Graduation season can be nerve-wracking, from final exams and papers to finding a job to start paying off student loans. So when your dream employer sends recruiters to campus, meeting them and convincing them you’re a good fit can feel like a game with sky-high stakes.
Recruiters from top companies say catching their attention requires prepping for and conducting your interview in a smart and savvy way. And while some of the advice might seem basic, most of them said they are surprised how many students don’t do much to differentiate themselves. Here, they share their insights to help you stand out in a good way.
GO BEYOND BASIC HOMEWORK
“Do your homework,” is standard advice when preparing for a recruiter meeting or interview. But, when you meet with one of the team members at Intel, it helps to go beyond the basics, says Barbara Fisher, vice president and chief human resources officer of Intel Talent Management. Knowing the company’s financials is one thing. Knowing where it’s making investments or facing strategic challenges is something else.
“Everyone can use the buzzword, the artificial intelligence, or machine learning, or Internet of Things, but what is it they’re doing in there?” she says. “If it’s Intel, what are some of the challenges in their process, technology, or some of the opportunities that they’re seeing in autonomous driving? If you just dig in a little bit to the company, [you’ll] understand it a little bit to have an intelligent conversation.” Good places to look include the company’s investor relations section as well as trade media.
And, while you’re at it, if you know who the recruiter is in advance, do a little digging there, too, says Sjoerd Gehring, VP of talent acquisition and people experience at Johnson & Johnson. Check out their public social media accounts, especially LinkedIn and Twitter, and find out if you have common interests. It’s another way to show that you’re interested in making a connection to the recruiter and the company, Gehring says. If you’re going to a job fair where there are many recruiters, pick your top four or five and spend more time with them, engaging them in conversation and asking questions about the roles, instead of trying to hand out your resume to as many recruiters as possible, he adds. Opt for quality interactions instead of quantity.
PERFECT YOUR PAPERWORK
No matter how many times it’s repeated, candidates still don’t ensure that their resumes are error-free and up-to-date. Even a simple unclear date can take you out of the running for important opportunities, says Cindy Loggins, eBay’s director of university recruiting and programs. For example, eBay doesn’t hire students who have graduated as interns. If you’re a senior who needs an extra semester to graduate and are going back to school in the fall, failing to update your resume to reflect that could knock you out of the running for an internship, she says. “Make sure your date is accurate when you’re presenting it to people, because that again shows really that you want to be here,” she says.
Job search and information website CareerBuilder conducts an annual survey of outrageous resume mistakes. In the 2016 survey, one respondent reported that an applicant’s last name was auto-corrected from “Flin” to “Flintstone.” His first name was Freddie. Another respondent recounted that an applicant claimed they had “great attention to detail,” but “attention” was misspelled. Given that about 43% of recruiters look at a resume for less than a minute, typos are a quick way to eliminate candidates for sloppiness.
KNOW YOUR STORY
While it may seem like a smart strategy to not share goals or job interests that may limit the opportunities to match you to open positions, being a generalist is actually more of a risk, Gehring says. The job market is thriving and applicants have many choices. “And so, if you play the generic game—”I can work anywhere or in any industry, in any company, or in any kind of role”–that might be true, but you unintentionally almost disqualify yourself from many of those opportunities,” he says. “What companies are looking for is if you have a very well-articulated point of view in terms of why you want to work for that company in that industry, and the impact you want to have in that job.”
Gehring recalls one memorable candidate whose mother had recently been diagnosed with a particular form of cancer. The candidate confessed that she felt helpless She wanted to work Johnson & Johnson as a recruiter to find scientists and doctors on the oncology team to who may be able to find a cure for that cancer. “I thought that was a very powerful articulation of what she ultimately wanted, the small impact of the small role that she wanted to play in that scenario,” he recalls.
Beyond that, it’s a good idea to connect your campus experience to your desired role, says Jacob Spangler, a management consultant with Accenture and the campus recruitment lead for the University of Texas at Austin. When Spangler meets with prospective hires at the university, he is impressed when students take what they’ve done during their university careers and relate it to how they can make a difference for Accenture.
“They don’t really emphasize that they’ve got the skills that we’re looking for already it might not be manifested in the most obvious way but students can do a huge benefit for themselves by kind of amping them up and really trying to find that what they do, piecing the story together of the activities that they do and how that fits into a consulting internship or a marketing internship or whatever it is that they’re applying for,” he says.
He also encourages students to be authentic. Consulting is a people business, and if you’re too concerned about fitting in to show some personality, that could be problematic, he says. A recruiter may see dozens of students in a day, and he’ll tune out canned answers and buzzwords. “I’d much rather have an authentic conversation to figure out what we’re really getting–not just the facade you’ve created up front,” he says. Plus, if you’re faking who you are because your “real” self might not fit in, that’s probably not the right place for you, anyway.
DON’T ASSUME “NO” IS “NEVER”
Even if the recruiter meeting doesn’t turn into a job, don’t give up, Gehring says. Keep in touch with the recruiter, network with people at the company, and keep applying for job openings, he says. The company built a recruitment tool called J&J Shine which lets applicants track their progress, read relevant job-search content, and get feedback and skill development resources to help them improve for next time or to find more relevant jobs for them. “So, a no for a job hardly ever is a no on J&J,” he says.