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For Job Seekers

How can you stand out in a sea of graduates?

10 ways to beat the bots and impress the humans (hiring managers)

Published on

May 28, 2024


Recently, I attended my third daughter’s university graduation ceremony, watching proudly as she walked across the stage to receive her Bachelor of Business Administration diploma. What a mix of emotions!  

As a parent taking in the enthusiasm and optimism of all those proud graduates (and yes, their collective relief), I couldn’t help but feel excited for my daughter and her fellow grads. There’s so much possibility ahead of them!  

And as someone who has helped build careers for more than 35 years and witnessed all the changes in the labour market—with many more on the horizon—I must admit to feeling a bit uneasy on their behalf, too.  

These are very different times for recent grads looking to kickstart their careers. New technologies like AI mean new ways of applying for jobs and new ways of screening and hiring candidates, new must-have skills and, of course, entirely new jobs (many of which haven’t even surfaced yet).  

Hard to know where to take that first career step in such uncharted territory.

What do most recent grads want from an employer?  

When I learned what the top priority is for the class of 2024, I wasn’t too surprised, given everything this cohort has been through.  

Most of them saw their high school graduation ceremonies cancelled due to COVID. Then, they entered university remotely, and social distancing became the norm. Layer onto all of this ongoing economic instability, global unrest, climate change, a youth mental health crisis… It’s a lot.

So, it’s no wonder a recent study of 2024 grads in the US found that their top priority when considering an employer is STABILITY.

That’s right, a stable employer topped the list of priorities at 76% of those surveyed— ahead of a high starting salary (71%), a flexible work schedule (61%) and well ahead of working for a fast-growing company (21%).  

So, how can recent grads get started building a stable, meaningful career today? Read on for tips.

10 career-building tips for recent grads

Below, I’ve outlined some practical tips for new jobseekers to get started on their career path, everything from building a standout resume that passes applicant screening tools to impressing the hiring manager at a job interview.  

But first things first, choosing a career path.  

1. Choose the best career path for YOU: While I realize this is more complex today because many jobs and fields are changing with the advent of AI, my best advice is to consider your education and build upon it. Focus on your core strengths within your field of study, rather than choosing a path that will only entail trying to improve upon your weaknesses. For example, maybe you have an economics degree but really don’t like finance. Did you know there are many organizations outside of finance that draw upon the research skills of economists? Put those skills to work researching these organizations!

  • Tips: Ask yourself what gets you out of bed in the morning, what do others compliment you on as a natural attribute? (If you’re curious about your skills, the federal government has some free tests on their site.

2. Before applying, list your core values and must-haves: Rather than the “spray and pray” technique of blindly applying to any and all jobs you’re qualified for, stop and consider what’s really important to you (your core values) and what your deal-breakers are.

  • Tips: If you’re passionate about the environment or DEI, look for companies that have strong commitments in these areas. If mental health support is critical, see which prospective employers mention this in job ads or on their website. If flexibility is critical, try to confirm what the employer offers BEFORE you apply. And if you value learning and development, look for employers that offer growth opportunities.

3. To build your resume, volunteer: When you’re starting out, it’s normal for your resume to be a bit sparse. Start gaining relevant experience in an area you feel passionate about by volunteering for roles similar to those you are seeking. It’s a win-win-win scenario: You gain valuable, relevant experience to put on your resume AND you show potential employers that you’re truly motivated to contribute in this area AND you expand your network of professional contacts (and potential references!). Don’t be shy! Be sure to ask the volunteer manager for as many relevant responsibilities as possible to help shore up your experience.

  • Tip: Be sure to add all relevant volunteer experience on your resume, clearly indicating that it was volunteer work.

4. Keep learning, especially in-demand skills like AI: Ugh, I get it. You just finished school, so the last thing you want is…more school. However, in today’s workplace, EVERYONE has to keep learning new things—senior leaders and entry-level workers alike. Take courses (many of them are free) to brush up on today’s most in-demand skills, including AI and machine learning, communications, DEI and more. We all need to try to stay current in our changing world. How important is AI for new grads? Microsoft’s recent Work Trend Index found that:

  • 66% of leaders say they wouldn’t hire someone without AI skills.
  • 71% say they’d rather hire a less experienced candidate with AI skills than a more experienced candidate without them.
  • 77% of leaders say, with AI, early-in-career talent will be given greater responsibilities.  
  • Tips: You don’t need to be a software developer to use AI. Many employers are looking for basic skills in prompt engineering (i.e., using programs like ChatGPT effectively). In the past six months, the use of LinkedIn Learning courses designed to build AI aptitude has spiked 160% among non-technical professionals, with roles like project managers, architects, and administrative assistants looking to skill up most.
  • Courses to consider: LinkedIn Learning and Coursera offer courses on generative AI.

