How To Optimize Your Job Search


Getting a job is harder than it should be, says Peter Cappelli, professor of management at the University Pennsylvania Wharton School and author of “Why Good People Can’t Get Jobs: The Skills Gap and What Companies Can Do About It.” And it’s not because students are unprepared or unqualified.

Cappelli, head of the Wharton Center for Human Resources, tells Poets&Quants that the problem is that employers expect candidates to have already done the jobs they’re applying for. This mentality typically leaves out new grads and those who have the qualifications but not the exact experience — and causes employers to skim through candidates rather than spend the time to appropriately evaluate them.

Now that fall semester has started, many students are beginning to think about next summer. Some, returning from an amazing summer internship, are starting to look for full-time jobs. And many incoming freshmen will have never written a resume before. Here are Cappelli’s top tips for optimizing a job search.

Peter Cappelli, courtesy photo

Peter Cappelli. Courtesy photo

1. Remember that a computer reads the résumé first. When putting together your résumé, Cappelli says to think about who’s going to be reading it, particularly if you’re applying to different places. “If different people with different interests are going to read it, maybe a different résumé for each audience makes sense,” he says.

And it’s important to remember that most résumés aren’t even read by humans. Cappelli says they’re typically screened by a computer. “And there, (the résumé) doesn’t have to stand out, it just has to fit into the algorithm.”

To make it onto the shortlist, Cappelli says you should cater your résumé to what the computer is looking for. For example, it’s a good idea to list every skill you can that’s mentioned in the job description.

2. If you can, try to skip the computer screening. Cappelli strongly recommends sending your résumé directly to a human, to avoid the computer screening altogether. “We hope that a shortlist results and gets looked at by a human, but sometimes there is no shortlist,” he says.

The fact is, if your résumé never makes it to a human, there’s almost no way it’s going to stand out from the rest. “The usual advice is to try to get it into the hands of a human who might appreciate any quirky or cute thing you’ve done that is different. Software doesn’t get irony or humor,” Cappelli says.

3. If you land an interview, don’t think you’re done. There are still a few tricks to help you stand out in a good way. To begin with, Cappella says, you don’t want to overwhelm an interviewer with your whole life story, and that you should stick to talking about the job. Unless, of course, your life is unusually interesting.

You should also remember to do more than just answer questions. You should ask the employer about things that demonstrate you’ve taken the time to learn about the company, Cappelli says.

And if you’re competing against candidates with more experience than you, he says, the odds are tough. But if there is a particular skill you’re lacking, like fluency with a programming language, Cappelli suggests offering to get certified before starting.