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Halloween at Handshake: Busting common job hunt “urban legends”

Don't let these myths haunt your career search!

It's a dark and foggy night. All around you, the crisp autumn leaves rustle, yet a spooky stillness has begun to settle. You pull your jacket more snugly around you as you head home to submit the application to an interesting job listing you'd spotted earlier that day. As you hurry determinedly down the empty street, an eerie voice suddenly pierces the cool night air. It wails: "Yoooooou don't neeeeeed a cover letter! What is this, the Stoooooooone Age?"

OK, OK... not exactly the creepiest tale! But around the Halloween season, we don't have any traditional scary stories to share — only popular career search myths that keep us up at night. Many hiring managers have seen these common job hunting legends haunt people throughout the recruitment process, so let us break them all down.

Myth 1: You don’t need a cover letter

It's true: you don't ALWAYS need a cover letter. These days, many applications don't require one! However, you should never underestimate the power of a thoughtful note. Cover letters can be especially impactful when you're applying to jobs that put a heavy emphasis on communication; a well-written letter helps demonstrate your skill in that area.

A personalized intro letter can also grab a recruiter's attention. Whether you've got a compelling reason why you're applying to that particular role, or want to highlight relevant talents that might not be apparent in your formal resume, a concise cover letter is the perfect medium with which to express yourself.

The moral of the story is: don't write off the idea of a cover letter. If an application allows one, simply upload yours to your Handshake profile and attach it. It might be the extra-special touch that lands you a great job!

Myth 2: Your college major determines your future career path

Your college major can do a lot to set you up for future career success, especially if you're entering a specialized field. However, what you study in school doesn't always dictate where your professional path may lead!

Of course it's helpful to spend college studying topics that are directly relevant to your future career, but that's just not always the way things play out. There are civil engineering majors who graduate, enter the workforce, and realize that the field simply isn't for them. And it's OK! Not every finance student ends up loving the world of stocks and bonds, and not every fashion design grad finds their professional passion among bolts of fabric and dress forms. That's OK, too!

Here's a good example of this in action: according to recent Handshake data about women in tech, a significant portion of women applying for software dev and engineering roles come from non-STEM backgrounds. 35% of female applicants to these roles don't have CS degrees; some of their top academic paths are actually business, marketing, communications, and English. Even if these degrees don't necessarily equip candidates with technical skills like coding — which can be learned through supplemental bootcamps — they offer training in valuable "soft skills" like communication and leadership.

It's not a bad thing to pursue a career that's unassociated with your degree. It's called a career JOURNEY for a reason! There are endless paths to take, and sometimes it's a surprise which one you end up loving most.

Check out different job role pages on the Handshake app to investigate different paths that might interest you... whether they're directly related to your degree or not!

Myth 3: You should follow up with the recruiter as many times as it takes to get the job

"Slide into their DMs" might be a valid strategy for landing a date, but it isn't always the best way to get a job. When applying to an exciting role, here are some good rules of thumb for personal messaging:

  • If you know which recruiter, team lead, or hiring manager is at the helm of the search for a specific role, it doesn't hurt to send a quick message. Introduce yourself, explain why you're interested in the opportunity, and thank them in advance for their time. However...
  • This does NOT mean that you should spam every employee at a company with a generic message, or repeatedly contact someone if your message goes unanswered! Limit your outreach to a single message to a person who is actually connected to the job listing. There are many times in life when the squeaky wheel gets the grease, but squeaky wheels in this scenario are likelier to get passed over if they're overly persistent.
  • It's totally acceptable to send a thank-you message after an interview, a phone call, or a meeting. (If you don't have the emails of the interviewers, you can politely ask!) Including a specific callback to your conversation can help you stand out, especially if you're able to send a personal note to each person you spoke with.
  • It can be tempting to follow up often about the status of your application, but again — limit your outreach! There's a fine line between enthusiasm and overdoing it. Try your best during any interview to ask about timeline and next steps so that you have some frame of reference. If a business week elapses between interview stages without any word, shoot a quick email to check in! Keep things brief and polite, and leave it at a single email.

Myth 4: You shouldn’t negotiate your first job offer

Many young people buy into the myth that they shouldn’t ask for more during their first offer of employment, but it simply isn’t true. You can set the tone for the rest of your career by doing your due diligence in navigating your first job offer. Negotiating pay and benefits can ensure that your earning power — and your assertion of your own value — is maximized from the outset of your professional journey.

According to Harvard Business Review, young professionals often have more bargaining power than they realize. Because of the considerable time and resources spent sourcing entry-level talent, employers are typically willing to consider salary or benefit adjustments for a desirable candidate; it’s better than starting from square one of the hiring process all over again. In fact, because negotiation is so common during the offer stage, many employers leave a fair bit of slack in their salary range to accommodate a candidate’s asks.

Still, negotiations can be intimidating, even for experienced employees. If you’re looking for guidance, here are some of our go-to tips for negotiating a job offer:

  1. Do your homework — The better prepared you are heading into a salary negotiation, the more likely you are to get the results you want. Use tools and forums (like Handshake’s “job role” pages, your college career center’s resources, or the Bureau of Labor Statistics) to establish a range for your job title, experience level, and geographic area. If you have any contacts in the same industry, they can also be a helpful resource for benchmarking! Be prepared to cite specifics in your ask: “Based on my research, I know that the average starting salary for an entry level hire in this role is [$X]. Considering my hands-on experience with [skill/qualification], I believe I’m an above-average candidate! I’m hoping for a salary closer to [$X].”
  2. Ask for more than you want — A hiring manager will rarely agree immediately to a counter-offer; after all, it is called a salary negotiation. By starting with a higher salary ask than you really need, you’re more likely to end up with an offer close to what you want after a bit of back and forth.
  3. Practice, even if it feels silly — Don’t underestimate the power of rehearsal! Practicing your salary negotiation conversation with a trusted peer or even in front of a mirror can help build confidence, and help you iron out any wrinkles in your argument.
  4. Don’t take “no” as failure — You might be joining a nonprofit or a startup, or perhaps the hiring staff already made you an offer at the max of their designated range for a role. There are many reasons why an employer might not be able to accommodate your salary ask! Even if this is the case, don’t take their “no” as a failure — by negotiating, you’ve demonstrated confidence and assertiveness, and at the end of the day you can rest assured that you’ve advocated for yourself to the best of your abilities. That being said...
  5. Know what you need — When navigating any job offer, know the minimum you’re willing to accept. This might mean taking stock of what you’ll need to pay your bills every month, and having that number in your back pocket. While it’s certainly not advisable to name this price (or what led you to it) to a prospective employer, politely stick to your guns. At the end of the day, if a prospective employer isn’t able to facilitate the minimum pay rate that you require, it simply might not be the best fit.

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