Career Q&A

What makes a fresh college graduate stand out from others?

Mitchell Earl
October 2019

First – Focus on Your Interests

Whether your area of study interests you as a career or not, focus more on ways you can leverage your current knowledge in interesting or unique ways than on specific fields or industries.

Early on in your career, think of it as a discovery process more than a specific track. Focus on the things that interest you – give yourself permission to experiment different types of work or companies.

Don’t lock yourself in though. Stay at a company or in a role as long as it interests you, and walk away after you feel yourself pulling in a different direction.

By focusing on your interests, you set yourself up to bring more energy, more enthusiasm, and more pride into your work. That’s key for standing out.

Second – Determine How You Can Be Valuable

Once you find something that interests you, ask yourself: how can I be valuable to a company that’s involved in that or in a specific role at one of those companies?

Do some due diligence. Learn the vocabulary of the field if it’s unfamiliar. Figure out what people in that role do on a daily basis. Try to meet people who do that kind of work. Ask good questions. Identify common problems people in that role deal with.

Then, figure out a way that you can solve those kinds of problems. If it’s with the knowledge and skills you already have, great! If you need to learn something, start with Google. Learn as much as you can quickly – but remember, you’re fresh into your career, no one expects you to be an expert (yet).

Hone in on those ways you can be valuable, then build some proof around your ability to deliver that value. Build a personal website, start a blog, a short video series or podcast, and document a few examples of executing a particular task.

Focus on showingnot just telling.

If there is software involved, shoot a video of you using it. If it’s communicating, draft some sample emails. If it’s solving a complex problem, draft a how to guide.

This is a chance to get creative and showcase your personality and the way you think.

Make these projects visible to the public and searchable. In other words, use the “Google Yourself” method. If I’m a hiring manager and I search your name, what are the first results that pop up? You want some of your examples to show up – something that screams to potential employers you’re the right person for the job.

Third – Tailor Your Pitch

Think of the job market like dating. You can’t just be all showy and up in somebody’s face about why you’re datable.

You have to take an active interest in the other party. Ask questions. Allow yourself to uncover the fascinating aspects of the company or about the product they sell, how it helps customers, and who else does that kind of thing.

Then, use that information and your enthusiasm from what you learn to put together a custom pitch.

It doesn’t have to be anything crazy – but don’t be boring. Channel your personality and excitement.

Put together a short slide presentation and then use a screen share (like Loom), or something to record yourself actually pitching yourself to the company.

But here’s the key: in your pitch, make it about the company.

Consider two examples:

Personal Pitch: “Hey, Acme, Inc., my name’s Mitchell – I’ve been using your product for 3 months to do XYZ, and put together a short video to let you know why I love it…”

Generic Resume/Cover Letter: “To whom it may concern, my name is Mitchell. I recently graduated with honors with a degree in XYZ, and I’d make a great candidate.”

None of this should take a ton of time. In fact, if you’re really serious about standing out, you could make serious headway in a half dozen hours. It’s really a question of how much you want to put into it.

You could blast out a 100 applications to generic companies you don’t know much about, doing work you’re not really sure about – or you could go over the top for a couple companies and roles that really make you come alive.

It’s your career, and it’s your choice.

Personally, I say why not go all in on something that makes you want to get out of bed each morning? Just me two cents.

Best of luck.

This post was originally published on Quora in response to the question What makes a fresh graduate stand out from others?