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How to Effectively Mirror Your Job Materials to the Posting

Arnie Fertig

Have the many job advertisements you skimmed in the last day or week started to blur together? It's easy for that to happen because they typically share a common format:

1. A brief description of the company.

2. The name of the open position and a short paragraph giving a snapshot view of the role.

3. A more detailed bulleted list of various responsibilities associated with the position.

4. A list of qualifications, skills and experience required of well-qualified candidates.

5. Required educational background.

6. A call-to-action button to click and begin your application.

Moreover, they often utilize common language to describe their ideal candidate, such as: "excellent communications skills," "self-starter," "team player," "top producer," etc. And at the end, virtually every ad will proclaim the employer's policy of nondiscrimination against any legally protected class of individuals.

Whoa! You've just experienced the flip side of the monotony that résumé screeners go through every day as they see résumés that use standard templates offering tired language that really does nothing to convey your unique story.

While you likely put in many hours preparing and writing your résumé, unless you distinguish yourself with unique content, reviewers will have little reason to pull your clichéd document from the pile.

Just as you want to be considered as an individual, any employer legitimately only wants to focus on job hunters who have thought about the offered position and share a unique story that demonstrates their relevant experience and potential value.

Why would any employer be impressed when they realize that it isn't their particular job that drew your attention, but rather just the prospect of getting any job with an attached paycheck? It doesn't take much even for a rookie résumé reader to figure out whether your cover letter relates to the job and company, or if it appears they're just one of many recipients of the same cover letter and résumé.

To enhance your chances, step back and see what is different about every job position you're considering. Many companies employ the same kinds of people to fill more or less the same role. But still, there are differences in size, location, place within their industry peer group, branding, quality of goods or services sold, etc.

As you tailor your cover letter to each position, lay out the ad for comparison:

1. Introduction. Your personal branding statement and self-introduction parallels the company's self-description. Just as a company isn't simply the sum of its products or services, you aren't simply the total of your skills and education. To stand out, show what is different about you. It might have something to do with a unique blend of skills, your perspective on your industry or something else in your background.

2. Treetop view. Just as the company gives a short description of the role to be filled, your cover letter should give a short description of the roles you've had and relate your background to the particular needs expressed by the position description.

3. Responsibilities. While employers speak of a job's responsibilities, they aren't interested in hiring your current or former job description. You have the obligation to patiently explain how you have fulfilled your current and prior responsibilities. What skills, software or strategies did you employ? What were the results?

Just because you have done exemplary work in the past doesn't mean you have a right to have people assume that about you. Instead, spoon-feed the accomplishments you've attained, the accolades you have received and the change that has taken place.

4. Qualifications and skills. Take pains to carefully examine everything in the ad that describes particular skills required, and make certain you list all those you possess in a skills section at the top of your résumé.

5. Experience. The job ad will describe the experience necessary. Your cover letter can sum that up to demonstrate how you have what they're looking for. In your résumé, make sure the various bullet points focus not just on what you think you have done of note, but rather what you have done that the particular employer at hand wants you to have done.

6. Education. Obviously, different jobs have varying levels and kinds of formal education and degrees required. Your résumé should clearly identify the degrees you have earned, and where you earned them. There is a legitimate debate about the value or hindrance of including the date you received your degree if you are older than forty-something years old. This author comes down squarely on the side of listing dates for reasons that he has written about in other columns.

Take time to wade through the gibberish of a job ad and discern the key concepts and words that describe the role, the responsibilities and the opportunities presented. When you mirror all these in your cover letter and résumé, you will show yourself to be that person the employer can't wait to meet and bring onboard.

Happy hunting!

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