Following my post on recruitment and CV’s yesterday, a lot of people have contacted me requesting that I write about the flip side – what to do better when applying for a job. So here are my thoughts.
1. Brand yourself
For many years, personal branding has been a preserve of senior management or C-level jobs. With increased competition in the job market, branding yourself has become more important. You’re selling yourself so the best of you has to come out. If your overall presentation – and this is not just a funky looking CV with nice fonts and bullet points – doesn’t stand out, you won’t make the cut. A good recruiter will filter out anything nondescript from the hundreds of applications they receive. Only one person will get the job and you have to be absolutely ruthless as a recruiter in separating the wheat from the chaff.
I can’t cover everything about how to personally brand yourself in this post. There are thousands of free resources on the web on this subject. Pick a few and choose the advice and tips that work for you. However, in 2 or 3 sentences, you should be able to capture the essence of your life. Your values, your vision, your strengths and a clear indication to the recruiter that you are the only person on this planet who can solve the problem they have. This is your elevator pitch. If you were to walk into an elevator with the person giving you the job, you have literally got the few seconds it’ll take that person to get off the lift to convince them of your value.
2. Prepare and do your homework
If you’re going to solve the problem for your next employer, then find out everything about them. Again, the internet is your friend. There’s enough information out there. If you can’t find good information, call your prospective employer and ask for it. What are their strategic plans, what have they been doing for the last few years, what has been their success or what challenges have they had. Get their accounts filed with the registrar of companies and study them. Consider all the information you put together and work out how it is exactly you can add value to what they’re doing. Focus on even small details that can make a difference. What was their profit margin last year as compared to the previous period. What is the name of your new boss if you get the job.
3. Customize your application to every different employer – Templates and Copy Paste is a No No
A lot of people have asked me for a template or sample. This is the fastest way to being ordinary and giving your application an excellent chance to be thrown into the dustbin. In this respect, take specific note of the person specification for this job. Highlight all the competencies required (with a focus on the essential criteria). It’s tempting to highlight everything you’ve done before, but unless you can draw a clear line between what you’ve done before and how it will solve your next employer’s problem, you most likely won’t make the cut.
If the person spec requires expertise in policy development, link your experience by telling the story of how you will use that past experience to resolve a policy issue that matters to them. If you did your homework, you would know what their policy issues are and where you can add value. Be specific on how you would do that using their problem on policy. It’s more useful to tell an employer specifically how you will address their issues as opposed to saying you’ve done it before and here is what you did. Use a tangible example. This is very much related to the face to face interview process. When you’re asked the inevitable question of what your strengths are – show, don’t tell. Pick a real example of how you’re strengths helped solve a specific problem and weave that narrative into how that strength will solve an identifiable problem that they have. Again, if you do your homework, you will know this. Propose an alternative way of approaching a specific issue to illustrate how your strength will benefit your next employer. Remember, if you don’t do it on paper, you’re not likely to get a chance to continue that story at the interview
4. Don’t waste valuable real estate on your cover letter and CV
If a recruiter is good at their job, you will typically get 3 chances to sell yourself before you get invited to an interview. Many people don’t recognize the power of a cover letter. This is particularly critical for more senior jobs. The cover letter is a golden opportunity to convince the recruiter of your value. Many will make a decision whether to spend time reading your CV based on what you show them in your cover letter. Again, focus on what value you will add while talking about what’s important to them. Not everything you want to say will fit on your CV, use the cover letter as an appetizer with specific valuable content.
Remember the details in your homework? Address the letter to your next boss by name. Dear Sir/Madam is absolutely boiler plate. Don’t waste time explaining that you’re applying for that job and you’ve sent all your documents and certificates. They already know you’re applying for the job.
On the first page of your CV, you have to convince the recruiter that you’re their girl or guy. I spoke about personal branding earlier. Capture this immediately with your summary. Don’t waste space with a title “CURRICULUM VITAE” in bold and large font. No one will mistake it for a recipe. Don’t fill the prime space at the top with tables of your name, date of birth, age (which is redundant if your d.o.b is there), religion, marital status, shoe or bra size, latitude and longitude co-ordinates where your grandmother is buried. Your name, address, phone number and e-mail address can be displayed in not more than 2 lines.
Apart from your branding summary, use the first page to highlight your core competencies and selected achievements. Remember, you’re matching your skills, linking it to the criteria in the person spec and showing how what you can do will help your next employer solve their problem.
The 3rd chance you get (more common for senior jobs) is that you will be asked to provide a supporting statement. Don’t waste it. Make sure you address the specific criteria on the person spec by linking your experience to how you will solve the new employer’s problem. If the criteria wants project management experience, talk about your projects in the light of how you will use those skills to solve their problem. Your homework again.
5. Be specific – numbers and details are impressive
Don’t say you helped increase profits. Talk about specifics, from what to what. If you can, link that narrative of how that experience of increasing profit for your previous employer can help your new employer position themselves. If you really want to impress them, talk about how your profit raising prowess would have impacted their numbers. Mention their numbers and margins when you compare what you did for your previous employer – “In your case, my impact would have increased your profits from 1.27 million to 1.56 million”. Be specific and quantify the impact you have made, again linking the narrative. How many people’s lives changed through the leadership of your project? What aspects of their lives changed? How many jobs were created by your project? How many families benefitted indirectly from the jobs you created in your project? How are you going to use that to help your new employer create jobs?
6. Focus on what’s important to your new employer
If you’re lucky enough that the employer is still reading your CV, highlight your previous experience by drawing a link to how you can convert that experience for them.
Also, don’t flood the valuable 1st page space on your CV with a bibliography of your academic qualifications. Summarize them – even in one line bullet points at the end of your CV. Take it as a given – everyone else who is applying has also got qualifications. They are not your strengths and they don’t show value. They are a prerequisite. If your recruiter wants to find out more, they will if they’re interested.
If you don’t get the job, it’s not because they didn’t notice your stellar qualifications or viewed copies of all your certificates that you also attached. It’s because you didn’t show value and how you would solve their problem for them to even care about how qualified you are.
In summary, this is perhaps an issue that many employers struggle with. Getting good applicants with a good balance of qualifications and experience. I hear a lot of people say that “But I’m qualified”. So is everyone else who applied. The question is – do you have the experience needed to solve your new employer’s problem and if so, did you show them how that experience will help solve their problem?
If there’s enough interest, I might do a follow up series on how to ace an interview once you’ve got past the door.
Have a blessed day good people and good luck to all job seekers out there.