We have been recruiting for a position in our team recently (been a few months now actually). And since it’s that time of the year when students are graduating and are eagerly looking for their first break into the real world, I’ve received many applications from fresh grads. What is very apparent is that local graduates lack proper counselling about the job application and interview process. We sure didn’t get any back in my time. So we probably came across as fools to prospective employers too (although I’d like to think not). But surely things must have changed since then?
And all along I had been thinking that the “other” university probably fared better in this department. But I was mistaken. Local universities, including the big names, seem to be missing out on that key element in preparing their students for jobs – coaching them about how to make a good impression and get hired. Career offices really need to get their act together. And there’s already plennnnty of job application advice out there on the Internet… why aren’t kids reading up on it?
In any case, I thought I’d share my observations and give some tips to anyone who might happen to stumble across this.
- What’s in a name?
A lot. I can’t emphasize enough how important it is to name your CV correctly. This should be fairly obvious, right? Well, it certainly doesn’t seem so. I get countless CVs titled “CV”. The thing is, if you name your CV as “CV” and cover letter as “Cover letter”, you are ensuring it will never be opened in a large folder of applications.
There are multiple problems with it. It depicts laziness. With many CVs in front of them, employers are least likely to open nameless ones by people who weren’t even bothered to name it correctly. Their goes the first impression. Secondly, it will inevitably get overwritten by others with the same name (or lack thereof). And just in case employers do like the CV despite the applicant’s apparent laziness, and want to come back to it at a later time, they will not be able to search for you by name. So basically, you have shot yourself in the foot.
- Check, and check again. And again.
Proofread your CV – many, many times. Spelling mistakes, grammatical errors and sentences which make no sense are all too common.
- Brevity trumps length.
As a fresh graduate, a one-page CV is enough to summarize your experience, qualifications and your extra-curriculars. At max 2 pages if you are super-smart and have been working your butt off at internships, part-time jobs and university events. But three pages? That’s only okay if you are a professor with 30 years of experience and 50 publications under your belt (and even then, it’s frankly boring).
- Gimmicks distract. And not in a good way.
Avoid gimmicky things such as too much colour and fancy fonts. Stick to one font and safe colours. And skip the captions and taglines under your name (yes, I kid you not!).
- Pretensions don’t fool us.
Professional experience is quite different from extracurricular activities such as organizing a seminar or a leadership position in a society at university. Almost every student from the big-name universities seem to be doing this, making me wonder if someone has misguided them. Under professional experience, employers specifically look for full-time experience or internships which tells them whether you have worked in a professional setting before. Putting down society memberships in this section in order to “beef it up”, only confuses employers momentarily and makes you look naïve. The same applies to volunteer work for a charity and the likes.
That said, volunteer work, membership of societies and other extracurricular activities are regarded very favourably. They just need to be listed under the appropriate section.
- Jargons don’t impress.
A whole lot of acronyms for courses and departments at your respective universities make no sense to anybody outside your university! Please elaborate. Or don’t list them.
- Say something. But not too much.
I’m ambivalent about cover letters. To me, there’s just something really appealing about concise emails giving a very brief introduction of yourself and expressing your interest in the position/organization. Lengthy cover letters can seem contrived and verbose. I’m sure many will disagree and emphasize how important cover letters are, but me, I prefer short and simple.
On the other hand, blank emails with just an attached CV leave me wondering about what the person is like and whether they can even formulate proper sentences (which, I have come to realize, is not entirely a common ability). Empty emails are too… empty. Say hello. I don’t bite.
- You’re not the boss of me.
Candidates cannot dictate timelines. Some smart alecs have tried to do so, immediately taking themselves out of the running. Asking for a “prompt” response to your application will only leave a bad impression on hiring managers. Actual examples include these: “Kindly respond by the end of this week” and “Please initiate the interview process promptly.” Ummm… really?
- Respect boundaries. Don’t get too chummy.
Sending a LinkedIn request right after emailing me your CV is a big no. It’s perfectly normal to Google people up in the name of “research”. But it’s not okay to try to strike friendships up with the person who’s screening your application. It indicates poor judgement.
Related to this is telling your interviewer during an interview that you Googled them and know where they studied. It can come across as creepy.
- Patience is a virtue.
Once you have sent in your application, hope for the best but try to put it out of your mind. Don’t dwell on it. If you make it past the screening, you will be contacted. There’s nothing you can do between submitting your application and getting an interview call, which will tilt things in your favour.
So sending in your CV multiple times at different intervals does get you noticed, but not in a good way. Calling up the person who is screening applications to inquire about when they will get back to candidates the day after you submit your application is another huge no. Rest assured, if the hiring managers are interested, you will get a call.
Similarly, requests to acknowledge receipt of applications in the form of statements such as “Kindly acknowledge” are unfortunately hard to fulfil. Most organizations in Pakistan do not have an automated application tracking system in place. And given the volume of applications received and practical constraints, it is hard to let everyone know that yes, their email has indeed made its way to the intended recipient’s email inbox.
- Be real.
Only mention those things on your CV which you are confident about discussing. Courses and projects listed on your CV become natural lines of questioning – make sure you know about things you have mentioned. Similarly, when asked about an internship you have listed, do not say “I don’t remember what I did” (yes, this actually happened!).
Believe me, employers WANT to hire you. At least that’s how I open every single application, with the hope that our search would be coming to an end. So the odds are in your favour until you sabotage it yourself by being sloppy about the details. Make a good first impression. Get hired.
A version of this post also appears here: https://medium.com/advice-to-graduates/d8f559959b0c