If you’re fresh out of college or you’ve lost your job due to the post-recession restructuring, you’re in the same unenviable position: Both of you are competing for the same small pool of jobs, and both of you face the same obstacles. What can you do to make yourself stand out and convince those choosy employers that they should hire you over potentially better-qualified applicants?
Design your resume around your transferable skills
When you’re changing careers, you need to frame your existing skills and experiences in terms of the job you are trying to get. Most people have a bank of skills that are freely transferable between jobs: communication, interpersonal, teamwork and leadership. You may have other skills, such as computer programs you know, that would be valuable, but make sure that you frame them in the context of the new job. If you can’t find a way to make a particular skill fit, then don’t use it.
Demonstrate flexibility and willingness to learn
Most employers value flexibility and trainability as much as they value hard skills according to a CareerBuilder survey. The survey found that 77 percent of employers believe that soft skills (including trainability and flexibility) matter just as much as hard skills. This is great news for people changing careers or new college graduates. To demonstrate this to a prospective employer, be ready to give examples of times when you had to learn a new skill quickly.
Choose a T-format cover letter
The T-format cover letter is useful for people with scant experience or a spotty work history. It is divided into two columns, where the left column lists qualifications from the job posting, and the right lists the attributes which meet those qualifications. The T-format works well because it lets you showcase your talents in the context of the job posting and takes the focus off any gaps in your work history or the lack thereof.
Even when you’re the most qualified applicant, competence alone will never win you the job. At the end of the day, hiring managers often hire the person they liked the best and who they’d like to hang out with. After all, they’re only human. If your bona fides are lacking, then the likeability factor is even more important. The best way to be likeable is to have a positive attitude. Act interested in everything about the job, from the company itself to the industry as a whole.
Know when it’s a lost cause
The new economy is smaller than the old one, and in such circumstances, it is tempting to just throw your resume at every job opening you see, even those for which you are completely unqualified. Yet, doing so makes no sense and is a waste of your time. For instance, if you’re an accountant, it would be silly for you to try to get a job as an x-ray technician. However, realize that job ads represent employer wish lists and not absolute must-haves. Consequently, if you meet a fair amount of the criteria listed in the ad, go ahead and apply.
Experience is experience, paid or not
Many people think that you shouldn’t add unpaid experience, such as school and volunteer work, to your resume, because only paid work counts. However, experience, paid or not, is still experience. As long as you can relate it to the job you are applying for, you should include it. For example, if you’re a tax major, and you interned at an accountant’s office during tax season last spring, it makes sense to include this information in your application to work at a tax preparation office.
Include keywords in your resume
Many employers are screening candidate resumes electronically. The screening software uses keywords and phrases from the ad and will only select resumes and cover letters that include those words and phrases. To make sure that you make the cut, scan each advertisement for keywords that match your skills and include them in your resume and cover letter.
JT Ripton is a freelance business and tech writer from Tampa, Fla.