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How to Stand Out: Skills to Getting Hired

Getting hired out of college requires tenacity, savvy, and a bit of luck, especially as the market is shifting and companies are coping with the changes of COVID-19. Many internships and positions have been eliminated as businesses focus on the core jobs needed to run efficiently. Finding the balance between getting a job you feel passionately about while navigating a tough job market means finding how you stand out among the legions of other graduates to get the job.

It may be somewhat disheartening to think of yourself as a commodity for potential employers. But the reality is this, employers are looking to acquire the best individuals with the skill and education needed to fill their ranks.

If you’re about to graduate college, regardless of the market, the art of securing the job really begins with solid research and awareness of how to solve needs displayed by companies in open job postings. Making an impact and distinguishing yourself – both in your resume and an interview – can take many forms.

Here are a few ways to maximize your opportunities:

  • Develop Your Narrative

Getting noticed and hired begins with creating your employment narrative or verbal resume. This is your “stump speech,” or “elevator speech,” that you’ll use in cover letters, networking meetings, and interviews. Script the narrative so that it’s familiar and focused on the elements you want to share. This way, if you are asked a question multiple times throughout a series of interviews, your answers will be more polished and closely synchronized.

This narrative is wonderful tool to use for phone interviews, where you can lay it out in front of you, along with your resume, job description, etc. to refer to as you discuss the position at hand. Like all interview questions, it should be two minutes or less. Why two minutes? Anything longer can appear like you are monopolizing the conversation, and depending on the ego of the interviewer, this will not enhance your candidacy. Crisp, succinct, on-point answers are a winning interview combination. Three steps to developing your narrative:

  1. Start Simple: Create a simple, but powerful explanation of who you are and what you do. One way to create this statement is by stating, “What am I most proud of?” and providing a short answer. The question “Tell me about yourself” is one of the most popular interview questions and frequently the first one that will be asked. This gives you an opportunity to introduce yourself and share key details that are important to knowing you better. It should not be a pure recounting of your resume. Instead, fill in the white space which aren’t explicitly stated in your resume, and provide them a little more color of who you are.
  2. Make It Personal: Take interesting elements about you and weave it into a short story to create a personal connection. Keep the discussion on track and centered around the position you’re interviewing for. The one factor we all can’t escape is that people hire people they like. Make yourself likable by sharing a few small or relevant personal attributes and creating a positive first impression.
  3. Get to the Point: Summarize your college work or the early part of your career. How did your college path or career unfold? Which key factors drove the choices you made? Use this paragraph to create a highly summarized version of where you started, what you’re interested and passionate about, and what it led to this position.
  • Develop & Leverage Your Network:

Leverage your network to get noticed by potential employers. Applying to job postings isn’t enough to get noticed. Have a goal to achieve 1-3 touchpoints with an employer so your name becomes synonymous with the job. Doing this requires cultivating a network of people that know your career intentions who can help connect you and advocate on your behalf. This means going to school career centers, job fairs, school career events, applying for internships, attending industry events, and participating in professional luncheons where you can meet people.

Don’t be shy; think of every social interaction as one that could potentially lead you to an employer. Try to make a favorable impression, even if it’s not towards a specific job at the time. And, with whomever you meet, always offer to return the favor of creating a connection. Start building your own network with:

  1. Professional Online Profile: Develop a LinkedIn profile to clearly state the intention of your career. List your academic credentials and job/internship details that you had during college. Connect with friends, family, and your college instructors. As you see job postings that you’re interested in, use LinkedIn to look up who in your network may know someone at that company and ask for an introduction. If you don’t know anyone at the company, try to find a Human Resources or Talent Acquisition contact for the company and send them an invitation to connect along with a polite note conveying your interest in the company and position.
  2. Business Cards: Creating business cards with your contact information that articulate your intentions. Have them handy at all times. For example, if you’re looking for entry-level roles in finance and accounting, create a card that states under your name, “Entry-level Finance & Accounting Professional”. Several sites exist like Vistaprint to create inexpensive and professional cards.
  3. Follow-Up & Stay in Touch: Email your list of contacts when you see jobs available that you’re interested in and ask if they know someone at the company with whom you can network. Be polite and deliberate, letting them know that you would appreciate a referral or introduction.
  • Do the Research

Impress your potential employer by demonstrating that you’ve taken the time to understand how their company works. Company culture is very important. Fitting in to both a position and the company as a whole will be something hiring managers look for. Also, remember that interviewing is a two-way street – take the time to get to know the company and see if this seems like a good fit both skill-wise, job-wise, and culture-wise for you. When researching, keep in mind:

  1. The Business Model: Understanding the company’s revenue model. This means knowing their customers and stakeholders, the main mission statement and goals, the sales cycle, and how the company generates revenue. You can find this information from reviewing company’s website, financial disclosures (like earnings reports), the annual report, and credible media and news coverage. If you’re going on an interview, make sure you’re current on the news coming out of the company. Tactfully use this information during the interview process to demonstrate your commitment and strong interest in joining their team.
  2. The Key Competitors: Get to know the company’s top three competitors. Following the same process as above, dig into their competitors and how they structure their businesses. Be aware of the similarities and differences between your target company and their competitors. Prospective employers will be very impressed with your research and insight, further demonstrating your commitment to working with the firm.
  3. Your Own Insights & Questions: Integrating the research into your narrative. Take the time to distill the research into insightful observations and be ready to refer to them during the interview. Weave the insights into your narrative. Ask questions about the role, the company’s strategy, future investments, etc. Linking your ability to not only do the job but to understand the company’s overall needs shows critical thinking, preparation, and a strong interest in the job and company. Effectively doing this in front of the interviewer will make you stand out from the pack of other candidates.

Getting hired, particularly right out of college, requires some up-front work and tenacity to set you apart from the pack of applicants and candidates. These skills will benefit you throughout your career regardless of the job market you’re facing. Crafting and communicating a thoughtful narrative to your network and prospective employers builds a consistent message about you. Doing the homework on where you’re targeting and interviewing shows commitment and critical thinking that employers will value and will reassure you that you’re making the right employment decision. But do the work and you will succeed in your job hunt.

About the Author

Christopher G. Bona is adjunct faculty at Purdue University’s Brian Lamb School of Communication. He teaches a mix of business and communications courses.

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