You know you need to network to be successful in your job search. You’ve had informative informational interviews. You’ve identified contacts in your target companies and in your field of interest. You have even joined a couple professional associations in your field. Congratulations. You are off to a great start but you still haven’t seen the full power of your network.
Imagine this. You check the job postings each week at your target companies and finally this week when you look, Company A has a job posted which is your ideal job. What do you do?
Prepare Your Resume and Cover Letter. Review your resume in context of the job description. Make any needed final changes and proofread carefully. Have someone proof it as well just to be sure you have no errors. Develop a customized cover letter addressing how you meet the specific requirements of the job. Do not summarize your resume. Instead “connect the dots” for the hiring manager by showing them how your experience would add value to their company in this role.
Apply Online. While this does not do much to ensure your success, it is often a requirement by the company. Many hiring managers are not allowed to speak with candidates who are not officially in the system. Follow directions carefully and apply with your resume and customized cover letter attached.
Leverage Your Network. Once you have applied online, reach out to your contact at Company A. Tell them you saw the perfect job posted and that you have applied online. Ask if they would do you a huge favor and share your resume and cover letter with the hiring manager. Send your resume and cover letter to be forwarded to the hiring manager.
What’s a Hiring Manager to Do? The hiring manager receives hundreds of online applications and doesn’t even know where to start. If trusted colleagues within the organization share a few resumes and cover letters, those are most likely the first ones the manager will review. If they see a possible fit, they start the interview process with those candidates. Going to the mountain of resumes is often a last resort. You want to be sure you are in the short pile and that is what a networking connection can do for you.
Increase Your Likelihood of Success. You have to get an interview to have a chance of receiving the offer. To get to the interview stage, someone has to see your resume and believe there is a fit. Your networking connection can significantly increase the odds of getting your resume seen by the hiring manager. Sometimes you get lucky and your connections give you a heads up that a position will be posting. Networking makes a difference.
A critical aspect of interview preparation is anticipating the questions and preparing what you want to say during the interview. If the interview can only remember three things about you from the interview, your preparation can help ensure that they remember the most important three things. Think about your message and how you will deliver in it response to typical interview questions.
Types of Interview Questions and Samples:
Tried and True
- Most employers still ask the “tell me about yourself” question to break the ice. It is a great opportunity for applicants to differentiate themselves and highlight their strengths for the particular position. Consider how you tell your story in the context of the position you are applying to.
- Be prepared to answer questions about why you are seeking to make a change. Anticipate questions about why this job appeals to you.
- Don’t be surprised by an interviewer asking you to walk through your resume. Hit the relevant highlights for each position and the reasons for the transtions.
- “What are your strengths and weaknesses? “ is still asked frequently. They expect proof statements to support the strengths and the actions taken to improve the weaknesses. They are looking for self-awareness and assessment and expect responses that will help differentiate the student from other candidates. A twist on this is to ask what your manager or colleagues would say your strengths and weaknesses are.
- “Do you have any questions? They expect that you have questions and they should clearly demonstrate your preparation and research in advance, your strong listening during the interview and your interest and enthusiasm for the position.
Behavioral Interviews or “tell me about a time…”
- “Tell me about a time you had a conflict with a member of your team at work. How did you address it and what was the result?”
- “Tell me about a time you had multiple top priorities due at the same time. How did you address the problem and what was the result?
- “Tell me about a mistake you made and how you addressed it.”
- They are trying to anticipate future behavior by understanding how you behaved in the past and what you learned. It is important to clarify the situation succinctly, explain what specific action you took and what the result of that action was. You are painting a word picture for them to help them understand how you work.
Mini-Case Situations or Unusual Questions
- These questions give employers an opportunity to see how you think.
- “What you would do if you were in this job and the CEO called and asked you why sales were down in the X division last month and then told you she needed an answer in an hour before her executive team meeting?” This isn’t the time to talk about surveying customers or implementing tracking programs for new promotions. What information do you need to put your hands on? How would you use that information? What kinds of questions do you need to ask? You need to talk them through your thought process to show that you are thinking logically about the issue and finding actionable data.
- “We’ve experienced disruption in the manufacturing department for each of the last three months due to timing delays of getting the six specific component parts to the assembly station for a critical part of the manufacturing process. The VP of Manufacturing is very upset and has assured the CEO it won’t happen again next month. He needs your recommendations first thing in the morning. What information do you need and what possible solutions can you offer? Think through the process out loud so they can see your thought process.
- What would you do if you lived on an island that ran out of diapers and any materials commonly used to produce diapers? I actually had an employer ask this of our applicants and applicants enjoyed thinking of creative solutions. It is less about the specific answer and more about how you think creatively about a problem. Applicants who could not provide any response did not advance in the process. This is actually a question an employer asked in an interview process. They love to see how you think on your feet.
At this point, we are seeing most employers asking a mix of all three types of questions to get as good a sense as possible of how well the student will fit in their organization and how well they will be able to perform the specific job.
