For students in their last semester at BU, finding a job in February may not be as urgent as finding a good spring break destination. But it can take months to craft a resume and cover letter, search and apply for jobs, and go through the interview process. That means students looking for a seamless transition into the working world should start their search now. To help demystify the process, the Office of Career Services is holding Career Month until March 1. BU Today spoke with Deborah Halliday, assistant director of Career Services, about how technology has — and hasn’t — changed the job application process.
BU Today: How is technology changing the way people apply for jobs?
Halliday: Job seekers have much greater access to information on available jobs than they had in the past. They can learn about opportunities thousands of miles away almost as easily as they can learn about openings in their own city. Candidates can now submit resumes and apply for jobs with just a few clicks. The downside to all of this is that, as with the online college application process, many more people are now applying to those jobs and the chance of a resume being seen has decreased.
Regardless of technological improvements, the face-to-face encounter, the handshake, and the personal impression still play a strong role in most hiring decisions. It could potentially be too easy for students to rely on technology and not prepare for those crucial in-person encounters.
Can these changes help students land a job, or should they continue to rely on traditional methods?
While they can definitely help students identify job opportunities, it is important that they not abandon the more traditional methods. One of the best ways to find out about job openings is still through networking. I think sometimes the term has a bad connotation with some students, and they perceive it as taking an unfair advantage or using others in a negative way. Networking is simply letting friends, family, and families of friends know that you are looking and what you are looking for and asking if they have any ideas as to what your next steps could be or suggestions as to where to look. Most people really like to be of assistance, and if you are sincere, you won’t be using them in a negative way. Remember also that networking is a two-way street; you might be able to help someone else with a job lead sometime.
Do you think that video resumes will gain in popularity or should they be avoided?
My opinion, and I believe the opinion of the rest of the staff here, is that video resumes should be avoided. First of all, it can be very difficult to come across positively and professionally in a video. Video resumes also open the door to the types of discrimination that used to occur when employers required that a recent photo be attached to any job application. Many court battles were fought to end discrimination based on race, ethnicity, gender, age, and appearance, and I’d hate to see the use of a fun technology reverse all of that.
Some people say that the employer will see you in the face-to-face interview anyway. The difference is that the resume gets the candidate to the interview stage, and employers should be basing their interview decisions on qualifications and experience, not appearance.
Online job sites and e-mail enable applicants to apply for more jobs, which means employers must sift through more resumes. How can students increase their chances of getting an interview?
Many online systems screen for keywords. It is important to carefully read the job requirements and make sure that your resume references the keywords of those requirements. The keywords are also important when a person reads your resume, but they are often the only way an automated system can find you.
When applying via e-mail, one question that frequently arises is whether the cover letter and resume should be sent as one attachment or two. The documents should be clearly named, so the person opening the e-mail knows what will be found inside. It’s important to always use your name as part of the document name. In other words, instead of saving my resume as “resume,” I should save it as “resume D. Halliday.” This will help recruiters find the specific candidate they are looking for in a sea of documents.
Depending on the company and the situation, it can also be a good idea to follow up with a printed copy of your resume. Be sure to reference in your cover letter what date you applied online or to whom you e-mailed your resume. Always try to find the name of a specific person to whom to address the correspondence.
What else can students do to help their job application stand out?
It’s important for students to remember that once they graduate, there is a major shift in the way their resume is viewed by employers. When a student is looking for an internship, it’s OK to say in your objective or cover letter that you are looking for an opportunity that will help you grow or enhance your learning. Once students graduate, however, employers want someone who can fill a need within their organization. The best advice then is to target the resume to what the employer is looking for. Provide the crucial information near the top of the resume, and avoid extraneous information. The resume needs to stand out within 15 to 20 seconds. You want your resume to make it to the yes pile, where it might get a more thorough look.
Of course I can’t stress enough the importance of proofreading. Reread both your resume and your cover letter. Have one or two other people read them carefully. Have them reviewed by a professional in one of the career offices on campus. And double-check your phone numbers; you’d be amazed how many people send out resumes with incorrect phone numbers.
Finally, follow up with a specific individual if you can, by phone or by e-mail. You want to come across as seriously interested in the position, but not as a pest. Let them know that you are interested and would love an interview, but don’t demand answers from them that they might not be ready to give.
Career Month culminates with a career fair on March 1, from noon to 3:30 p.m. in Metcalf Hall. A complete list of Career Month activities can be found on the Office of Career Services Web site. Students can also search for jobs and internships on BU CareerLink.
Catherine Santore can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.