What's wrong with my resume?
December 13, 2018 8:23 AM   Subscribe

Finished grad school, struggling to get job interviews. How do I figure out what I'm doing wrong?

I've applied to 50+ jobs in various cities over the past ~6 months and I've only once been contacted for an interview. Do I NEED to provide an address in the city where I'm applying in order to get interviews - even though I am not currently in those cities, but clearly a recent grad willing to relocate?

Secondly, if my current geographic location is not the thing scaring off potential employers, then I'm worried something on my resume/cover letter IS scaring them off. I'm struggling to think of friends who would be able to provide good feedback on this and my parents have not job searched since the 80s. I wonder if potential employers are assuming things about me based on my resume/CL that I do not intend. Would it be out of bounds to contact people at companies I'd like to work for and ask them what I can do to improve my resume? What else can I do?

For reference: I am not applying for exact jobs that I've done before, nor am I changing fields, in my opinion. I have a handful of years of work/internship/volunteer experience in one field, followed by a 2.5 years in a second field, followed by grad school in the first field and now a search for jobs related to the first field although not exactly the same job duties that I've already done. I've previously done a certain type of paperwork in my field, and now I am interested in doing another type of paperwork in that field. There are no internships or volunteer experience for the specific jobs I am seeking, otherwise I would try applying for them.
posted by Penguin48 to Work & Money (23 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
 
Employers are always, always going to rate out-of-town applicants below those who are in-town. If your field is flush with recent graduates you are going to have a very hard slog getting people to even read your resume if you're submitting cold (e.g. just filling out an application online).

I suggest leaning on any networking opportunities you have so your package stands out in some way. It's a lot easier to get eyes on your papers if someone walks into the hiring manager's office and says "this person came recommended by my thesis adviser, so be sure to take a look."
posted by seanmpuckett at 8:32 AM on December 13, 2018 [5 favorites]


Would it be out of bounds to contact people at companies I'd like to work for and ask them what I can do to improve my resume Sorry but yes, that's not going to be productive.

"willing to relocate" is rough. In each application note, try to have something like "I'm applying to Company X because I'm interested in the work you've done on X and Y, and I'd be excited to relocate to [Peoria]" so that they see you've done your homework and have a plan.

Don't just put a blanket "willing to relocate" on it -- that doesn't convey real intent.

[on edit - Lyn is right that ideally you can convey you actually are planning to move to the place - but if you say "I'm planning on moving to [Peoria] they may ask why. A white lie to say you have friends there is fine, but just be ready with something to say.."
posted by fingersandtoes at 8:41 AM on December 13, 2018 [1 favorite]


Because it is a terrible idea to put your street address on anything anymore, change your header to just say "Penguin48, Yourtown, ST". It's not just seeming non-local, but in some of my worst jobs I've had to listen to people criticize the part of town someone lived in, deciding the commute was too long, just generally being the worst. Remove the temptation entirely.

If asked, say you are moving to Yourtown regardless but can't sign a lease until you have a job. Don't use the term relocation because they'll think you're wanting them to pay for the move. They won't; relocation is now only a thing for high-up positions.

Do you have a little bit of money to throw at a resume service to review and improve your resume?
posted by Lyn Never at 8:43 AM on December 13, 2018


Do I NEED to provide an address in the city where I'm applying in order to get interviews - even though I am not currently in those cities, but clearly a recent grad willing to relocate?

This is going to depend on your field. But in many fields, yeah, hiring an out-of-town candidate is something done only when they're spectacularly qualified — so being both an out-of-town candidate and a new graduate will get you written off. Meaning, yeah, do a fake address; use a friend's address if possible in case they actually mail something. (The downside of this is that if you represent yourself as a local candidate, you can't ask for moving expenses as part of a salary negotiation.)

