#AskAHiringManager: Getting a Recruiter to Notice You When You Don't Have a Traditional Major
By Khadejah Stegall
Khadejah is a part of the TLC College Ambassador Program and attends North Carolina A&T University
Are you thinking about switching industries, but have no experience in that field at all? How can you stand out among applicants who have what companies are looking for? Sydney Brunson is breaking barriers and climbing up the corporate ladder in tech. Although she graduated from Howard University with a Bachelor's degree in Journalism and interned at some of the biggest media companies such as Viacom and Comcast SportsNet, she went on to work in the tech industry as a consultant for one of the most successful companies in the tech industry (IBM) because she wanted a challenge in her career. After only two years, Sydney was promoted to a Diversity Recruiting Program Manager and today she currently leads all diversity recruiting strategies and initiatives for the IBM Global Business Services Consulting by Degrees program.
The Life Currency spoke with Sydney to receive insight on how to stand out with a nontraditional degree applying to tech companies and what to highlight on your resume to get your foot in the door if you have no tech experience at all.
Q: How can someone with a major such as journalism, theater or liberal studies stand out in their resume when they are applying to a tech company?
A: What you really need to do is figure out your transferable skills. For me, as a journalism student, I took classes that may not initially stand out as a part of my curriculum, like Economics and other business courses. IBM may not have known that I had taken those classes if I didn’t highlight them and that is a great way to sell yourself on your resume. I showed that I had more than traditional journalism coursework. Also, when you’re highlighting relevant coursework on your resume, ask yourself which of these are most relevant for that employer or industry, as well. Another thing is positioning your bullets. Make sure that they are quantitative and impactful. As an entry-level candidate, no one is really looking for you to have major project experience. We’re just really trying to see how adaptable you are, where your strengths are and what your experience has been. Even if you were working at a theater or a ballet company, if you can show the impact and the data behind what you did, it makes your work just as impactful as a technical candidate. A cover letter or professional summary is another way you can really stand out with a nontraditional degree.
In addition, you need to make sure you have different resumes for different positions. This is a mistake I made. I would apply to company A, B, C, all in different industries and positions, but would send out the same resume. I would be disappointed if I didn’t hear back from anyone, but it was probably my general resume that hindered me moving to the next step in the hiring process. Don’t feel like you need to have a one-size fits all resume.
Q: What's your biggest pet peeve about resumes?
A: The fact that I am a former journalist has to be grammar. Your resume is your autobiography. It is your selling point. You are talking about yourself, so there is no need for any type of error. Simple things like tense issues, wrong usage of words or repeat words really grind my gears. I’ve had candidates that I’ve tried to email and the messages bounced back, because they didn’t write their email correctly. You don’t want to miss out on a potential job opportunity due to something so minuscule. So, have someone else check your resume, save and send in PDF form – that way it maintains the integrity of your document.
Q: What’s your biggest pet peeve in general?
A: Asking about timelines and status. Please don’t constantly bug your recruiter about your status or the timeline. You must be aware that you aren’t the only candidate they are managing. Recruiters are people so treat them like you would like to be treated. Let your work shine and just know that most recruiters are swamped – daily!
Q: What is the most effective way to follow up with a recruiter that will lead to an interview (if you told the person they are qualified)?
A: LinkedIn helps me versus sending a cold email for several reasons. My inbox is usually crazy, so your message might be overlooked. Also, I have also been a visual learner, so facial recognition really works wonders for me. You could have been super awesome candidate, but because I’m super busy and it’s a cold email, I may not respond. LinkedIn is a great way to follow up and, in essence, present your resume via your profile. So, make sure your profile is updated and that you reach out and/or follow up with a purpose.
Q: What do you think about informational interviews?
A: If a company is on your campus, go! Everyone is not fortunate enough to be at campuses where there’s a heavy corporate presence. I would say if you are at a school with large career fairs, you should be at every event. Don’t just go in to soak in information, but the interview should be about things that aren’t available. For example, if I’m a journalism student, how can I best leverage my skills here? I personally don’t have the time to do informational interviews, which is why I go to campuses to talk to large amounts of people at one time. So, take advantage of when recruiters are on campus or at career expos, because this may be your only shot to connect with them one-on-one! Just make sure it’s with a purpose and make sure you do your research beforehand.
Q: What advice would you give someone with a nontraditional major who is trying to switch into the tech industry but has no tech experience?
Find technical skills that are realistically attainable. For me, Coursera and Khan Academy are my best friends! I work in tech, so I took an entry-level Java course – now I can add that on my resume! Often, skills and certifications are just as valuable as advanced degrees and it’s a great way to show that you are multifaceted.
Brunson’s career goal is to be a senior leader in Diversity, Inclusion and Belonging for a major corporation. Brunson will be ending her tenure at IBM this week and preparing to start her new opportunity as a Diversity Program Specialist at Pinterest. Connect with her on LinkedIn at Sydney M. Brunson.
Read TLC’s first interview for our Hiring Manager Series here.
Khadejah Stegall is a college mommy blogger that inspires others to achieve the impossible through the power of Jesus. She enjoys family time, eating vegan meals when it's convenient and mentoring others on professional development. To be inspired by more post, follow her blog at khadejahstegall.com.