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What Hiring Teams At The Best Companies Think Of Your Application

Written by Devin Jones

Photography by Devin Jones

We asked IBM’s campus recruitment guru to find out.

You’ve followed all the tricks taught to you in school: lead with a relevant anecdote in the cover letter, have a resume that’s unique and customized (with a tasteful splash of color), and, for the love of those exam season all-nighters, your spelling and grammar are on point.

Once all the boxes are checked and the Submit Application button is staring you down, all that’s left is this thought: if only they could meet me in person.

Catherine is responsible for everything to do with student recruitment at IBM’s Canadian office

You feel you’ll always be able to sell yourself better in person than a single page that sums up relevant experience (aka your resume) could.

So, we sat down with IBM’s Campus Recruitment Team Lead, Catherine Christou, to glean some specific advice on standing out in today’s sea of university degrees and talented people. She also had some useful tips for us on what to do when meeting a recruiter in person, and just how far paying attention to detail can get you.

To give you some context, Catherine is responsible for everything to do with student recruitment at IBM’s Canadian office. Her team recruits students for co-op placements, internships, and new graduate roles ranging from development and consulting, all the way to sales roles.

What are some of the most common obstacles you see with applicants, and what’s some advice you wish you could give them?

“Read the fine print. I empathize with you guys, you’re applying for so many positions and you’re really trying to ensure you stand out, but paying attention to detail is extremely crucial. Making sure you address your cover letters to the right employers… We see this happen all the time.”

Don’t try and sidestep that or skip ahead

“Also, when employers take the time to point out what they’re looking for on an application, don’t try and sidestep that or skip ahead.”

Another important point that Catherine made is to always double check spelling and grammar. It seems trivial, but when you’re disqualified from a job opening because you didn’t spell the company’s name right, you’ll want to smash your head on the keyboard.

IBM is known for asking potential hires to submit their transcripts as part of their application. Is that a legitimate place where students and recent grads can stand out?

“Transcripts will never make or break an application, they just help to diversify your portfolio. We look at them as the grades complementing the skills and the work experience you have, so it’s all-encompassing. From the transcript, we see how much effort you’re putting into your coursework. And logistically, it shows things like whether or not you’re going to graduate on time.”

“But it’s also nice to look at whether or not you’re getting involved outside of your coursework, with extracurriculars, student groups, or attending conferences. That’s the stuff that’s really tangible.”

That comes down to reading and understanding the job description

Catherine notes that when it comes to the entire package of your application, students and grads should tailor their resume to reflect the position they want. It’s understandable to include a ton of information because we don’t always know what an employer will find informative, but to Catherine that comes down to reading and understanding the job description.

We’re told different things when it comes to cover letters. Sometimes it’s about leading with an anecdote, others it’s explaining what makes you special. What’s your advice for those who are confused?

“I usually recommend for our students, whether they’re in a co-op or new graduates, to do some research on the organization in your cover letter, and actually tell us why you want to work for IBM. Is it because you know someone who’s worked for us before and had a hand in some really cool projects? Or was it a keynote speech that you saw online? What is it that piqued your interest to work for this organization?”

It’s also quite clear … when an applicant sends in those five generic paragraphs to multiple job openings

“We can analyze your skill set in your resume (if displayed accurately) but the cover letter is where you really need to put your ear to the ground and better understand why you want to work for the organization, and specifically, what is critical about IBM that attracts you to the various different opportunities.”

Catherine had another great tip when it comes to cover letters: customize, customize, customize! While she noted it’s taxing to write 12 different, unique cover letters for different positions and companies, it’s also quite clear to her (and I’m sure everyone else) when an applicant sends in those five generic paragraphs to multiple job openings.

How do we go about looking for a job after we graduate?

“That’s a really difficult position to be in because you no longer have the extent of the resources that you would have when in school. So I would try really hard to connect with the alumni networks. Quite often schools are well-equipped with very helpful alumni networks that can help you connect with the right people and the right employers.”

“Once school is finished, you really need to sell yourself back to employers, and make sure you’re not just a piece of paper or a cover letter. People need to know who you are, and doing that through a network of similar people is always a great way to get noticed.”

Catherine also mentioned that, specific to IBM, it’s great for students and recent grads looking for jobs to connect at industry events and to come prepared. Putting a face to a name for an employer is great, but to Catherine, it’s even better if a prospective hire shows up to an event already knowing who’s attending on behalf of IBM and has some organizationally-related talking points.

There’s never going to be a gotcha moment

A very important theme that came up throughout the interview was empathy on both sides of looking for a job. Catherine stressed that at IBM and at other companies looking to hire students and recent graduates, HR departments and recruiters are not out to get us. There’s never going to be a gotcha moment. She understands how stressful finding the first full-time job can be and just hopes that young professionals come prepared. She also hopes that students understand the job she has to do as a recruiter. So get out there, be just afraid enough, and put together a stellar application that will land you the dream job.

*Opinions expressed are those of the author, and not necessarily those of Student Life Network or their partners.