Job Search Tips for 2021 Graduates

Be Distinctive

Right now, the job market is the hottest it’s been in recent years as companies are hiring following the COVID-19 pandemic, but that also means the competition is fierce right now.

Because many 2020 graduates had to put off their job hunt while companies went through closures and lay-offs, there are even more of your peers applying for the same jobs you are right now. That means your resume, cover letter, and LinkedIn profile need to be polished and stand out. 

However, for the same reason, the competition is stiff in the current job market; the popularity of remote jobs and internships also opens up the ability for you to apply to opportunities across the country—and the world!

Be Open-minded

While job postings on Handshake are at a high, not all sectors are hiring equally. The top industries looking to hire new graduates were the pandemic’s big winners: tech, financial services, education, and professional services, according to Handshake data. It’s essential to be flexible in your job search at a time like this and think about what skills you could bring to a role as well as what skills you could gain, even if the job isn’t exactly your dream role. 

Settling for what is available doesn’t have to be a bad thing either! While working in your not-dream-job, you can spend that time also taking classes and getting additional certifications, attending webinars and events, and upskilling.

Be Prepared

Having classes, meetings, and hangouts over video chat platforms like Zoom has become commonplace in the past year, but it’s still important to treat virtual interviews the same way you would an in-person one. Make sure to dress professionally, prepare for any questions they may ask, know how to work the features of the platform being used for the interview, and that your setup is well-lit without any distractions in the background.

Some workplaces have also started requesting pre-recorded video interviews in which you answer a list of questions they have provided. Though this type of interview is not live, there is still not much time between receiving the questions and the deadline for sending the video, so it’s still important to prepare in advance.

If you’re nervous, ask a friend or family member to take you through a mock interview, or schedule an advising appointment, or drop in with a peer coach!

Be Creative

You should also be ready to explain how you spent 2020, especially if your summer internship disappeared because of the pandemic and a gap in your resume. Did you do any freelance work? What about personal projects? Did you take any new classes in your free time? Did you volunteer anywhere? You can also highlight any new hobbies you picked up to show you’re willing to and capable of learning new things.

You may have skills you never even thought about that you can highlight, including soft skills!

And if you are still looking for ways to add to your resume, there are plenty of ways to gain experience outside of a traditional internship.

Be Authentic

While your network is a valuable resource in job hunting, it’s also a great space for building relationships with peers in your industry. Not every contact in your network will be in the position to give you a job when you need one, but it’s still essential to maintain and build relationships without expecting a transaction. Professionals in your industry — especially DePaul alumni — can give you helpful advice and share their experiences.

Consider setting up an informational interview with someone in your field or bringing up the possibility of job shadowing at a company you’re interested in or with someone whose role is appealing to you. Check out the ASK Network to connect with alumni.

And don’t forget to give back when you can and open yourself up to meeting with students as a professional in your field, or pass on opportunities you come across to your peers if it’s not something right for you!

More information:

Cover Letters: Media, Communication, Arts & Entertainment

By: Michael Elias, Media, Communication, Arts & Entertainment Career Community Advisor

The idea of customizing a cover letter to each individual position you apply to can feel like a daunting task, particularly if you want to cast a wide net and apply to multiple roles.

For students with an interest in Media, Communication, Arts & Entertainment, cover letter writing can feel especially tedious when, more often than not, a portfolio or demo reel is also required. Your resume highlights your career history, the portfolio/reel provides concrete evidence of your work, and the cover letter can be a space to fill in any relevant gaps that those materials don’t convey.

Advertising, Public Relations, and Digital Marketing

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Professionals in these industries are going to expect some level of creativity in applicant cover letters, even if you’re not applying for copywriting roles. One of the best ways to do this is by grabbing their attention in your opening paragraph, ideally by telling a story. This story might express your enthusiasm for the specific company, highlight relevant skills, and/or emphasize your passion for a relevant cause.

If you’re stuck, review some of the campaigns that firm or agency has developed. Do any of them inspire you? Does your individual writing style match theirs? Are there specific values evident in these campaigns that align with what you want to convey in your work? Any of these can be a strong starting point to tell a relevant story and make a direct connection to the company.

Arts and Arts Administration

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For students seeking opportunities in graphic, photography, and/or studio arts, your creative portfolio will do much of the heavy lifting. Your cover letter, then, can be used to make a case for how your aesthetic sensibility aligns with the studio you’re applying to, and/or what inspires you about the work being done by that particular artist. Behavioral attributes, such as the ability to provide and receive constructive criticism, are worth mentioning as well, particularly if you can provide an example of how you’ve demonstrated these in the past.

