Soon, the class of 2023 at universities across the country will be tossing their caps in the air. The days of cramming all night for a final have come to an end.
Once the effect of too many White Claw mango beverages subsides, attention will turn to landing that illusive first job. This is a tough one. When it comes to the communications industry, the supply-and-demand equation strongly tilts toward the employer.
Still, there are jobs to be had.
While commencement speakers will pontificate about “making a difference” and “following your passion,” don’t lose sight of the importance of differentiation. In short, why should a company hire you over your colleagues with their faces pressed against the window? Right, desperation is not a good look.
With this in mind, I offer guidance on how to differentiate through your resume and cover letter —
Dear College Grad,
You’re now ready for that first job. Before flinging your resume to and fro, some words of guidance.
Don’t follow the Resume 101 Handbook. Let me say this again because it’s so damn important. Do not follow the Resume 101 Handbook.
It will result in a bloated resume that blends into the background. Why universities, an environment that revels in sticking it to the man, support an approach that cranks out vanilla resumes is beyond me.
So how should you write a resume?
For starters, do not pull from the lexicon of resumes. Phrases such as “hard-working,” “team player,” “think outside the box,” “detail-oriented” and “strategic thinking” carry the weight of freeze-dried kale. The perfect way to avoid this pitfall is to ask five buddies for their resumes, highlight the words that keep appearing and avoid those words.
Two, apply a conversational tone to your copy. Read the copy out loud. Your ear will tell you whether it sounds conversational or stiff as plywood. This improvement alone will lift your resume.
Now comes the big one. This is how you grab the the prospective employer by the scruff of the neck.
Share a window into yourself. What do you care about? What inspires you? When did you face a little adversity? Or a lot?
This goes back to high school English and the teacher stressing “show, don’t tell.” In other words, don’t tell me you’re creative. Show me a part of you that leads me to conclude that you’re creative.
I know it’s tough to open up this way. Be brave. You can do it. This same approach should also carry your cover letter where you’ve got even more opportunity to hit emotional touch points.
Finally, at the risk of going cliché on you, be honest.
If your work experience consists of flipping burgers, don’t describe this on the resume as hospitality beef specialist. Prospective employers recognize that you’re applying for your first job after graduating from college. Your experience flipping burgers can be a positive, again using it as a window to accentuate the type of person you are.
One final point on the cover letter —
The more you can align your cover letter with the prospective employer, the better. This means doing your homework to understand the company’s culture, brand, successes, etc. Don’t only read the website. Check out the blog posts. Read news stories on the company. Review the content on its social feeds. The payoff comes in by being able to align your narrative with what the company values.
Look, even with a resume and cover letter that stand out, it can take some time to land that first job. Don’t get discouraged. Though it was many (many) years ago, I still remember not being able to give myself away to land that first job … literally.
Persistence and determination and opening up will win the day.
P.S. My colleague and friend James Strohecker posted on this topic back in 2018.