Getting the Interview:
Standing out to employers in an increasingly Darwinian job market
Staff I.T., Inc.
If the interview is the means by which you are offered a job then it really all begins with the cover letter. The progression is the cover letter gets the attention of the hiring manager, encouraging them to read your resume. The resume is only really a brief summary of your professional and sometimes personal qualifications – what makes you a viable candidate for the job you are applying for. The sad fact is that, especially with as bloated a candidate pool as there is today, employers can be increasingly selective. For once they can afford to be picky.
This is concrete proof that the need to stand out from the rest of the group is more important than ever. In this article I will outline not only helpful tactics to write effective cover letters and resumes but also tips on successful interviewing. In this Darwinian job market where only the strongest or most visible applicants get the jobs sometimes just having brighter plumage than those around you will turn the tide in your favor. I will use an example from my own past experience as an example. When applying for a business development position at a major market research company in New York City I found myself competing with ten other people. Only a young lady and I were hired. I asked, after signing my contract, why I had succeeded where the other eight had failed. I was told it was because I was the most dynamic.
A good cover letter should highlight key data points in your resume. Always focus on what is in it for them to hire you. Most hiring managers have the attention span of a strobe light so make it quick but make it good. If you have fifteen years of combined experience in education and administrative work then your cover letter should include that. Do not elaborate in the cover letter. Simply mention. This is a reason why you are the best choice. Never write that you think you are the best choice or you believe yourself to be the best choice – you ARE the best choice. Confidence SELLS and really when you are applying for a job you are selling yourself to that employer as a solution to the role they are hiring for. The cover letter should make mention of the role, your enthusiasm, one or two relevant data points that will lead into your resume and finally your desire to discuss with the hiring manager the role and what you can bring to the company if hired.
The resume is the summary of your professional and personal qualifications as we mentioned before. It is also a tool of your personal expression and an excellent way to demonstrate your ability to communicate. I see a great deal of resumes. Most simply blend in with the rest, all black and white, all Times New Roman font size 12, all with pretty much the same ambiguous objective statement. I am not a hiring manager and I get bored of seeing the same resume over and over again. Imagine how a hiring manager, who sees probably hundreds of resumes a week, must feel! Making a substantial difference here is easier than you think.
The first thing to do is make the resume flow. Choose a size 16 or size 18 font. Make it a good color that will stand out. Peoples’ eyes are attracted to red and to blue. In addition it is a good idea to state your professional title in italics one line below your name and to the right of the page (ex: Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer or Educator or Paralegal). Then, if you go one line below this and hit the equals symbol on your computer keyboard ( = ) 3 times you will create an attractive effect. Lastly put your contact information below this double line. A monochrome example of this is:
123 Any Street
Anytown, NJ 08303
Now it is a good idea to organize your resume. Most people choose this time to write a generic objective statement: “To be hired by a growing company where my hard work and excellent work ethic will… “ This is boring and will negate the work you did on your name and address. Really. If you are applying for the job then your objective probably is that you want to be hired. Instead of an objective statement write a short summary of what you are bringing to the hiring manager’s company. An example of this is:
I offer over ten years of diverse, professional experience featuring such public-interfacing roles as Customer Services, Business Development Associate, Account Manager, Sales Team Leader and Operations Manager. I will bring my experience as well as enthusiasm and a willingness to quickly learn with me as a member of your team.
Nowhere does the summary state the objective of the applicant because it is unnecessary – the objective is implied. Rather, it begins with the word “offer.” The applicant is bringing quality to the table. The hiring manager should take a look – might be a good fit. This summary above is evidently for a customer service or sales position and so the previous roles are capitalized which will hopefully catch the eye of the hiring manager. Just as when you do a search on Google for a roofing company, you are telling the search engine to return entries that contain key words such as “roofing.” Hiring managers, especially those who must scan many resumes, are doing the same thing. If the role they are hiring for is a specialized position you can bet that they are scanning resumes for key words that will indicate a close match in experience. If you are smart enough to include these roles as examples of what you have done in your summary then this alone may encourage them to read further.
Next, analyze your resume. What is your greatest achievement? For some it is their college education. Some people graduated from their college or university Magna Cum Laude and this is an impressive achievement. Unless it concerns a specialized position (like Information Technology, Lawyer or Medical Doctor) all a college degree tells an employer is that you can be taught and that you are intelligent. More than likely you have the ability to communicate professionally and you will be a good representative of their company should the role entail dealing with the public.
For others, the most impressive aspect of their resume is their work experience. You might have just worked at JP Morgan Chase for eleven years as an engineer and then found yourself laid off because JPM Chase needed to save money. This work experience tells any employer that you are not only a dedicated employee but you are loyal and also do a satisfactory job – you held your position for all that time. It suggests longevity. It is therefore important to look at your resume objectively and remember that the average hiring manager is going to scan it quickly and will pay more attention to the first half of your resume. Make sure that the information in the first part of your resume is the most impressive information you have to offer.
Lots of people clog the resume with too much information or worse, with the wrong information. When you list what you did at your past jobs this does not mean you should describe, in mind-numbing detail, your day-to-day activities. This instead means to list specific examples of successes you had while there. Or, if a telesales position, how many telephone calls you made on an average day. If you were a salesperson and sold 11 units one month for $1.2 million you should probably list that. If you were instrumental in reconciling formerly inactive accounts, turning them back into paying customers, that too is something that should be listed. Anything noteworthy should be listed, anything that separates you from the competition.
Lastly, in these increasingly competitive times, it may be a good idea to give your resume to a professional staffing agency. They will more than likely ask you in to their offices to meet you and determine that you at least appear normal and do not offend, et cetera. They also do this to gauge your interviewing skills. If you are nervous and fidgety with them they know you will probably have a rough time in an employer’s office. However, the advantage to working through a professional firm is that it is their job to sell you to prospective employers. I say professional because there are many “fly-by-night” agencies also. It pays to do a search in Google and see if they have any reviews from current or former employees.
In closing, the main theme here has been to take steps as an applicant to stand out from the crowd – make sure you are noticed. Using a good cover letter and a good, well-structured resume along with the help of an agency will absolutely increase your chances of landing the perfect job for you.