I’ve had the privilege of chatting with a lot of students and recent grads (young professionals) on my book tour, and one of the questions I often get asked is: “How can I make myself stand out when a lot of other applicants have more education and professional experience?” I always start by saying “breathe.” Then, I usually recommend the following:
1. Request informational interviews with leaders in your target companies BEFORE they post jobs you want to apply for. Fortunately for you, it’s much easier to be granted an informational interview when you play the “I’m a recent graduate” card.
During your informational interview, make sure to ask questions that show you really understand the company, its culture, and you are clear on how you can provide the kind of results they’re looking for. This will give you an inside connection when a job does emerge.
2. Position yourself as an emerging leader in your field by creating a content-rich blog and strong social media presence. Connect with leaders in your field by citing their work and interviewing them in your posts.
As relationships develop, make yourself irresistibly attractive by asking them how you can help them. And when they most likely ask you the same question, don’t be afraid to let them know who and what you are looking to connect to.
3. Hone in on your two to three greatest strengths and link them to the primary responsibilities and accountabilities of your prospective position. (Watch the tendency to have lengthy answers to questions about weaknesses. Remember, it’s your strengths you want to emphasize and have a prospective employer walk away remembering!)
4. And most importantly, show you’re a sponge. In your networking, cover letters/resumes, and interviews, display your commitment to absorbing new information quickly, your desire to learn and grow in your role, and always be able to cite examples of how you have done this in the past.
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