Once I was a college student and life was fun. I lived in a dorm with two other roommates – one was a taciturn engineer from some small and far city; another was a slim, pale, and very tall third-year student. On the one hand, he reminded me of a dressed white bamboo stick which loved smoking and gaming. All three of us slept, ate, lived, and studied in the same small dorm room.
This was an early academic life, which almost every fresh student has. Selected education, amazing new friends, and unbelievable parties. Life couldn't be better.
Years went by and young high school kids grew into adult boys and girls. College got tougher; work evolved into creative ideas or scientific analysis. Some students degenerated; some left university, had babies, or went abroad. I myself followed the path of my life – studied microeconomics to find out the deepest insights of business management.
Now, I remember my academic life with a warm smile only. At that time, when I was an almost graduate, I felt how prepared I was. My head was full of ideas; my body radiated energy beams; I was ready for a job and a new chapter of my life – adults' world.
The First Lesson
At that time, I had the option to work in one fast food restaurant as a business manager. I found this pizza house at the last university studying year while searching for sponsors for our university party event. The small restaurant chain, which once had a golden age, was slowly dying in a long and infinite competition war. I wrote my bachelor's work for them, and I knew theoretical scientific solutions for their practical business problems. I was ready to help and ready to work.
Ideas were not bad, as well my attitude was a bonus skill, but my knowledge about this new labor world was nothing but an imagination. You see, university taught us things and let us do work for marks. When you get 6 out of 10 – you pass and move forward to another project. In reality, something is a bit different.
The fact is that in the real world, business works by money and time, not by marks. You need to work fast to earn a profit, and there is no place for funny irresponsibility. Once you do some crazy thing, which was kind of cool among your college groupmates – it may look fun. When you do irresponsible things the second time – nobody laughs and you slowly become considered insecure. Few more mistakes, few more losses for business and you may be changed to the better employee.
Soon you realize that your best effort (which would be awarded by mark 10 out of 10) is not enough if you can't do work on time.
I think one of the main things that education can't teach us, the one thing that differs between the theoretical academic world and practical labor life, is money. All your real adult life you will live for wage or another income; you will pay rent and bills by cash; you will buy things and implement personal ideas for the money you earn. The faster you will work, the smarter you will be, the more money you will get. Adult life is valued by money and time, not by marks.
The biggest majority of graduates (this included me too) expect to get lots of money because they are ready, because they know answers, but in reality, a recent graduate is nothing but impractical, slow, unfocused and a risky candidate who is valued less, compared to a bit more experienced candidate. A naive recent grad always gets his first unpleasant lesson – he earns less money than he expects because he has no job experience.
I got my reality lesson from the same job that I already talked about. After I made my bachelor's work for that small fast food restaurant chain, I offered a proposal – I wanted to work for them. The owner of the restaurant chain, who already lived a comfortable and sluggish life, asked me, "How much do you want?", and I said, "2000", which was an ambitious expectation. It was huge money for me, but I thought I deserved it because of all the projects, of all the activities I did in college. Mostly because of the education I finished. I had no clue how much recent graduates received on average, neither in small nor in big companies, but 2000 was big money for me. As well as for the owner.
I didn't get a job, and I (a slightly angry and lofty young man) moved back to my parents' house in the capital. I had no job, no money, no savings, and life went on. I was still a kid, more educated, though.
A Perfect Candidate
Happily, or maybe unhappily, I was not alone. All my college classmates suffered from similar problems. It was hard to find a job when you had no experience. Companies simply didn't call.
After five months and hundreds of emails, I got my first normal job as well as all my other smart college friends. Attitude always wins over experience, and there are great companies who open doors for young people. But hold on... five months? Is that how long normally young people with a bachelor's degree spend to find the first job? I highly doubt it.
Now, after three years, when I work with resume-building software and employment technology programs, I would ask my younger self, "What are you doing?". I could get an interview call in the first week, right after I finished university.
Why did I send my resume to all these strange companies? Why did I highlight my childhood activities? Why did I write my resume in such a passive voice?
I could get an interview call in the first week, but I lost my chances over and over again within every email I sent.
The problem was simple. I was searching for any job, while normal companies never search for such (any) candidate. I hadn't received calls, and I blamed my lack of experience, but the truth is actually a bit different.
The perfect candidate is not the person with the most experience but a person with the most relevant experience.
