The CareerExplorer Discord Community had the opportunity to speak to Eric Anderson, a career services provider, in a live, fireside Q&A.
Eric Anderson is a certified career development facilitator and career services provider for the University of Idaho, with over 15 years of experience. He takes pride in assisting clients in all aspects of career development, helping people explore, navigate, and make critical decisions about their future. Eric especially gravitates towards helping people tell their story through their resumes/cover letters.
Eric’s background also includes serving in AmeriCorps, an experience that changed his life. His background is pretty eclectic, and includes experiences in natural resources, environmental education, horticulture, nonprofit leadership, theater, and disaster relief. He has experience working in both the public and private sectors, and working abroad, from small organizations to the government.
The CareerExplorer Discord Community had the opportunity to ask Eric about his career history, how to tell a story through a resume and cover letter, and how to make the most of job applications and interviews.
The transcript below has been modified and abridged from the original conversation.
You mentioned that serving in AmeriCorps changed your life. How so?
AmeriCorps is similar to the Peace Corps, but based in the United States. It was a one year commitment, and was a way for me to serve my country outside of the military. One year of AmeriCorps was like four years in college, in terms of what it taught me and the experiences it gave me. There is nothing quite like it, especially the NCCC program for 18-24 year olds. If you are not sure what you want to do, a year in AmeriCorps is a great investment.
In your experience, what are some important things to highlight in your resume if you have just graduated from a four-year college or a graduate program?
The most important thing on a resume is showing that you’ve tailored it to the employer, organization, and their needs. It’s important to tell your story, but even more important to get the employer’s attention. One-size-fits-all resumes no longer apply.
Use the interview to find out if the job is a good fit for you. In job interviews, you are interviewing the employer as well, just more subtly.
There are so many different resume styles and layouts out there. Do you have a go-to format that you believe to be the most effective?
The best resume format is the one that you most like. I want you to be proud of your resume. It tells your story, and if you don’t like the format, you aren’t setting up a good story from the beginning.
Consistency in formatting is very important. The quicker I can scan the document, the better. Also, don’t use resume templates. They are more trouble than they are worth.
Can supplemental activities or continuing education credentials help bolster your resume to employers?
Absolutely. Any extracurriculars are great and an asset most people like. They show interest, motivation, commitment, and time management. Showing your involvement and going above and beyond to learn, improve, or gain a new skill goes a long way.
Employers know there will be gaps in resumes due to COVID-19. They are curious as to how people are using this time to learn new things or to improve their skills.
I’d advise to put any extra credentials towards the end of your resume after your relevant education, skills, and experiences. Also, the term ‘extracurriculars’ is becoming outdated. Instead, use terms like involvement, volunteerism, leadership, service, civic engagement, and professional development.
I’ve been told that listing your GPA (grade point average) is important to include on your resume. What are your thoughts on this?
GPA is very tricky. In some fields, GPA is looked at very closely (such as in accounting or engineering). GPA is also important for graduate school, research, or academic positions.
I take a more open view of GPA. If it’s important to you, you are proud of it, and it’s at least a 3.0, list it. If it doesn’t matter as much, don’t include it.
Are there any non-obvious things (like bad spelling) that employers don’t like to see on a resume?
Yes, spelling is still very important. Also, resumes that are overcrowded, and that are hard to look at or read, are the kiss of death for employers.
Think of resumes like a first impression. What kind of impression do you want to make? For those of you that have had the chance to hire someone before, remember what it was like going through that process and how many split-second decisions you made about people just from looking at their resume, or within the first minute of the interview. Those same reactions you had are what other employers have.
If you have not had the chance yet, I recommend everyone hire someone or serve on a hiring committee in the future. This will give you great insight as to how employers think.
Do you feel that cover letters are still a must when applying for a particular job?
I am still a huge fan of cover letters. They tell you what a resume cannot. I believe a well-crafted cover letter makes a great first impression. I read cover letters before I read resumes, but I would say that most in the industry focus on the cover letter as secondary to the resume/CV.
Is it a good idea to use humor in your cover letter?
If done well, I like humor in cover letters and interviews, as they help to show off someone’s personality. However, it has to be appropriate and not too much, or I don’t know how serious they are.
I always imagine that there is at least one person reading my cover letter that thinks very differently than me. So I ask myself how this humor comes across to them if they think differently from me. I look at humor in terms of perception of risk. Is it a risk worth taking or not taking?
Would using an experience from when I was younger, and how it sparked my interest in the area, be a good way to stand out?
Yes! Please make sure to mention an example like that; it goes a long way with employers. It shows that this is not just some new-found interest that you may tire of in six months. You have a track record with it, and are likely going to be very committed and engaged.
When reaching out to a company outside of your major – for example, if you are a sociology major but want to work in the environmental policy world – should you mention this in your cover letter?
