It’s a dilemma: Employers are looking for qualified candidates with relevant experience to fill their open positions; however, most recent college graduates are just starting out in their fields and have yet to acquire such job experience. While this void can be a liability during the job search process, it won't necessarily prevent recent grads from scoring entry-level positions. The key is to strategically display on your résumé what experience you have gained thus far in a manner that recruiters find appealing.
You can increase your chances of finding a job that matches your skills by following the five tips below.
1. Focus on career objectives.
When recruiting recent college graduates, employers are often surprisingly forgiving about lack of job experience. They recognize that recent grads have not yet had time to gain much work experience beyond part-time jobs and internships. However, employers want to know that prospective employees are focused and goal-driven. If extensive work references are not available, the best way to prove that an applicant has a bright future is to craft objectives that highlight the qualities in which the employer is most interested. Carefully read the job description, and, if you are able, talk with someone who holds or has held that same position. Bonus points if you have a connection to someone who works at the company at which you are applying and can gauge the company’s values and incorporate that into your descriptions.
2. Highlight internship experience.
Paid internships have recently transformed into a holy grail for job-seeking college students. These positions greatly enhance the likelihood of finding a job immediately after graduation, in part because that job typically comes from the employer that supplied the internship. According to a 2014 study from the National Association of Colleges and Employers, 65.4 percent of graduates who completed paid internships at for-profit companies received job offers prior to graduation.
Internship companies do not always award full-time positions, but it is still possible to leverage experience gained during internships while looking for outside work. Internships directly related to the job opening are most valuable and should be prominently featured on résumés.
3. Keep the important information at the top.
In a competitive job market, recruiters may look through dozens, even hundreds of applications before finding the right employee. Eye-tracking research from TheLadders, an online career site, suggests that these busy recruiters only spend six seconds glancing over each résumé before deciding whether a given applicant is a good fit. During those six seconds, recruiters examine information included near the top of the résumé, including the name of the applicant, the applicant's job history, and his or her education background. To impress a recruiter in less than ten seconds, place the most relevant information near the top of the résumé.
4. Customize the application to fit the company.
It is common knowledge that a cover letter should be tailored to reflect a specific position, but this is also true for résumés. Certain types of experience are more likely to appeal to certain employers. Some will value volunteer positions just as much as they value paid internships. Others want to see proof of academic excellence. Research each company carefully to determine what recruiters prefer to see in the résumés they examine, and then tailor generic résumés accordingly.
5. Avoid spelling and grammar mistakes.
This suggestion might seem like a given, but it's worth repeating, as recruiters frequently complain about the error-riddled résumés they receive. Every other detail of a résumé could be perfect, but one too many typos will kill all chances of landing that dream job. Ideally, a résumé will be analyzed thoroughly, not only by the applicant, but also by parents, siblings, friends, or coworkers. These helpful individuals can check for everything from formatting issues to spelling errors.
An ideal résumé will feature clear objectives and relevant experience. Most college graduates possess more experience than they suspect — they simply need to learn how to highlight it in a way that will impress potential employers.
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