You’re fresh off the podium with a new degree in hand, ready to take on the world and start building a career. The doom and gloom of the economy is ever-present, and you know you’re going to have to swim against that tide. However, you’re optimistic that you have what it takes to impress and land a fantastic job.
Preparing job applications, you’re doing everything right: double-checking dates and names, reviewing spelling and grammar, doing your research and keeping detailed notes. You feel like you have all the answers to hiring managers’ questions, but here’s a question you may not have asked yourself yet: do you know how to market yourself to prospective employers? Further, do you really know what your marketable skills are? With a little research and self-reflection, the answers you arrive at might surprise you.
As we go through our education and enter the workforce, we invariably pick up experience from different sources. Part-time or summer jobs, school clubs, and other activities and events are all opportunities where a job seeker can rightfully claim to have acquired or developed skills that are of use in the workplace. The problem is that most aspiring workers don’t know how to present those skills properly in a job application. Some can’t even identify them!
When preparing a new job application or updating your resumé, it’s helpful to start with an “experience inventory.” Review what you’ve done in the past and identify specific experiences where you used or acquired skills. For example, perhaps you worked as an office assistant for a period of time. Throughout your daily duties, you likely had to make schedules, create and organize paperwork or files, and so on. During that time, you were involved in planning and organization, communication, and technical work. In short, you enhanced a wide palate of broad business skills. Rather than just list off job duties on a resumé, you should present your knowledge as marketable skills that you’ve honed and put to use in effective, practical ways.
There’s a huge array of opportunities to build up your skills portfolio while you’re applying for a permanent or long-term job. Volunteering is certainly an excellent way to accrue additional skills and experience—but it is the notion of selflessness that can be the greatest reward when highlighting that work in the future. When employers see volunteer experience on a resumé, they right away take note that this is a person willing to donate precious time and energy with no financial gain—in short, someone who is committed to the work they do. But what does volunteering have to do with presenting your marketable skills?
It’s common sense that a serious job hunter will tailor each application for each individual position they are applying for. From your cover letter to your resumé, and even through the interview process, setting yourself apart from the other candidates is everything. The same is true when presenting your marketable skills. When applying for a heavily sought-after position, there’s a critical distinction between volunteering and interning. At first glance, they are essentially the same—work without pay. Neither is necessarily better than the other, but how you present your experience may be more suitable to a particular position. For example, emphasizing post-graduate volunteer work may enhance your candidacy for one position—working with an NGO, for example—but not another. If one were applying for a corporate position, showcasing your unpaid work in a business internship may be the wiser choice. In short, be aware of how you market yourself to every single prospective employer.
Employment among young graduates is still in an uncertain place. Competition is high and employers have the luxury of being picky. It’s easy to get discouraged or let yourself slack; after all, nobody likes continuing on after a string of rejections. That being said, tenacity and attention to detail may be your saving grace. A lot of young applicants don’t take the time to analyze their past experiences and promote themselves effectively—you can be the exception.
A little self-critique and attention to detail can make all the difference when creating your prospective employee “persona.” More importantly, employers recognize and reward those overtures because they see somebody who can think critically, be creative and demonstrate determination. Knowing how to effectively market your skills is, in reality, a skill itself—and it’s one that can lead to life-long success.