If you’re looking to break into arts administration, your task is two-fold.

  1. Make sure you are speaking to relevant attributes outlined in the job description, which may range from advocacy for the arts to building relationships with patrons to event planning to writing funding proposals.
  2. Genuinely and enthusiastically express your passion for the organization you’re applying to. If it’s a children’s museum, talk about your interest in kid-friendly content; if it’s a gallery that specializes in, say, sculpting, describe your passion for the art form. Additional tips and skills for arts cover letters can be found in this post from BalanceCareers.com.

Entertainment and Production

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The entertainment industry can be broadly defined as anything from film/television to music to sports to digital programming. Whether your interests lie in working with a film festival or a music label, you’ll want to spend some time talking about your passion for the projects being produced by these organizations. If there’s an opening with the Chicago Underground Film Festival, express your passion for experimental cinema. If a music label specializes in punk rock, don’t waste time discussing your interest in other genres like country or opera; be sure you’re relating to their unique specialization.

For production roles, the good news is that you can generally keep these short and sweet. Unless you’re applying for a full-time position, many production jobs are going to be temporary or contract-based, and the people who hire for them generally need talent ASAP. After (briefly) summarizing your skills and expertise, use the cover letter to explicitly outline your dates of availability and other practical requirements, such as access to a car, relevant film equipment, etc. These are competitive positions, but a strong demo reel won’t compensate for your inability to arrive on set at the drop of a hat.

Journalism and Publishing

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For many journalism students, strong writing and the ability to tell a story will come naturally and serve them well in cover letter writing. What you don’t want to do is get too long-winded, which can be a challenge when you’ve been trained to write in a particular way. While hiring managers will definitely want to assess your written communication skills, let your writing samples do the heavy lifting here; keep the cover letter short and to the point. For broadcast students, it’s important to demonstrate that you are a visual storyteller and the various platforms you have experience with. Your reels will communicate many of the skills employers are looking for here, but if your samples only emphasize one broadcast medium (e.g. podcasts), use the cover letter to talk about other relevant production skills (e.g. videos, blogs) and other relevant media you may have experience with.

If your interest is in the publishing industry, you’ll find that many of the same tips for arts administration professionals apply here. Specifically, roles in the publishing field may include editing and writing, but also span everything from sales to marketing to legal to accounting. Make sure that you’re highlighting experiences that are directly related to that individual position. If you have a particular passion for the output of the company (be it a publishing house, literary journal, trade publication, etc.), be sure to talk about this, as well.

Conclusion

The above strategies provide insight into industry-specific cover letter tips, but it’s important to be aware of the appropriate structure and format needed for these documents. If you’re writing your first cover letter (or just need a refresher), this online guide provides a great template. Afterward, stop by the Career Center to take advantage of our drop-in resume and cover letter advising service; we’ll help you to become more prepared and confident to take the next step in the application process.

Building a Demo Reel for Animation

If you’re pursuing a career in animation, the demo reel is the single most important element of your job application. Without examples to show what you’re capable of creating, you’ll have very little success getting your foot in the door for an interview.

Knowing this, you may be asking yourself: how do I decide what work to include? How should I arrange my reel? What site should I use to host my work? Consider these guidelines as you navigate these questions and start building your reel.

What to Include

You want to present your very best work. Look at the pieces you have—do you have a project you’ve completed that you aren’t entirely in love with? If your mind is gravitating toward a yes, decide whether to continue to refine the project and get it demo-reel ready, or toss it. Never include subpar work. Rather, create new things. The more work you generate, the more high quality work you will have to show off.

One complaint employers often make is that applicants fail to make their inspirations and processes known in their demo reels. Consider including process pieces:

  • Include a base mesh along with your final sculpt.
  • Show your wireframes and textures.

This doesn’t need to be done for every piece, but a well-placed process piece can give an employer a lot of insight into your workflow.

Adding written breakdowns of every piece—including the tools you used to create it—is also a smart move. If you have pieces that were part of a group effort, make sure you let it be known what your part of the project was.

You may also want to try tailoring your reel to the employer. Again, the more work you have, the easier this will be to do. When putting together your reel, create a list of a few companies you’d like to work for. Look at the pieces you have and figure out which ones match with those companies’ styles. Gritty hyper-realism may not work for Pixar, but it might be a good fit for ILM. Always remember who your audience is.

