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The New Grad Problem: The Market Just Got More Competitive

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Every May, colleges and universities spew out a fresh crop of graduates. While many new graduates struggle with landing their first job due to a lack of experience, these candidates cause another problem: increased competition.

Whether you are still seeking an entry level job or have a little salt in your beard, a large influx of candidates makes it more difficult to stand out. In fact, HR is more likely to mistakenly screen out qualified job seekers during rush seasons just because their systems are being strained. However, there are some tricks and strategies that you can use to outsmart the competition, survive the screening process, and get to the hiring manager.

  1. Use smart key words

Using “smart” key words, phrases, and acronyms that relate to your industry shows that you understand the language of your business. For acronyms, it is a good practice to define them the first time they are used to alleviate any possible confusion, such as “Professional in Human Resources (PHR) certification.”

When using terminology for your industry, keep two things in mind: HR and hiring managers will evaluate these phrases differently. HR only looks to see if the word from the job description is somewhere on your resume to screen you, while the hiring manager knows how to use it in a sentence. Remember to cater to the requirements of your audiences.

  1. Use stupid key words

Unfortunately, HR continues to use some key words that have been over used, such as “excellent communication skills.”  This does make for very boring writing and reading, which is why many resume writers will tell you to avoid these clichés as much as possible.

However, that is a trap. If HR puts these terms in their job description, they WILL use those exact words to screen candidates. If you fail to put in these asinine terms, you could be screened out because of a lack of relevant key words – especially if the company is using a computerized screening process.

  1. Focus your experience

I often hear older job seekers lament that they think they are facing age discrimination, especially with the Millennial population coming to the forefront. We often see job seekers who are in their mid-forties voice these concerns, not just the candidates that are over 60.   The problem isn’t necessarily being too old, but being too experienced and falling into the “overqualified” category in the employers’ mind.

There are ways to mitigate this impact. If a company states that they are looking for 5-10 years of experience in the job description, be sure to list your last 10 years of employment, or 15 at the most. Going back further does highlight your age and, as the employers often assume, a demand for a higher salary.

If you happen to be one of the newer grads, highlight any activities or work during school as it relates to the jobs you are applying for. Working through school shows that you are willing to work hard, and getting involved in extra-curricular activities.  This helps employers get an idea of your personality, which matters greatly when a company is looking for a culture match.

  1. Don’t be scared to reach out

Above all, don’t let all of your fate rest in HR’s hands. Remember, they are literally dealing with hundreds of applicants and won’t be able to give you personal attention – or in some cases, even screen your resume properly.

Use some clever tricks to find and make connections with key managers and even potential coworkers at your target company. The LinkedIn Company pages are a great tool for identifying these people. Check out www.ZoomInfoGrow.com for a free account that actually reveals direct email addresses and phone numbers.

You can even do something totally shocking, once you find the right names through LinkedIn: you can actually pick up this thing called a “phone,” enter a series of “magic numbers” to call the company and reach someone called a “receptionist.” Now they won’t reveal a hiring manager’s name – they have been trained to avoid that – but if you say a special phrase, they can help you out.

Here is one possible approach: 

“I was trying to email Joe Schmoe, but I think I may have written it down wrong. I’m really embarrassed that I may have messed it up – could you please confirm if it is joe.schmoe@abccompany.com?”

The key is to have the exact name along with any variation of the email address, even if it is wrong. The receptionist will frequently give you the correct email address since it sounds like you are already in conversation with the target manager.

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About the Author:

Since 2004, Donna has been teaching job seekers of all levels effective job search strategies. In 2009, she published her book “Get a Job Without Going Crazy: a Practical Guide to Your Employment Search.” Donna is based in Denver, and has presented workshops in Los Angeles, San Francisco and Dallas. She continues to work with job seekers across the country.

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