Matthew Tarpey, CareerBuilder Writer
The phrase “There’s plenty of fish in the sea” may comfort a recently jilted friend, but it is one of the most intimidating realizations for today’s active job seekers. For years you’ve been pinched on the cheeks and told you’re special, but when it comes time for a job interview, you may find potential employers a bit more difficult to impress than your grandma.
So how can you set yourself apart from the hordes of starry-eyed, gown-wearing, degree-clutching graduates whom you’re competing with? In her book “The Wall Street Journal Guide to Building Your Career,” author Jennifer Merritt offers several career boosters to transform your run-of-the-mill résumé into a job-magnet jackpot.
Industry and professional associations
Many young professionals underestimate the potential payoff of industry and professional associations. Some are convinced they’re outdated and redundant, while others are just afraid of the price tag. However, when used properly, these groups can help you expand your network, stay on top of industry trends and further your education.
Once you’ve signed up, paid your dues and gone through the elaborate hazing process (just kidding), it’s up to you to make the whole thing worthwhile. Get involved by attending meetings and mixers, running for positions and joining committees or subgroups of young professionals. “But don’t just stick with the youngsters,” Merritt says. “You want to meet people who’ve been there and done that and whose experiences you can learn from.” Don’t be intimidated by high-ranking professionals in fancy suits — chances are they’d love to talk about themselves and their accomplishments.
Check out these tips from employers on how to differentiate yourself:
You may have participated in some charity events through a high-school sports team or a bake sale your mother threw so you’d have volunteer work on your college résumé, but volunteering can benefit you in more ways than merely making you appear charitable.
While it is true that companies like to hire charitable individuals who can help the company’s image, there’s more in it for the company than improving its image. In fact, many companies offer volunteering opportunities to their employees, because a number of studies have shown that giving people time off to volunteer improves worker retention and recruiting.
But you’re not here to hear about how much companies like charitable people. You probably know that. What you want to hear is how volunteering can benefit you by expanding your professional network, offering you leadership experience and giving you the opportunity to enhance skills outside of your everyday repertoire. Plus, the people you meet while volunteering will know you as passionate and full of character. That can lead to a referral in the future.
Most recent grads think alumni networks are their alma mater’s thinly veiled attempt at squeezing more money out of former students who are no longer paying tuition. For some time that was true, but due to the economic downturn and the snail-paced recovery, many alumni networks have started offering other services. Many now offer expert seminars, advanced education opportunities, mixers and dedicated alumni career services. That’s a lot better than a yearly magazine and some dinnertime phone calls asking for donations.
Meet-and-greets and seminars hosted by alumni associations are also great opportunities for you to add to your contact list. These can be especially helpful, because people often like to hire and promote other people like them, and sharing an alma mater is a great similarity to have. Plus it’s an easy and effective ice breaker.
Skill-related classes and certifications
Employers generally prefer candidates who have demonstrated their ability and willingness to go above and beyond the bare-minimum requirements. So while having a hot-air ballooning license may not help you land a job in marketing, taking classes and earning certifications that are not only interesting to you, but are also related to your field, could prove advantageous in the long run.
In many professions, optional certifications can help you get promotions and stay on track with your career goals. Additional certifications and classes can indicate a deeper level of understanding of your field and convey a strong commitment to your career path. Investigate what certifications your mentors have or the titles of individuals whose jobs you may want in a couple years.
Of course, furthering your education doesn’t necessarily have to be career-related. Taking classes is a great way to stay active and is an excellent answer when potential employers ask, “What have you been up to since graduation?” Plus, outside-work interests could create strong connections with a boss or supervisor.
Speak up and become an expert
As Merritt puts it, “You don’t need a decade of experience to be considered an expert.” Experience doesn’t necessarily lead to expertise. Of course it contributes, but so do earning certifications, networking with industry players, being a strong communicator and staying up-to-date on industry trends.
As you grow your professional network, it’s likely you’ll meet people who host speaking events that are perfect for a budding expert or an eager first-time public speaker. Proving your knowledge and communication prowess at smaller venues can lead to larger platforms, such as guest blogging or spots on industry panels. Bottom line: If you want to become an expert in your field, go out and become an expert in your field.