Graduates, get ahead of the competition

Illustration by Brooke Berry

With graduation season in full swing, many soon-to-be graduates are seeking out employment. Employers look for specific degrees, qualifications and a certain level of professionalism in competing individuals. When sending off a single piece of paper that’s supposed to display a graduate’s full capabilities and potential, that graduate should know their audience.

“It really just depends on the employer and on the industry, but there are a lot of employers out there that work with NAU that want to see a degree,” said Chrissy Speer, employer engagement coordinator for NAU’s Career Development. “They also want to see a well-rounded resumé with things such as part-time work experience, volunteer experience, student organizations and clubs.”

Speer also takes part in making sure that NAU’s third-party job search site for students, Handshake, is up and running accordingly. This site hosts approximately 15,000 employers, a number that is steadily growing, and the employers are aware that their primary audience is students and graduates.

Handshake and Career Development have an unlimited supply of resources and information on career and job fairs that will take place in Flagstaff. Speer said, oftentimes, employers will travel to NAU to interview specific students rather than doing an online interview or expect the student to come to them. Career Development helps facilitate these meetings and makes them work more smoothly.

Career Development also helps students understand exactly what employers are looking for and how to put their best selves forward.

“Employers nowadays are looking at the whole package. What else are they doing?” Speer said. “Did they have a job their whole time through college? Were they on the leadership team of their sorority? [Are] they a parent?”

Speer said employers sometimes want to see a student’s GPA, but that won’t be all they will consider when looking at an application. They will think about how many classes a student was enrolled in and skills such as leadership, teamwork, communication and problem-solving.

“Did they have a lot going on but they still maintained [their GPA]?” Speer said. “Maybe that’s a more trainable employee in the long run than someone that walked out with a 3.9 but didn’t do anything else.”

However, Speer usually advises people to only include their GPA if it’s a 3.5 or greater and that a resumé for graduates shouldn’t be longer than one page.

Senior Deidre Magaña will graduate this spring with a degree in exercise science. Magaña said she usually doesn’t put her GPA on an application or resumé unless an employer specifically asks for it. She also said a GPA isn’t a crucial element of any application compared to other areas, such as work experience, that require more attention.

“Usually, I try to draw attention to the fact that I work with different age groups rather than just adults,” Magaña said. “I try to make it clear that I’m bilingual. Hopefully, those things are more appealing than grades.”

Harriet Gorman, an accountant and human resources employee for the Courtyard by Marriot in Flagstaff, said she is always eager to hire students and graduates.

“We love to hire students,” Gorman said. “They’re great and very useful, and I know that students, in general, are hard workers. They bring a lot to the Courtyard. They’re a valuable asset.”

Gorman said when she’s hiring someone she looks for specific qualities in their application. One of those areas she reviews is the presence or lack of a cover letter.

“If you really want a job you’ve got to go further than a resumé itself because anyone can do a resumé,” Gorman said. “Brag about yourself. Tell me why you want me to hire you, and with honesty.”

One red flag Gorman said she’s seen are resumés that are too lengthy. Any more than two pages and she said she won’t bother looking at it.

“I’ve seen a person completing their resumé in person, by hand in front of me,” Gorman said. “A polished resumé would be great.”

Gorman wants to see that potential employees really sat down and reviewed their paperwork before giving it to her.

“Maybe the person looks very [prepared] in front of me,” Gorman said. “But then when I look down at their resumé, I always see grammar [issues].”

Speer said Career Development is there to help with readability issues, questions surrounding what content to put on a resumé, formatting and grammar.

At this point in a graduate’s journey, Speer said students shouldn’t put high school experience on their resumé, unless directly significant to their careers.

“We say if you’re still needing to put your high school jobs on there or things you did in high school when you’re about to graduate and go to the workforce then you didn’t do enough,” Speer said.

Magaña said one of the scariest things about searching for employment after graduation is the competition she’ll have to face when other people want the same position she does. However, Magaña said she does have a plan of attack.

“[It’s] trying to compete with other candidates and people that want to do the same thing that I do,” Magaña said. “It’s just trying to make myself look different and more appealing to the clinics versus other students.”

Magaña plans to take a break after graduation. She will teach a dance class and take on a position as a pilates trainer. After one year Magaña plans to attend graduate school for a degree in physical therapy.

Gorman said having certain skillsets can make students stand out among others.

“Keep up with the software all the time,” Gorman said. “It’s always good to keep up with your Excel or Word. Just keep it fresh, don’t ever lose that skill. We have programs that I thought I’d never use.”

The Courtyard and many other local establishments are continuously hiring NAU students and graduates. Career Development is always available to assist with resumés, cover letters or job searches. Employees of the department say anyone is welcome to talk to them if they have any career-related questions.