salary

Posted by James M on November 14, 2008

Aaah, the ever popular question: to negotiate or not to negotiate.  Every time I speak to students at workshops and career panels the issue of salary negotiation inevitably arises.  It seems to be all the rage to “win” a negotiation by squeezing every penny out of a potential employer and get away with “one-upping” them, not to mention getting a healthy ego boost. I will never understand the mindset behind this desire and it is one I discourage.

I usually discourage negotiating salary for several reasons.  First, and most practical, employer salaries are not created out of thin air nor are they somehow made up on the spot.  They are based on a wide range of data including geography, median salaries in the industry, and the financial health of the company itself.  Companies very rarely, if ever, are trying to “put one over on you” by making an offer unreasonably low.

By not accepting the job in favor of negotiating, you risk having the company rescind their initial offer or, potentially worse, creating a sour and awkward beginning to your new career.  Moreover, as a matter of principle, there’s much more to a job than money—trust me.  As a high-level executive at Boeing once told me when I started my career there, “sometimes you’re overpaid, sometimes you’re underpaid, but by the end of your career everything usually balances out.”  Rather than focusing on negotiating, I would recommend working exceedingly hard after you begin your career and making your employer see what you are worth first hand.  Money always follows success regardless of industry or position.

There are a few limited circumstances where negotiating might be reasonable for an entry-level candidate. The most obvious is if you have multiple offers and the salary or some other tangible benefit really is the deciding factor.  For example, if you already have an offer from Company A for $55,000 a year and Company B offers you $50,000 a year, it is reasonable to discuss with Company B that, although you are excited about the possibility of working for them, another company has offered you a higher salary and unless they can match it you’re afraid you’ll have to respectfully decline their offer.  However, think long and hard about situations such as this.  Giving up $5,000 in salary starts to seem like a bargain if you get stuck working long hours in a job you despise.  In my opinion you are better off making a decision based on “fit” and work-life balance and ignoring the salary (within reason).

Other situations where negotiating may be reasonable might include the case where you clearly have a select set of skills and competencies that a normal entry-level candidate lacks.  This may occur for various reasons including work experience acquired before you started your university study (or perhaps if you took a year or more off during college to pursue a career), or if you have some extraordinary academic qualifications such as a dual degree in engineering and finance, for example.  Even in these situations however, I would proceed with caution.

If you do decide to negotiate your salary or other benefits I recommend doing so with facts and data.  This means doing a lot of research about the company and typical industry salaries and their associated experience level and making a strong quantitative argument about how you stand out from a typical candidate based on this information and what your target salary would be.  In addition, it goes without saying (but I’ll do so anyway) that you need to negotiate in the most cordial way possible and retain any contacts you have at the negotiating company if the negotiation breaks down and you decide to go elsewhere.

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Resume Tips – Discussing Number of Hours Worked

Posted by James M on November 14, 2008

Today’s resume tip is a very simple trick to help shore up your resume’s “Experience” section as well as your overall application.

The trick is simply to add the number of hours per week (or per month) you worked for those jobs you held while attending college.  For example, if you had a job for 6 months during your junior year of college, you would add an extra bullet under this particular piece of work experience.  This bullet would say something very simple like:  “Worked 20hrs/week.”

So your work experience section for this job might look something like this:

Stone Gardens Rock Climbing Gym                Nov. 2007 – Present
Kids Class Volunteer
Seattle, Washington

  • Taught a group of 12 children ages 7 to 13 basic climbing terminology, safety procedures, and technique
  • Monitored general behavior and safety of kids while in the gym environment
  • Time commitment: 15 hours per week

This particular sample job may or may not be placed on your resume depending on its applicability to your target position.  For this example let’s assume you are applying to a community outreach position where part of your job is mentoring children, so this work experience would definitely be applicable.

So why would we add the extra bullet detailing the number of hours worked per week?  Well, for one thing you are giving scope to your experience as I discussed in a previous post entitled “Resume Tip – Use Numbers.”  In short, working 5 hours per week is different than working 15 which is different still than holding a full-time 40hr per week position while attending school.  By providing this valuable information the recruiter will have some basis with which to evaluate the rest of your application, most importantly your GPA.  For example, I would argue that earning a GPA of 3.5 with no college job at all, while commendable, is not nearly as impressive as earning, say, a 3.2 GPA while working 35 hours per week.  So adding this piece of information helps to put your overall application in perspective and acts to give you a “pass” for performance that might be slightly lower than it would have been otherwise.

One last note.  If, by working during college, you were able to fund a significant portion of your college education (which includes living expenses other than tuition that might normally be covered by a loan) you should also mention this on your resume.  This can be either in the Summary of Qualifications section (which I’ll blog about soon) or by adding a bullet to the applicable job in the “Experience” section of your resume.  Here is an example: “Funded 60% of living and tuition expenses from Dec. 2006 to May 2008.”  This statement will have very broad implications for your overall application and will show a potential employer a variety of skills such as the ability to work independently, strong responsibility, multitasking, and, perhaps most importantly, the willingness to work very hard to achieve an important goal.

Although it may seem like a small thing, many recruiters I’ve talked to attest to the effectiveness of this tip.

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