Where you went to school and what you majored in may play a part in how quickly you score the job of your dreams, or it may not? Unemployment and underemployment of college graduates paints a sad but realistic picture that demonstrates how a college degree without a skill set may not guarantee a golden future. Jobs are designed to be a balance of knowledge, skills and abilities (KSA). This means the best candidate for a position may not necessarily be the person with the most extensive job history.
As a human resource professional I have been placing people in positions for over 20 years. The one thing that I can say for sure is that when a hiring manager looks at your resume if the only credentials they see are a degree from a great school it will most likely make its way quickly to the maybe pile. As a prospective employee that is NOT where you want to be. So how do you get to the prestigious first cut pile? The best way is by showing relevance to the position. Now before you say; But I don't have the experience, I will tell you that you probably have a ton of experience you are not utilizing to the fullest.
Let's examine an applicant (maybe you) that holds a graduate degree from a top school, held one position in a restaurant during school, has volunteered in three different organizations, and completed an internship in college. While you certainly meet the education requirements of the position, that may not be the point to lead with when applying for the job. To decide how to best present as a qualified candidate you need to move beyond the scope of previous experience into the world of knowledge, skills and abilities.
Start by doing some homework.
Mine for Data
With a little online research you will find a wealth of information about almost any company you want to work for. Figure out what they desire most in an employee by examining the company vision, mission and value statements. Hint: If their values do not match yours, move on. For instance, if you determine that profit is their primary goal and you desire to work for a company that is strongly invested in giving back to the community this may not be the best fit for you. Through the mission statement, vision statement and job ad you should be able to identify the competencies necessary for the position as well.
Identify Your Personal KSA Set
Scour your past, look at positions, internships or volunteer experiences either in the community or on campus. Critically assess yourself and identify your values and establish a personal value statement. For example: Personal integrity is my trademark. I stand behind my commitments. I believe that if a job is worth doing it should be done well.
Next determine your competencies (these are the things you likely did not learn in the classroom); ability to work independently, lead others or manage projects, this is your personal KSA set. Then identify examples of how you have employed those competencies successfully. If you have trouble with this exercise, ask someone that is familiar with your background to help you. They may well see things you overlooked.
Make the Connection
Your competencies and values are now your qualifications for the position. Be sure to make a clear connection between how you have employed the competencies they seek for their open position through your past experiences (notice I did not say jobs).
If you are able to establish a shared set of values and a strong KSA set it can identify you as a candidate worth consideration. This means that even without having worked in the industry or in a similar capacity you may still have extreme value as someone capable of succeeding in the position.
Finally, you want to pull it all together in a well written cover letter. This is where you will demonstrate how you have employed your KSA set successfully in the past.
Taking the time to do the leg work this application model requires can quickly move your resume to the first cut pile regardless of your experience level. With the right combination of knowledge, skills and abilities you may just be the best candidate for the job.