Fresh Grad 101

Making your job application stand out


I’ve been spending some time on LinkedIn recently, and I keep seeing posts like this:

I’ve sent out like hundreds of CVs to different job vacancies, but I haven’t been invited to any interviews at all. It has been XX months since I graduated, but I’m still unemployed. I’ve applied to every single opportunities out there, regardless of whether it’s in my field or not. What am I doing wrong?

So I thought that maybe, I could share some of the steps that I always take when applying for jobs. These steps have helped me tremendously – both for my first full-time job and for my current part-time job(s). Hopefully, by sharing these experiences and steps that I took, it can help you in making your job application stand out from the crowd.

Play to your strengths in your job applications

Personally, I think the biggest issue with a lot of fresh graduates is that they do not know their own strengths. If you’ve read my previous post on what to look for in a job, I wrote about getting to know yourself personally. Finding out your strengths and the skills that you have will allow you to hone down on some of the job vacancies that you would be a good candidate for.

For example, personally, I can say that I am pretty good at working with students. I’ve had experiences with advising and working with high school students on a voluntary basis through Projek Inspirasi. My internship with MACEE has given me the insights of working in an education management / administration-type of environment. Not to mention, I’ve worked part-time in the US as well, where my jobs required me to interact with students on a daily basis.

So, when I was applying for student-facing roles, I can show them the evidence that “Yes, I am qualified. Yes, I do have experiences with high school and university students. Yes, I can do this.” This is especially useful because working with students is different than working with adults. Having those experiences and using that as a strength has helped me to land interviews and job offer(s).

Take some time and figure out your strength(s)

Think about what you’re good at. It may be that you’re good at analyzing and interpreting data and statistics. Or you may be good at organizing and managing a team or people. Some people may be super creative at designing posters or marketing materials, while others may be more inclined towards influencing and negotiating with people. 

Whatever your strengths are, take some time to figure it out, and think about how you can utilize your strengths in your job applications. And, the best part of it is, your strengths do not necessarily have to be in the same field as the job(s) that you are applying to. A lot of strengths and soft skills are transferable across industries, so you just need to know how you can utilize it in the jobs that you are applying for.

When you play to your strengths, it makes it easier for you to pass through the first hurdle of being considered for the job(s). If you can find ways to incorporate your strengths into your CV, cover letter and/or interview, it can help in making your job application stand out. 

One of the few times I went back to INTEC Education College to talk to new students.

A job is not just a paycheck, and a job application is more than sending in your CV.

I personally believe that a job application is so much more than just sending a piece of document or submitting an online application. I believe in the personal touch of it. It’s about putting in the extra effort of reaching out to them and making connection. It’s all about making a good first impression – one that will remind them of you.

I mean, think about it. What you would feel if a stranger comes up to you and say “Hi, marry me please“? It’d be weird, wouldn’t it? It’s like, “Uh, hello, who the hell are you?“. You don’t even know them, who they are, what they like or dislike, and suddenly they want to marry you? They don’t even take the time to use a pick-up line on you, for God’s sake! Talk about effort, right?

It’s essentially the same for a job application. You don’t just go up to a company and say “HIRE ME PLEASE”. You have to put in the effort to research the company, to learn about their culture and vision/mission. Read the advert and understand the job requirements, and how you fulfill them. Prove to the company that you are applying to the job because you want to join their team. Show that you are invested in it, that you believe in their mission and their goals. Woo them with your skills and strengths, make them want to hire you

Standing out by making a good first impression.

There are many ways in which you can do this. Personally (and I’ve written this in my Getting that First Job post), I usually send out a proper email to the hiring manager / potential manager. I refer to the job advert while tailoring my resume and cover letter, so that I can ensure that I cover most, if not all, of their requirements. 

It is also about the small little things that people often overlook. For example, it includes the way you send your resume (a PDF works better than a Word document), how you write/reply to emails, and how you act throughout the whole application process. These things may be minor details, but they all add up as they review your application.

If you’re invited for an interview, that’s your golden chance to make your job application stand out. Dress up nicely (you can Google up proper dress code and all) and have all documents on hand. Properly greet the interviewer(s) and/or recruiter(s), be courteous to everyone (even other candidates). Answer their questions with solid examples, and be professional throughout the whole interview.

Standing out in a job application
This is the exact clothes that I’ve worn to a interview – it’s not common (as people usually wear black or dark blue), but it certainly screams out “This is me!”. I think I do a pretty good job at pulling this bright color out during an interview, but other people might not prefer such colors.

Also, remember to stay true to yourself during an interview. Talk about your strengths, your passion and how it relates to the company’s vision and goals. Don’t try to pretend to be someone that you’re not – they can usually figure that out. Make sure that you fully understand the job requirements and description.

Be invested in it – show that you want it.

No, this does not mean telling them “Please give me this job, I’m desperate. I’ve been unemployed for months, I need a job.” 

Instead, show them that you have put in the effort and time in the job application. Show your interest in the position and/or company. Ask questions – especially since most interviewers will give you time at the end of the interview for this. Always take the opportunity to learn more about them, as this can also help you in making the decision if you got the job.

But what if I don’t have any questions to ask?

That’s bullshit.

You cannot possibly have no questions at all about a vacancy. At the very least, you could ask them about the application process / procedure. You can also ask them about their own experiences, which can also be an indicator of how the culture is. 

I’m listing down some questions that you could think about and use in your future interviews. Personally, I’ve used some of the questions before successfully, but you can always choose which one you’re most comfortable with.

  1. What is the best/worst experience you’ve had in this job?
  2. What would you say is the most important skill / characteristic that someone needs to be successful in this job?
  3. How many candidates are you interviewing for this position?
  4. What are the next steps? / When can I expect to hear back?
  5. What would be the probation process (how long, how would it be reviewed, etc)?
  6. How is a usual working day like for this position?
  7. What are the training / staff development programs available at the company? 

These questions are general and can be used to any interviews, but feel free to ask more specific questions to the company/organization.

You can, if you want to, ask questions on sensitive issues (i.e. salary/bonus, etc), but make sure you ask it nicely. Personally, I’ve questioned an organization’s diversity in my job interview, which seems to be a super sensitive topic for some people. But then again, I’m a pretty blunt person, and I’ve phrased it well, so the interviewers were OK with it.

Moving forward from here on out.

Make sure you spend ample time on your job applications and make it as good as possible. Always remember that quality > quantity, and one good and solid application is better than ten half-assed, generic applications. 

I also have a pinned tweet on my Twitter account, which I have linked to my random Twitter threads on education and/or job-related topics. Feel free to have a read if you’re interested, as some of them may be related to this topic.

If you’ve read this far – congratulations! I salute you for your commitment and investment in continuous learning and self-growth. I wish you all the best if you’re in the job search phase right now. If you want to find out more on how you can develop your employability skills, check out the new online career mentoring project that I’d be trying out next year.

If you haven’t done so already, you may also choose to read some of my other Fresh Grad 101 posts. I do hope that you found this post (and/or the others) helpful in navigating the fresh graduate job market. If there are specific things that you found particularly beneficial or useful to you, please do leave a comment or two! I would love to hear from you and your experiences.

Until next time, stay awesome! <3 

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