By Anita Bruzzese
If you want to be successful in finding a job after you graduate from college, be prepared to do some homework.
What? You thought your homework days were over? Not so, say hiring managers and other experts.
First, you need to make sure that you craft your resume and cover letter for each job so that you're highlighting as many of the skills as possible that the employer is seeking. Second, do your research on the employer so that you can mention in your cover letter that you're inspired, for example, by the organization's focus on sustainability or are attracted to the organization's innovative culture.
When looking for a job, it's also important to do more than just send a resume and cover letter to an employer. Reach out to others through various networking efforts, whether it's through a school career center, alumni association or various industry associations that are open to students. Attend networking events, making sure you interact personally with others. If you're only making contacts via social networking, take it to the next level by setting up one-on-one meetings or scheduling a phone call.
Once you get an interview, then you still need to do more homework so that you can be prepared to give employers what they want.
"As a recruiter, even if I am looking for someone with a deep set of specific technical skills, I want to hear an answer that shows passion, curiosity and an interest in learning," says Mic Fleming with YESSHR.
Alexandra Levit, author of "They Don't Teach Corporate in College," says that while young job seekers in the past have been able to rely on their tech knowledge to impress employers, "it's not that special anymore" and recent graduates are going to have to emphasize they also have other skills.
Specifically, in a survey of employers, 93 percent report that "a candidate's demonstrated capacity to think critically, communicate clearly and solve complex problems is more important than his or her undergraduate degree."
Levit says that employers are looking "for those who don't have to be hand-held and are able to go into a job and learn and be self-sufficient and be self-starters. Across the board, employers want those with soft skills – those people who can show empathy and creativity and good judgment."
Interview tips to get hired
Once you're successful in your networking efforts or an employer responds to your job application, then it's time to do your homework for a job interview. If you want to know how to be successful in a job interview, consider that you need to:
- Be on your best manners. Some of the most common things that can get someone eliminated from consideration is showing up late for an interview, dressing unprofessionally, not making eye contact, texting or taking a phone call or talking badly about others. Remember: Employers are looking for those who will be responsible, show self-awareness and get along with others. If you are rude to your interviewer or anyone else you meet, you can seriously hurt your chances no matter how smart you may be.
- Practice speaking skills. While you may have been talking since you were a toddler, your speaking skills may not measure up with potential employers. Once you land an interview, you don't want to use upspeak ("My name is Andy? I'm a recent graduate?"). Also, break the habit of using sentence fillers such as "you know" or "umm" or saying "like" continually. “Practice speaking in complete declarative sentences. A confident speaking style can cover a multitude of sins," advises Denise Dudley, a longtime corporate trainer.
- Demonstrate problem-solving. "Early careerists should demonstrate how you have adapted, solved small problems and collaborated with others to develop solutions to unexpected problems. Embrace this concept and talk to employers about how you have done this in your education, your internships and jobs," says John M. O'Connor of Career Pro Inc.
- Ask questions. Always be prepared in any interview to make queries about the job, the company or the industry. "Your questions are the best reflection of your interest and skills," says Kim Seeling Smith of Ignite Capital. "Don’t wait to be asked if you have any questions—engage your interviewee."
Finally, don't forget to practice. Ask family or friends to interview you and record the conversations to spot instances where you're not clear in your answers or you fall into bad speaking habits. Just like acing a college course, acing a job interview requires you to do your homework if you want to succeed.
Anita Bruzzese is an award-winning journalist and the author of two career-related books.