This 1940s Johnny Mercer song (catchy, in the hey, I can’t get this out of my head way) offers sound advice as we approach the spring OCR season. Recently, I’ve spoken with so many students who are concerned about things that they worry make them less competitive: a slightly lower GPA, lack of experience, and…dare I say it…not being in Wharton. Because the process is so competitive and therefore intimidating, there is temptation to try and explain away these perceived faults on a resume or, especially, in a cover letter. This is a BAD idea.
Much like those pesky zits we all get from time to time, chances are these flaws are much more noticeable to you than they would be to any employer. In fact, it’s possible that what you see as a possible negative isn’t even something that has occurred to the employer. All hiring managers consider a wide range of factors and they are thinking about the things that you do bring to the table, not what you are lacking. Discussing “blemishes” in any way only shines a brighter spot light on the issue (kind of like the green colored pimple concealer that was popular when I was in high school—seriously, what were they thinking?).
You have very limited space on your resume and cover letter to get across the message you want. Why would you want to waste any of it on something negative? Think about it—would you want to hire someone who starts off a paragraph by saying, “Even though I’m not in Wharton…” or “The poor grades from last semester do not accurately reflect my potential”? Trust me, there is no explanation you can offer that would in any way make you look like a strong candidate. Your chance to explain anything (if and only if an employer brings it up–because if they don’t bring it up, they don’t care) is during an interview.
As the song says, you are much better off focusing on the positive attributes you bring. Tell them about all of the things that make you a great candidate for the position. You obviously think you could do the job or internship and there are reasons for that. Use your documents as a way to Ac-cen-tchu-ate whatever great qualities, skills or experiences that you bring. In other words, only include what would come after the proverbial “but” in one of those negative starting sentences. The more you can e-lim-in-ate the negative (see, it’s stuck in your head already, isn’t it?), the better off you’ll be.
With graduation less than two months away, now is high time for submitting job applications— which often means hitting that submit button again and again and again without any certainty of where your resume is headed, or who, if anyone, will read it. The job search can grate on one’s self-confidence and really leave you feeling like you have little control over your future, but there are ways to target your search so your resume is more likely to be on the short list and land you an interview.
As I see it, there are two main ways that people find job openings. They look at job boards, usually online, or they regularly scour the human resources/careers website of organizations where they think they’d like to work. While Monster and CareerBuilder do list thousands of jobs, the mass market nature of those sites often means your resume is floating in a sea of hundreds of other applications from people who also quickly and easily hit “submit”. Here are a few tips to help you make your way out of the job application black hole.
The Search – Job Boards & Researching Prospective Employers
Target your search. Instead of focusing on general job boards, visit industry and region specific sites, or other websites that have a more targeted audience in mind. For example, the jobs in PennLink have been posted by employers who have expressed a specific interest in hiring Penn students and alumni. If you are looking for a marketing job, go to the American Marketing Association’s www.marketingpower.com jobs board. Better yet, if you’re interested in PR/Communications job in the Washington DC metro area, go to the Public Relation Society of America National Capital Chapter’s jobs site. You can find more information about industry specific sites on the Career Services website for each Penn School. Here is a link to the College page. You’ll find even more on our Online Subscriptions page.
Talking with people who work in the field you are interested in is a great way to discover which professional groups you should familiarize yourself with and sites you should bookmark and check regularly. Yes, I’m talking about Networking and Penn Alumni are some of the best people with whom to network. And of course, the Career Services’ email distribution lists are also a great way to hear about job openings. Check with a career counselor for your school for more information.
Actively join and use your networks. Join and participate in professional groups in the “real” and virtual worlds. In addition to the professional groups such as the ones mentioned above, LinkedIn has become an incredibly powerful job search tool. In addition to being a place where you can look up people’s profiles and find networking contacts, you can join Groups related to nearly every industry and many specific regions, as well as alumni groups. In the form of digests, people regularly send job postings, resources and tips for finding jobs in a particularly field to other group members. This site provides an overview of LinkedIn.
Be proactive and creative in the way you research employers. Read the newspaper and trade journals to learn about organizations and industries that are expanding. If you hear about a job fair that happened last month, find the list of employers who attended since it’s likely that they may still have openings. And network, network, network! If the idea of networking stresses you out, start by doing a few informational interviews. In PACNetyou’ll find supportive Penn alumni who have volunteered offer career advice to students and other alumni.
The Application & Follow Up
When you apply to a position, submit a flawless resume and cover letter (always send a cover letter) that is targeted to the specific position and company. This makes a big difference to the hiring manager. Applications that are not targeted to a specific position usually go straight to the “No” pile.
Targeting the resume and cover letter includes using keywords from the job description and the organization’s “culture” since the primary goal of those documents is to demonstrate to the recruiter or hiring manager that YOU are a perfect fit for the job description that they are seeking to fill.
And speaking of the hiring manager, he or she is your intended audience. Whenever possible, even if it takes a little homework, try to send your application directly to the hiring manager. As long as the job posting doesn’t say, “No phone calls,” sometimes you can find the name of the hiring manager simply by calling the organization and asking. Your network is also one of the best ways to find this information.
Follow-up. If you haven’t received any response regarding your application two weeks or so after you apply, (unless they say no phone calls) follow up with the organization by politely saying you are writing to confirm that they received your application and wanted to reiterate your interest in the position. You might also ask if the position is still open and inquire about their timeline.
The black hole. Alas, sometimes despite your best efforts it’s not possible to find the name of the hiring manager or to get through to the Wizard of HR behind the submit button. When that happens continue capitalize on what you can control like continuing to build your network, keeping an open mind about and attentive ear to prospective opportunities, and seek advice from career counselors and experienced professionals.