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Job hunting is hard. And it doesn’t help when the advice you get is obvious stuff you could have figured out yourself. After all, you’re an educated professional in the making.
What you’re really looking for is insight into what potential employers expect from a successful job applicant, and how to demonstrate your suitability for the position. You need the whys along with the do’s and don’ts. So here we go…
What Employers Look For
Don’t be fooled by the wording on job ads. Your employer isn’t there to help you achieve your dreams. At least not until you help them achieve theirs. Every business may be different, but just about all of them need to maintain productivity, minimise spending (or maximise value), and remain competitive in their industry.
So regardless of the role, almost every company you approach will want to know you can get the job done, whilst getting on with your colleagues and making a positive contribution to the team. Since hiring and training new staff is relatively expensive, employers will be checking you have the right skillset, mindset and enthusiasm for the position, along with whether you’ll still be the right fit for them (and vice versa) a year or two down the line.
- DO tailor your resume for the role and write a personal cover letter. Keep them succinct and to the point, highlighting why you feel you’re a good match for their needs. Companies may be inundated by responses to an advertised position, so their hiring personnel will appreciate your clear and direct application.
- DO play to your strengths. Despite the buzz about ‘A’ players, teams need a mix of both star performers and ‘B’ players in order to succeed. Misrepresenting what you’re about may land you the job, but how long would you be happy to work in a way that doesn’t suit you?
- DO research the companies you contact. Establish for yourself why they’re worth your time, and what you can give them in return. Relative to your field, think about what you could do personally to contribute to their success. This level of self-awareness and reasoning will help you answer their questions with confidence if you make it to the interview stage.
- DO consider if the company is actually right for you. Landing in a role that doesn’t fit you, or in a team whose culture and values clash with your own, is a fast track to feeling undermined, undervalued and even burned out. You may have to relent on some fronts, but on the whole, it’s important to feel like you belong where you end up.
- DO clean up your social media presence before you apply. A good employer will respect your right to have a life outside work, but appreciate the busy person considering your CV may have to make snap judgements about you based on what they find. Spruce up your LinkedIn profile, sanitize your Facebook, and save those risqué tweets for another day.
- DON’T ignore your extracurricular activities. Your weekend sports or comic book collection might seem irrelevant to the job you’re going for, but they can be a useful indicator of whether you’ll have things in common with your future colleagues. Be sure to frame your hobbies in a way that supports the idea you’re a good fit for the position.
- DON’T apply for the same job more than once. An easily preventable slip-up if you’re hunting for jobs on several platforms, or going through a recruiter. It may be a small issue for you, but for an employer dealing with a pile of applications, the extra processing effort won’t associate good things with your name.
- DON’T make racist, sexist or otherwise discriminatory remarks in your application or interview. This happens more than you’d expect. Even as an honest attempt at humour to establish rapport, it’s a gamble that could flag you as high-risk in terms of future lawsuits and co-worker conflict.
- Finally, DON’T ignore your personal network. Family friends, college introductions, that grown-up someone introduced you to at a barbecue — their personal recommendations can help you get noticed and get past the early stage of an application process; the stage where the company is still deciding whether to give you a chance. If you don’t already have contacts by the time you graduate, consider attending a networking event.
Looking for work can be stressful, especially if you don’t find a job right away. It’s easy to feel powerless, at the mercy of people who, through no fault of yours, may fail to recognise your talents. Be patient. Stay calm. Use your time between applications to work on both your hard and soft skills, so you’re ready for when the perfect job shows up.