So, you’ve graduated from college—or high school—and you’re about to enter the big bad workforce. You’ve heard the dark tales of unemployment rates and years spent living in parents’ basements; even if you’re confident in your abilities, you’re a little worried about standing out from a crowd full of young people equally confident, and equally capable. But there are surprisingly simple ways to stand out from the crowd and appeal to employers.
1. Demonstrated diligence: Have you worked a lot of different jobs, or have you stuck to one or two projects and seen them through over the years? Millennials have a reputation from flitting from one thing to the next without ever truly sinking their teeth in, and employers are looking for the rare find: someone with varied experience, and demonstrated diligence. Highlight your commitment to a choice few projects on your resume, explaining the significant investments you’ve made so far, and how you’re ready to make an even more significant investment in the mission of their company.
2. People skills: It’s a cliché, but it’s true: Kids our age don’t know how to talk on the phone! And we’re not so great in real life, either. Sure, we may be rock solid at writing emails, cranking out code, and running multiple social media accounts with our eyes closed, but after spending our adolescence on AIM and iMessage, our ability to turn on the IRL charm can be understandably lacking. Stand out from the crowd by making sure you can speak clearly and confidently over the phone (sounds basic, but you’d be surprised how many people our age can’t!) and by putting yourself in situations where you’re forced to engage in intelligent conversation with total strangers and people decades older than you. Practice makes perfect, and your ease will shine through in interviews with future employers.
3. Uncommon languages: Whether it’s Swahili or Python, knowing a somewhat uncommon language will help you secure a job in today’s market. Employers are eager to kill two (or three, or nine) birds with one stone: When you bring a rare language to the table, you’re fulfilling the role of translator (or coder) as well as your official job title. It’s unlikely you’ll need to actually use the language that often, but companies like to be prepared for unexpected opportunities to expand. And hey, it also means that when the France office comes calling, your company will be more likely to nominate you for that role out in Paris.
4. Flexibility in a role: Just like knowing a few languages, being able to wear a few different job hats—with a smile—is invaluable in today’s job market. Be comfortable with taking on more than you signed up for; be the new girl or guy who is always game to try their hand at the unknown. If you land a job and it turns out to be less interesting or challenging than you’d hoped, it’s up to you to make it interesting. Make it challenging by looking for ways to help the people around you with their own projects, taking on different tasks and roles than the ones you’d originally showed up for. Not only is the job market perpetually in flux, actual job titles are, as well, and companies know to look for the potential hire who is willing to adapt, fast.
5. Low ego: This one’s simple! Confidence is key, but cockiness is a turn-off. Go into every interview prepared to show that you’re a humble, talented, and disciplined employee; that will speak far more loudly than undue boasting. Remember, employers are looking to hire someone they can trust, someone who will get the job done, and someone they’d like to grab a beer with or hang out with after hours. Fulfilling the first two categories won’t ensure the third.
6. A good humor: Be able to laugh at yourself. Even better, be capable of making others laugh! And remember that unless you’re going into the field of open-heart surgery (in which case you probably won’t have trouble finding a job anyway), our jobs aren’t a matter of life or death. Be someone who is fun to be around, not a perpetual source of stress and anxiety for those around you. Employers will be able to sense whether you have a good attitude from the first few minutes of your interview, so make sure that before you arrive you get into that positive headspace.
7. Mission-driven: At the end of the day, the best way to stand out in a crowd of recent graduates clutching their resumes is to align yourself with the company’s mission. Know their history, know their present, and educate yourself thoroughly on their future: Not just where they’re headed, but why. Is that company motivated by the things that motivate you? Are they solving problems that you yourself are keen to solve? Do they operate at your wavelength? Have you found your tribe? At the end of the day, if you can show an employer that your values and mission align with their own in some key ways, you’ll have a much better shot at getting the job than someone who comes in with a more mercenary approach. We’ve all got talent. We’ve all got skills. But we don’t all know what our motivating forces are; and until you do, it will be tough to stick out from the crowd.
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