College graduation season is upon us, and there’s no shortage of advice columnists offering tips to recent college grads on how to land that first, full-time job. Some discuss what today’s employers are looking for—candidates who are resourceful, intuitive, self-starting and sincere (like that’s a surprise)—while others suggest strategies for devising eye-catching resumes.
This isn’t one of those columns. My financial services colleagues and I actually had a preference for hiring recent grads for three good reasons:
They travel light. Although most will have worked part-time while in college and, ideally, completed an internship that coincided with their studies and professional aspirations, recent grads come with relatively little baggage. In other words, there aren’t a lot of bad habits to break or attitudes to change.
They’re malleable. Because they travel light and are usually pretty enthusiastic about their first full-time gig, recent grads are more easily trained.
They know more than we do. No matter how with it we hirers believe we are, recent grads are also that much more comfortable—often to the point of fearlessness—with technology. Consequently, we learned as much from them as they from us.
Contrary to what you might believe or hope, the hiring process isn’t akin to speed dating. In fact, although many of us feel good about the gut decisions we often make on the fly, I’ve learned the hard way that first impressions aren’t always correct. That’s why God invented second and third interviews.
So here’s how to get started.
Your resume should coincide with the position you seek or the posting to which you are responding. Not only should you not embellish it, but you should absolutely never misstate any of your qualifications, experiences or academic background. You never know who’s going to pick up the phone to check on these.
Also, take care to choose your references wisely—in particular, those who can speak to the qualifications you need for the position you have in mind—and make certain they’re prepared for the call. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve contacted an unprepared or-, worse- , a reference who didn’t even know that his or her name was given…, to the detriment of the applicant.
Your cover letter is equally important. Use it to make a brief and respectful case for your favorable consideration while at the same time a glimpse of your personality. Believe me, it makes a difference to know that as focused and determined as you may be, you don’t take yourself more seriously than you should.
Now, suppose that your resume and cover letter do what they’re supposed to do: attract interest. It’s time to prepare for the first hurdle: the dreaded phone screen. Sure, we’re trying to weed out the obvious bad fits crazies and those who are inexplicably incapable of advocating for themselves. But we’re also looking for those who’ve taken the time do the research into what we do, how we do it, and are able to persuasively articulate how they believe they can help, (if only we would agree to meet them).
You see, the singular objective for the phone screen is to score an in-person interview. It’s where you’ll have as much of an opportunity to impress as you will to assess. I’ll discuss that in a minute. In the Meantime, keep these three things in mind.
Dress appropriately. Even if they say they’re business casual, endure the ridicule and crank it up a notch to show respect.
Speak knowledgably and confidently on the subjects you know. Never attempt to bluff your way through the things you don’t know. The odds are against you on that one.
Be prepared to ask questions. Many interviewers close by asking if the candidate has any questions he or she would like to ask. “Nope” is not a good answer. In fact, you should look at that question as an ideal opportunity to showcase the initiative you took by researching the organization in advance of your meeting.
Ask for the timeline. The close of the interview is also a good time to ask for a sense for their decision-making process and for permission to follow up at a later date.
Two more things to do as you prepare for your audition.
Clean up your online act. So much information is so readily available these days that it would be a mistake to believe that the things you wouldn’t want your mother to see won’t end up on a prospective employer’s monitor.
Personal financial management counts. Although many states have enacted or are contemplating legislation that limits the use of credit scores and credit bureau reports in the hiring process, there are exceptions. My own industry, for example, is one of those because our positions are often directly or indirectly tied to financial transactions.
And if the opportunity you seek is one that requires a credit check as part of the hiring process, know these three things:
First, under the Equal Credit Opportunity Act (ECOA), no employer is permitted to order your credit report without your written consent.
Second, under the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), the three principal credit bureaus (Equifax, Experian and TransUnion) are required to provide you with a free credit report, annually. It would be agood idea to know what yours says before you’re asked about it.
Third, if there are items on your report that concern you, I suggest you discuss these forthrightly when you’re asked to grant that permission, because that’s when it’ll count—not before.
I’ve heard lots of stories about divorces, medical emergencies, student loan burdens and even past employment interruptions. Life happens, and. But as long your credit bureau report shows that you have or are working through your problems in a responsible manner, you shouldn’t be overly concerned. On the other hand, betting that a chronic case of late payments and account closures won’t come up isn’t one a bet worth taking.
Finally, I said before that in-person interviews are opportunities for mutual assessment. In particular, there are three things to consider as you make your way through the process.
Is this the kind of work you want to do? Does it coincide with your education and interests? Will the tasks that you’ll be asked to complete present enough of a challenging enoughe to keep you engaged?
How do you feel about the people and the work environment? In particular, what do you think of the person to whom you’ll report? What about the people with whom you’ll work? What’s your sense of the environment: calm, busy, frenetic, pressure cooker?
Will these folks help you to become more tomorrow than you are today? Will they train and mentor you? Do they offer a reasonably attainable career path? Is there a continuing education reimbursement program? Will there be opportunities to explore other areas within the organization if you choose?
This last group of questions is the most important of them all. Not only does it represent the difference between a short-term job and, potentially, a lifelong career, but it also offers invaluable insight into how management views its employees—as individuals who are worthy of investment or commodities to plug and play.
The right kind of employer will want to do all they can to make your time there worthwhile—for both your sakes—not least because recruiting, onboarding, training and helping new hires to become productive is time-consuming and costly. So it follows that if your prospective employer is so inclined, you can also look forward to a compensation package that’s both competitive and fair.
This story is an Op/Ed contribution to Credit.com and does not necessarily represent the views of the company or its partners.
More on Student Loans:
- A Credit Guide for College Graduates
- How to Pay for College Without Building a Mountain of Debt
- Strategies for Paying Off Student Loan Debt
Image: Nick White