Last week, I had a great consultation with a client who just graduated from Ohio State University with a chemical and biomolecular engineering degree. I’ll call him Aaron. Aaron is energetic, enthusiastic, smart, hard-working and has real, hands-on lab experience many recent college engineering grads wish they had.
So, what’s the problem? Aaron’s GPA is below 3.0, and many companies require a minimum of 3.0 to apply. It’s nonnegotiable.
Aaron knew he worked very hard for his degree, but he was feeling down and defeated before he ever even stepped into an interview. But Aaron didn’t need to worry because he had many great things going for him.
As he answered my probing questions, it quickly became clear to us both that he was going to overcome the less-than-3.0 hurdle. We discussed what prevented him from achieving a higher GPA and learned he had an amazing story to tell. We discussed how to best explain his story, then focused on winning strategies to get in front of decision makers.
Here are just four of the strategies we discussed.
1. Take the GPA off the resume.
Many college students are being advised to put their GPA on their resume regardless of what it is. But there is no need to call attention to a potential negative. Resumes should focus on the positives and positives only. I typically put GPAs on resumes if they’re 3.5 or over, and sometimes I will include them if they’re higher than 3.0, depending on the degree(s) earned and university attended.
2. Focus on the positives.
Aaron had several things he could highlight that differentiated him from his competition. Here are three of them:
• Real, hands-on research and development lab intern experience, as opposed to lab housekeeping, typing up reports, observation, etc. He personally conducted experiments and managed all aspects of his own lab.
• Aaron graduated with 24 credits of complementary business courses, and as an intern, he attended business presentations with the CEO, all of which make him a well-rounded candidate and attractive to startup organizations.
• Aaron has consistently worked part-time since he was 16, never taking a break, as well as playing sports, serving a club leadership position and volunteering. It demonstrates his strong work ethic.
3. Research and network.
Once Aaron had a powerful, targeted resume showcasing his strengths and differentiators and ignoring the potential negatives, he needed to find companies that would appreciate what he had to offer. He needed to research companies and network.
Networking can and should include career fairs, your careers services department, professors, alumni associations, employers (past and present) and even family and friends with ties to your desired industry. When you network, never assume your contact will know the right things to say about you when the opportunity arises. Get your network to understand and be able to repeat the top three to five strengths and differentiators that make you a valuable asset.
4. Optimize your LinkedIn profile and add the URL to your resume.
Aaron was on the right track by having a LinkedIn profile, but key items were missing from it, hurting his search rankings. Here were three of them.
• Industry-relevant projects: Aaron’s natural instinct to act as project manager and successfully lead his teams wasn’t listed. LinkedIn allows you to go into more detail than a typical, one-page, new-college-grad resume does. This is valuable real estate, where targeted keywords can be used in context and help raise a LinkedIn profile ranking. LinkedIn’s algorithm will rank a profile higher when it is keyword-rich, especially when used in context.
• Skills: Do your skills focus more on soft skills? If you want another great way to increase LinkedIn search rankings, add all of your industry-specific hard skills that appear in target job descriptions.
• Headline: This needs to reflect your brand, and again, be keyword-rich. Crafting your headline is one of the best ways to increase LinkedIn search rankings. We changed Aaron’s to “Chemical & Biomolecular Engineering Graduate with Hands-On R&D Lab, Biocatalytic Process, and Client Experience.” Fast forward a few days, and Aaron applied for an entry-level job at a venture startup organization within an Ivy-League school. He was contacted right away for an interview. They were impressed with his engineering project experience, hands-on lab internships and his business focus — the differentiators he showcased on his resume and LinkedIn profile.
Recent college graduates, do you know what your differentiators are? Are you marketing them properly?
Current college students, what are you doing now to differentiate yourself from the competition? If you haven’t stopped to think about it and are expecting to find a great job upon graduation, you are already below the curve. Make a plan and act now while there is still time.
Aaron didn’t have the best GPA, but he made up for it with relevant hands-on experience, enthusiasm, work ethic and a well-rounded education.
What’s your personal marketing plan?