We all know the old saying “you only get one chance to make a first impression.” Sure, this saying is old and overused, but when searching for a new job, it is a crucial to keep this in mind at all times.
Your first chance is often when submitting your resume and/or cover letter. As a professional hiring director, I can tell you that a thoughtfully drafted cover letter will not get you a job but a poorly drafted one most certainly will prevent you from even getting the opportunity to interview. Similarly, a resume that caters to the position you are applying for demonstrates why you are a good match for the position versus a resume that is a one-size-fits-all listing everything you’ve done over your career, which makes it difficult for the reader to determine your true skill set. The average hiring manager will spend only 6 seconds reading a resume. That’s not a typo. You’ve got 6 seconds of the hiring manager’s attention…use it wisely!
Cover Letter Tips
- Address the letter to whomever the job advertisement tells you to address it to. Do not get creative and visit the company’s website and try to guess who the person behind the title is. For example, when an ad says “send cover letter and resume to Hiring Manager” – address your cover letter to “Hiring Manager” not the Director of HR on the company’s website because that person may not be the person doing the hiring. Follow instructions! Respond to the person they tell you to respond to. And be sure you spell the company name correct. I see this mistake very often and it’s sure to move your application to the bottom of the pile.
- List the proper job in your cover letter and do not use a canned cover letter for all jobs you are applying for. Customize your letter to the role you are responding to and include how your experience fits with the job described in the ad.
- Sell yourself, let your personality shine through. Tell me why I should invite you in for an interview.
- Read, re-read, re-re-read and have someone else read it for you, twice! Typos are the death of a cover letter! Don’t be a victim!
- If you include a career objective in your resume, be sure that it applies to the job you are seeking. For example, if you are applying for a secretary position, your career objective should reference your desire to obtain a secretary position, not a customer service position. Sounds obvious, but if you are applying for many different positions, you may actually be open to working in both of these positions, but you need to customize your career objectives and have multiple versions of your resume to submit.
- Similarly, if you have a varied work experience background, use multiple versions of your resume to highlight your different focuses. If you’ve had experience in accounting and also in operations, have one resume that highlights your financial prowess and another that shows you can run an organization like a pro!
- Watch for punctuation on your resume! This is the number one mistake I see: inconsistent punctuation at the end of sentences in a list. This shows lack of attention to detail. And in the 6 seconds that you’ve got my attention, this is something I look for.
- Personal interests. I’m honestly torn on whether to include these. I did hire someone that listed “enjoys burning things in my kitchen.” This line on her resume stood out and was a tiny little insight in to her sense of humor, which I appreciated. If your personal interests are hiking and playing video games, I’d say leave it off as that won’t set you apart and it is probably going to take up valuable space on your ONE PAGE resume.
- Yes, you read that right. ONE PAGE resume. Very few people have a good reason to let their resume extend past one page. Don’t do it….remember the 6 second rule.
Assuming you’ve followed these steps and land an in-person interview, you’re one step closer to the job you applied for. This is your time to shine! This meeting will make you or break you.
- Research the company before your interview. Read their website; do as much as you can to find out more about the company. The very first question I ask is: “Are you familiar with our company or have you had a chance to read about us”. The death nail answer is “I haven’t, so if you could tell me a little, that would be great.” I’ve never walked someone to the door when they give that answer, but I can tell you that the rest of the interview typically only lasts another ten minutes. If you didn’t bother to learn about the company, I’m not going to bother learning about you. Harsh, I know. But I’m not alone in this philosophy.
- Get a good night of sleep the night before. You may be nervous – do whatever you can to calm your nerves so you can wake up fresh and ready to slay your interview.
- Pick out your clothes the day before and try them on! If it’s been a while since you had to wear “interview clothes” your size may have changed. You don’t want to be frantically changing outfits the morning of your interview. Plan ahead.
- Be prepared to answer questions about why you left each of your previous positions as well as any gaps in employment.
Day of Interview
- Arrive seven minutes before your interview. Ten minutes is intruding on the personal/work time of your interviewer. Five minutes says you might have been rushing it. And if you’re late, call to let your interviewer know and you’d better have a darn good reason for being late!
- Greet your interviewer with a firm handshake, but not too firm. Don’t squash the hand of your interviewer. You don’t want them in pain for the first three minutes of your interview. Conversely, don’t grab their hand limply, be strong and confident.
- Be mindful of your body language. Sit up straight in your chair, slightly leaned forward. Slumped back in your set says “I’m not taking this very seriously” while leaning heavily on the table says “I can hardly hold myself up, I need more coffee!”
- Be energetic, but not exhausting. I’ve left many interviews feeling like I need a nap, the person was bouncing all over the place with their answers (and sometimes even bouncing in their chair). Don’t do this.
- Be authentic. You don’t want to sell something that you are not because you will not be able to keep up the rouse when you land the job and that’s not going to end well for you.
- When responding to questions, keep the vibe positive. Nobody wants to hire a Debbie-Downer. If you drone on and on about negative aspects of your previous positions, I’m going to assume that it’s you who is actually the negative in these situations and not the positions themselves.
- Give concrete examples when responding to questions, but keep them relatively brief. For example, if asked what type of environment you thrive in, describe a position you had where you were particularly successful. Don’t just say “one where everyone gets along.” Well, duh, we all thrive when everyone gets along, but I want some meat on the bones of that answer. For example: “I had a supervisor who was great about giving very clear instructions and then letting me just get the job done. I knew I could ask her questions when needed, but I appreciated having responsibility over my own tasks.”
- When the interviewer asks you if you have any questions, come up with at least one and it should NOT be “how much vacation time do your employees get.” Yes, I really want to hire someone that is immediately thinking about how much time they can take off – UM, NO! If you don’t have any questions based on the job description, I would recommend asking the interviewer what they think is the most challenging aspect of the position. And based on the answer you receive, take the opportunity to tell the interviewer why that won’t be a challenge for you, or if it will be, what you will do to overcome that challenge.
- Be prepared to talk money. This is a tough one for most people, but you’ve got bills to pay and only you know how much money you need to make to keep a roof over your head and food on the table. A lot of people are afraid of asking for too little or too much. Ask for what you believe you are worth!
- When closing, thank your interviewer for their time and tell them how interested you are in the position while offering a departing firm handshake.
- Send a thoughtfully drafted thank you email the same day. Do not wait until the next day. This isn’t a first date where you need to take time so that you don’t look overly excited. Use your email to sell yourself one last time and compliment the interviewer on how well they described the position and how you can really see yourself contributing to the continued success of the organization.
- That’s really it. Pray, cross your fingers, whatever it is you do to send positive vibes out in to the universe. Do that thing! It’s a tough job market. You’re up against a lot of people who are equally, if not more, qualified.
Most importantly, be the best version of you at all times!
Cheers and good luck!