Preparing Students for the Job Hunt

It’s a common story among recruiters. A job seeker shows up at a jobs fair less than ready for prime time, walks away empty handed and puzzled as to why.

For many job seekers it’s not just the economy that is costing them the job they want. It’s bad preparation, even after two, three, four years of college.

There is no magic formula or silver bullet strategy for getting hired in good times or bad, say recruiters, employers and others who help people prepare for the ‘real’ world. Still, there are several key indicators on the checklists of more employers as they sort and prioritize job candidates and comply with an assortment of legal rules and workplace goals. Students who are strong in these areas stand a better chance of getting a second look:

• Language and Speaking Skills: At a jobs fair last fall, an energetic and well-poised student from a high-profile school in the Midwest made the rounds at a jobs fair. Once she opened her mouth, slurring and chewing up her words, she began to fall further down the prospects list. Speaking and writing English clearly and correctly may not be in vogue for many students today. Its importance cannot be over emphasized, however, as long as English is the principal language of commerce and legal documents.

Good speech and language use are essentials, and schools that have their students’ interest at heart make sure the teachers and students work on the students’ communication skills before they go to job interviews. It’s obvious who needs work, even if teachers and advisers won’t say it.

• Résumé: ‘Objective: To obtain a position in a company that will utilize my educational and life experiences.’ Nothing turns recruiters and employers off like boilerplate résumé language such as the sentence you just read. Too many student résumés read as if they are cut-and-paste lines from Internet résumé writing sites. Résumés need to be brief (one page), specific in details, highlight what makes the job seeker distinctive, and include work examples that attest to one’s drive and ethics.

“A lot of a person’s personality is reflected in a person’s résumé,” says Christi Day, spokeswoman for Southwest Airlines. The company hired 4,200 people last year from a pool of 329,000 applicants. Day says Southwest looks for evidence of “extra curricular activities, volunteer work, maybe the style of the résumé and how it’s laid out.” Those extras say a lot about a person’s work ethic and care for others. At least three references should be on a student’s résumé, and none should be relatives.

• Bling. Bling. Flava Flav is not doing most interviews for jobs. The shopping list of must-dos to ace an interview includes eye-to-eye contact, a firm handshake, a sense of self confidence, fresh breath, knowing more than the Wikipedia headlines about a company and appropriate attire for the interview. Too many students go to job interviews without these basics. Wearing excessive jewelry, makeup and skimpy clothing will get students noticed but not hired. They need to dress and speak for success.

• Global knowledge: The student was from California and had no interest in living or working outside California. Homebodies can find jobs, but limit their options when recruiters hear such. Most employers — from Hooters to Target to Boeing — are working to understand and embrace languages and cultures around the globe, as their supplier and customer base become more diverse. They are looking for prospects that can do the same. “The capacity to adapt very quickly to a changing environment and respond positively to change is crucial to today’s job market,” says Djibril Diallo, communications adviser at the United Nations. Foreign languages and travel are increasingly important to government and private employers, he says. “It’s not just being able to articulate but to know the culture of a foreign land.”

• Eating and Etiquette: The candidate was on a roll until he grabbed the fried chicken leg with both hands and began to feast. Many otherwise impressive job prospects eat themselves right out of a job with poor table manners, says Maxine Snowden, the Washington, D.C., author of a new and easy-to-digest etiquette book, Don’t Fork the Peas.

“Potential employers are watching you,” says Snowden. “Your etiquette reflects your upbringing and education and might tell how you might handle other situations,” she says. “People have taken job prospects out to eat to decide whether to hire them.” Student jobseekers getting that second look rate high on this checklist. How do your students measure up? Next!

 — Reginald Stuart, a frequent contributor to Diverse, is also a corporate recruiter for McClatchy Newspapers.

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