New Grads, Follow 7 Steps to Score Glowing Job References

Spring is nearly in the air and millions of college students are looking ahead to graduation day. If they are getting prepared for life after they walk off campus for the final time, this group of millennials is also engaged in serious thinking about what they want to do next.

Here’s something else that students and early-career professionals should start thinking about: Building a portfolio of job references and taking the time to cultivate them.

For most employers, hiring an entry-level employee is a leap of faith. Without much of a workplace track record to judge by, employers are forced to depend on what fits on a piece of paper (a resume) and whatever can be gleaned from brief first impressions (interviews).

Is it any wonder that many entry-level job applicants from comparable schools and backgrounds are indistinguishable?

A few glowing job references can set a candidate apart from the crowd. Knowing that, how should a job seeker build out a killer roster of references? Here are seven key tips for putting together a top-notch reference list. These apply to first-time job seekers, but also to anyone who’s getting ready for the next move in their career.

1. Look for ways to cultivate your references. Check in regularly. Keep them up-to-date on your career successes. Talk to them about where you want to take your career. Not only will you build a base of supporters you can rely on for guidance, you will also have a group of people to turn to with confidence when you’re gunning for the job you want.

2. Get a sense of what your references are likely to say about you, especially your areas for improvement. This can be slightly tricky, but it’s doable. Ideally, your references are people you’ve gotten feedback from in the past, so you should have a feel for what they’ll say. To get clarity, it’s important to test your assumptions. It comes down to having a candid conversation with the people you’re planning to use as job references. Try to talk in a more casual, informal setting – at lunch or over a cup of coffee. Explain to them why you’d appreciate their help, and ask them to share their honest perspective on how they would talk about you during a reference check. Most times, references will be flattered by your request.

3. Don’t be afraid to serve as your own strongest advocate. It’s important to make sure that your professors, managers and other potential references know about your capabilities so that they can speak clearly with potential employers about you and your work. While this step is important, don’t be too aggressive when doing it.

4. Don’t hesitate to show off your strengths in the classroom and the workplace. Job references need to see what you can do, so they can tell prospective employers about it. Look for opportunities to demonstrate progress and smart work, so others can observe it. This doesn’t mean you should be a shameless self-promoter. It’s important to share how confident you are but do so while acting with a sense of humility. Still, if no one knows what you can accomplish, no one can tell your future managers why they should hire you.

5. Let your references know that they might be called upon and have their current contact information. If your references are readily available when an employer asks for them, it indicates that you’ve informed and prepared them to take a call or an online request – all good signs that you’re someone who is focused, thorough and motivated.

6. In addition to professors, try to have some former managers as references, even if they’re from internships. Input from people who have seen you perform in the workplace counts for a lot. Professors are great – and you should use them – but employers are thinking about how you’re going to perform once you’re walking through their doors. Feedback from managers at internships, summer jobs, work-study or any other kind of employment is key.

7. Be grateful – and show it. Your references are doing you a favor. They’re going out of their way to help you build your future. And they’re putting their own reputation and credibility on the line when they vouch for you. Be sure to thank them. A hand-written note or a warmly worded email can mean a lot. At the same time, these are folks whom you may want to ask for help again. Use the opportunity of thanking them, to keep cultivating the relationship and to ask what you can do to help them in the future.

So, whether you’re a college senior or someone getting ready to look for that next job, don’t lose track of your references. Good references don’t just happen. Your reference roster has to be cared for, nurtured and maintained. High-quality job references can make the difference between getting that job or wondering why your phone isn’t ringing.

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Multiple ways to apply for jobs

Don’t Limit Yourself to Online Applications

You want that job search to last and last? Well, then continue to rely solely on submitting online applications. You want to accelerate this bad boy? Don’t stop once you apply online for that position. Start finding and then endearing yourself to people working at that company of interest. Schedule informational interviews with would-be peers. Approach an internal recruiter and ask a few questions. Get on the radar of the very people who might influence you getting an interview.

Tip

By lining up with people on the inside of the companies at which you want to work, you will instantly set yourself apart. Decision makers interview people who come recommended or by way of a personal referral before they start sorting through the blob of resumes that arrives by way of the ATS.

