Although there has been substantial improvement in the job market, opportunities are still hard to come by for college students. With the odds stacked against us, we must avoid as many mistakes as possible. So when you’re looking to prepare your application and resume for a job opportunity, you may want to stay away from outdated how-to articles and even your parents' advice. While they may mean well, what is expected from applicants has changed throughout the years. Below are six antiquated job search rules and tips for what to do instead.
1. Putting an objective on your resume
For many of us, writing the objective is the easiest part of creating a resume. All we have to do is string some words together and boom—we have the vaguest statement known to mankind. While having an objective is something we still see on example resumes, interview coach Barry Drexler, says it’s pointless.
Basically, it takes up space that could otherwise be used for more relevant information about yourself. “Don’t put an objective on resumes. Instead, replace it with a summary of skills and abilities. For example, advanced Excel skills,” Drexler says.
To create a summary of skills, brainstorm all the skills and characteristics that you possess. Narrow those skills down to five to seven bullet points that are applicable to the job you're applying for. Any languages you are fluent in, technical skills, awards you have received and relevant job skills should definitely be included in your summary of skills.
2. Including your entire work history on your resume
You may have heard the advice to leave no gaps in your work history, even if it means having a resume that is several pages long. No matter how many achievements and experiences you have, it's actually better if your resume fits onto a single page as a college student and entry-level employee. As you gain further years of experience in the workforce, having a two-page resume becomes more acceptable.
Katherine Acuff, the assistant director of administration in the School of Accountancy at Kennesaw State University, reviews dozens of resumes a week. “I have seen resumes from people with limited experience, but it goes on for pages. If information needs to be removed, make sure to only keep experiences that directly relate to the position,” Acuff explains. She and the rest of her hiring team want to be able to scan the resume quickly for useful information about the candidate. Companies will not spend several minutes picking through information on your resume.
If your work history is lengthy, only include jobs you stayed at for a significant amount of time. These jobs will showcase your commitment to staying at a company. If doing so still doesn’t leave you much room, create a LinkedIn profile to store the entirety of your work history. You can even provide the LinkedIn URL on your resume.
3. Writing a generic cover letter
For starters, the purpose of the cover letter is to create a compelling case as to why you should get the job. It should be tailored to the job you are applying for, rather than overly generic. Although you may follow the same cover letter format every time you submit for a job, you should modify the contents for each individual company.
A cover letter does not summarize your resume. It answers important questions such as, “Why do you want this job in particular? What are some of the qualifications and skills you possess that could be applied to this job? What makes you stand out as a candidate?”
The biggest key is to eliminate all the fluff from your cover letter. “Keep it short and to the point about why you’re interested and how you can add value,” says Drexler. Avoid flowery language and complex sentence structure to lengthen a cover letter. Your cover letter should be about four paragraphs long and fit onto a single page. Take note of the job qualifications that a company is seeking and explain in the letter how you meet what they’re looking for.
Don’t list off general characteristics like “team player,” “punctual” or “organized.” Instead, provide specific points in your work history that provide evidence of these skills. For example, you can highlight your ability to work in teams by discussing, for example, the leadership position you held at your last job.
4. Only applying to job search ads online
This isn’t necessarily a rule that your parents followed, but it is a procedure that has become pretty popular with our generation. To this day, young adults think that all it takes is a submission online to secure a job. Although it would be ideal if we could sit at home, apply online and watch the jobs pour in, that would just be too easy. How can you make your application stick out among the hundreds of others? By not hiding behind a computer screen!
Taking every opportunity to network at seminars, career fairs and charity events can open a whole new window of job opportunities. Many college campuses host career fairs that allow students the chance to speak with industry professionals. You can take it one step further and leave your resume and contact information with the professionals you meet at these fairs and events. That way, they'll be likely to remember you if you apply for an open role.
“Before you go to a career fair, I would definitely research all the companies going there and not right off any companies just because they are smaller and not as well known," says University of Michigan graduate Sabrina Juarez. "I once got a paid marketing internship through my university’s career fair. I had to follow up with the company after the fair, but the internship helped me get my foot in the door."
5. Wearing a business suit and heels to every interview
Not every job interview calls for the same dress code. Interviews at a boutique will have a different standard of dress than at a corporate office. If possible, take note of what the employees wear and dress a notch above their usual attire. In any case, it is unacceptable to wear jeans or sandals to any interview.
As far as shoes go, heels aren’t the only option. There are a variety of professional looking flats out there. Cat Greval, a graduate from Louisiana State University, recommends a couple of locations to buy a pair. “I would look in Nordstrom for a pair of business flats," she says. "Although they can be a little pricey, it is a worthwhile investment to make. Depending on your budget, I would also look in H&M. I’ve seen a variety of business-like flats in there for $12.99.” You can also browse the selection at Macy’s, DSW and Kohl’s.
If you want to wear high heels, you should aim for a three-inch heel. Test your level of comfort walking in the heels before the initial interview or the job may literally slip out from under you.
6. Calling to check on the status of your application
Your parents and older relatives may have told you to call the company to check back on the status of your application. They may have also encouraged you to try to schedule an interview. This method may have scored our parents a few jobs, but in this day and age, it could hurt your chances of landing a job.
If a company has a vacancy that they need filled, they will look through all the applications for the position. It is up to a company to call you to schedule an interview if they are interested. There is a certain hiring process that companies follow, and calling them in the midst of that process could indicate to them that you aren’t considerate of their time.
The truth is many times when applicants call to check on their application, their call never reaches the hiring manager. “When I worked in retail, I was a shift manager," says Jenna Fosher, a senior at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. "I monitored the store by myself on days the general managers were off. Several people would call to speak to the manager about the status of their application when I was the only manager on duty. The only thing I could do was leave a note for the hiring manager, knowing that the chances of them calling the applicant back were slim to none."
So before you submit that resume and cover letter, pause and re-read it again. Have you shown potential employers that you’re a force to be reckoned with? Don’t let small errors or being generic prevent you from attaining a job that could be a perfect fit for you.
Remember prior to your interview that the hiring manager is on your side—they want to give you the job. So make sure you feel confident, poised and ready to conquer the world. Be prepared and have confidence in all that you say. No one will ever be you, so your resume, cover letter and interview should reflect that.