The perfect candidate should begin driving results from the first day of his employment. The perfect fresh employee should immediately fit the new role as well as other experienced employees. But these are ideal cases, and in reality, a new employee adapts within an average of 90 days.
Both employer and recent graduate understand that adaptation requires time, but only the employer understands that a relevant candidate fits faster.
Tailoring the Resume
To find the best candidate, companies use a two-step process – scan resumes and hold interviews. The resume process eliminates irrelevant candidates who hope to get any job (sound familiar?) while an interview is intended for a selected group of candidates.
According to an ERE Survey, each corporate job opening attracts 250 applications, and of these candidates, only four to six are called for an interview. That means 98% of candidates never receive a call. While you concluded to send your resume to 999 companies, to increase a chance to be invited for an interview, I suggest acting smarter, not harder.
If you want to be one of these 2% of candidates who receive interview calls over and over again, you need to be as relevant candidate as possible. The most important rule to be such candidate is simple but yet not easy to grasp.
Tailor your resume to the particular job position. That's it.
Tailoring your resume is the only way to get an interview when you don't have a strong career background. If you want to understand how to tailor resume, read the complete guide.
"In short, tailoring means customizing bullet points to feature skills relevant to the role and rearranging sections to bring the most applicable experience to the top."
— Katie Douthwaite Wolf, Marketing writer.
Scan the job title, pick up valuable keywords, do a small research on the company, and after fifteen minutes you will understand how the company imagines the perfect candidate. Ignore their job ad condition "two years of experience" because it actually means "person who has better chances to solve company's problems."
But tailoring requires time, and you will never tailor 100 resumes for 100 positions. That's why people write only one generic resume and send it like a spam, which leads to zero interview calls.
Leave this tactic for mediocres and be as smart as you actually are.
Instead of sending generic resumes to every single company, concentrate on the ones that appeal to you the most. Find five good companies and tailor a resume for each one. Find companies that go along your career path. Do a small research on each company and scan job ads. The next day, find five more companies and repeat the process.
Why do you send a generic resume to hundreds of companies? After all, you don't just want to apply, you want to get a callback. Act smart.
Here Comes the Sun
Now I'll give you some really valuable information, so read it carefully. One of the single most annoying and unprofessional mistakes job candidates make is writing duties and tasks instead of accomplishments. This is done by at least 90% of candidates so if you write your achievements instead of "I was responsible for..." – you will be just one step from that interview call.
And believe it, your activity in some volunteer team, which shows results that are tailored to the job ad, will defeat a two-year experienced candidate who simply doesn't highlight his abilities.
So… What are Your Activities?
Don't be discouraged if you haven't worked a single day in your life. Experience is life-long, not career-long. If you are an entry-level candidate, employers do not expect you to have an extensive background. If you show potential with your skills proven by numbers, you might stun a recruiter who didn't expect such a young candidate with a results-driven attitude.
College and high school are great places to get involved and gain skills and experiences. A leadership role in school clubs or student organizations, jobs and classes from college, volunteer work, teams, committees, other extracurricular activities, small jobs (babysitting, lawn mowing), internships, coursework, and/or participation in a fraternity or a sorority are enough to show your potential.
Just make sure that whatever you include can somehow be applied to the job you want. Tailor your experience by rules stated above.
And always remember one thing: accomplishments rule the resume. Without them, your resume is just a piece of paper with some decorative fluff. Backup achievements with numbers and show how perfect a candidate you actually are.
After three years of graduation I am still not fast enough, and I could be more productive. Yet days go by faster and faster.
Parties, hanging out, and chilling in cafeterias are great, but in the adult world everything costs time. You still meet with old friends and you find new ones. You learn unique things and repeat old high school lessons.
As time goes faster, in some moments in life, you think how slow, impractical, and stupid you are, how other people are so much ahead. Don't compete with them. Compete with yourself. Be your own uniquely awesome self.
A college grad feels that he is ready and knows answers, and he is actually right. College gives you wisdom, but only life tests it. You will get your first job, that's for sure, but don't waste companies' money and your time on things that hold you back.
Your skills and achievements are the best of what you have, but the same qualities, only tailored, give you powerful relevancy. You will get a wonderful job only if you put in effort. That's why you'll lose every time you send a generic resume to hundreds of companies.
Be curious, hungry, and smart. After all, you are a college graduate, not the high school kid that you used to be.