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As colleges get ready to unleash their 2018 graduates, the economic principle of supply and demand comes into play.

To put it bluntly, the supply of college grads far exceeds the number of open entry-level jobs. As someone who literally couldn’t give himself away for free — after graduation I wrote to over 10 advertising agencies with a “I’ll-work-for-free” sales pitch. Got zero takers — I empathize.

 

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Still you don’t have to be the passive victim. There are things you can do to land that illusive first job. For example, most college grads pay little attention to differentiating themselves. This comes through in the cover letters and resumes that cross my desk.

They all sound the same.

They all use the same words.

“Hard working.”

“Team player.”

“Thinks outside the box.”

Worse, the language has the stiffness of a plywood from Home Depot. One sure-fire way to differentiate is to simply be yourself. When writing your resume and cover letter, open up.

Forget conventional wisdom. Break the rules. Give your potential employer a look into who you are.

Note that I didn’t suggest poor grammar or misspelled words. What works for texting doesn’t advance your cause when job hunting.

With that as a backdrop, I’m republishing my letter to college grads.

 


 

Dear College Grad,

Congrats.

All those years of cramming for finals and living on ramen and candy corn have paid off.

You’re now ready to land 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 give you a homogenous resume that melts into the background. Why universities — the one place that revels in sticking it to the man — espouse an approach to writing the resume that would bring a smile to Henry Ford, 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 cotton candy. The perfect way to avoid this pitfall is to ask five of your 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 mahogany. This improvement alone will lift your resume.

Now comes the big one. This is how you grab the recruiter 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?

 

person falling off icy mountain.

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 just 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.

Persistence and determination and opening up will win the day.

Good luck!

Lou Hoffman signature

Lou


Comments

  • Dude Stro

    Dear collegiates:

    Unlike President Lou Vonderhoff, I no longer get approached for jobs, or see your resumes. But similar to Sir Loumeister, I do have some recommendations:
    1. True dat – tell me you’ve worked a job. A real job. If it was Nordstroms during a Holiday Break or summer, OK. Manual labor is better. I don’t care if it was being a counselor at Summer Camp. Schlepping for the Man is how you learn what’s important and that work is about getting stuff done, not empty promises. Story time: We had a couple interns one summer at XYZ agency. One person showed up every day, asked a lot of questions, listened, learned and grew. The dude blew off days and went to the beach. Guess who got the job?

    2. Be your own person. Email at a point is digital-schmigital. As Professor Hoffman once said, “You can’t negotiate/follow up and re-pitch a story on email. You don’t sell the idea on email. You do that on the phone.” (OK, I embellished what Lou really said, but it’s true). Email is something to hide behind. If you can’t sell yourself, or the idea of a meeting, why should someone hire you? Get on the phone. Get rejected. Find the insight and sales pitch that gets YOU in the door. Then go have the conversation.
    Story time: One graduate’s dad — yes, his father — actually called me to try to schedule his lazy kid for an interview. I said, “Why don’t you have him call me himself? You have my number.” The son never called. But someone who did, and who really wanted the job, did.

    3. “It sounds so simple, but if you just be yourself, you’re different than anyone else.”–Tony Bennett
    I think Herr Hoffman is a little different than me on this. Personally and professionally, I prefer the unique person and idea. The idea that nobody has thought of (or used for a while) and the innovator who has the passion to put it into action. Sometimes, it’s just a matter of research: “Have you thought about doing this with XX product or client?” Or, “I asked a couple business owners in the last few days what they’d respond to. Here’s what they said . . . ”

    4. Be respectful, and confident. Don’t be cocky. Chances are, you didn’t build a business or operation, so you don’t know what you don’t know. At the same time, don’t take a shitty job just to have a job. It’s OK to tend bar, pour coffee, serve tables and work part time or manual jobs while you’re looking for something that can get you going. There are plenty of asshole bosses out there. You’ll have to work for a couple. It just happens. So don’t be too hasty to take a job at a place with high turnover. There’s a reason for that.
    Story time: I took a job once that I knew was wrong from the first interview. The personality was off; it was dictatorial; they’d had incredible turnover that I thought I could fix. I couldn’t fix it. It was just a bad nightmare. And my family, friends and soul suffered. Don’t do that to yourself. There are great people out there who will support, coach and enlighten you. Find those peeps and listen-up.

    5. Oh, and one more thing. You’re probably smarter than me. Maybe smarter than LouLou as well. And you’ll figure that out soon enough. But I may have a few more tricks than you. So listen up. You will know it all soon enough. Just don’t act like you do now. If you find the right hiring person, they’ll recognize your intelligence, help you grow and let you fly.
    Story time: I was lucky to work with (ahem, actually hired) some of the best people in Lou’s marketing business — people who now run their own businesses/operations: Ossi, Stanbee, MAGpie, Suzi; et. al. Every one of these people is unique. Each has her own approach. Oh, and they’re all smarter than me. A LOT smarter. I am humbled by them.

    Good luck to you. And if you do want help or ideas, I’d be happy to lend a hand. Lou knows how to find me. You can do it. //

    Reply
    • Lou Hoffman

      Jamester,

      Now I’m ready to run through a wall.

      A posted comment does not do justice to this.

      Are you o.k. with me republishing as a guest post?

      Reply
  • Dude

    I’m good with a re-posting if you fix the typos and use of the same word twice in the same sentence. Example: “listen-up” and “listen up.” Example two: “But someone who did, and who really wanted the job, did.” // Similar to the song lyrics in, “I Thank You,” You didn’t have to love me like you did
    But you did, but you did.
    And I thank you.
    You didn’t have to love me like you did
    But you did, but you did.
    And I thank you.

    Reply
  • Mike Wendelin

    …. carry the weight of cotton candy. I am going to have to use that one…

    Reply

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