Linkedin is not your only resource for finding jobs in Bellevue

We’ve seen more and more stories recently of people finding work through LinkedIn. So why would a job seeker look anywhere else for online networking? Here is one reason why it’s a bad idea to limit yourself, as a job seeker, to just LinkedIn.

The 1 Résumé Problem

It is common knowledge that when applying for a job, the candidate should customize the résumé to that position.

We have blogged about the importance of keywords before. Basically, if you want Google to return your name when a recruiter searches a keyword, you need to have chosen the right ones to put in your profile.

When going for a job, the hiring manager will look to see if your résumé is generic, or if you have really addressed the organization’s concerns.

But wait!

LinkedIn gives you only one résumé.

And to make matters worse, people are actually uploading a traditional résumé to be downloaded from their LinkedIn profile.

Once someone gets control of that document, you have no idea where it will end up. And if you haven’t customized it, you could be written off completely.

We have several clients who are testing the waters in two or more different industries. There is no way for them to cover all bases with just LinkedIn alone.

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Pointers to improve your resume in Bellevue

It’s deceptively easy to make mistakes on your resume and exceptionally difficult to repair the damage once an employer gets it. So prevention is critical, whether you’re writing your first resume or revising it for a mid-career job search. Check out this resume guide to the most common pitfalls and how you can avoid them.

1. Typos and Grammatical Errors

Your resume needs to be grammatically perfect. If it isn’t, employers will read between the lines and draw not-so-flattering conclusions about you, like: “This person can’t write,” or “This person obviously doesn’t care.”

2. Lack of Specifics

Employers need to understand what you’ve done and accomplished. For example:

A. Worked with employees in a restaurant setting.
B. Recruited, hired, trained and supervised more than 20 employees in a restaurant with $2 million in annual sales.

Both of these phrases could describe the same person, but the details and specifics in example B will more likely grab an employer’s attention.

3. Attempting One Size Fits All

Whenever you try to develop a one-size-fits-all resume to send to all employers, you almost always end up with something employers will toss in the recycle bin. Employers want you to write a resume specifically for them. They expect you to clearly show how and why you fit the position in a specific organization.

4. Highlighting Duties Instead of Accomplishments

It’s easy to slip into a mode where you simply start listing job duties on your resume. For example:

  • Attended group meetings and recorded minutes.
  • Worked with children in a day-care setting.
  • Updated departmental files.

Employers, however, don’t care so much about what you’ve done as what you’ve accomplished in your various activities. They’re looking for statements more like these:

  • Used laptop computer to record weekly meeting minutes and compiled them in a Microsoft Word-based file for future organizational reference.
  • Developed three daily activities for preschool-age children and prepared them for a 10-minute holiday program performance.
  • Reorganized 10 years worth of unwieldy files, making them easily accessible to department members.

5. Going on Too Long or Cutting Things Too Short

Despite what you may read or hear, there are no real rules governing resume length. Why? Because human beings, who have different preferences and expectations where resumes are concerned, will be reading it.

That doesn’t mean you should start sending out five-page resumes, of course. Generally speaking, you usually need to limit yourself to a maximum of two pages. But don’t feel you have to use two pages if one will do. Conversely, don’t cut the meat out of your resume simply to make it conform to an arbitrary one-page standard.

6. A Bad Objective

Employers do read your resume objective, but too often they plow through vague pufferies like, “Seeking a challenging position that offers professional growth.” Give employers something specific and, more importantly, something that focuses on their needs as well as your own. Example: “A challenging entry-level marketing position that allows me to contribute my skills and experience in fund-raising for nonprofits.”

7. No Action Verbs

Avoid using phrases like “responsible for.” Instead, use action verbs: “Resolved user questions as part of an IT help desk serving 4,000 students and staff.”

8. Leaving Off Important Information

You may be tempted, for example, to eliminate mention of the jobs you’ve taken to earn extra money for school. Typically, however, the soft skills you’ve gained from these experiences (e.g., work ethic, time management) are more important to employers than you might think.

