Life after graduation

3 Ways to Become a Better Candidate… Before Even Applying

Don't submit your resume until you follow these tips to become a more valuable candidate.

When diving into the job market, it’s natural to fret about how you measure up against other applicants. Perhaps you’re concerned about a lack of work experience, or are vying for an exceptionally competitive career opportunity. For many new grads, it’s a combination of both! 

Fear not: as a passionate young worker and a digital native, you’re a hot commodity for prospective employers nationwide. Plus, there are several things you can do before the application process to make yourself a better candidate.

With the right dedication, you can even become a desirable hire in an industry completely unrelated to your degree. It all begins by familiarizing yourself with valuable traits sought by hiring managers; for liberal arts student turned software engineer Céline Chu Gauchey, that meant “using platforms such as Handshake to research what recruiters were looking for” in her desired field.

Once you’ve got a good grasp of the qualities valued in your future industry, make the best of this knowledge. Follow these tips as you prepare your resume and optimize your Handshake profile to become a more valuable candidate before you even hit “apply.”      

1. Showcase training & certifications

Let’s be real: it feels good to have something solid to add to the “additional skills and certifications” section of your resume. Even if your work or internship experience feels a bit scant on paper, you can easily bolster your arsenal of desirable competencies. 

There might be areas you’d like to develop that your academic pursuits didn’t cover before graduation — and that’s OK! You can utilize online tools, such as free courses from universities like Harvard and the University of California, Berkeley, to build skills in sought-after areas like data science and marketing analytics. Oftentimes, you have the option to collect professional certificates after completing such courses. 

Consider industry-specific certifications, too, not just college courses. If you’re an aspiring marketer, you can get SEO-certified through free micro-courses like SEMRush Academy; tech hopefuls can learn different coding languages using CodeAcademy. Most job listings offer examples of valuable skills, which can guide your search for relevant training courses.

2. Demonstrate through volunteer experience 

Without much on-the-job experience to cite, it can be difficult to prove your skills effectively. Consider volunteering for causes that can help showcase your abilities in actionable ways while also helping the community around you! For example, helping organize at a food bank over the weekend can speak to skills in inventory management and task delegation. Manning the phones at a crisis hotline can exemplify everything from communication and people skills to swift, level-headed decision making.    

3. Point to continued development 

The best employees are those who never stop learning and growing. While many eager applicants use valuable real estate in their cover letters to mention that they’re quick learners who strive for consistent personal growth, not all of them can back it up with proof. Consider enrolling in one interesting community college course every semester, or find a local career coach who can meet for monthly sessions. Being able to provide concrete examples for your ongoing professional development goes a lot farther than a standard “I have a passion for learning” on your application.  

Once you’ve incorporated this advice into your Handshake profile, you’ll be ready to apply — and then navigate the interview process, salary negotiation, and beyond. Need inspiration? Just check out these other students and new grads who’ve been there, too.