You’ve diligently invested in your education and future career. You’ve devoted countless hours, pages full of study notes and innumerable cups of coffee to achieving the very best grades you could. Now it’s time to secure your first job; hopefully, the first steppingstone in a long and rewarding career. How do you ensure you stand out from hundreds of equally talented graduates competing for those top roles?
Of course, graduating cum laude or achieving above average marks will attract attention to your profile. There are, however, several less obvious qualities that reveal your character and make you a more appealing candidate overall.
Authenticity – you don’t need to be perfect; you need to be you
If the main thing employers looked for when recruiting graduates was perfection, then there would be little need for an application and interview process. It would then logically follow that if there were 50 vacancies available for graduate hires in the market, the individuals with the top 50 academic records would be the ones to snag those spots.
That, however, is not the case. Employers want to get to know the person behind the certificates and merits. They want to get a sense of who you are: your personality and the aptitudes and attributes that could bring a distinctive set of strengths and viewpoints to the company. Focusing on authentic storytelling to demonstrate your thinking style, problem solving abilities and passion for your area of interest is a winning approach. Apply it to all aspects of your professional brand to set yourself apart: in your LinkedIn profile, on your CV, in motivation letters and during interviews.
Curiosity and self-driven learning – show, don’t tell
This article in the Harvard Business Review highlights the importance of using self-directed learning to finetune your skills and add to your repertoire of capabilities. Not only is this an easy way to elevate your skillset from others that have pursued similar formal qualifications; it demonstrates highly sought-after traits such as curiosity, a genuine interest in your field of choice, and an intrinsic motivation for continued improvement.
Self-awareness, coachability and EQ
One of the most asked interview questions; “what would you say your weaknesses are”, immediately instills fear in most candidates. They assume that admitting to weaknesses could disqualify them from the role.
On the contrary, this question is critical to consider with an open mind. Everyone has weaknesses, or if considered through a more positive lens, areas of development and improvement.
Being able to self-assess areas of development means that those themes can be focused on and improved upon. It shows emotional maturity and the ability to be both humble and vulnerable, which are vital to being a successful part of a team and growing as a professional.
Being future focused
Are you able to talk about your future and how this opportunity will be a good fit and a positive experience for you?
This provides insight to prospective employers in a multi-faceted way. You’re demonstrating a genuine interest in the company and what the role has to offer. You’re not just looking to take on any job. You’ve spent time doing your homework and can talk about why this opportunity is right for you, and what you can bring to table that the company values. Being genuinely excited about your future is contagious – if you’re enthusiastic about the company and the role you’ll be tackling, chances are your interviewer will be too.
Remote working skills
In the post-COVID working world, remote and hybrid working is not going anywhere. Building strong relationships with your team and collaborating with others remotely can require a particular assortment of skills that employers will be looking for you to demonstrate.
According to this Forbes article, these include strong written communication, collaboration, ability to focus amidst distractions, time management, and adaptability. Think of how you can demonstrate these skills during your application process. Proofread your CV and letter of introduction. Better yet, get someone to proofread them for you – fresh eyes will be quick to spot grammatical errors or ambiguous language. Saying you have great written communication skills and high attention to detail doesn’t quite ring true when there are typos in your profile and application e-mail. Prepare some examples of scenarios you’ve faced that demonstrate your ability to adapt to unexpected obstacles, or to identify tools that help you effectively manage your time.
Joining the employment market for the first time can be daunting, but knowing what employers are looking for is valuable in making a positive impact. Having fun during the process is important as well! Take some pressure off by remembering that having these opportunities available to you is exciting and could be the start of an incredible journey.
Your interviewers are just people, exactly like you, who also had to start their career somewhere. They are simply looking to get to know you a bit better.