Entering the Job Market? How to Create Your Winning Presence

Over the past few months I have spent time with many bright, talented job seekers. Most of these individuals have just earned their undergraduate degree, and they’re ready to head into the job market. Others have already graced a profession, and they’re on the move for something new. All share a common challenge … telling their stories. What makes you the best choice for a particular role? What if you don’t have any traditional internship experience? How do you create a CV that says what you’re about and cuts through the clutter?

First, know your story, then develop it! This begins by taking a deeper look at all your experience, not just your paid or volunteer posts. Be curious, like a reporter … about yourself! If you’re a recent graduate, think about the activities or elective classes you selected. What did you do on your family travels, and where did you go? How did you spend your free time during the summer? When I ask individuals these questions, I find that there is usually a common thread that weaves a very interesting tale. For instance, as I look back, I realize that whenever my family traveled, we often did so by car, and I chose to pass the time by journaling. I loved to write. I was curious about the towns we passed through. I loved to observe. And in my spare time at home, I loved to dance and create original plays with my friends. Clearly, as a kid, I liked to write and create, even when I could have chosen many other activities. Yet none of these details showed up on my first CV or cover notes. I wrote about only the “big” details, like internships, volunteer work with credible organizations, and part-time jobs.

Today I believe that the seemingly little details really express a far more interesting story about who we are and what makes us unique. So find your story, and tell it.

Next, know what you’re good at. Simply listing your part-time summer job at a bank on your CV doesn’t say enough. However, did the experience teach you that you’re quite good at bookkeeping and organizational skills? Did you learn that your favorite part was interacting with the customers and less about numbers and banking? You can follow the expected, traditional format of a CV and still share this observation about your experience. Simply add a sentence or bullets about your key learnings and how you’ll apply them going forward. “This experience taught me that I like interacting with customers, so I took additional courses in customer relations to expand my knowledge.”

Similarly, if you’re leaving one job for another, know what you’ll take and apply going forward. Know the story of how your experiences connect. I worked with a very successful reporter, who decided that his reporting days were over. He took some classes at Second City, learned stand-up comedy, and ultimately took a corporate communications position. I think his path tells a consistent story about a talented person who is curious, expressive, and creative, but simply listing these jobs on a CV might look disconnected without some context. So it’s important to package your experiences into a neat bundle that tells the complete story.

Finally, write personal, tailored cover notes to anyone you’re asking for a job. A friend wanted to work on a political campaign for a state politician, but his cover note simply talked about his interest in obtaining a communications job. It wasn’t tailored or specific. So he wrote a new note that talked about why he, too, cared about the state and the issues this politician would likely campaign on. He talked about why his entry-level experience would still be useful. Creating this personal cover note made a big difference … he landed a job.

Storytelling can make or break your job search. So take time to get to know yourself and develop a compelling story. And don’t be afraid to break tradition … the small points can make a big difference.

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Entering the Job Market? How to Create Your Winning Presence

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