A well-written, customized cover letter can move your resume to the top of the pile but common errors on your cover letter can result in a quick trip to the “no pile.” To avoid the dreaded “no pile”, avoid these common cover letter mistakes.
- Overuse of “I” and “my”— Resist the temptation to start every sentence with “I” or “My”. Your focus should be on meeting the employer’s need to address a business issue. Vary your sentence structure and keep the focus on them. Too many “I”s comes across as self-centered and cocky and demonstrates sub-standard communication skills. Your cover letter is considered an example of your business writing so put your best foot forward.
- Typos and Grammatical errors – Proofread your letter and least twice and have someone else read it for you as well. Do not rely on spell check to identify all the errors. Hiring managers expect your cover letter to be error free and will often immediately move a candidate to the “no pile” if there are errors in the letter. The worst is a sentence highlighting your attention to detail which contains errors.
- Form Letters – To be effective, a cover letter must always be customized to the specific position and company. Hiring managers who read cover letters often can spot form letters very quickly. Phrases such as “this position” and “your company” scream form letter. Candidates often
- Tentative Language – In your cover letter you want to be confident but not cocky. Avoid tentative language such as “I think”, “I feel”, “seems like” or “I had to.” Be honest but always project confidence when sharing your experience.
- Inconsistent Bullets—It is acceptable to use bullet points in your cover letter to highlight the experience you bring to the job. Ensure that bullets are consistent in format. Don’t start some with verbs and others with nouns or mix tenses. Consistency is important. Also, don’t use the same bullet points as on your resume.
- Arrogance—Avoid phrases such as “best candidate” and “perfect fit” when describing your capabilities. You are really not in a position to make that assessment and it comes across to the reader as arrogant. You want to be positive and confident but cocky is a turn off. It is best to demonstrate your capabilities with examples.
- Lack of Professional Format—A cover letter is a formal business letter. It should have your contact information on the top with the same heading as your resume. It should then have a date, an address block and a salutation. “Dear Mary Jones” is not appropriate for a salutation. It should read “Dear Ms. Jones”. Failure to follow official business letter format gives the letter an inappropriate air of casualness. Demonstrate that you are taking this seriously and that you can compose a proper business letter. This is also a sample of your written communication skills for the hiring manager.
- Failure to Connect the Dots—Hiring managers know what they are looking and for and you know what you have done. Don’t assume they will take the time to connect the dots. Use your cover letter to clearly identify how your experience and skills meets their needs.
- Limited Language – Do not use the same words repeatedly in your cover letter. Use a thesaurus if necessary. Using the same words and phrases implies that you don’t know other words and that your communication skills are limited.
- Use of Acronyms – The hiring manager does not know your hiring company. They will not have a clue what the XYZ project is for the ABC system. Explain your responsibilities in clear language that anyone could understand. Don’t let your accomplishments be lost in the acronyms that only insiders understand.
A carefully crafted, customized cover letter can move your resume to the top of the pile for consideration. Avoid these common mistakes to stay out of the “no pile”.
In order to have a resume which has maximum impact on potential employers, you should carefully consider everything you include on your resume. Allocating space to on your resume tells the potential employer that you consider it important. Be sure you are focusing their attention on the things that matter most to them.
Keep the Employer Perspective in Mind – Yes, it is your resume and you need to tell them about you but you have greater impact if you prepare your resume with the employer in mind. You will likely have more content than will fit on one page so when making decisions about what to include, keep the employer perspective in mind. You should focus on the skills and experiences that are transferrable and most relevant to the employer. It should be about what they need not what you want. Consider how you can make a difference to a company and help solve their problems.
Don’t let it stand alone — General rule of thumb for a successful job search, don’t ever send your resume alone when applying for a job. If the position is worth applying to, it is worth preparing a customized cover letter. This gives you an opportunity to clearly “connect the dots” between their specific needs in the job posting and your experience and expertise. Don’t expect an employer to take the time to do that themselves. Show them how you can add value in this role. If you are applying online, be sure you follow all the steps required in the posting. Don’t give them an easy opportunity to eliminate you.
Life Outside of Work – It can certainly be appropriate to show employers a glimpse of your life outside of work. If you have volunteer experience, you can include a volunteer section. Identify the organization, your role and the dates. If you were involved in an organization that could be unpopular or divisive, carefully consider how important it is to include it on your resume. If you have unique hobbies or interests, you can list those as well. Sometimes these unique items make someone want to talk to you. Avoid “spending time with friends and family” since that clearly doesn’t differentiate you.
Consider Having Multiple Versions – For most job seekers, a single resume is not enough. If you are pursuing opportunities in different fields, consider having separate versions of your resume to focus on the most relevant skills in each field. Depending on the specific job you are applying for, you may want to emphasize different accomplishments from your previous experience and you may want to update the key words in your summary to better align with the job description. Yes, this is additional work but it can increase the likelihood of an employer wanting to know more about you. Your work experience overall remains the same, but you can choose to highlight different accomplishments and skills depending on the specific opportunity.