Would it be out of bounds to contact people at companies I'd like to work for and ask them what I can do to improve my resume

Rather than do this, I'd ask your social network to see if you have friends or friends-of-friends at those companies, and then do the like "Hey, can I buy you a coffee and ask you some questions?" thing. That could end with them offering to recommend you for an opening (something that's in their interest because a lot of places give bonuses for successful recommendations). But even if it doesn't, you can get some genuine information about what they're looking for, and that's not nothing.
posted by nebulawindphone at 8:45 AM on December 13, 2018 [5 favorites]


As a recent grad, do you have access to your school's career development center (or equivalent)? Editing your resume to your target field, networking, setting you up with alums in that field are all things I've seen these departments do.
posted by carrioncomfort at 8:52 AM on December 13, 2018 [6 favorites]


Cover letters are really important, especially for serious careers that require a graduate degree. Your situation, combining a variety of paid and unpaid experiences and education into a set of unique personal expertise and interests - this is very much time for a good cover letter. You're not trying to echo your resume bullets in sentence form. The resume is about what you did, and the cover letter is about why you did it, who you are as a professional, and what you can bring to the specific job you're applying for. This is where you talk enthusiastically about the way your different experiences align relative to the job you want, and put you in a great position to help the company you're applying to. If there's something that seems weird - like making a change of industry, moving across the country, shifting across a role divide (management/support/technical/program), changing your path - then this is the place to comment on it. Not defensively or desperately; if you have to apply all over the country to find 50 jobs worth applying for, you're talking about a specialized role, and they're more likely to understand that they may not have the perfect candidate in their city. You just need to strike a balance saying you'll go anywhere without sounding desperate for a job; if you've lived a lot of different places before this is easier, but you can spin it anyway. I wouldn't use the phrase "willing to relocate", that sounds like you'd be grudgingly doing them a favor; instead you're telling the story of how you're excited for new places and new opportunities, and you have [visited, always wanted to visit/live, admired, etc] the $companytown region.
posted by aimedwander at 8:54 AM on December 13, 2018 [5 favorites]


If you want real feedback, I'd put an anonymous copy of your CV on Google docs and Ask for input next week. Change your name, employer names, university names.

Additionally, unless you are specifically doing academic job searches, are you leveraging LinkedIn?
posted by DarlingBri at 9:02 AM on December 13, 2018 [4 favorites]


If you haven’t already, start using the career services office (or whatever they call it) at your university as well as any official or unofficial resources your grad department can offer. If you are lucky either the university or the department will be able to help find alumni in your field—you can get away with contacting fellow alums a lot easier than total strangers.

Basically, milk the school for all it can offer; the value of a graduate program is not supposed to end the day you graduate.

And I agree with what was said about the difficulties of applying long distance to entry level jobs. An exception can be jobs in small towns where they know there are very few local qualified applicants, but you then have to sell them on the risk of you not staying.
posted by Dip Flash at 9:03 AM on December 13, 2018 [1 favorite]


Would it be out of bounds to contact people at companies I'd like to work for and ask them what I can do to improve my resume?

The job that I'm at now initially rejected me and I wrote back thanking them for the opportunity to apply and asking if there was something I could improve on to make me a better fit. It turns out that they didn't actually mean to reject me and asked me to come in for an interview. If i hadn't reached out, they probably would not have come back to fix the error. Reaching out AHEAD of time I would consider inappropriate though.

Cover letters are really important


This. You should be researching the company and the job and tailoring your cover letter and resume to each position. Tell them why you are a good fit and provide backup to that assertion.
posted by Dr. Twist at 9:03 AM on December 13, 2018 [3 favorites]


Would it be out of bounds to contact people at companies I'd like to work for and ask them what I can do to improve my resume?
The job that I'm at now initially rejected me and I wrote back thanking them for the opportunity to apply and asking if there was something I could improve on to make me a better fit.

Asking this is something you can sometimes do after you've been rejected, especially if you got pretty far along in the process and have a contact at the company who's been kind to you. I wouldn't do it after a "they just never call" situation, and I definitely wouldn't ask about resume improvements before applying.
posted by nebulawindphone at 9:26 AM on December 13, 2018


We've had several experiences of offering positions to out of town candidates who say all the right things about being prepared to move and who then back out because of something about the move.

This wastes a HUGE amount of many people's time. Because of previous bad experiences, many people I know are *very* cautious about making offers to non-local candidates.
posted by jasper411 at 9:47 AM on December 13, 2018 [1 favorite]


Seconding using LinkedIn - it's one way to network your way into a company.
Also, do NOT use the same resume for every job - you should be tailoring each resume/cover letter for the specific job. Keep your cover letter to less than a page, and your resume to two pages (or less, if possible). Be sure you are using bullets and not paragraphs - recruiters don't have time to read, and hiring managers don't read (honestly, no one does in general). So keep things short and punchy.
Good luck.
posted by dbmcd at 10:15 AM on December 13, 2018 [4 favorites]


Do I NEED to provide an address in the city where I'm applying in order to get interviews - even though I am not currently in those cities, but clearly a recent grad willing to relocate?

