How to stand out in job hunt for fresh graduates

Ever wonder how to differentiate your profile as a fresh graduate or someone with limited experience? I am going to focus on how to bring out more of to make you stand out with the resume and through the interview process.

It will be OVER Someday

I graduated 2003, in the time of SARS and I was in Singapore, the hardest hit city besides Beijing. I could not find a formal job for almost a year and my student pass was expiring.

But I didn’t give up and kept applying, at one point, I even started to apply for Admin jobs that did not require a college degree. Luckily, I kept taking up short projects and contract jobs that kept me going, which also helped me to land my first formal job.

Trust me, no matter how desperate you feel right now when you are out of job, or how sad you are dealing with rejections, and there seems to be no hope on the horizon – the moment you get an offer, all those are over and behind you. Yes, that chapter is behind you and you will be just so forward looking from that point onwards.

So, do not lose heart, keep going. Know that the world is big, resources are abundant, there is a job for you.

Now, let’s dive into some practical tips on how to differentiate your profile as a fresh graduate or someone with limited experience.

We all know that, as a fresh graduate, our profile looks very similar to one another. Many of my clients told me, they struggle to even put together a resume. I have not started working and there’s really nothing much to write!

The answer is: bringing more of you into the resume and the interview processes can make you standout.

1. Understand what employers look for in fresh graduates

In fresh graduates, besides a baseline qualification, employers are looking for some basic qualities:

  • maturity (Are you reliable? Can I trust you?)
  • potential (Can you learn fast? Are you trainable?)
  • independence (Can you motivate and discipline yourself?)

Employers do understand, you are fresh out of school, likely not fully trained in the professional ethics, or used to the corporate world yet. But they are looking for someone reasonably mature, can train, and has the capability of independent thinking.

Therefore, your job in the job search process, is to communicate the early signs of these 3 qualities effectively.

A solid college degree with awesome GPA is of course a good way to showcase all these qualities of a person, that’s why companies like people from good schools and with good scores. But not everyone has that.

How do we communicate these qualities then? The best way is always to tell a great story.

2. Bring out the best of you and showcase them with strategy

You need materials to tell a great story.

Think like this: there are three stacks of cards you can play:

  1. Stack One: With your school: Education/ School Projects/ECA
  2. Stack Two: With Organizations: Internship/work Experience
  3. Stack Three: On your own: Hobby/Initiatives/Volunteer

Now, I want this principle to sink into your mind: When writing your resume, only write USEFUL things, or write things in a USEFUL way.

I repeat: When writing your resume, only write USEFUL things, or write things in a USEFUL way.

Stack 1: Things you did with your school

School, Major, Final GPA: These are factual and you probably can’t do much at this point of time. But if your final GPA is not great, it’s not useful. Then you don’t need to feature it in your resume.

Similarly, a lot of people write a long list of modules they took along with GPA scores. Well, you are free to do so if it helps you to be outstanding. Even if so, I’d suggest you keep it to 3-5 modules truly relevant to the job/industry you are applying for. Again, if your scores do not help, ignore them. But if an obscure module you took for fun suddenly becomes relevant to the job you apply, mention it.

Next, school projects. It’s interesting how people list the boring stuff on modules but miss the school projects. You are lucky to study in the education system today, because schools give you a lot of chances to do projects. And there are plenty of gold in school projects that you shouldn’t miss out. Give your school projects more color on what you achieved as a team, and what role you played in that.

Employers want to know what role exactly do you play, if placed in a group of people. Are you the motivator? Are you the execution guy? Are you the ideas person? Or are you good at vision or you are the most detailed? You can’t be everything, but an indication of something completes your story.

Stack 2: Things you did with organizations

While your ECA in school is likely not with much exposure to outside world (There are exceptions of course), your internship, and work experience are a bit more REAL. It is important to bring out details of who you worked with, both inside and outside the organization.

Usually, you may not play a very important role, and just an apprentice, doing some admin or entry level job. So for this stack, focus on what you were exposed to and what you have learned. Make it a very effective stepping stone, on how it prepares you and gets you ready for the real world.

Stack 3: Things you did on your own

You are acting as an independent adult (or semi-adult) in this type of activities. You interact with the world without boundaries, this is different from the school setting where you were kind of capsuled, and the work/internship where you probably felt at the lowest rank of all.

In this category, you have the full freedom. So talk about how you went ahead to do something, your motivation, the challenges you faced, the things you achieved. How you drove things along just with your own discipline. How you gathered support.

And here the definition of achievement is dynamic: If you are a great gamer, or you are super good fisherman, all that takes great effort and explains who you are. Don’t hide it under a simple line of “Hobby: fishing”, or completely leave gaming out of your resume.

Check out my article on How to take stock of your career capital. There is one section dedicated to how to provide “evidence” in 10 ways when things are not quantifiable.

3. Be resilient while you are waiting

The best things are worth waiting.

Do what you can, take a virtual internship, pick up a new skill, start a personal project, Read a lot to understand the world. Research in companies that are hiring (e.g. ByteDance), Research on how they make money. Exercise. Meditate. Be the best of you, so that you have strengths to deal with all the rejections.

Tweak your resume. to make sure you have awesome resume for each of the job you apply for.

You are keeping your mental state steady and strong, this strength will be shown in your entire being. Anything is better than this for you to stand out at interviews?

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 Yolanda is a certified transformational coach, entrepreneur, and multi-award-winning writer. She holds an MBA from INSEAD, served director/VP level BD roles in Fortune 500 MNCs and tech unicorns. 

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