Monday, 3 December 2012

What do employers...

...look for in a resume? ...think about applicants calling them before or after submitting a job application? ... expect of candidates in an interview? These are all good questions, and there are many more we hear at CAPS from students who are eager to 'do things right' in order to be successful in getting job offers.

Unfortunately, there are few 'right' answers to such questions. Much depends on the industry or sector you want to work in, the organization you are applying to and even the person doing the hiring. While there are some guidelines we suggest you follow - for example, target your resume to the job you want and don't chew gum in the interview! - my advice to students is to be cautious about advice that claims ALL employers do this or NO employers do that.

Last week I attended a session by someone who runs his own business helping job seekers find work. My radar went up right at the beginning of his presentation when he posted a statistic about the employment rate for youth aged 15 to 24. It is around 48% (which fits with Stats Can figures) but he then went on to imply that their unemployment rate therefore must be 52%. In actual fact it is just under 15%, which is higher than the national average and the point I think he was trying to make. (Note: The unemployment rate is a measure of those not working but looking for work, so it doesn't include those who are not working and not looking for work for whatever reason, such as attending school.)

While the presenter said some things I agree with - for example, it is important to know the skills and experiences you have to offer when talking to prospective employers - he also said a number of things I questioned. For example, he said employers never read cover letters. Hmmmm. I've been involved in a lot of hiring over the years, both for CAPS and other units on campus, and I always read an applicant's cover letter. As a matter of fact, I use the cover letter as my first screening tool. And I've heard from a number of other employers that cover letters are important. We had quite a discussion about this and he finally landed on 'If the employer asks for a cover letter then submit one but if not, then don't.' I'm not sure of his rationale because, personally, I would always submit a cover letter as part of my application unless the employer specifically states not to include one. The reason for this is because I believe the cover letter provides you with an opportunity to really target your application, to emphasize what you have in common with what the employer is seeking and to distinguish yourself from other applicants.

I could go on with other examples but I think I made my point - in a word (or two) the answer to many questions about employers hiring practices is often ‘it depends.’

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