Out of all the emails I get from readers, one of the most common subjects is career advice. I think most of you know I work in public relations and have a full time job at a PR agency here in New York. I recently went through the process of hiring an entry-level PR assistant and it really opened my eyes to a number of things recent grads could be doing better when applying for jobs. Despite having received over 300 resumes, I ended up choosing to interview only a handful of candidates. So what made those select few stand out?
Internship experience and specific skills aside, the resumes and cover letters that caught my eye all had a few things in common. So without further ado, here are my top 5 tips to stand out when applying for an entry level job.
*Disclaimer: these tips are from the perspective of hiring for an entry level public relations role — not claiming these tips apply to every industry!
Location is key: Your resume and LinkedIn profile should say you are based in the same city as the job you’re applying to
One of the ways hiring managers will narrow down an applicant pool is by weeding out the out-of-town resumes. It’s very unlikely a company will cover relocating fees for an entry-level hire because there are so many recent grads trying to get jobs. When a role opens that needs to be immediately filled (often the case in the PR industry) a prospective employer is going to look first at where a candidate is based. It’s much easier to hire someone in the local area than go through the headache of waiting for an out-of-state candidate to travel in for an interview, move to the area, etc.
I suggest adding a local address to your resume (I made up a fake one when I was in college.) If you aren’t comfortable doing that, then call out in your cover letter that you are planning to immediately relocate.
Aesthetics are everything: Stick to a traditional format and design
I strongly believe that your experience should speak for itself. No matter how bold, flashy and visually appealing your resume looks, it won’t mean anything if you don’t have the skills and experience to back it up. My advice: stick to black or blue text and have distinct sections detailing out your experience and skills. Not sure where to start? There are so many great resume examples online or you can ask your college career center for guidance.
Cover letter: Keep it short, sweet and to the point
You wouldn’t believe how many resumes I got that were accompanied by novel long cover letters. Okay, maybe novel is an exaggeration, but a lot were essay length! I get why people do it — they want to stand out and show they’re serious about the role. But to be honest, most hiring managers don’t have the time to read your life story. Your cover letter should clearly state your intentions and tease the best points of your resume — not detail your career history dating back to high school. A few sentences is more than enough!
Your best assets: Call out your skills and the specific programs you know
One of things I always look for first on a resume is a candidate’s specific skills and what computer programs they know how to use. Example: Microsoft Excel, Microsoft PowerPoint, Photoshop, Social Media, Graphic Design — you guys get it. A hiring manager skimming your resume could easily miss a skill if you just have it listed within a bullet. You gotta clearly call out what makes you awesome!
Be strategic: Tailor your resume and cover letter to the role you are applying
One of the mistakes that I think entry-level applicants make is not strategically tailoring their resume and cover letter. Grads try to make themselves marketable to employers by literally saying they’ve done it all and are open to anything (I know, I was there at one point.) We received a lot great applicants that also had experience in related industries such as social media and marketing. The issue was when I read their resume and cover letter, they never called out their passion for public relations or explained how what they did at their social media internship related to the open role. We were looking for someone that was invested in working for a public relations agency — not a person literally looking to do anything that pays a salary (as is often the case with recent grads.) If you are really serious about getting hired, you need to make that hiring manager believe the job you are applying for is the only one you want.
I hope this may help some of you who are looking for a job now or will be applying in the spring! I’ve linked some of my past career advice posts below so definitely check those out too. You are also always welcome to Tweet me questions or send me a message to my Facebook page 🙂 Good luck!!