Looking for your first job when fresh out of college can be a demoralizing experience. Just finding suitable roles to apply for can be a herculean task in and of itself. So, when you do get an opportunity befitting an eager and keen prospect such as yourself, make sure you grasp it, and make your application count. Mary Shirley offers help.
These tips may seem like common sense, but oftentimes inaugural job hunters are still learning the ins and outs of how small actions can have lasting effects on whether or not they’ll be shortlisted for interview. Here are some simple steps you can take to set yourself apart and avoid some of the missteps new graduates and junior lawyers frequently fall into when job searching for compliance gigs.
Preparedness for Contact
This aspect covers logistical and general preparedness. It can be difficult to take phone calls if you’re in class or working another job. Make sure your voicemail is set up and not at capacity so you can still take messages from HR or the hiring manager. If you are in a position to take calls, keep your mobile phone near you and with the sound on. If you’ve set up an email account just for job applications because your personal account firstname.lastname@example.org doesn’t have quite the professional ring to it, make sure you check that account regularly regarding to see if there has been any outreach.
When you do receive a coveted phone call, be gracious and polite, answering in a professional tone and stating your name. A key point to remember for such calls are all the names of the companies to which you’ve applied. Around half of the recipients of calls from me are totally confused when I state my name and where I am calling from. If you’ve just applied for a job at a company, it’s not a good look to not recognize the company name and be bemused about why you’re receiving a call. The impression the candidate gives in these circumstances is that they’ve applied the shotgun approach to getting a job, firing off applications for any vacancies and not paying attention to what they’re applying for. If you’re applying at many companies, that’s OK, you just don’t want to answer the phone confused.
Write down where you’ve applied so you can remind yourself of the list if necessary. Keep in mind that a call from a prospective employer could come from anywhere. Treat all contact while job hunting as a professional contact until confirmed that it’s not. I’ve had a student hang up on me mid-sentence while I was introducing myself to invite him to interview. Yes, a prospective employer in the U.S. may have a Kiwi accent – don’t hang up without verifying it’s a scam first.
Failure to Make a Compelling Argument
A commonly stated phrase in cover letters is “I would like to work in a large reputable company, so that’s why I’m applying at X industries.” When so many others are stating this phrase, you don’t stand out. Additionally, it looks like a general sentence that is being copied and pasted into all applications (see shotgun approach above). As someone who abhors having to reinvent the wheel, I must confess to seeing the attraction in such an approach (in fact, I was the author of a similar “reputable company” line while applying for my first job).
Even more attractive than efficiency is success. If you’re looking to streamline the process, spend some time listing all of the things that you value and would appreciate in an organization you are working for. Use this list as a template and apply accordingly to the roles that you see. Pick and choose from the list, and state the relevant positives accordingly to the company that indicate your passion and interest. That way, you are genuine in your approach and are tailoring your messaging to what the employer is hoping to see without having to ponder hard to draft a cover letter for every application.
I’ll let you in on a little secret: Employers don’t just want someone who can do the job well, they want someone who is excited about working for them. The cover letter is your opportunity to demonstrate that enthusiasm with your authentic interest in why the role is perfect for you. We want to know you’ll be happy in your new role and committed to the shared cause.
Last Impressions Count
There are many reasons someone may be unsuccessful in the hiring process, and they aren’t necessarily due to the person’s unsuitability for the job. Sometimes it just comes down to the fact that competition was stiff and on the day, the better interviewee got the job offer.
Always be gracious in this situation. The hiring manager has invested time in the process, too. A simple “thank you for the opportunity and your time” is sufficient. I have sent out personalized messages to interviewed applicants and remember those who politely acknowledge the message in return. This has been the difference between knowing who I want to call back when another role unexpectedly becomes available or who I’m willing to recommend for interview when a compliance contact in another company is also looking for candidates.
The compliance community is small; keep up the connections you make when interviewing, and remember that not every door that closes remains shut – so don’t go locking it yourself!
Absence of Experience
When drafting an application, it can be difficult to explain your experience in a subject matter when you’re new to the working world and don’t have relevant experience to point to. That’s no reason to omit mentioning the very subject matter you’re proclaiming to be so interested in that you’re willing to give it a 9 to 5 timeslot in your life.
So, what can you do? Explain why you have an interest in compliance and read up on it to understand some of the basic tenets, then detail how some of your natural talents or nonworking life experience are transferable to compliance roles. For example, if you were on the debate team at school, you could include reference to it being your understanding that being in compliance can involve a lot of persuasion of the business to come around to new processes and that you love this type of challenge so much you belonged to the debate team for four years, with the last year as Captain.
If you coach a sports team for kids or tutored students with English as a second language, you could mention how you find teaching fulfilling and would be interested in leading compliance training initiatives. If you’re saving up such explanations for an interview, this is a missed opportunity. First, secure the interview with relevant points that pique HR’s interest and demonstrate that you have some knowledge of what the role would entail, even if you’re going for your very first job.
Focus on how you’re being perceived by the hiring manager, not primarily on what you want out of the situation. Ask yourself: Am I easy to reach? Do I sound pleasant to work with? Have I differentiated myself by highlighting the unique value I can add in a compliance function?
Like everything else, job hunting gets easier with time. Go easy on yourself if you’re not getting offered a job as quickly as you had hoped. The right role will come along.