Yes. Absolutely yes. I applied for my current job using a family member's local address, and moved cross country in a two week period so they wouldn't know I had been using it prematurely. It sucks, but it makes a huge difference.

Would it be out of bounds to contact people at companies I'd like to work for and ask them what I can do to improve my resume?

I would not do this-- it means that their first impression of you will be "I don't know how this industry works", which is not ideal. It might make more sense to look up people who are recent hires in the industry, and then see if their resumes are posted on LinkedIn.

What else can I do?

I used to actually teach business writing as a university class, and a huge part was "how to contruct a resume and cover letter for a specific job opening"-- if you send me a memail, I'd be happy to review your materials and give you some feedback.
posted by a fiendish thingy at 10:15 AM on December 13, 2018


50 jobs seems low to me for a search across multiple cities in a field that's a little new-to-you. Although I would follow some of the other advice in this thread, I'd also just apply more widely.
posted by warriorqueen at 10:41 AM on December 13, 2018


Ask a Manager has sample cover letters I find helpful. I recently saw Alison's advice to use the cover letter to address weird things about your candidacy, and that seems to be working okay for me so far (in my case, I'm trying to relocate to a city where I previously lived and I'm working in a field that isn't quite what I did my PhD in at jobs that don't require a PhD). I don't have a physical address on my materials, but my cell number is local to there. You could get a GVoice number and forward it if relevant.

Anecdotally, the first job out of grad school is just hard to find and may suck. Is it possible to apply for jobs doing the paperwork you have experience in and then plan to transition to the desired paperwork in a year or two? Can you aim lower, titlewise? Can you do an internship in something sort-of related? Can you move to the city you most want to live in and take a joe job while you continue to look?

Also, if you're applying for government jobs, they may have weird expectations for how you format things and how your resume and cover letter should work. Governments often have materials online to help job-seekers figure this out and/or a contact listed in the job posting you could ask about this.
posted by momus_window at 11:02 AM on December 13, 2018 [2 favorites]


1. How do I figure out what I'm doing wrong?

Writing a resume and cover letter is hard work. See if there's a local 5 o'clock club near you. Consider paying money to have someone look at your resume. Look at other sample resumes in your field.

2. Do I need to provide an address?

No.

3. Would it be out of bounds to contact people at companies I'd like to work for and ask them what I can do to improve my resume? What else can I do?

Don't contact them. See # 1. Memail me a link to your resume and cover letter. Memail a fiendish thingy. Research sample resumes. Collect job requirements across jobs you are interested in and see if your resume reflects that.

4. For reference: I am not applying for exact jobs that I've done before, nor am I changing fields, in my opinion. I have a handful of years of work/internship/volunteer experience in one field, followed by a 2.5 years in a second field, followed by grad school in the first field and now a search for jobs related to the first field although not exactly the same job duties that I've already done. I've previously done a certain type of paperwork in my field, and now I am interested in doing another type of paperwork in that field. There are no internships or volunteer experience for the specific jobs I am seeking, otherwise I would try applying for them.

I'll give you some advice right off the bat. I would likely list my documentation skills (matching job requirements at the top of my resume if I were you, then work highlights describing relevant documentation you have created, then work experience. At the top of my resume I would include a link to a portfolio with documentation samples. If I'm hiring someone to do documentation, I want to see documentation samples. The bad or good news here is that those samples will outweigh everything else for me. If I'm hiring a designer, a coder, a or someone that documents requirements, for example, if that stuff is really good, I will hire them despite little experience. If it's not good, I don't care what their resume says. I'll never get there thoug if I don't feel you are a good candidate to begin with.

When you interview, your portfolio will become double useful. You just say "let me tell you a little about myself" and then walk them through your portfolio of documentation. I mention this to emphasize that the portfolio work is not a waste, and, in fact, will become key to your getting the job in your interview. Even if you do a phone interview, I would email them that documentation or do a sharescreen presentation.

Good luck.
posted by xammerboy at 11:10 AM on December 13, 2018 [1 favorite]


Your best resources might be your classmates and your grad program's alumni network.

