You've likely heard that a degree is your ticket to a great career. But employers are looking for candidates who can connect their education to the skills needed for success in an HR career. When you can explain how your experiences outside of coursework are an asset to the role you're applying for, you'll stand out in the interview process. Here's how you can bridge the gap between school and the workforce to increase your chances of landing your first full-time job.
Start With the Job Description
Review the job posting and pay particular attention to the required knowledge, skills and abilities. Then, make a list of examples of what you have done that relates to those items and how you have demonstrated those skills, said Claire Stroh, SHRM-CP, a career coach and the director of technology talent management for Lighthouse Technology Services in Buffalo, N.Y.
"If you're seeing multiple job postings that interest you and they are all looking for a certain skill(s) you don't have, you may want to seek that professional development or learning opportunity outside of the classroom to gain those skills," she said. "Then you can add the skills to your resume, improve your future applications and be more competitive in the interview process."
Focus on Transferrable Skills
In college, Stroh took three courses for her HR concentration. All were extremely broad, and nothing included "a day in the life of an HR practitioner"—that knowledge came from an internship and her first job.
"I tell students to connect the transferrable skills from their college courses, group projects, part-time work, internships and volunteer work to the job they are interviewing for," she said.
Working on a school group project, as a cashier or as a laborer may feel irrelevant to an HR career. However, chances are you're using communication and active listening skills and offering solutions that create results for clients and the company. Showcase those contributions.
"The examples should be specific and include measurable details whenever possible. A candidate who increased sales by 31% in one quarter is going to garner more attention than a candidate who states that they simply increased sales," said Carrie Stringham, faculty advisor for the SHRM student chapter at Purdue Global, based in West Lafayette, Ind. "Most positions have some commonalities, including customer service, communication skills, problem-solving, organizational skills and computer literacy."
It's easy to fall into the trap of using jargon, added Tom Schin, director of talent acquisition partnerships and recruiting consulting services at Alaant Workforce Solutions in Albany, N.Y.
For example: You might say that you're proficient in using a point-of-sale system, helping customers find products off the rack and closing a store. He recommends translating that into verbiage hiring managers want to hear. So instead, you could say that once you have a clear understanding of what a customer needs and why, you can make better suggestions that prove more valuable to them.
"If there's a way to connect that language into the terminology used in the job advertisement, that's even better," he said. "Don't go overboard. Once you get to the interview, you need to sound like your resume reads—meaning, don't over-embellish what you've done."
Request Informational Interviews
An informational interview is something that anyone can request from a potential employer, explained Stringham. A candidate can ask to visit for 15 to 20 minutes about a specific position or about an area of work.
"Explain you are gathering information as you prepare for the job search and that you understand that this is not a conventional interview for a position," she said. "If granted, bring four or five thoughtful questions about the position and be ready to listen. You can also bring a copy of your resume and tell the potential employer that while you understood that the interview was informational only, you appreciate the employer keeping your resume on file should something open."
Participate in Professional Development
Pursue professional development outside of education by attending local SHRM chapter events and SHRM career connection events or by taking short courses like a LinkedIn Learning course.
"The more you know and can obtain from what's not given in school, the more context you have to pull from when in a networking conversation or an interview," Stroh said. "Keeping a focus on learning and professional development always has helped position me for new roles, even with limited work experience in a certain area."