“If only I could get an interview after all the times I’ve sent my resume in for consideration,” is a frequent job hunter’s refrain.
To be sure, just getting through the dreaded black hole applicant tracking systems and human resources screeners employed by most companies to the point of an initial phone interview can be altogether frustrating. But, if you are one of those candidates who responds by hitting the submit button haphazardly, you are likely not doing all you can to make yourself stand out from the pack.
Job postings are written with great care, and nary a word is extraneous, even in the introductory paragraph, which likely describes the company and the overall purpose of the position to be filled.
You’ll notice that there is a pretty standard format for job ads. They begin with a description of the company, move on to an overview of the role to be filled, the responsibilities related to the role and then the necessary experience, skills and education that an ideal candidate should possess.
When you do a close reading of job ads, you’ll likely find hints of how best to respond in your cover letter and resume. Every sentence contains a clue you can use in positioning yourself. Look for words or concepts you should repeat back to the employer in your resume and cover letter.
Here are some example excerpts of things you might see in ads and how you can use them to make your case for yourself:
The Ad: “For over 90 years, [X company] has remained at the forefront of its field, implementing new technologies and industry improvements.”
What to Do: Take a little time to research the company. What were its first products or services, and how have they changed over the decades? Then, acknowledge and compliment that history. You can say, “I know that 90 years ago, your company used to do X (or sell Y), and you have come so far despite the many changes in the marketplace. Your reputation for being at the forefront of your industry is one of the reasons I would value being able to contribute to your continuing development by doing A, B, and C (listing some of the value that you can add in the role you seek).
The Ad: A company seeking an HR manager states: “The human resource manager will be responsible for aligning the HR initiatives with business needs for the assigned units and business partners across multi-facility, regional locations.”
What to Do: Highlight in your cover letter your experience working in similarly sized companies. Draw comparisons by demonstrating how you have been able to align specific HR initiatives with overall business needs. And if you haven’t had the opportunity yet to do so, briefly explain how you would go about doing what the company needs to have done. Don’t just claim that this would be an exciting opportunity for you to expand your skills and experience. Instead, explain why or how it would be exciting, and how you would go about doing something you’ve never done before.
The Ad: In the “Requirements” section you see a whole series of bullet points.
What to Do: Employers generally rank their priorities with the most important requirement on top and the least at the bottom. Even if you have 10 of 10 requirements, it is worth reordering them in your bullet points within current or past jobs on your resume so that your priorities mirror the employer’s as closely as possible.
Sometimes a candidate might have all of the bullets covered, but frequently the winning candidate will have most, but not all, of the requirements.
If, for example, there are 10 bullet points, and you can claim seven or eight of them, it may well be reasonable for you to apply for the position. But, if you are lacking the top two or three requirements, recognize that the others may not compensate enough to get you an interview.
In the end, think of an ad as an employer’s wish list. It is your job to review it carefully. In every instance, go out of your way to show that you have – as precisely as possible – the background, experience and value that the company seeks.
Be certain your cover letter and resume represent explicit responses to the requested qualifications and don’t make your resume reviewer guess whether you’ve done something that the hiring authority thinks is an essential part of the job.
When you go out of your way to personalize your cover letter and resume to make it conform to the culture and needs of your target company, you’ll maximize your chances of standing head and shoulders above your competition and increase the probability of landing the interview that you crave.