5. Build your network—in person and online: Sometimes, when you’re starting out, it’s hard to even know what kinds of jobs exist. One of the best ways to discover suitable career paths is to talk to people who have navigated them already. Get out there and meet people in your chosen field. Attend industry events (many of them are free), introduce yourself and mention that you’re looking for work and keen to learn from others. And after each event, connect with those you meet on LinkedIn, sending them a friendly message. And beyond meeting new people, contact your existing network, arrange coffee dates and casual chats, and explain what kinds of roles you’re looking for. You want to be top of mind when a suitable role comes up.

  • Tips: Include friends, family members and professors/teachers in your networking. Good people know good people! Ask people how they built their career, ask them for possible intros to connections who might offer advice. 

6. Build a standout, UNIQUE resume/cover letter: With so many jobseekers using ChatGPT to write their resumes and cover letters (46% of jobseekers admitted using ChatGPT according to ResumeBuilder), employers are being flooded with resumes that all look the same. And “flooded” isn’t an exaggeration—candidates are applying to 15% more roles, thanks to programs like LazyApply and ChatGPT, so of course, employers are turning to their own AI tools to screen applicants. How can you beat these bots?

  • Tips:
  • Use ChatGPT to create a draft of your resume/cover letter, ensuring they include as many of the key words from the job ad as applicable (while still being truthful).
  • Then, always adjust the auto-generated resume to make it your own, rewriting language to sound more authentic and truer to you—and make sure it’s all true, of course!
  • Avoid all fancy templates, graphics or interesting fonts—AI can’t read any of this.
  • Try to keep it to two pages and be sure to list your volunteer experience and AI skills.
  • Avoid using an unprofessional email address (for example, while you may love your pet, won’t impress an employer…unless you’re applying for roles with animals).
  • Submit a PDF version of your resume with a clear file name: Resume_FirstName_LastName.pdf.

7. Test the waters with part-time work: Sometimes it’s hard to know what you’ll like doing until you try it, and one of the best ways is through part-time work. While many new grads want to secure full-time employment (especially to pay off student debt), I recommend you keep building your skills (and your resume) by taking on relevant part-time roles as they come along. Remember, any exposure to a workplace, whether as a part-time employee or a volunteer, enables you to meet new people and build new skills. You never know, one of these contacts might end up connecting you with your dream job down the road.

8. Always follow up: Even if your resume is top-notch, don’t assume it will stand out. To highlight your interest in the role, follow up at least once (no more than twice—avoid pestering) with the hiring manager or recruiter by email or phone call. A little human connection goes a long way! And don’t be afraid to send a message on LinkedIn to further express your interest and stand-out from the crowd.

9. Prepare for the interview: Remember how you used ChatGPT to draft your resume? You can also use it to get ideas for your interview. Run the job ad through ChatGPT and ask it to suggest possible questions and answers. Practise your answers with a friend to make sure you sound confident, authentic and TRUTHFUL. If your interview is virtual, avoid reading any answers to the questions and instead, look the hiring manager in the eye and deliver your answers in a natural way. Before the interview, be sure to do your research on the company, recent news, the hiring manager, the team’s main projects/deliverables and the role itself. Be prepared to ask relevant questions. For example: What do you think would signal success in this role? If you have any doubts about my candidacy, how can I help clarify further?

  • Tips: Always follow up after an interview with a short, friendly email thanking the hiring manager for their time, expressing how interested you are in the role and offering to clarify anything further, if necessary. Oh yes, and if you’re interested, say it! Hiring leaders always want to know if the candidate has a keen interest in the role and the organization, so don’t leave them guessing.

10. Develop your dream job: Remember, not all roles are the stuff of dreams. It’s normal when you’re starting out that you will be assigned fairly routine tasks. The key is to look for every opportunity to learn, grow and build your skills. I think you can make most professional services jobs interesting if you look for ways to weave in the things you like to do. For example, ask for stretch assignments and raise your hand to contribute to projects. As your core strength improves and you take on more, suddenly your career is expanding in new ways – and the joy will come.

Lastly, I can’t stress enough that careers are rarely built alone. Everyone needs honest, frank advice from time to time throughout their career. I still rely on my business coach for guidance!

And you don’t have to pay professionals for career advice. Mentors come in many forms—from family, friends, fellow students, colleagues, neighbours and your social network, too. The key is to always listen and be willing to act on their input and advice. And remember, as you build connections, try to maintain them by staying in touch regularly. Sure, it takes effort, but it will pay off in the long run.  

One last point on this important subject of finding meaningful work post-graduation... a job search is hard work, and you will sometimes feel discouraged, even dejected. I see new grads making the effort to open career doors, and not getting the positive result they were hoping for. This is where resilience comes in! Schedule your time around your job search and keep applying. Say yes to social opportunities and let people know you’re on the job hunt. Ask for help and be open to advice. And whatever you do, don’t lose heart.

You never know when someone you know knows someone who is looking to fill your dream job.

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