Yes, you need a compelling cover letter and a stellar resume, but looking great on paper is just the start.
If you’re asking what makes for the perfect application, you may be asking the wrong question.
While cover letters and great resumes are essential, recruiters often search for something more. “The students who go the extra mile always attract more attention,” says Meredith Hotarek, a recruiter for Morgan Stanley. “You have to think of creative ways that help your name resonate when it comes time to hire a candidate. That’s what helps get you hired.”
The students who go the extra mile always attract more attention.
Hotarek has worked at Morgan Stanley for three years recruiting for Sales & Trading, and Research. She manages a group of recruiters who travel around the U.S. meeting candidates who might be future analysts at Morgan Stanley. “We come across thousands of talented students,” she says, “but don’t let that scare you.”
The key to being successful is to create a plan that blends active engagement, personal networking and outreach to employees. To get started, here are additional tips from Hotarek and her colleagues to help you shine—on and off the page:
Finding the right balance between professionalism and being yourself isn’t easy, especially when you’re new to the workforce. “We were all entry level at one time though, and we know what it’s like just starting out,” says Hotarek. “But if you’re excited about something, you show it.”
Social skills take plenty of practice to get down pat. And that’s what you should do. Prepare some basic talking points, practice body posture and making and holding eye contact. Be confident about who you are and what you know, Hotarek says. While awkward at first, the more you do it, the more naturally it will come when you’re in the moment. Effective communication helps you hold an easy, natural conversation with people who can help get you hired.
“If I were applying for an internship, my first stop would be to my local career services, where I would speak with a counselor,” says Molly Norton, a Morgan Stanley recruiter who helps find and attract applicants for technology.
She speaks with students each recruiting season, and the polished applicants have usually prepared with career counselors. They track the various recruiting events and can often help students figure out what kinds of positions are a proper fit, Norton says. They’ve also worked on numerous applications and can give guidance on resumes, cover letters, mock interviews and follow-up conversations. “They’re there to help you get the job you want,” she says.
If something isn’t available, counselors can also tap the campus community and alumni for people who can help with networking. “They can connect you with someone who will get you through the door,” Norton says.
“Take every opportunity to meet people,” urges Brooke Blau, a Human Resources analyst at Morgan Stanley who helps with recruiting. Morgan Stanley, for example, holds campus events all over the world, where recruiters host opportunities to network. (Search for campus events).
When Blau was a junior at Cornell University, she registered for a Morgan Stanley internship event through her campus’ recruiting center and connected with employees at the firm through Cornell alumni. She used the event as one of her first opportunities to meet face-to-face with recruiters.
“Go make conversation—a dialogue is always better than one-sided talk,” she says. “Be OK with the conversation going into a different direction than you intended.” It helped her secure two summer analyst positions, after which she was offered her full-time job.
You can be a competitive applicant, no matter your level of experience in finance or which college you attend, says Blau. The key is communicating how your personal experiences translate into something valuable for the opportunity to which you’re applying. “A lot of people look great on paper,” she says, but the key can come down to how you translate as an applicant off the page. When you help a recruiter answer the question of how your skills can translate, it may open doors for new opportunities. “It’s who you are in person that can help you stand out from the crowd,” she says.
Blau, for example, interned at a public relations firm before applying for an internship at Morgan Stanley. “I was working with celebrities and high-profile clients,” she says, and connected how her talent management skills would be an asset at Morgan Stanley, which has its share of high-powered clientele. “That’s what’s important,” she says. “You built these skills and you want to apply them to a new world.”
After you make connections, stay in touch. “This is the start of a relationship, and staying in touch will help you engage,” Hotarek says. But remember that the people you meet do have busy day jobs, she says.
It’s best to reach out with an update on your professional progress and anything that can help someone remember you. “Mention something that will show a history of interactions,” she says. It could be an earlier conversation or even something the person said at an event. “It helps someone remember your name,” she adds, which is not a small thing when recruiters are surveying crowds of applicants.
Hotarek also suggests asking your connections for advice. Ask them to review your resume, or how an experience may help you become more competitive. If you work on what’s suggested, you’ll have something new to discuss during your update. “It’s a great way to broaden your network and find allies where you’re applying,” she says.