Career searches and job hunts are painful: answering ads, resumé tweaking, phone calls, interviews, preparation, sweat, tears, fear of rejection, etc.
But it’s funny, even after investing all of this effort, the same mistakes are often made by newbies and veterans alike.
In this series of articles, we’ll be talking about a variety of ways that you can enhance your job search and interviewing skills.
Today, I’ll be going over some common mistakes that job searchers make, including:
- Relying too heavily on resumé submission alone
- Poor characterization of their skills
- No follow-up
- Relying too heavily on responding to published ads
- No ‘thank you’ letters
These are just a few of the fundamental gaffes good people make, and they make them alarmingly often. It’s like going 15 rounds with a heavy weight boxer and all you brought is a pillow. I mean, how bad do you want it?
Now I know, you can’t swing a dead cat without hitting a website, article or book dealing with the veritable cornucopia of job search advice, guidance, tips, techniques and opinions regarding what to do and of course, what NOT to do, pulling you in all directions. Navigating the confusing job search battleground is challenging enough, so, put the pillow down and pick up a battle axe!
Having gone through a 180 degree career change myself, maintaining relationships with skilled career coaches is the best investment I’ve made in a long time. I wouldn’t recommend it to everyone as it is expensive, but if I learned anything it was this:
YOUR career search is only as successful as YOU make it.
YOU are selling YOURSELF and just like products and services YOU consume, YOU must differentiate YOURSELF from YOUR competitors with features and, more importantly, benefits.
See a pattern here? Obvious and simple, isn’t it? At the end of the day, I learned how to better to prepare and arm myself with some non-intuitive tools that not only keep me in the fight, but help me win! Simple as that. So, what follows are some quick tips to help you, a frustrated job seeker, dodge, parry and thrust, becoming a better ‘street fighter’ when it comes to your current/future job search. Let’s start sparring…
I’m sure you’ve found by now that the vast majority of available jobs are NEVER advertised. However, when responding to an ad, the first mistake people often make is blindly submitting their resumé or CV via email. Cover letters are always a nice touch, but unless there’s a $100 bill attached to it, chances are it will simply go unnoticed on the growing pile. Instead of a cover letter, try an ad response letter. By the way, I would send this by email AND regular mail.
- Ads may signal urgency to fill a position
- Target the HR manager, and even better, the Hiring manager – or both!
- Make sure you meet at least 80% of the qualifications listed
The ad response letter is a pseudo cover letter, but instead of using paragraphs of words to convey your expertise, structure it in such a way that highlights (rather than buries) your enticing qualifications. Start with an opening like “I am replying to your recent posting for the position of VP of Document Distribution listed in… I have listed below my qualifications as they relate to the stated requirements of the position.” Then add a 2-column table (without borders). Label the first column ‘VP of Document Distribution requirements’ and the second, ‘My Qualifications’. List the requirements and your respective qualifications. For example:
VP of Document Distribution requirements My Qualifications
Degreed Professional Bachelor of Business Administration
Add that you’ve enclosed your resumé, sum up the match between the stated requirements and your qualifications, how it benefits the company and that you can deliver added value. Follow-up in 3-5 days. !BAM!
The Focus Piece
If you’re lucky enough to get a phone or face-to-face interview, a lot of folks drop the ball by not doing any sort of follow-up and when they do, they usually sound desperate. Most don’t even bother to write a simple ‘thank you’ note. C’mon people, you’re pillow fighting!
The focus piece begins with a simple ‘thank you’ note, very nicely formatted. Briefly thank them and recap the interview and what you like about the company. You should also focus on why YOU are the best candidate for the position. Finally, mention that you are very confident there is a match based on the “Focus Piece” you’ve created – on the back of the letter. On the back, create a 2-column table without borders as discussed in the Ad Response section and label accordingly. Match the requirements to your qualifications. In some cases you can cut and paste from your ad response letter.
Now, be careful, because during the interview, you may have noted additional requirements that weren’t in the ad. Be sure to listen for things like “the most important things we’re looking for…”. You want to add these to your Focus Piece. !POW!
SARs (Situation – Action – Result)
Many people have great backgrounds, experience and skill sets, yet they struggle not only to convey their strengths, but also to translate their assets into benefits to a potential employer. You know that first interview question? “So, tell me about your self…”. Studies have shown this is where most people get “knocked out”. Being able to articulate how your experience and background can benefit the employer is not easy. It takes preparation and practice. Being able to do so will not only boost your confidence, but also help you to better understand where you “fit”.
So, on your resumé, how do you address an employer’s requirement? Unfortunately, most of us don’t do it adequately. We simply list the skills we feel will address that requirement. For instance, you might list “cell culture” as a skill in response to the requirement, ‘Must have experience in cell culture”. Okay, fair enough. So, you and about 200 other applicants have some sort of generic cell culture experience. Great, good for you – NOT! First, how does this relate to the position? Second, what makes you potentially better than the other 200 applicants? Instead you may want to highlight this skill as a particular achievement with a SAR:
Situation: Served as staff scientist in BSL II virology lab investigating cellular pathways for RNA virus infection from 2005 to 2011. Action: Studied and evaluated in vitro effects on multiple cell lines. Result: Determined BHK-21 cells are the most permissive lines for studying virus infection and published findings in Nature.
This is EXACTLY what you want to say in an interview! So, when you’re asked “So, do you have cell culture experience…” isn’t it better to answer with the above SAR than with an ambiguous and less insightful ‘yes’? Look at the difference in information content and quality. Have you ever been asked, “can you tell me more about such and such”? This is your golden opportunity to toot your horn! Use one or two SARs and blow them away. Also, when you’re asked, “So, tell me about yourself…”, remember to relate your experience and skills to the stated requirements and line up a whole bunch of SARs. !BIFF!
This is not rocket science, and these approaches have been around and in use for a while. We just need to retrain ourselves in the way we go about our job searches. Will these or any techniques ensure job placement? No, of course not. But in case you haven’t noticed, it’s a dog-eat-dog world out there – don’t get caught wearing Milkbone underwear.
Happy hunting! And stay tuned for more tips on how to become a better job search street fighter.