Applying for jobs is a bit like dating – constantly trying to figure out what’s going on inside the other party’s head and what you seem to have done right or wrong. For an inside look into the other side of the fence, at least on the employment front, here are some tips from my experience in recruiting college students into various roles within financial services. Granted, the attractive qualities employers are looking for will certainly vary within a single company, let alone amongst many firms and industries. But, here are some common blunders that even very smart and capable applicants across the board don’t always avoid:
1. I need my resume to stand out. Comic Sans MS font or sparkly gold paper will definitely stand out on a resume, but not in the way you want it to. At the outset, I’d say you actually want your resume to fit in: When I have a stack of one hundred resumes in front of me, the first thing I’ll do is look to narrow down the pile by discarding any obvious mismatches. Staunch deviation from formatting norms, obvious spelling errors, or a failure to demonstrably meet the basic qualifications, will each put other applicants ahead. You want to be sure of the requirements of each particular role and tailor your resume if necessary. For example, if a role has a GPA or software proficiency requirement, double check that your resume explicitly lists it. There are probably enough others in the pile that it won’t be necessary to call you and check up on this if the employer isn’t sure at the outset.
2. I'm more convincing in person, so it's okay if my resume doesn't list everything. You may be able to win over an interviewer in person and illuminate in graceful, confident detail the successes you’ve had in your prior endeavors. But before you get to that stage, remember that often the only impression of you that an employer starts with is that piece of paper, so in the brief space you have, include as many relevant experiences, credentials, and interests as you can. Once you’ve managed to keep your resume in the stack for the cursory first review, a recruiter will then drill down into the details – use succinct, effective language to convey your contributions to the organizations you have been a part of and, where possible, include metrics around the positive impact those contributions have made.
3. I submitted my resume to about 100 jobs I'm more than qualified for - odd are I'll get at least one or two interviews. Not necessarily. It’s about quality, not quantity. From my perspective as a recruiter, I might have thousands of applications for one role without the resources to be able to review every one in detail. That means even if you are an ideal candidate on paper, you need something to get yourself on the employer’s radar to make sure your application is considered and doesn’t fall through the cracks – a direct connection to an employee or recruiter at your target company. Take advantage of career fairs, speaker events, and any other opportunities to meet a current employee in person. Utilize your school’s alumni network, LinkedIn, friends, family friends, former colleagues. The chances of your application getting reviewed are much greater when you make an internal connection.
4. I know someone at the firm, I've got it in the bag. Having that connection doesn’t earn you a job; you do. You still have to prove that you are the right fit. What it hopefully gets you is consideration, but you need to be proactive in making this happen. Once you have an entry point, it’s up to you to make it clear to your contacts that you have done the research on the company and know what role(s) you are most interested in, and how this lines up with your intended career goals. That way, your advocates can be as clear and detailed as possible when passing along your name to the recruiting department or through the internal referral system.
5. I had the interview, now I just cross my fingers. Once you’ve had a valuable conversation with someone, whether in an informational or evaluative setting, be sure to ask for his or her contact information and follow up within 48 hours. A thank-you from your iPhone sent on your way down the hall from one interview room to the next is a little too soon, and a week later is a bit too late. It shouldn’t be an essay, but should succinctly reiterate your interests and, if you like, touch on a particular aspect of the role/company that you’ve discussed and are particularly excited about. Depending on what expectations have been set for when you will hear back, it’s fine to follow up politely if you have not heard back by that time, to reiterate your ongoing interest and make sure you are keeping yourself on the radar.
Of course your fit for the role, team, and organization will ultimately be what truly lands you the job. So don’t let the many potential pitfalls in the process, however insignificant they may seem, get in the way.
Victoria Brookman is a campus recruiter for UBS.
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