9. Visually Too Busy

If your resume is wall-to-wall text featuring five different fonts, it will most likely give the employer a headache. So show your resume to several other people before sending it out. Do they find it visually attractive? If what you have is hard on the eyes, revise.

10. Incorrect Contact Information

I once worked with a student whose resume seemed incredibly strong, but he wasn’t getting any bites from employers. So one day, I jokingly asked him if the phone number he’d listed on his resume was correct. It wasn’t. Once he changed it, he started getting the calls he’d been expecting. Moral of the story: Double-check even the most minute, taken-for-granted details — sooner rather than later.

 

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Are you an Obvious Fit? Redmond Job Seeker

Make Yourself a “Smack-in-the-Forehead” Obvious Fit

When you apply for a job via an online application process, it’s very likely that your resume will first be screened by an applicant tracking system and then (assuming you make this first cut) move onto human eyeballs. The first human eyeballs that review your resume are often those of a lower level HR person or recruiter, who may or may not understand all of the nuances of that job for which you’re applying.

Thus, it behooves you to make it very simple for both the computer and the human to quickly connect their “Here’s what we’re looking for” to your “Here’s what you can walk through our doors and deliver.”

Tip

Study the job description and any available information you have on the position. Are you mirroring the words and phrases in the job description? Are you showcasing your strengths in the areas that seem to be of paramount importance to this role? Line it up. Line it up.

Job Loss Happens…

Be More Than Prepared

Always have an up-to-date resume ready to send. You never know when an opportunity that is too good to pass up might come along. If you’re not on LinkedIn yet, create a LinkedIn Profile and start making connections who can help your job search.

Don’t Wait

If you are laid-off, file for unemployment benefits right away. You will most likely be able to file online or by phone. Waiting could delay your benefits check.

Get Help

Utilize free or inexpensive services that provide career counseling and job search assistance such as college career offices, state Department of Labor offices or your local public library. Many libraries provide workshops, programs, classes, computers and printers you can use, and other resources to help you with your job search.

 Work with CareerPathsNW

We are the Pacific Northwest’s leading recruiting agency, its a no cost service to the candidates and if you are in the market for a job, we can help connect you with the right jobs with companies that are looking for individuals like you. Come see us for a free consultation.

Getting ready for an interview

Get Ready to Interview

An important step in landing a job is acing your interview. You may have several rounds of interviews, usually starting with a phone interview, then followed by in-person interviews. You should never risk an interview by “just winging it.” Take your interview preparation seriously, and be sure to:

  • Carefully read the job description, focusing on the responsibilities and requirements. Be prepared to explain, with tangible examples, how you fit the requirements and how you can fulfill the responsibilities.
  • Research the company, including their mission statement and any recent or notable achievements, or changes in strategy or positioning.
  • Practice answering interview questions specific to your desired position and industry.

Prepare for a Phone Interview

For a phone interview, set aside at least 45 minutes of quiet, uninterrupted time. Have your resume and cover letter printed or open on your computer for reference. Be sure to take the call somewhere with excellent cell service. If you have one, a landline is preferable for optimal audio quality.

Prepare for an In-Person Interview

For an in-person interview, arrive 10 minutes early with a printed cover letter and resume. Be sure to dress to impress, and express polite and professional enthusiasm about the position and the company.

Take the Time to Say Thanks

Be sure to take the time to follow-up after the interview with a thank you note or email message reiterating your interest in the job and the company.

Powerful words to use in Interviews

Word choice during an interview can make the difference between getting the job and being just another ho-hum candidate. These powerful ideas will help you standout as a candidate.

Responsibility: During an interview, it’s always good to demonstrate that you’re responsible—you want to show interviewers that if you’re set to a task, you’ll not only accomplish it, you’ll do it on time and to the standards laid out. Example words,

  • Accomplish
  • Coordinate
  • Detail-oriented
  • Effective
  • Efficient

Words Reflecting Company Values:  Want to show a company you’re a good fit? Mirror the words the company uses to describe itself. Very likely, these same catchphrases are used frequently in internal communications and company-wide meetings. Even if interviewers don’t consciously realize that you’re reflecting their own words back, it’ll make a subtle, positive impression. Examine the language on the company’s “About Me” page on their website, on social media pages, and within the job advertisement. You can also choose synonyms to avoid sounding too much like you’ve memorized the company’s own copy. This will help interviewers know that you understand what they’re looking for.

