If your heart rate is a little faster than usual it might be because you’re in the thick of job-application season, so take a breather and slow down in order to make sure you have all the essentials in check. For example: the resume. It’s perhaps the single most important piece of paper you’ll ever send out, as it gets your foot in the door with potential employers. So to make sure you’re resume is doing its job properly, avoid the following:
- Weighing it down with junk. No one wants to know every single thing you’ve ever done ever. Instead of junking up the page with each volunteer opportunity, extracurricular activity, or academic credential, cull out what’s most important. Your resume isn’t a catalog of your life, but instead a streamlined list of what you’ve experienced and achieved in relation to what you’re applying for. In other words: make every word count.
- Stuff that happened a long time ago. If you avoid the above pitfall, you should have no trouble avoiding this one, too. In general, potential employers don’t want a laundry list of, say, your high school achievements. As impressive as they are, if you can’t speak to collegiate or internship experience, then you won’t be taken as seriously as you might be hoping.
- Generalizations. It’s always good to put a “Skills” section on your resume: just a short list of what you’re competent at. For example, if you’re a social media wizard, go ahead and say you’re proficient in the art of Facebook and Twitter. Don’t just put down something general, though, like “media.” There are a lot of different kinds of media, and if you want to be taken seriously you have to get specific.
- Clunky grammar and syntax. There’s no reason why you have to fill up your resume with paragraphs of explanations about your experiences. Chances are if you have to write down a ton of words to explain yourself then you’re doing it wrong, and getting clunky. Instead, write out short, effective lists with efficient and powerful verbs. For example, have you ever helped someone create an organized list of contacts for a specific purpose? Well, then, you might say: “developed a database.”
- Errors. If even one spelling error shows up on your resume then that might be enough to blow your chances, considering you’re going up against many others. So be careful, and proofread, proofread, proofread.
If you apply for a job or internship, chances are you’ll be contacted for a phone interview. Don’t be fooled, as this is an important step in obtaining a job. A solid phone interview often leads to an in-person interview, which can lead to a big opportunity. Here’s how to ace it:
1. Use a cheat sheet. When interviewing on the phone instead of in person, you have a major advantage: you can make a cheat sheet. Seize the opportunity to map out all of your talking points beforehand and lay them out in front of you to take the stress out of completely memorizing what you want to say. But have some flexibility. Just because you prepared for a certain question doesn’t mean your interviewer will ask it, so be ready for anything.
2. Find a quiet setting. Even though speaking with someone over the phone might seem casual, it’s not. Treat your phone interview like an in-person interview by avoiding distractions and finding a quiet place where there’s no background noise. Furthermore, sit in the place where you do work—it’s a small mental reminder that you’re on a work call, not a chat.
3. Use a good phone connection. If you can, use a landline to ensure clear sound and a trusty connection. If on your cell, make sure it’s completely charged, and check the quality of your service. If you can’t access a landline and if you’re uncomfortable using your personal phone then you can try using Skype, which has a reliable voice option if your internet is stable. There’s nothing worse, after all, than getting cut off mid-conversation.
4. Remember who you’re talking to. On the phone, it’s sometimes easy to forget who you’re not chatting with a friend. So keep an even pace, don’t interrupt, and stay professional. Every interview is different, but it’s wise to avoid telling jokes or using slang.
5. Practice. In the age of texting, Facebook chat, and e-mail, the art of speaking on the phone is getting tougher to master. But to do so, ask a friend or parent to pick up their phone and pretend they’re a potential employer. It might seem silly, but the lessons learned are invaluable. You’ll learn how to talk efficiently, how to think quickly, and how to handle pauses in conversation.
Life in college is expensive. I mean, come on, you’ve got bills to pay: that takeout pizza, those school supplies, and not to mention that monstrous tuition bill that eats at your wallet like a crazed Pac-Man. With that in mind, whether you qualify for federal work-study or not, you should do your best to find a job on campus in order to make some easy cash—or at least some spending money. Not sure which job is the best? Here are some common campus employment opportunities that will leave you as happy as the check in your pocket:
- Library assistant. Whether you’re posted up at the reference desk or at the circulation desk, keeping track of books and library materials, this job is kind of a breeze. Of course, the school library isn’t the most hectic or stressful place around, and by virtue of what it is, it’s usually always quiet. What does that mean? Not only are you on the clock for working, but you’ll likely be able to get some reading for class done. Getting paid to do homework? Score.