Are your classmates having the same problems? At the end of my last grad program, I found it incredibly helpful to share cover letters and resumes with my classmates who were doing the same thing as me. We were applying for similar but different jobs, and it was great to see different approaches to the same thing. Also, if they are applying for jobs in different cities and also not getting interviews, then you know it's maybe your industry, not you.

Does your grad program have any kind of career support or alumni network? I'm glad to hear from students currently enrolled in my grad program and glad to give them advice on their resumes for our industry. Someone in roughly the kind of company or job you want, who is connected to your through school, could be a good resource.
posted by bluedaisy at 12:09 PM on December 13, 2018 [1 favorite]


Hmm, I think the “willing to relocate” thing is really field specific. Lots of people move for library jobs, and if someone had applied for a librarian job and explicitly listed their location as being local but later revealed it wasn’t...that would be a real red flag. I think leaving your address and even city/state off your resume is totally fine, though!

No bragging, but I’m pretty good at cover letters. I would be happy to look one over for you if you want a free set of eyes.
posted by itsamermaid at 6:09 PM on December 13, 2018 [2 favorites]


Some good suggestions above but I would like to highlight the need for networking and making professional contacts in the field you plan to move into. It is difficult to get a look as an unknown candidate for a job that receives 50+ applications. Not to mention that depending on the field, a certain proportion of jobs ads are only posted to fulfill legal requirements or company policies, when they already have an internal candidate in mind. A short application window (eg 1 - 2 weeks) can be an indicator of this. Government jobs are particularly hard to land from the outside.
So- how does this networking thing work?
Use LinkedIn and create a full profile. Keep in touch with your classmates, alumni society, professional societies and any social groups related to your profession. Maybe try to find yourself a mentor? Go to events and meet people. Not necessarily to hit these people up for jobs directly, but it can be a good way to find out who is hiring and who might have a connection you could reach out to. And remember that networking works both ways- of you can help facilitate connections for fellow job seekers - do so! Lastly, getting placed into a professional role via a temp agency is probably the easiest way to get some relevant professional experience - get your foot in the door. Temp positions can turn into long-term roles if it is a good fit and the budget is there.
To be honest, I don't think the distance/location is the main problem. I think that most desirable jobs get flooded with reasonable applications and its difficult to progress as a complete outsider.
It's a hard road out there- best of luck and look into specialized temp agencies that cover your field.
posted by emd3737 at 6:26 PM on December 13, 2018


Here to plug Ask A Manager as well - this blog post in particular has a ton of resources linked. I'd be cautious of relying on the advice of your college career center or other resources for updating your resume - there are horror stories of terrible advice given by people who seem like they should know better, so I'd cross check any advice with stuff from the Ask A Manager blog before committing to any major changes.
posted by jouir at 9:36 AM on December 14, 2018


I used this book 2-Hour jobsearch. It was immmmensely helpful in figuring out how to prioritize and do it better in the new economy. The old ways just don't work anymore.

You don't need to buy the book. Get it from a library and read through at least once thoroughly. Then photocopy the last 4-6 pages which is really the meat of it (but it does not make as much sense unless you have read the book).

I recommend this book to all my friends/acquaintances who are looking for white-collar jobs.

Good luck.
posted by indianbadger1 at 11:54 AM on December 14, 2018


Does your field have resume and job search help available through professional associations? I think it will be helpful if you can get advice tailored to your profession.

I agree with itsamermaid; I have moved a lot and it would never occur to me to conceal my location while job hunting. The logistics alone boggle the mind. However, showing well-informed enthusiasm for the location in your cover letter is a good idea.
posted by toastedcheese at 1:18 PM on December 14, 2018


When I was job hunting after grad school I went to career services. They were very helpful, but I understand that quality can vary. I also read Ask a Manager. She has great advice about cover letters.

I have moved cross country for jobs twice, and got moving expenses covered both times. I'm a slightly specialized but not technical field. I included in the first paragraph of my cover letter that I already planned to move back to the area.

A big thing is making your resume tailored to the specific words and phrases that are in the job listing. Your cover letter should also make very explicit why your experience relates to the position. Connect the dots for them, even if it seems too obvious.

You can also leave your city and state off of your resume and just have email and phone number.
posted by apricot at 1:27 PM on December 14, 2018


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