Great question! Show them the transferability of your degree. I am a theater and philosophy major, and in every interview I have had, I talk about how those two majors make me a better career advisor. But you have to sell it, as employers won’t make the connection right away.
So, as a sociology major, what projects, research, or assignments did you do related to environmental policy? Did you volunteer your time with environmental groups? Also, if all your sociology electives are related to environmental issues or policy, tell them about that. They may not know that just by looking at your resume. Your major is part of your story, but it’s not your whole story.
When I do get a call for an interview, how should I prepare? Apart from dressing appropriately, bringing a pen, and bringing additional resumes?
The most important thing you can do for an interview is to research the employers and their needs. Start anticipating the types of questions they might ask and have your stories and examples ready to go. Also, stay up to date on their social media so you can reference this in the interview.
Do a practice interview with someone if you can. Our students and alumni love our practice interview service. There is nothing better than practicing with someone to see how you do.
Other than highlighting my skills and education during an interview, what is the best way to stand out among people with more experience than me?
It’s hard to stand out from people that have more experience. What I look for is drive, motivation, and selling the employer on the value you have to offer. Sometimes motivation is just as important as experience. Sell them on why you are a good fit for them, and they are a good fit for you.
Any tips on how to show that motivation? Should I talk about experiences I’ve had in college, and how they have led me to applying for the position?
Show motivation through the cover letter and interview responses. Don’t just tell me you are passionate about x, y, or z. Show me through example and proof of that interest.
The person who shows me in an interview will always stand out more than the one that just tells me.
If there is a story in the news about a company, would it be good to bring it up?
Employers love to hear stories about their company in social media and in the news. They like talking about their future, and their commitment to their community. Their commitment to diversity is becoming a very important topic.
Try not to ask questions that you could have easily found by looking at their website. Ask probing questions that go beyond the job description, and show you want to get to know their company. Every company has values. Tying in to those values is always a plus.
Do companies take into account that you’ve applied to them multiple times? Does that make you seem appealing as a candidate?
Great question. Depending on their size, they may notice. But most often they won’t. Having a well-tailored cover letter for each job and explaining why you are applying for that specific position helps. But don’t ‘broadstroke’ them and use the exact same resume, word for word, with each application.
Would it be too much to send an employer or the interviewer an email expressing my appreciation for taking the time to do an interview with me?
Not all all. I really appreciate post-interview notes or emails. I think they say a lot about a candidate. Especially if you send an email, and your competition doesn’t.
Sending a thank you email is becoming less and less common, so when you do send one, it looks really good. Plus, it gives you the chance to remind the employer who you are. However, make it short and to the point; nothing more than a paragraph.
Do you recommend that your students reach out to make connections on LinkedIn? If so, how should they send a ‘cold’ message?
I do recommend LinkedIn. I am a big fan of the Groups feature (people share a lot of hidden jobs within Groups). Also, I am a big fan of the Alumni tab under colleges and high schools. Who better to help you than a fellow alumni.
In terms of a message, make it direct and specific. Tell the person exactly why you would like to connect. “I think it would be great for us to connect…” – that type of message has been overused on LinkedIn. Tell me why you want to connect, or how I can help you, or how you can help me.
Here’s a quick example: I had a student connect with an employer after a career fair. At the fair, they both found out they liked rock climbing. My student used that in his message to make sure the employer remembered who he was, and it worked. He got an internship from that employer.
Do you advise your students to find job openings through LinkedIn?
Yes, we do talk about LinkedIn, but that is just part of the puzzle. We have a four-step job search process that starts with researching yourself, researching employer needs, researching the industry, and then looking at specific job boards. If you are in college, your Career Center should have a job and internship webpage and resources for you. Something like this.
Career Change Advice
I’m in the middle of a career and industry change at 35 years of age. What are some common pitfalls or mistakes you’ve seen from people making this transition?
When changing industries, the biggest pitfall I see is people not networking or using informational interviews. Both these things would help in getting connected to people in the new industry, and could open up doors.
What types of books do you recommend?
I recommend books that can help you learn more about your personality, values, and traits. Basically, books that help you understand what type of worker you are. It’s important to know how to work with people who are similar to you, and different from you.
We all have preferences. Learning about yours, and how they might be different from other people’s preferences, is important in this day and age.
Final Thoughts and Helpful Links
When interviewing with an employer, I like to think about it like putting a puzzle together. Employers have a need (hiring), and you have what they are looking for. Use the interview to help put the pieces together for them, so they see you as the puzzle put together - aka, the person they want to hire.
At the end of the day, your resume, cover letter, and interview is all about the value you bring. Focus on that. Without bragging, tell the employer how you are going to add value or contribute to not just the position, but the organization.
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