John Foulger says to keep your resume simple and don’t rely too heavily on AI to produce a cover letter. That’s a “big red flag” for employers. (Composite: Letty Avila. Image Source: Mike Glier; iStock.)

How do you land a job? Just “Ask John”

A weekly podcast hosted by John Foulger of USC Dornsife Career Pathways helps students and alumni perfect their job-hunting skills.
ByMargaret Crable

You’ve got your diploma, now what?

For most graduates, it’s time to find work, but job hunting can be notoriously tricky. Writing a stand-out resume or acing an interview often feels daunting.

To help, USC Dornsife Career Pathways produces the weekly Ask John podcast, hosted by career advisor John Foulger. Episodes focus on topics like resume formatting, networking and salary negotiation.

Foulger recently shared tips for anyone looking for a job, whether you’re fresh out of college or more advanced in your career.

How do I make my resume stand out?

Tailor your resume to the job as much as you possibly can, and make it clear and readable. The biggest pitfall I see is people either adding too much detail or making a resume too fancy. You should be able to hand your resume to your roommate, your parents, your grandma, and have them read it and know within about 10 seconds exactly what you’re trying to say.

People feel that resumes make or break your job prospects, but that’s not true. The resume just gets you an interview. So, think of it as giving an employer a sample of who you are. You don’t have to tell them everything that you’ve ever done. Just show them why they should pay attention to you and interview you.

Are there words that tend to do better than others on resumes?

You want to include action verbs. It’s so much easier to read and you’re much more invested than a passive voice. Also, use words that the employer uses in the job description. A common example that I give: If you’re applying for a data analytics job and they use the word “analyze” versus “track,” use the word analyze.

Do I have to include a cover letter?

I definitely recommend cover letters. Not all companies look at them anymore, but for the ones that do, they’re incredibly important. Even if they are not specifically asked for, I still recommend them because it shows a level of commitment. It shows that you go that extra mile. People really do value them.

How do you write a good cover letter?

In a resume, you have single bullet points. A cover letter allows you to put those experiences in narrative format, to give context to your experiences, give context to who you are and why you’re important.

Your cover letter should be really tailored to the job because it’s you selling yourself for the position. You’re telling them, “This is who I am as a holistic person. This is why I matter, and this is why you should invest in me.” Because that’s really what they’re doing when they hire you; they are making an investment in you. They want to know if you’re worth your paycheck. Your cover letter allows them to see that.

How do I ace an interview?

Most important in interviewing is your mental attitude. A lot of times people start to question if they’re really qualified for an interview. The answer is always “yes.” If you’ve made it to an interview, you belong in that room.

It is very easy to get overwhelmed, to get in your own head and start worrying about what you’re going to say. Don’t overthink things. Don’t get wrapped up in worrying about what you’re doing right and what you’re doing wrong. Just be your authentic self. Show them who you are and go from there.

The interviewer wants you to succeed. They have a hole in their organization, and they want nothing more than for you to be the answer to their problem.

Prepare. Do your research on the position. Do your research on the department that you’re going to be joining. Do your research on the organization as a whole, so that when they ask you about the position or the organization, you can answer it with confidence.

Let’s say you had a terrible previous work experience. How do you bring that up?

You never, ever, want to speak negatively about a previous experience, even if it was a terrible experience. You want to spin it positive anytime you can.

Let’s say that you had a manager who micromanages you. You might say, “A management style that I did not necessarily align with was one where I felt that I was constantly being watched. I look forward to getting into this new position and working together towards a common goal. I feel I can have a better level of autonomy in this role, based off of your company values.”

In this scenario, I addressed that this experience didn’t align with who I am as a person, then immediately dovetailed into how I’m going to change it in my own life and referenced the good of the company that I’m applying to.

What are some green and red flags for employers?

Green flags are: being prepared, having done research, confidence in what you’re going to be doing.

Not being professional, whether that’s how you speak, how you dress, how you act out in the world, are red flags. A lot of employers are going through your social media. Be aware of what’s out on the internet and your personal brand.

Another red flag is using AI to write resumes and cover letters. AI is a fantastic tool, but if it’s obvious that you used a chatbot, that is a really big red flag we’re hearing about from employers. It shows you aren’t putting forth the effort, that you don’t really care about the position.

What resources are available to USC Dornsife students and alumni?

For USC students and alumni, the number one resource that I recommend is the Trojan Network platform. It’s basically LinkedIn, but exclusively for USC.

We also have handouts and guides on Compass for all of the career needs you have, whether that’s resume writing, cover letter writing, or interviewing. Come and talk to us at Career Pathways. We’re here to help you.

Got a question for John to address on his podcast? Send in your query.