No matter what the employment market looks like, there is one constant when you’re looking for work: You have competition. Getting yourself noticed among your peers takes more than a fancy resume and perfectly tailored cover letters. It takes proof that you can deliver.
This proof may be in your checked references or your glowing portfolio. Your proof may even be found in the stellar way you conduct yourself in an interview, but getting to any of these stages in the hiring process is going to require you to put your money where your mouth is in your approach to getting noticed.
Specifically, you need to prove that you have these common skills that people list on their resume and rarely actually employ in their job search: Communication, Research, Attention to Detail and Problem Solving.
Every step of the job application process is or possesses some form of communication. Starting the moment an applicant enters a hiring manager’s radar, they are being judged on their effectiveness as a communicator. When an applicant writes that they are an effective communicator on their resume, a hiring manager will expect them to put effort into staying in contact and informed on their status of their application for the position. This means that your application doesn’t come in an e-mail with a canned application line like:
“Please see attached resume/cover letter” or
“Looking for any position”
It means you effectively address the hiring manager with the purpose of your contact, for example:
“Good Afternoon, I’ve been looking for an opportunity to work with XYZ Company since I learned about you a couple months ago, I’m excited to see you have an opening in your copywriting department and would love to know more about your hiring process. Please find my resume and a cover letter with some more information attached.”
As we discussed in a previous blog, the words “I’ll take anything” work to your detriment. Know what you want.
It also means that you must follow up on your application in a timely manner. Call the company directly and ask for the hiring manager by name, if you know it. If you don’t know their name, take this call as an opportunity to do some research. Navigate the company’s phone tree if they have a computer answering service; learn who the management players are and who you may eventually be reporting to. If you manage to speak to a receptionist, ask questions about who does the hiring and how they might be reached effectively. Open as many lines of communication as you can with the organization and contact them with a non-annoying frequency of about once or twice a week. You may be charming, but nobody wants to talk to you about the same thing every day at 9:30am.
During your first interview with the hiring manager, be sure to capture information about the application process. Find out how many more interviews they plan to conduct and be sure to note when they intend to stop seeing new candidates. Follow up after the interview with a thank-you e-mail to the hiring manager for taking the time to see you. Your next follow-up should be on the date they stop seeing candidates or shortly after. This ensures that you stay in the back of the manager’s mind.
Depending on the size of the company and their specific hiring process, it may take a couple of weeks to reach a decision. Be patient and continue to follow-up with a non-annoying frequency.
This is effective communication, and it may be the tipping point that sets your resume above another candidate. If your resume indicates that you are an effective communicator, be prepared to deliver or it’s just another buzzword.
Research is a powerful tool; it allows you to expand your knowledge of any topic and when put into action, can grow your influence in personal and professional environments. A resourceful researcher can find vital information for decision making in many life and business functions. When we put together our resume and references, we essentially provide our potential employers with sources for their hiring research. This is not the only research that should go into the application process. If you have a demonstrable knowledge of the company you are applying to, it may give you an extra edge in the hiring process. Go digging.
A cursory scan of a company website can tell you all about their vision, mission, packages, projects and happy customers – IF they have a good website. Some of the companies you want to work for may be a little less web-savvy and may require you to dig a little deeper. Business directories such as the Better Business Bureau, Google Reviews, YELP or simply typing their name into a news aggregator can provide you with a better sense of how the business works. As we mentioned in the previous section, spending some time talking to an employee or navigating the phone tree can provide you with essential names, departments and even functions of the business.
All this information is valuable when you show up for your interview, it gives you avenues of questioning that will foster a greater understanding of exactly what it is you are applying for. Good hiring managers will recognize this effort.
Attention to Detail
Details matter. In spelling and grammar, it can mean the difference between “Time to eat, children” and “Time to eat children”. When you advertise that you have great attention to detail, make sure that your resume and job-search activities reflect that claim.
When writing your resume, don’t go it alone, find a friend or peer with a good eye for editing and have them proof your work. Any writer will tell you that a pair of fresh eyes can find mistakes you’ve overlooked a hundred times. Having someone else look at your work will also provide a unique perspective on your resume; they may even give valuable feedback on how you may improve the document.
When you send e-mails to prospective employers, make sure you use the right name, the right e-mail address and that your attachments are tailored to the specific job to which you are applying. It might be slightly embarrassing if you sent your resume for ‘Part-Time Balloon Artist’ to the employer for which you want to be an ‘Energy Market Analyst’.
Be sure when you arrive for an interview to remember the name of your interviewer. It may not reflect well on you to tell a receptionist that you have an interview, but you don’t know with whom. Knowing your interviewer’s name will also demonstrate confidence and an appropriate level of respect upon introduction. Hardwire any information you picked up during your research phase into your mind prior to the interview. It may come in handy.
We are all problem solvers. That’s one of the wonderful advantages that comes with being human. We solve thousands of small problems during our everyday lives like opening a door with our hands full, finding the quickest route to the train from the bus stop so we get there in that five-minute window of opportunity, or creating elegant descriptions of abstract concepts such as ‘Windows of Opportunity’. Belonging to the world’s apex problem-solving species means that defining problem solving on your resume is exceedingly difficult. But it’s not impossible. In corporate jargon, we’ll often hear the phrases like ‘outside the box’ or ‘lateral thinking’ but they do very little to elaborate on what it is to be a problem solver. Everyone has a unique approach to how they solve a problem. To express that on your resume, you could first describe your approach then provide insight into how that works. For an example:
I am the kind of individual who likes to see things from a larger perspective, tip it over, then narrow it down to where it fits in the grand scheme of things. I also like to employ humour.
When asked “Where do you see yourself in 5 years?”, I might respond with “Given that the sun rotates around the milky way galactic core at 200 kilometers per second and we can assume that the Earth’s relative position to the sun is the same exactly 5 years from now: About 31.5 Billion Kilometers and three offices to the left”.
This is not ground-breaking, but it is an example of the way I like to tip things on their heads. You have your own approach, take every step of the hiring process as an opportunity to demonstrate this approach.
What unique approaches or skills have you used to land the job? Leave us a comment?
Happy Job Hunting!