Dear Annie: I'll be graduating from college at the end of May, and although I've had interesting conversations with campus recruiters at a career fair and been interviewed afterwards by four of them, I haven't gotten a job offer yet. I know that each of the companies I'd like to work for is interviewing a lot of people, but I think my chances are pretty good, because I have a 3.8 GPA, have been a leader in campus activities (currently president of the Student Union and captain of the lacrosse team), and have done two solid internships, with excellent references.
Even so, my impression is that everybody else who gets to the interview stage -- my roommate, for example -- has a very similar resume. Do you have any advice on how to stand out? What do employers really want? --Pick Me
Dear P.M.: Great question, especially since most of the answers apply not just to new grads, but to anyone who's looking for a job. First of all, although your 3.8 GPA is impressive, it isn't as important to employers as you might suppose. "One thing we look for is a strong work ethic," says Alexa Hamill, who is in charge of campus recruiting at PwC. The firm expects to hire more than 4,000 new grads full-time this year, along with about 3,500 interns.
"Good grades do show you've worked hard at your studies," says Hamill. "But we're really looking for people who are well-rounded, and who have a passion that they have stuck with and developed that is outside of 'book learning.'"
Your extracurricular bona fides suggest you can check that box, but here's an essential question: How well can you describe what you've achieved, and how it might apply to the working world? "Year after year, one of the biggest difficulties I see in applicants is their communication skills," says Dylan Schweitzer, Northeast head of talent acquisition for Enterprise Rent-a-Car, which hires more than 8,500 new grads annually for its management training program.
"Many people coming out of college have had great activities and internships, but often we find they're unable to explain what they've done," Schweitzer observes. "I'm looking for someone to say things in a positive way, who is excited about what they've accomplished so far, and who sees the failures they've had as learning experiences, as opposed to obstacles." Alexa Hamill agrees and adds, "This generation is used to communicating online but often not as effective in face-to-face situations like job interviews."
The solution to that problem, she says, is practice, and asking for feedback: "Rehearse what you're going to say about your experiences with as many people as you can -- a friend, a parent, a professor. Try to practice with a wide variety of people, because you'll get different feedback from each one."
A few other suggestions on how to wow interviewers:
• Be persistent. "Job hunters who want an edge over other candidates today need to engage employers in multiple ways," Schweitzer says. "We've had applicants meet us at a job fair, then connect with us on LinkedIn, call our offices, and send us emails." That may sound pesky, but Schweitzer says not: "The people who make a serious effort to get my attention show me they'rewilling to go the extra mile to accomplish tasks."