You are the Product – In a job search, you are the product. This is the most important sales role of your life. Be sure your resume is the best possible reflection of you – your skills, experience, accomplishments and expertise. Make employers want to meet you. Make them want to have you on their team.
If networking is so critical to a successful job search, what do I need to do to be a successful networker?
Networking is Not Asking for a Job. You should never be asking your networking contacts for a job. Most people won’t want to talk to you if that is what you are asking for in your request. You should be leveraging contacts to learn about the companies they work for, to understand their specific role and the qualifications for that role, to explore the culture of the organization and to gain insights into career paths and hiring processes.
Networking is a Two Way Relationship. Networking isn’t simply what people can do for you. It should be a reciprocal relationship to be successful. Think about opportunities to help your contact. Can you make an introduction for them? Maybe you can share an interesting article. Did you attend an interesting professional meeting you can share?
Don’t be Afraid to Ask. Do not let shyness paralyze your networking efforts. Start with people you know. Expand your reach gradually. If you are a student, leverage that. Many professionals will give a student a few minutes. Most alumni will help a fellow alum if asked. What is the worst that can happen? Some may decline or at least defer your request but that is ok. Keep asking because more will say “yes” than “no.
Always Say Thank You. While it is true that most people enjoy talking about themselves and their careers, they do have other demands on their time. If they are gracious enough to share time with you, always take time to send a handwritten thank you note. It makes a very positive impression and helps you stand out from the crowd.
Leverage Linked In. Linked In makes networking much easier. The true power of the tool is not just in who you know but who you contacts know. Search for connections at your target companies or in your desired field. Leverage your connections by asking for an introduction to their relevant connections. Expand the power of Linked In by leverage groups. Look for groups such as your college alumni group or a former employer. Identify groups based on your career interests. Groups give you access to an even broader group of contacts and the discussions can be enlightening.
It’s Not All about You. You should never do all the talking in a networking meeting. You are there so learn so be a good listener. Have open ended questions prepared to ask you contact to provide insights into your areas of interest. Do you homework. They expect you to know something about the company in advance.
So much of the job search advice and preparation is to help the candidate get to the point of being invited to interview. Networking to make connections and learn the company, developing a flawless professional resume, preparing compelling customized cover letters and utilizing your networking connections to get your resume in the hands of the hiring manager. If all those things work and you are invited to interview, that’s great news but now the hard work begins.
Preparing for Interviews
- Research the company, review their website, look at recent press coverage, review your networking notes to see what you have learned about the company.
- Prepare questions in advance that you can ask your interviewers.
- Review the job description carefully and think about how you will discuss your qualifications. What have you done that demonstrates your ability to perform this job and do it well?
- Anticipate the questions they are likely to ask and think about your responses. Don’t memorize your answers but know what key points you want to cover.
- Prepare your examples to behavioral questions. Identify the likely skills they will ask about and identify your examples. Think about how you can explain the situation what action you took and don’t forget to emphasize the results you achieved. Know what examples you will want to share.
- Be sure you know how to get there in advance. Take a test run if necessary.
Cardinal Sins when Interviewing
- Arriving late. Always know where you are going, allow plenty of time to get there and to park. Always arrive a few minutes early.
- Wimpy or tentative handshake. Demonstrate your confidence with a professional handshake. Don’t be a bone crusher either.
- Lack of eye contact. If you can’t look at the interviewer while you are answering they suspect you have something to hide and they perceive that you lack confidence.
- Acting like you are not interested or even wishing you were somewhere else. Demonstrate your interest and enthusiasm for the position. Employers often report back that the candidate seemed well qualified but lacked a passion for the opportunity. They want to hire someone who wants to be part of the team.
Send a Thank You Note
If you want to be remembered after an interview be sure to send a handwritten thank you note. Remind them why you are so excited about the opportunity, thank them for their time, and reference something you discussed. Employers remember who send handwritten thank you notes. It makes a very positive impression.
A cover letter serves as your introduction to the company as well as a sample of your writing skills. The cover letter gives you the opportunity to clearly state your skills and experience that apply directly to the position they posted. Rather than hoping they can connect the dots between their needs and your experience, the cover letter enables you to do that.
“So, my skills and experience are what they are so there is no need to customize a letter.” I often hear that lament from students but they are clearly missing the point. The cover letter is your opportunity to focus on the relevant skills and experience for the specific position to which you are applying. You have best chance of success with this position if you are able to tie your skills and experience to the specific needs of the position.
Generic cover letters will never yield the same results. Most hiring managers can easily spot a generic cover letter. Even when students try to cut and paste the company name and the specific position into a generic cover letter, it is usually obvious that it is still a generic letter. This also opens the opportunity to miss a cut and paste with the result being a letter with the wrong company name or position title. That careless error most likely results in a trip to the “no pile.”
Demonstrate your strong interest in the position and the company as well as your professionalism by crafting a customized cover letter for each position. If the job is worth applying to, it is worth taking the time to customize the cover letter.