Applying for Jobs 101

I went to lunch with some friends, all recent college grads. I listened to them talk about their job searches and one of them mentioned that her sister had recommended that she do a “Skill-based resume” instead of a “Time-based resume”. Apparently her sister said that this would highlight her skills instead of her (lack of) experience. She then expressed extreme frustration that the university career center had never taught them what that meant.

Now, I don’t really think that career centers are all that useful (and since I worked there and got almost no on-the-job training to do so, I can say that with minor authority), but I do think that the fact that they don’t tell you to do this is actually a good thing.

Skill-based resumes, or Functional resumes, are for people that have well-rounded experience, either in the same field or different fields, continuous or not. In contrast, chronological resumes are your traditional documents that list your accomplishments at each place you’ve worked, typically starting with your current employment and going backwards. A functional resume groups skill sets to make it easier for the reader (i.e. me) to grasp what someone is good at instead of making them wade through all of the crap items you put down at each individual job. Sounds good, right? Why wouldn’t everyone use that?

Good question! Now riddle me this, Batman: how do you put together a skill-based resume if you don’t have any skills? OK, that is a little harsh, I’ll admit it. But consider the fact that we’re talking about someone who just graduated and hasn’t actually done anything beyond one or two entry-level internships.

Add in the fact that any HR professional can read (yes, literacy is generally a required skill) and will almost immediately zoom in on the graduation year. If it’s the current year or the previous year, we can put 2 and 2 together and figure out that you don’t have years and years of experience, even if you’ve exaggerated some of your skills (not that any of you would ever do that).

I mentioned this to the HR Pro (Editor’s Note: from now on, my boss, the HR Manager, will be referred to as “The HR Pro” – I’m going on a theme here) today and she counteracted my sweeping, overly-dramatic criticism with balanced logic (as usual) and pointed out that people graduating from school have absolutely no experience applying for jobs, so it’s not necessarily fair to hold them liable for their ignorance.

And this raises the question, why isn’t someone teaching students these simple, yet incredibly valuable skills? It’s hard enough out there to find a job in good economic conditions when you went to school to be an engineer/accountant/etc. But for someone who graduated with a degree in “American Studies” (yes, that’s right, someone who majored in essentially nothing) this past May and has no idea what they want to do – they’re totally screwed! They don’t know basic principals like how to write a cover letter, what to say in their resume, how to follow up with someone, how to follow the directions that the HR person listed, etc.?

So let me ask you about this. How did you get these skills (assuming you have them)? If you went back to high school/college, would you think a class or seminar on general career skills would be useful? What would be good to talk about in these sessions? Share the love, we’re all dying to know. Or at least I am.

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2 responses to “Applying for Jobs 101

  1. I had to make a resume for my first internship sophomore year of college, and my boyfriend at the time (already out of school and working) helped me. But it was horrible because he was in a totally different field and kept asking me stuff like “haven’t you done this?” with the implication that NO ONE WOULD EVER HIRE ME if I hadn’t. I was in tears by the end of it. Incidentally, I got the internship.

    But other than that, honestly, it was mostly Google. I took my resume to a few consultations with career counselors (at GW and through other organizations) and friends, and they all told me very different things. My impression is that there’s no single right way to do it, though there are broad guidelines.

    Given mistakes I made early on and questions I still ask when I apply for new jobs, I think a course in high school or college would be incredibly useful, except that all the consultations I went to stressed me out even more because no one actually agreed on what I needed to have. A quick do’s and don’ts section might be helpful, though.

  2. Kate – You raise a good point: you’ve gotta do what makes you happy. There’s something to be said for personal style.

    Thanks for the comments…maybe someday they’ll actually do something about and do a better job of educating people before they get out of school and need it.

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