Job seeking is hard work. Not only do you have to be qualified and interested, but now you have to compete against thousands of candidates from around the world. How do you set yourself apart from many well-written résumés and impressive backgrounds? The answer is through creative customization. To compete for a highly desirable position, you need to wow your interviewers with your knowledge of both your skills and their needs. Try these three tips to give yourself an advantage during your next interview:
1. Write a customized cover letter specific to the interviewer. Often, a third party may actually be the one who contacts you to set up an interview. Make sure to ask that human resources representative or recruiter everything you can about the professional with whom you will speak. Can they tell you more about his department, management style, interview process, core values or tenure with the company?
Take some time to research his or her profile on LinkedIn as well as review his or her Twitter, Instagram, Vine or any other social media channels he or she may use professionally. The emphasis is on professional, given that most people would be creeped out if you reference their kids and dog in a cover letter without knowing them personally.
Once you've done your research, write a letter to the interviewer that's seven to 10 sentences long and explains a little about you and why you would be an excellent addition to his or her specific team. Like a good tweet, excellent cover letters get right to the point and are crafted very strategically to say as much as possible with the fewest characters. Resist the urge to regurgitate your résumé. This is your chance to present why you are right for this exact role working with this specific manager. The final version of your custom cover letter can be sent via email to the interviewer shortly before the meeting if it would be acceptable for you to already have his or her address. Or it can be handed to him or her along with your résumé at the time of an in-person meeting.
2. Rewrite your résumé to match the position for which you are interviewing. I know this seems like a waste of time when you have already been asked to interview, but it's actually a powerful move. First, by matching your skills and experience to the job description, you are actually practicing for your interview questions. Your thoughts will be organized, and you will have examples available to illustrate your relevant qualifications. Second, you are achieving a deeper understanding of the prospective role. This critical review of the role can become the starting point for generating interesting questions for the interview. Third, when you present a customized résumé to the interviewer, he or she will be impressed that you took the time to match your background to his or her needs. It also gives the interviewer a compelling document to use if he or she needs to get your candidacy approved by senior executives. This is a winning move on all levels.
3. Send a well-written thank you note. There is little doubt that you have heard about the importance of thank-you notes. Unfortunately, while it is universally known that writing a note is critical, it typically goes the way of hand-washing. We all know a thorough hand-washing after using the bathroom and before eating is essential to avoiding the germs that cause illness. However, all of us have skipped this important task at least a time or two. Same goes for the note of appreciation -- many interviewees neglect to send a note or email after the interview to express gratitude for the consideration and to reaffirm interest in the role.
Simply sending a note puts you in a better light than many note-neglecting applicants. Take this further by analyzing your interview so you can use the note strategically. If the interviewer dwelt on a specific weakness or discussed a pain spot with previous hires, the note is your time to address how you will work through those issues. If you know of future department- or company-wide initiatives, the note may be a great place to assert specifically how you could add value. In short, take the time to write a thoughtful (and error-proof) thank-you note. As an aside, go ahead and remember to wash your hands before and after the interview, too.
In summary, while you can't change your past experience, there is much you can do to improve your candidacy today. The global, online world means more potential applicants, but sincerity, depth and passion really distinguish top candidates from the rest. The tips listed above are just a few examples of how you can display your interest and engagement. These tactics require research, preparation, self-assessment and lots of extra effort -- all qualities that are in short supply but in high demand. Finding someone with this level of commitment is a huge win for any company.
Robin Reshwan is the founder of Collegial Services, a consulting/staffing firm that connects college students, recent graduates and the organizations that hire them and a certified Women's Business Enterprise (WBE). She has interviewed, placed and hired thousands of people across a broad spectrum of companies and industries. Her career tips and advice are used by universities, national clubs/associations and businesses. A Certified Professional Résumé Writer, Robin has been honored as a Professional Business Woman of the Year by the American Business Women's Association. She graduated Phi Beta Kappa and as a Regents Scholar from University of California, Davis.
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