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Act grown-up

Repps Hudson (St. Louis Post-Dispatch) -- At a campus job fair last week, a bearded student wearing a red T-shirt, jeans, boots and a baseball cap on backwards toured the recruiting booths, asking general questions and collecting brochures.

He didn't know it, but he was doing several things wrong if he wanted to be hired soon.

In this increasingly competitive job market for college graduates, the clever and usually successful job seeker won't give a prospective employer any reason to toss a resume into the trash.

If he goes to the next fair in October at Southern Illinois University at Edwardsville, this student should do several things to show he's a serious job seeker. He could start by shaving his beard, ditching the cap, donning a coat and tie and carrying a crisp resume tailored to the companies he'd like to join.

With the economy a little weaker than in the last several years, recruiters that are swamped by resumes are looking for any excuse to winnow down their pile.

One graduate student told how one investment bank selection committee swamped with resumes threw out the ones with watermarks that went the wrong way, whatever that is.

"They get so many resumes, that's one way to weed them out," said the student.

An exaggeration, perhaps, but the point is that the tried-and-true rules of job seeking are firmly back in style. Forget the media hype about bonuses and lavish visits to corporate offices. Here's the latest thinking on how to put your best foot forward.

* Research the company before the first contact with recruiters at a job fair. This is easier than ever -- and expected by recruiters -- since many companies have Web sites that give a lot of boilerplate information. The smart student will approach the recruiter with several well-informed questions.

* Sharpen the resume until it has no mistakes, including misspellings and homonyms. Many college career offices provide critiques of resumes. Use the service.

"We strongly encourage students to have their resume reviewed before filing," said Kathy Day, director of career services at St. Louis University.

One recent job seeker made sure her resume was on heavier paper so it would stand out in a pile of printer-paper resumes. Ditto for her name at the top -- in 22-point type, boldface italics.

"And always carry your resume in a portfolio," said Ada Sams, newly hired by Enterprise Rent-A-Car. "Don't just pull it out of your purse or backpack. It doesn't look professional."

* Avoid the e-mail trap. Deborah Kettler, director of career services at the University of Missouri at St. Louis, said that since many companies now take resumes online, students may be tempted to zip one off too quickly.

"Once it's gone, it's gone," she said. "My advice today is to set up an e-mail format just like a business letter. Use spell check. And hold it in draft for a day or two. Edit it."

* Use the right buzzwords on a resume. This implies that the student has studied the company before writing the resume.

Recruiters and hiring committees may screen resumes by computer, coded for certain words. Learn the right words for the company.

* Dress professionally, even at a job fair. For men, that's a coat, tie and high-quality slacks and shoes; for women, a suit or a modest dress. Shoes should be clean and shined. No tennis shoes, said one recruiter.

Recruiters at job fairs are sizing up every person they meet, even if the encounter is no longer than a minute or two. Everything the job seeker can do to put an edge on that all-important first impression is a plus with the recruiter.

* Be enthusiastic about working and show a sound work ethic. Focus on accomplishments and challenges in the prospective job, not on hours and pay. Those will come up later, in successive interviews.

Know your grade-point average and what you'd like to do for the employer if hired.

* Shave the beard, cut the hair, be clean and keep the scents to a minimum.

Hide the tattoos, and leave the nose rings, tongue studs and multiple earrings at home. "They can have tattoos, but we don't want to see them," said one recruiter for a large telecommunications company. "And don't chew gum when you come for an interview."

(c) 2001 St. Louis Post-Dispatch

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