Tips for fresh grads to stand out

Buoyant IT market promises high employment chances, but efforts such as prepping for interviews and cleaning up online image needed to clinch coveted, in-demand jobs, observers note.
Written by Jamie Yap, Contributor

Singapore's strong IT jobs market means that fresh graduates from universities and polytechnics should find employment easily. However, for dream jobs which attract much demand, candidates will find that they will need to come ready with impressive work experience track records and be ready to dazzle during interview sessions, to stand out from others, industry observers say.

Mark Sparrow, Asia-Pacific vice president of professional and technical division at Kelly Services, said while industries such as banking, finance and IT have traditionally been the main source of job opportunities for IT graduates, others such as the creative and e-commerce industries are also thriving and looking for talents.

"The IT job market is developing at breakneck speed, hence there is always a healthy supply of opportunities at all levels within many industries," he pointed out.

Peter Noblet, senior regional director of Hays Information Technology, added that while some companies look to hire graduates for entry-level positions, others outsource their IT tasks or infrastructure to third-party vendors. This, in turn, creates positions within the tech companies that new jobseekers can fill.

That said, a booming IT jobs market also means more interest and intense competition among candidates for coveted positions, noted Eric Koh, CTO of JobsCentral Group. For them to successfully clinch the job, Sparrow said graduates will have to stand out from their peers throughout the recruitment process. "The fact of the matter is it pays for a candidate to stand out in any position one applies for. That goes for one's career development down the road."

The industry watchers also offered five tips on how fresh graduates can distinguish themselves for the right reasons, and not stick out for the wrong ones.

1. Come with real-world work experience
"The most valuable skill a fresh graduate can have is experience," said Noblet. While recruiters do not expect experts from newly-minted graduates, any relevant industry experience gained through volunteer work or attachments "puts you well in front of your peers", he pointed out.

The significance of internships goes deeper than just acquiring industry knowledge, it also demonstrates the person's commitment to start his career in the industry, he added. "It helps you stand out from other graduates who did not take the initiative to gain any relevant work experience."

Sparrow concurred, adding that even holiday jobs should not be overlooked as these are important to employers nowadays, who value a candidate's experience from working in a real-world job. For some interviewers, a graduate's five years of education might not necessarily translate to even five months of real world work experience, he said.

2. Clean up your online image
Noblet noted that social media tools can be advantageous during job hunts, but called on jobseekers to use them appropriately and responsibly.

This is because a growing number of employers are extending their traditional recruitment process to include social media, particularly when they feel a candidate may not what they portray themselves to be in their resumes or during interviews, he explained.

As such, people should assume their social media profile could be used in the decision-making process and make the necessary changes to their privacy setting, as well as be sensible when posting content online, the Hays executive advised.

It is, after all, an exercise in managing one's social media presence carefully, noted Sparrow, who added that employers would want to see that potential hires are able to exercise caution in their social media use and ability to separate work and personal space.

3. Shine during interviews
Upon getting the call to go for an interview, candidates will need to do sufficient research on the position and company they had applied for, said Koh. This would give the interviewer the impression that the person cares enough. Conversely, giving short answers and not asking any questions related to the company, its businesses and the job position would be a mistake, he cautioned.

Noblet agreed, saying that "there is nothing worse" than asking a candidate if they have any questions about the role or company, and they say no.

He added that giving relevant replies to the interviewer's questions are just as critical.

"It can be frustrating when a candidate waffles or clearly hasn't paid attention to the question that was asked. You should always link your answer back to relevant examples. If you do not have a real life example, you can discuss the steps you would take if you were in that situation hypothetically," he elaborated.

4. Don't sell yourself short, but watch the ego
Koh also said well-rounded candidates are much more attractive to recruiters, so jobseekers should include the relevant skills and personal interests, such as external projects and Web blogs, in their resumes or mention it during interviews.

These additional details can showcase one's competencies in areas such as leadership and project management that would otherwise not discovered, Sparrow added.

That said, jobseekers need to keep their ego in check too, he said. The confidence shown when one is particularly proud of his education or projects undertaken may be construed as "overbearing".

"While it is good for candidates to show some self-confidence, they would have to watch their mannerisms, body language and choice of words to show that while they are confident of their knowledge and skills, they are also humble enough to learn from their seniors in the workplace," he pointed out.

5. Look the part
Beyond having an impressive resume, one's image and appearance need to be professional right from the start.

Koh observed that the "engineering or IT types" of graduates tend to neglect including a professionally-taken photograph in their resumes. "It is quite easy to tell if the photo is specially prepared for the purpose of a resume. The worst kinds are those badly proportioned, low quality, and badly cropped images taken from their mobile phones," he said.

This has repercussions to their chances of being hired, he warned.

"If a candidate doesn't display pride and effort to make him or herself look presentable on the job application, [recruiters] may infer that the person is not very motivated," the JobsCentral executive said. "It also says a lot about the quality of the work he or she will produce."

Noblet concurred. He said inappropriate appearances are one of the biggest mistakes committed by candidates, which can be easily avoided. "You should look professional and dress appropriately not only for the interview, but after you get the job," he said.

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