How to Arrange

Include your best work first. Don’t save the best for last, because an impatient employer might have lost interest by that point. Your demo reel should be no more than three minutes. As a student, you may only have enough great work for 2 minutes, and that’s perfectly fine. In fact, if you only have 30 seconds of amazing work, it’s better to just show that rather than add another 90 seconds of filler or subpar work.

Be careful with the inclusion of music. Consider these tips:

  • You don’t want music that will be distracting or take away from your work.
  • Avoid anything with vocals.
  • If you decide to use music, make it as unobtrusive as possible.

Overall, when it comes to arranging, present each shot or piece separately, make sure you are allowing each piece some room to breathe, and consider using a title card prior to each shot.

What Platform to Use

The final piece of the puzzle is figuring out what site you should use to host your demo reel. The two main contenders, Youtube and Vimeo, both have pros and cons. Youtube is more widely used and can offer a way to have your work seen by more people. The downside is that it’s plagued by pop-up ads and will have a lower streaming quality. Vimeo offers a cleaner presentation and higher video quality. It also offers more detailed analytics to give you greater insight into who is viewing your reel. However, Vimeo has far less traffic than Youtube, which means far fewer people will stumble across your work.

Vimeo is currently the more generally accepted platform for hosting demo reels. You’ll be giving up some potential views for the sake of a stronger presentation, but most industry professionals believe it’s worth the trade-off.

Remember, the key to a successful demo reel is tailoring your best work to fit the interests of your audience. If you need added guidance on demo reels, be sure to stop by the Career Center to chat!

What Recruiters Like to See on a Resume & What Makes Them Cringe

By: Kristen A. Urhausen-Kummerer, Alumni Sharing Knowledge (ASK) mentor and former Big Four recruiting and operations leader

I have read thousands of resumes in my career with the Big Four and have seen all styles, formats and lengths. Having a resume with the right information, format and presentation can make or break your chances of grabbing the attention of a recruiter. There is no doubt that resume writing is one of the hardest things to do. It takes time and patience, but if done right, you can capture a recruiter’s attention and score an interview that will help you get one step closer to your dream job.

Here is a list of five things that are eye-catching to recruiters:

1. Notable accomplishments vs. a list of responsibilities  

When you include notable accomplishments, you are immediately showing the reader how you added value to your current/past employers, and how you could do the same for their company. Notable accomplishments should include quantifiable information, if possible, and a concise explanation of how you achieved the accomplishment. For example, the line, “Helped company save $300K in expenses annually” should be edited to say, “Key contributor in helping company save $300K in expenses, annually, by re-negotiating all vendor contracts and implementing an automated approval process workflow for all expenses.” A list of responsibilities doesn’t help sell you, your skills or capabilities is what will get your foot in the door.

2. Modern and slick format  

The format of your resume must be clean and easy to read. If your resume doesn’t have a format that is easy to follow, you will lose the reader’s attention in the first few seconds. Consider these guidelines:

  • Make sure your name jumps off the page by using at 20 pt. font
  • Include a bolded headline under your contact information (i.e., Innovative Information Technology Consulting Director)
  • Stray away from Times New Roman or Book Antiqua as the font. Use a font such as Cambria, Arial or Helvetica
  • Bold important information at the beginning of each notable accomplishment in an effort to encourage the reader to continue reading

3. Simplified contact information.

The key contact information to share is your name, e-mail address, phone number and a link to your LinkedIn profile. There is no need to include your physical address.

4. Career summaries that highlight expertise, experience vs. soft skills

Most candidates highlight their ability to communicate, get along with people and build relationships in their career summaries. Although this is important, recruiters want to know what your sweet spot is. When people think of you professionally, what comes to mind? If you are an IT consultant, you probably have strong experience assessing current information system infrastructures and providing custom solutions that meet client needs and business objectives.

5. Tables

Use tables to highlight technical skills and other competencies vs. including them in a bulleted list.

Now that you know what recruiters like to see on resumes, here are five things that make recruiters cringe:

1. Resumes longer than two pages

Recruiters spend an average of less than one minute reviewing a resume, and will most likely put your resume in the “no thank you” pile if it is longer than two pages.