- The dining hall. I know what you’re thinking: Seriously, the dining hall? Are you crazy? I definitely don’t want to work in the dining hall. True: working with food—especially leftover food—can be kind of gross. And yeah, wiping down table or cleaning dishes might not be the most glamorous job, but hey, you get to experience the customer service business, and more, you can appreciate your own dining time that much more when you can put your feet up and relax. Plus, your parents would probably like to hear that you’re putting in some blood, sweat, and tears in order to earn your keep.
- Residence Assistant. Being a residence assistant (RA) might be the most lucrative job on campus, as you get paid a ton of money, and some schools even offer perks such as free parking, free board, or a free meal plan. While the duties of a residence assistant might be demanding, and while you might not want to be responsible for keeping track of and possibly disciplining your peers, the benefits are obvious: you get to organize social events and be a major leader on campus, all for money.
- Career services. If you snag the opportunity to work in career services, say, as an office assistant, then you’ll get to see all the career opportunities as they come in, and you’ll be surrounded by those who know how to land you a future job. Hey, getting ahead is always good, right? Especially if it comes with a paycheck.
- Art gallery. Art galleries on campus need someone to check visitors in, and that person is often a student. So why not you? Be a loyal patron of the arts as well as a student worker in one fell swoop.
With the job market more saturated than butter, it’s important that you set yourself apart from the rest of the pack. For best results, hone your personal brand. In other words: become your own advocate and become your own personal marketing tool. Here’s how:
- Hone your interests. If you’re going to make yourself into your own product, then you have to know what you’re selling. With that in mind, find your passion, stick with it, and do it well. It’s better to be exceptional at one thing than mediocre at many.
- Find your platform. Once you have your passion in your pocket, start sharing it. For example, you could start a blog or a personal website where you can share your ideas and thoughts. Even if what you’re interested in isn’t quite professional—say, food or photography—still showing your knowledge of the field can’t hurt. Plus, flaunting your communication skills is never a bad idea.
- Network. If you want to get yourself out there, then you have to work at it. In other words, there’s no way anyone will know you exist if you don’t show them. To that end, use social media, peruse other websites and blogs, and then get in touch with those who share similar interests and ideas. That way you can make contacts that will prove invaluable in the future when you’re looking for a job.
- Offer your services. Once you establish your interests, platform, and network, then you can start reaching out. Offer to help others. For example, if you’re a good photographer and you can prove it (on your blog or website, remember), then why not offer to snap some pictures at weddings, or other events where pictures are necessary? That way you’ll spread your name and expertise through practical work experience, which is hugely beneficial to your resume even if you’re not getting paid.
- Don’t be afraid. Sure, the world is a big place and it seems even bigger when you’re trying to make your mark, but with a little elbow grease and a solid attitude then there’s no reason why you can’t be successful. So get out there, hone your craft and vision, and talk about yourself like you’re the best thing ever.
It’s that time of year again: cover letter time. Whether you’re applying for an internship or a job out there in the real world, a solid cover letter could get your foot in the door of a potential employer. Without a doubt, the key to snagging an interview is making a good first impression. And that first impression is your cover letter. To ensure that yours is as effective as possible, heed the following:
1. Show your interest. Because you’re likely applying to a number of jobs or internships, it might be tempting to send the same letter to each one. While it’s okay to have your cover letter imply the same goals, it should be specific, and should show why each specific job you’re applying to is interesting to you, and also a good fit. You can do this by researching your potential employer’s website, and by finding out what’s important to them.
2. Show off, but not too much. There’s a fine line between boasting and selling yourself short, neither of which are good things. In your cover letter, you have to be able to show you have the skills for the prospective job. To do so, choose one or two strong examples from your previous experience and demonstrate how you did that job well. Then, talk about how you’ll use those skills to do the job you’re applying for even better. In other words, you want your potential employer to know that they can trust you to excel without coming across as a braggart.
3. Explain. If there’s a blemish or weak spot on your resume (for example, if there are gaps in your employment history), explain your case. You don’t want your potential employer to assume the worst-case scenario.
4. A cover letter is never optional. Sometimes job and internship listings say that a cover letter is optional and that only a resume is required. Here’s a rule of thumb: set yourself apart from the rest by not only submitting a cover letter, but a stellar one.
5. Proofread. Draft your cover letter, and then draft and draft again. Something as simple as a grammatical mistake could mean the difference between getting an interview and not getting anything at all. Sounds over dramatic, but it’s true: don’t sabotage yourself by making a simple mistake.