There are few among us who haven’t done a thing or two in college we now regret: that sexy-but-not-in-a-classy-way Halloween costume, failing to realize that paying attention in statistics class will actually prove useful later in life, or eating Mexican food after 2am far too many times.
But should we regret listening to the advice our college career counselors gave us? There is little doubt our intentions were good when we trekked to the distant corner of student services — the same one we dutifully ignored for the first 3.5 years of university — to plan for our future. But it’s possible that the things we were told we must do if we wanted to find jobs and stake out successful careers have been hurting us in our job searches ever since.
It’s harsh to say this but we’re going to anyway: It’s time to unlearn what your career counselor told you. And if you’re a soon-to-be college grad about to embark on the career path, we urge you to heed their advice with a dose of generational skepticism. How do we know? After starting our own Career Cardio business offering custom-designed career and brand strategies for job-seekers and self-branding entrepreneurs, we’ve heard time and time again from our clients that the advice we give is precisely the opposite of what their college career counselors told them. The difference, of course, is that we’ve seen the efficacy of our approach in action.
We’ve helped clients land jobs at McKinsey, Instagram, and at leading universities in fields as diverse as academia, medicine, marketing, PR and entertainment. Because we love seeing people get the jobs they deserve, we want to share with you the lies it’s time to unlearn.
Lie #1: Employers care about your education.
It makes sense that a college career counselor would urge you to put your shiny, newly-completed education at the tip top of your resume. At that point in your life, you too probably saw it as your crown-jewel of achievement. The problem is, however, that most employers don’t.
While there are exceptions based on industry (academia, medicine, law, and engineering might be examples), in most cases your college diploma amounts to a receipt. You wouldn’t go to the grocery store, fill up a cart with food, pay for it, and then walk out with just the receipt. The same goes with education: It’s less important that you have it, and it’s far more important what you did while you were getting it. That means internships, jobs, apprenticeships, lab placements, big assignments, projects or pitches, side hustles, volunteer gigs and demonstrable achievements (not your grades) go on top above your education. These things demonstrate skills, knowledge, tenacity, and hard work far better than a GPA or degree, which is why you should put your education at at the bottom.
The same goes with education: It’s less important that you have it, and it’s far more important what you did while you were getting it.
Lie #2: All extra curricular activities are worth including.
We are big fans of the self edit, and it definitely applies here. If you were your freshmen dorm’s #1 activity-trier, we’re happy that you had a good time. But your employer does not need to know that you dabbled in ultimate frisbee, Amnesty International, pledged a sorority for one semester, booked bands for the student bar, and tried your hand at the student mascot.
We’re not telling you to leave all those things out, but it’s important to include only those activities which are most relevant to the field you’re applying for and go into a little more depth about what you did in each in the form of achievements, deliverables, projects, responsibilities, or metrics. When it comes to “soft” extras like these, quality over quantity definitely counts.
Lie #3: Don’t put a picture on your resume.
Your college counsellor might have told you this reads as unprofessional, immature or vain. We say that it’s a proven fact that human beings relate to images — especially of human faces — far faster and more profoundly than to words. While this doesn’t apply for every industry (banking/finance, medicine, and the like should be kept picture free), a professional head-and-shoulders picture on your resume is an asset if you’re in a client-facing, relationship-focused, customer service, media-driven, or sales-oriented field. Just don’t make it a selfie.
Lie #4: The job search is a numbers game.
Often we get clients come to us saying they’ve sent a resume out to 30 to 50 job listings and heard nothing back. “Stop right there,” we say, “There can’t possibly be 50 jobs you both want and are suited for.”
Contrary to popular belief, the job search is not a numbers game. It’s a fact that roughly 80% of available jobs are never even advertised; thus, you need to spend more time chasing fewer, more solid leads. (Hint: The kind you can’t find on online classifieds or Craigslist.) This means reaching out to your contacts and directly stating what you’re looking for. It means asking prospects for informational interviews, asking for leads and introductions from the people you interned for, and being willing to do contract work for a company before scoring a full-time gig. We believe networking and job searching is an infinite process. The moment you master it is when you realize you’re doing it all the time.
Lie #5: Put social media on lockdown.
If your college career counselor was anything like ours, they pre-dated the social media era by a decade or so. Thus, they might have told you that leaving your social media profiles “public” for all your potential employers to see is a risky, and dangerous mistake.
Well, we think of social media like a vacant billboard. It doesn’t matter if you use it or not — it’s there anyway. Not advertising is a wasted opportunity. Networks like Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn are not “double opt-in” networks — that is, people can look at your page without you knowing they did (unlike Facebook, where you first have to accept their friend request, or “opt in,” first).
… think of social media like a vacant billboard. It doesn’t matter if you use it or not — it’s there anyway.
This is very powerful in the social media sense, because employers who are scoping you out often want to do it without you knowing, for example, before they interview you for a job. You can be pretty sure that everyone is going to be doing this before working with you or hiring you, so why not provide them with exactly what you want them to know when they’re in the process of sizing you up. Give them a sense of your personality, professionalism, and passion — things that are hard to convey on a resume. (FYI: 93% of companies use LinkedIn for recruiting, 66% use Facebook, and 54% use Twitter.)
The career counselor at your college probably has some good advice, but it’s important to remember that many of the industries that graduates are applying for today have been completely upended since the dawn of the internet. Just as the worlds of marketing, media, publishing, and numerous other industries have changed, so too has the process of getting a job in one of them. The key is modernizing your approach and tailoring it to the industry you’re applying for.
Have you found this advice to be true in your job search?
Image via Lee Vosburgh