2. Detailed company descriptions about current, past employers 

If you choose to include a company description, try to limit it to one sentence. Including more than one sentence takes up valuable white space and will lose the interest of the reader.

3. Objective statements

Adding an objective statement is out-of-date and will not help you stand out from the crowd. By applying for an open position, you are implying that you are looking for a new opportunity that will utilize your skills and career interests at a specific company.

4. References available upon request

Make it easier on employers, and yourself, by offering your references early on. In some cases, employers will automatically ask for references either on the job application, or after they have decided to extend you an offer of employment.

5. Misspellings and grammatical errors

Be sure to double and triple check your resume. Print it out and read each word out loud to make sure that it reads perfectly. Consider sending it to a friend to review as well. You need to demonstrate to the reader that you pay close attention to detail.

So, how does your resume stack up?


Kristen A. Urhausen-Kummerer received her Bachelor of Science in commerce from DePaul in 1992 and has 22 years of Big Four recruiting and operations leadership experience at KPMG LLP, PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP and Arthur Andersen & Co, SC. She has interviewed and hired hundreds of professionals ranging from administrative assistants to senior executives over the years. Kristen is currently an independent resume designer and career advisor who focuses on partnering with job seekers as they prepare for their job search. She provides job seekers with insight on current resume trends, prepares them for interviews and helps to increase their confidence. Kristen is also an active ASK member and has helped students prepare for job fairs and interviews, in addition to providing career guidance and mentoring.

Marketing Your Service Experiences to Potential Employers

By: Mackenzie Canfield, DePaul University English and sociology major ’17 and peer career advisor

For many of us, service is a critical part of our experiences as DePaul students. It’s an opportunity to not only engage with various Chicago communities, but also build lasting, impactful relationships with individuals outside of our immediate DePaul networks. However, as it comes time to apply for internships and full-time positions, it is often hard to envision how these service experiences play into our professional goals.

While the context is different, many of the skills developed through your time spent volunteering are transferable, and therefore marketable to a potential employer. These are skills that will stand out on your resume and cover letter, highlighting who you are as an internship or job candidate.

Skill Identification

First, ask yourself, how do I engage with the communities I’m working with during my service experiences? Often times, the initial response is, I help students in Back of the Yards with their homework, or, I play games with residents at a Garfield Park senior center. While these responses are certainly true, in order to best market service experiences to a potential employer we’ll have to dig a little deeper to pull out the more valuable and unique skillsets being utilized.

Let’s work with the first example of tutoring students in Back of the Yards. Tutoring, as a skill, may be marketable for some professional positions, however, if you’re pursuing accounting, marketing, health sciences, or any other number of fields, it might be less important. Tutoring does not have to be the skill we focus on, though. Let’s think: What else does tutoring students in Back of the Yards involve? It involves listening to students’ stories in order to best help them, supporting full-time staff by continuing to live out the mission of the school or organization, as well as initiating and planning different events for the students based on what they—and the community members—need.

Listening, supporting, initiating, and planning. Those are four skills that an employer within any industry would like to see displayed on your resume or cover letter. Additionally, they will take note of the fact that you were intentional of the skills you mentioned and that you took the time to think of your experiences in the context of the position you’re applying for.

To work on further identifying the skills you’ve used and developed through your service experiences, consider these common transferable skills utilized within volunteering contexts:

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Skill Communication

Now that you’ve identified the transferable skills used in your service experiences, the next step is thinking about how to communicate those to an employer in your application documents.

In terms of your resume, your service experience probably best fits under “Additional Experience” or “Volunteering Experience,” depending on how you’ve organized your resume. Regardless, we will communicate the transferable skills we’ve just identified through descriptive bullet points listed underneath the volunteering experience.

You’ll begin each bullet point with one of the transferable skills you’ve identified. This can be thought of as what you did. From there, you’ll want to add detail to the bullet point so it also includes how you did it, as well as why you did it. This way, the potential employer will best understand your skills and experiences.

With formatting, here is how our tutoring in the Back of the Yards example might end up looking:

Back of the Yards College Preparatory High School, Chicago, IL — Sept. 2015 – Present

Volunteer Tutor

  • Listen to students during tutoring sessions in order to develop lesson plans and activities that best engage them as they prepare to apply for colleges
  • Support full-time teachers and staff by providing supplemental instruction and one-on-one advising to students with low attendance records
  • Initiate and plan school-wide events and open dialogues that allow students to identify and solve issues within their Back of the Yards community

When thinking about your cover letter, if you’ve had one or more internships, completed a long-term research project, or studied abroad through a relevant program, it is very possible that you might not mention your service experience. However, if you’re looking for a way to demonstrate relevant skills in one of your cover letter’s body paragraphs, a consistent volunteering experience is a great opportunity to do that.

