College students and new graduates often ask me similar questions “how do I make my resume stand out so I can land an interview and get my first job?”.
I had been a long-time hiring manager for software development positions with the latest at Amazon. I would like to share some thoughts that might be helpful to the graduating class 2020 as well as other students who are impacted by this pandemic. If you are seasoned engineers but looking for a change, some of these might still be applicable.
1. Accumulate Early
There are certainly ways to make your resume more eye-catching. That is the easy part. The hard part is the content. And that content comes from effort and experience one has accumulated over years leading to the resume writing. That is why your college years need to be a lot more than getting good scores in the coursework. You need to use those years to accumulate skills, cultivate your resume content and interview stories, and build your portfolio.
How do you do it? Here’re a few things to keep in mind and take actions on.
- Set a goal. Work backward from your goal. Have a check list of skills you want to and need to build. Form a plan on how to acquire them.
- If you are in software development, code every day, participate in hackathons, coding camps, etc. Maintain a community mindset, participate in volunteer activities. Of course, try to get internship opportunities as early as possible.
- Pick up some hobby projects to allow you to apply what you learned in projects that you are passionate about. If you can, team up with friends and classmates. It can be a good practice for learning how to work with and for a team.
- And when you are in these activities and projects, you need to be all in! Nothing is below you and nothing is above you. Be a leader and take extreme ownership in whatever you participate.
Graduating soon or already graduated? Starting earlier is essential, but it’s never too late to start now.
2. Learn Continuously
Ultimately to build those skills in your check-list, the only “How” is to continuously and fearlessly learn. You learn by doing thing the right way. But you learn even more when you have struggled and failed. So be ready and willing to fail. And don’t let these failures and lesson-learned get forgotten and wasted, write them down. Besides, they can be good stories for your interviews down the road.
3. Be Collaborative
Employers wants to hire leaders. And everyone can be a leader. What make one a leader? They continuously improve themselves. They inspire others to improve. They help others and the whole team to be successful. Remember, you can he helpful to your teammate in big and small things. Besides, the best way to learn is to teach and help others learn. But keep in mind that learning is always mutual. While you are helping others, be mindful about what you can learn from the person you are helping and teaching. Last but not the least, leaders are respectful of others.
4. Build Connections
If feasible, find a couple mentors. Someone who can help you build and refine that skill checklist. Someone who you can bounce ideas with and seek advice from. If you are close to graduation, attend job fairs in person (or nowadays virtually). Recruiters and managers put a lot of effort going through the resumes they collected during campus visits. That is why your presence at the campus recruiting events is especially important.
5. Be yourself but be prepared
If all the previous steps have helped you land an interview, congratulations! Now it is the time to present yourself well. But first more preparations.
Before the interview, do your homework, research about the company’s business, culture, technologies as well as their interview questions. Many recruiters and employers actually share a lot of preparation materials with incoming on-site candidates. Spend time go through these materials thoroughly. I also heard managers recommending their candidates to use sites like leetcode.com to practice live-coding questions. Technical competency is important, but making sure you are familiar and aligned with the company culture is important as well if not even more important.
Now the preparations are done, during the interview, you need to be yourself. Show confidence without being aloof. Show curiosity by asking follow-up questions. Demonstrate energy and passion. Be open in sharing your past successes as well as mistakes. Be thoughtful about your lesson-learned stories.
6. Willing To Compromise
Landing a dream job for your first job takes both competency and luck. With very little industrial experience, it is hard to differentiate yourself from thousands of other candidates. So, be willing to take a less-than-ideal job if you have to. Use this job to build up your track record, experience and your portfolio.
Taking a compromise doesn’t mean your can comprise on the effort and the results during this first job. This is your chance of establishing yourself and prove to your future employers at your dream job and companies. You need to demonstrate that you are technically as well as culturally a great fit for them. You have 1–2 years to demonstrate that so treat this first job with great importance and seriousness even if it might not be your dream job.
To land a first job, there are many things that need to happen before writing a good resume and still some that come after. But if you have the curiosity and capacity to continuously learn and improve, there is nothing you can’t achieve.
If you have questions, please feel free to reach out to me and I will be happy to discuss and provide suggestions. If you are a hiring manager and have other good advice, please share.