Passion: One of the things interviewers try to uncover is if you’re just going to show up and do the job, or if you genuinely care about your work. Will you go above and beyond your job description? Example Words

  • Energized
  • Enthusiastic
  • Interested
  • Love
  • Motivated
  • Priority
  • Win

Leadership: Are you interviewing for a leadership role? If so, it’s particularly important to use strong, active verbs. Show how you’ve led teams and projects, and take ownership of results and accomplishments. Example Words

  • Accelerate
  • Accomplish
  • Build
  • Coordinate
  • Deliver
  • Develop

Industry Buzzwords and Jargon: Each industry comes with its own buzzwords. When you’re outside of the field, this jargon can be off-putting—like a secret code keeping you from following the conversation. Once you’re in the know, and the jargon is familiar, using it during conversations is a bit like a secret handshake—it lets interviewers know you really get it. To use jargon, of course, you’ll have to understand it, so if you’re new to it, read up, get familiar. Follow people in the industry on Twitter, connect with them on LinkedIn, and seek out relevant blogs and videos.

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Bellevue, Job Search Tips, Thank you Matters

Thank You Matters

I once placed a candidate into an engineering role with a company that manufactures packaging equipment. He was competing head-to-head with another engineer, who had similar talents and wanted the job just as badly. My candidate sent a thoughtful, non-robotic thank you note to each person with whom he’d interviewed, within about two hours of leaving their offices. The other candidate sent nothing.

Guess why my candidate got the job offer? Yep, the thoughtful, non-robotic thank you notes. They sealed the deal for him, especially considering the other front-runner sent nothing.

Tip

Consider crafting, original, genuine thank you notes (one for each interviewer) the moment you get back to a computer, following the interview. The speed with which you send the notes, and the quality, will make an impact.

And finally, remember that the interviewer cares much more about what you can do for them than what you want out of the deal. Certainly, they’re going to care a bunch about what you want once you establish your worth. But during the interview, you must demonstrate why you make business sense to hire, period.

Unconventional Career Advice

1. “In a new job, accept those first few invitations to lunch or happy hour. If you decline them, for whatever reason, they will stop, and you may find yourself an inadvertent outsider.”

2. “Don’t look too busy. I’ve seen smart and dedicated employees fail to get promoted, because they have taken on too much, working too hard, and appeared too frazzled. If you appear stressed, people will think you aren’t prepared to take on more, and you’ll miss opportunities for new and innovative projects.”

3. “Never, ever cook fish in the office microwave.”

4. “As you move up, your future success depends on doing unassigned work and responsibilities. Anyone who made it past the hiring process can do the assigned job at the company, but it takes a lot more to deliver value to the company that wasn’t assigned or even thought of.”

5. “Understand when people see you check your phone at every call, then don’t answer when they call, they then know you put them on a low priority.”

6. “Help others even if there is no direct benefit to yourself. It takes so little energy to answer questions, provide referrals, open doors, etc., for people who need your help, even if doing so offers you nothing immediate in return. Your efforts will be rewarded in the future in wholly unexpected ways.”

7. “The network of people you know who leave your current company are often times more valuable to you than those with your company.”

8. “The weaknesses that you’re unaware of will hurt you the most. This is your blind spot. You must determine your hidden weaknesses and work to overcome them, and you’re going to need the help from others to do this.”

9. “When you want to learn some skill, look around for someone who is already good at it. Then just watch what they do, and copy it. Find what works for you, and modify it to your own abilities and style.”

10. “Ask your boss what his biggest problem is, and make it go away.”

11. “Don’t just look up — look laterally as well, because people with diverse experience usually progress faster than people with more experience.”

12. “Entitlement is a career killer. Focus on staying grateful and working hard rather than feeling that things are owed to you.”

13. “Try to make the next person’s job down the line easier. For example, if you are working on a project that goes through different hands, see what kinds of things you can do on your end that will make the process flow easier for the next person who performs the next step.”