First, take a look at and highlight the skills being mentioned in the job description. Then, ask yourself, how have I demonstrated these skills through my service experiences? Your answer will most likely connect back to some of the ideas displayed through the bullet points in your resume, however we want to remember that your cover letter is a chance to say more than what’s on your resume. So, rather than just filling a body paragraph with the same skills mentioned in your bullet points, go into greater detail about one or two of those bullet points, thus further focusing on specific skills the employer is looking for.

Volunteering with different communities can be experiences that end up defining us, and how we live our lives. However, it’s common that we instinctively separate our service from our professional development. This doesn’t have to be the case. By considering the transferable skills we develop within service, we can best market them to potential employers.

The Cover Letter Conundrum

Every student I have advised over the years has presented a unique set a questions pertaining to the job search. But, there’s one topic that seems to confound even the most seasoned applicant: cover letters.

A significant number of applications require a cover letter, yet there’s so much anxiety around how to craft one. In fact, students will admit that they simply won’t apply to any position that asks to see one. Just think of all the missed opportunities.

Concept of studying. Student buried under a pile of books, textbooks and papers. Flat design, vector illustration.

The main reason cover letters seem so daunting is because they should be tailored to each position. Unlike a resume—which you might tweak here or there for individual applications—your cover letter should be very specific to each job, as employers use it to get a greater sense of why you’re passionate about their company specifically and the role they’re hiring for.

The process of crafting a new cover letter for each application can seem tedious or time consuming, but there are a few tips you can take advantage of to make this process easier while also meeting the expectations of your potential future employer.

Structure

Unless an employer asks you to format your cover letter in a very specific way, the structure of your letter can remain the same for 95% of the positions you apply for. Think of structuring your cover letter as you might structure a paper for class: one introductory paragraph, two or three body paragraphs, and a concluding paragraph.

Your introduction and conclusion will stay fairly consistent across the board. The introduction should include the specific position title and company you’re applying to, and the conclusion should restate your enthusiasm for the position and highlight your contact information. You might want to make little tweaks, particularly in the introduction, such as highlighting how you found the position and clarifying why you’re interested right off the bat, but these are easy updates that shouldn’t take too much time to complete.

Buzz Words

The body paragraphs are where you want to make the most changes for each position you apply to. Use language from the job description—often referred to as “buzz words”—and incorporate them throughout your cover letter. The biggest mistake applicants make in their cover letters is simply rehashing content that’s already on the resume, when the focus should be on highlighting how the skills from your resume specifically relate to the position you’re applying to.

A smart way to begin a body paragraph is some variation of the following:

“In reviewing the job description, I understand that this position requires an applicant with skills in _____, _____, and ______.”

Fill in the blanks with buzz words from the job description that you are a match with. Doing so will let the employer know right off the bat that you understand a few of the key components of the role. This will also help highlight how your past experiences directly relate to the requirements of the position.

More good news: you can use a variation of the sentence above in each of your cover letters, and simply fill-in-the-blanks with buzz words that are unique to each specific position you apply to. This is a great way to personalize each of your cover letters without having to completely rewrite each one.

Company Website

While it’s always a good idea to research a company before applying, it can be especially helpful in gaining additional insight that you can incorporate into a cover letter. Information that might not be evident in a job description—such as a company’s mission, values, goals, client base, and office culture—can often be found by reviewing the company’s website. If, for example, you find that your career values are a direct match with an individual company, mention this in your cover letter. This is a smart way to highlight that you would be a great fit beyond your skill set, and employers will appreciate that you went above and beyond the job description to learn more about them.

The company website can also come in handy in the absence of “buzz words.” Some job descriptions you come across may be slim and not provide enough information about the responsibilities and qualifications needed. If the position description is bare, focus on what you learned from the company website to personalize your cover letter.

Next Steps

Take a look at some cover letter templates curated by the Career Center’s Peer Advising Team. This packet includes cover letter samples, as well as samples of other job search letters such as thank you notes. Once you’ve drafted a cover letter, bring it to the Career Center for a walk-in advising appointment to get it touched up before sending it off to employers!