You've done everything right: worked hard to achieve good grades, sacrificed your weekends and evenings to be a leader of various campus clubs, all while holding down a part-time job.
Congratulations: You're a clone – at least on paper. Grades are rarely reported on resumes, almost half of postsecondary students in Canada work part-time while studying, and other markers of achievement, such as being involved in clubs, can be hard to evaluate and benchmark from the point of view of an employer.
In today's job market, being qualified for the job at hand is not enough. Job hunting has become a skill in and of itself, and a successful job hunt requires finding a way to stand out – on paper and in person.
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The digital transformation that's occurred in the world of hiring is both a blessing and a curse for job seekers. It's a blessing because it's easier than ever to find and apply for jobs, and a curse for the same reason: Ease of access means more competition for every job.
Further, the digitalization of hiring inside organizations means that your application is often reviewed and qualified or disqualified by a computer before an actual human sees it. If it gets through that stage, the average recruiter spends just six seconds reviewing it before making a decision.
This is a challenge for all job seekers, but especially for new or recent graduates without a strong list of relevant workplace achievements to naturally set you apart.
Fortunately, there's a flip side. A 2013 study by TheLadders showed that the average job seeker spent just 50 seconds reviewing a job ad before dismissing it as unsuitable, and only 77 seconds before deciding to apply. In other words, many people apply for jobs without any actual investigation into the suitability of the role and company against their skills, interests and flow.
Your competition doesn't seem as stiff when much of it isn't really making an effort to compete.
Therefore, while you may appear to have the same or similar achievements as your peers on paper, you're not a clone in real life, and the job hunt offers many opportunities to stand out and showcase your fit for the role – if you're willing to put in the work.
Here are some tips for standing out in the job hunt:
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● Spend time assessing job opportunities and the companies offering them. Once you've made a judgment that you a) can do a job and b) really want to do a job, spend even more time crafting your application. It should be true to who you are and what you can offer, while also specifically referring to the requirements of the job. Remember, by spending more than a minute reviewing a job advertisement, you've already made more of an effort than the average candidate, and it will show.
● Do your research. It's hard for anyone to really know what it's like to work at a company or in a specific type of job, but as a new or recent graduate, your limited workplace exposure makes it even harder. Because of this, few candidates submit applications and arrive at job interviews truly prepared. Take the time to learn about the industry, company and job role (in that order) – this knowledge and understanding will set you apart in all stages of the hiring process.
● When possible, conduct your research with real people. Make an effort to connect with people from the industry to learn about the industry, people from the company to learn about their culture, and with people who occupy a similar job role (from any company) to learn about the job. The key here is to not connect with the purpose of securing the job, but rather to genuinely investigate and learn.
● Take advantage of the opportunity to submit a custom cover letter. It's easier to create a single cover letter and tweak individual words or phrases to suit the job opportunity at hand, but this strategy is a one-way ticket to the "no" pile. If you really want the job you're applying for (and you should, if you've followed the previous steps), a custom, compelling cover letter is an incredible opportunity to showcase your suitability and passion for the job – don't waste it.
Lauren Friese is the founder and former CEO of TalentEgg, a campus recruitment website. She is a keynote speaker and consultant on digital media, millennials, and work.