Breaking through was often the most challenging aspect of applying for internships, at least for me. Whether it was an application to a well-known, popular company or a very niche position, I always found myself getting lost in the system. Very rarely was I able to find my way out of the endless stack of resumes to the much smaller stack of interview candidates, and when you think about it, it shouldn't be totally shocking. There are 6,283 undergraduate engineering students at Michigan State University, meaning there is roughly 1,500 engineering students that are your age and are looking for internships. There are 13 other Big Ten schools who, similarly, have engineering students who are looking for internships, and that does not even count the other large universities or the local/regional institutions that house engineering students who are also looking for an internship.
Statistically, assuming all engineering students are completely equal, there is practically NO CHANCE of getting an internship with the exact company that you want. Now that we are looking for full-time opportunities, there are way less college students qualified for these positions, but there are also way less positions available so this process doesn't get any easier for us. There is some good news. NOT all engineering students are created equal. Your experiences are different than my experiences which are different from every other engineering students experience. Separating your experiences from your peers is what allows you to break through to the next phase.
Unfortunately, breaking through the pile of resumes is difficult, and Covid-19 has made it even more difficult. Our focus of this post, (SPOILER ALERT) and the next one, is simple; How do you get out of the "apply online at our careers page" stage and into the "let's have a chat" stage? I know you're probably thinking one of two things: 1) "Sammy I have never really applied to many place or gone through a job searching process before. I'm not really sure what to do." If this is you that is 100% okay. This will give a great insight into what you should do. 2) "C'mon Sammy, I have had internships and tons of interviews before. It is not that hard." If this is you, that's great! You've had tons of success before and when you break through with a company you will be ready, but you haven't broken through during Covid. One of the easiest ways to find your break through with a company is to talk to the recruiter or representative, impress them, and have them recommend an interview with you. Unfortunately, face time with companies this year will be few and far between, so it is worth building a strategy to break through during these crazy times.
Before we worry about breaking through, we have to make sure that we are ready for employers to take a look at our resumes. In a pre-Covid world, you might be able to get by with a sub-par resume with a vibrant personality and a strong display of communication skills, but without that valuable face time there is no way that you can land an interview without an excellent resume. Everyone has a different way of telling you how to write resumes. I know that I have been to The Center to get their help many times, and they always say the same thing: WHO Method! WHO Method! WHO Method!
This process is centered around What you did, How you did it, and the Outcome you achieved. Another common method that people refer to, and I'm sure you have heard of, is the STAR or STAR-L method. This method focuses on the Situation you were in, the Task you faced, the Action that you took, the Result you achieved, and what you Learned. For resumes, I personally prefer the WHO Method because it is a little shorter and easier to fit on one page, but it really doesn't matter what method you use. These two methods are really just a way to help you, me, or your lab partner get the most out of their resume.
The worst part about any method out there is that it waters down what the overall goal of your resume is. The common theme between every method that you could ever find is VALUE! Value should always be the focal point of your resume. When I first heard this, I was completely lost. It made absolutely no sense to me as to why value should be at the heart of my resume. Fortunately, someone far wiser than me gave me this analogous series of questions that really made it clear.
What is your favorite restaurant? What do you get? Why do you chose to go their instead of making the same meal at home?
When you think about these simple questions, it changes the way you think about eating out. You choose to eat out because you see VALUE in it. Despite being able to make the same thing at home for less money, you would rather spend the extra money for the entire restaurant experience. You find that more VALUABLE than the alternative (Yikes this is starting to sound like an EC 201 class).
As employers are sifting through resumes, they are looking for the same thing. VALUE. They want to find candidates in that sea of resumes that hold some form of value that they want to bring in to their company. At the end of the day, companies are purchasing your services and compensating you with benefits and a salary. The more value you can showcase to employers in your experiences, your projects, your work, and your activities, the more likely you are to have them reach out for an interview.
The question then becomes: What exactly is the best way for me to show employers the value that I hold? That is where it gets complicated. Obviously, every single person holds value along with each of their individual experiences so there isn't a step by step process to highlight every individuals value. Instead focus on what EMPLOYERS find valuable. Employers are buying your services for themselves, not for you. Highlighting things like Communication, Leadership, Critical Thinking, Problem Solving, and so many more are the things that will catch any employers attention.
How exactly you choose to unpack that value on to your resume is something that is different for everyone, but I will share the way that I think about building out my resume. I start by focusing on what valuable experience or skill I want to show an employer. Once I know what I am trying to demonstrate to them, I build them a picture of the situation (or WHO Method). I simply tell them, what I did, how I went about doing it, and the outcome that I either achieved or was striving to achieve. NOW REMEMBER! Just writing what you did, how you went about doing it, and the outcome that you either achieved or were striving to achieve is completely useless if it isn't displaying something valuable, or if it is displaying the same valuable thing for the sixth time. You want to use your resume to show employers that you have value, you have displayed that value in many different situations, and you are prepared to provide that value to their company. If you focus on this, it is far more likely that employers will be looking to contact you after seeing your resume.
Now that we are ready to have people look deeply at our resumes, next time we will focus on how to get them to pick up your resume in the first place! Stay Tuned and Keep Grinding Spartans!