You need experience to get a job, but you need a job to get experience. New college grads often find themselves caught in the middle of this classic Catch 22, and may spend months trying to convince someone to take a chance and hire them. Fortunately, there are a few things you can do to emphasize the experience you do have, and, while you’re at it, make people think you’re so competent that they forget about everything else!
Step One: Irresistible Resume: The purpose of a resume is to get you invited for an interview, and writing an impressive resume is simple if you keep a few things in mind. First, employers never read a resume in its entirety, and the average resume gets read in about five seconds.
Employers like numbers and statistics – hard facts that show how a candidate was directly responsible for making a company more profitable. Now let’s be real here. When you’re a new college grad, you probably haven’t had the opportunity to own projects in organizations you’ve worked for or interned with. However, the chances are excellent that you’ve had some measurable impact along the way.
For example, let’s say that you sold ice cream at Baskin Robbins for four summers. Maybe, while you were there, you helped the manager develop and execute a campaign to drive traffic from the nearby shopping mall. On your resume, instead of simply mentioning that you passed out free ice cream cone coupons, why not showcase your true contribution with something like: “designed and distributed snack-on-us coupons targeted to mall shoppers, increasing store traffic by 25 percent”?
See how the second statement bolsters the perception of ownership, creativity, and business-savvy? Before sending out your resume, consider how you can position mundane tidbits of experience to become the very items that peak a potential employer’s interest.
Step Two: Ultra-professional Appearance: In her book You’ve Only Got Three Seconds, personal marketing consultant Camille Lavington says that the moment a person sees you, she forms an indelible impression. She immediately evaluates your clothing, hairstyle, grooming habits, facial cues and posture.
In terms of being taken seriously in the workplace, your young age can be a disadvantage. Therefore, you should counteract your appearance as a twenty-something with limited experience by dressing up rather than down. A manager once told me that if I dressed like the VPs, people would be able to picture me fitting in with them instead of the other entry-level girls wearing flip-flops in the elevator.
Even if the environment you’re in is business casual, show up wearing a clean and neatly tailored suit. If you’re a guy, sport a tie, shave close and temporarily remove earrings if you have them. Ladies should invest in two nice pairs of pumps and a few pieces of quality gold or silver jewelry. The way you style your hair can also make you look older and more mature, so think about that too as you prepare to come across like you’ve worked in Corporate America all your life!
Step Three: Smooth Interview: In his book How to Win Friends and Influence People, author and motivational guru Dale Carnegie says that the person who can speak acceptably is usually considered to possess greater ability than he actually has. In my experience, this is true. If you look and act like you know what you’re talking about, people will think that you do – regardless of the reality.
When you’re twenty-something, you don’t have a vast store of knowledge and years of experience to draw from but still need to create the perception of being competent and informed. The key to coming across this way in an interview is to prepare, but not too much. You want to do just enough research so that you know what to expect and can speak intelligently on the points related to your job function.
Determine in advance what type of interview you’ll be having so you aren’t caught off guard. Will the meeting be one-on-one, or will you be sitting in front of a panel of executives? Will you be asked to consider a real-life business problem? Once you have this information, practice giving succinct and articulate responses in front of friends or a mirror. In the actual interview, begin with a strong handshake, speak slowly and confidently, ask thoughtful questions, and listen more than you talk.
Few new college grads have a wealth of experience to boast about, but by packaging your resume and yourself in a skillful manner, you’ll appear seasoned beyond your years and will succeed in getting in the door – and making that doorstop hold.
Alexandra Levit worked for a Fortune 500 software company and an international public relations firm before starting Inspiration @Work, an independent career consulting business. She's the author of They Don't Teach Corporate in College: A Twenty-Something's Guide to the Business World (Career Press 2004; http://www.alexandralevit.com).