Once upon a time not very long ago, I wanted a certain job.
I knew there would be competition. I knew I had to stand out.
There would be lots of people with my skills interested in the role.
So, I did what most people do: I revised my resume. I wrote a cover letter (yes, I still believe in these), addressed to the hiring manager. And I sent it in.
Except that’s not all I did.
And that’s what I want to share with you.
Because we all love shortcuts.
If something takes a lot of work, we are game to find a hack that makes the process quicker.
Spend any amount of time on YouTube or TikTok and you see dozens of videos telling you how to do something fast. I often think our brains are wired to expect Quick Solutions.
Job searches are no different.
It’s pretty common to take what seems to be the fastest approach to getting an interview. Most people identify this as a Job Board and Application Portal. The jobs are right there! Just log in! Someone is sure to see the resume and contact me!
Except that isn’t what usually happens.
There are a lot of reasons for this. But suffice it to say, for now, that when you do this, you’re simply launching your information into a huge bin full of information from hundreds (perhaps thousands) of competing candidates.
You are in essence, gambling—playing the odds that yours will stand out.
Do you really want to gamble with your future?
I didn’t, so this is what I did:
✺I researched the organization to find out everything I could about its history and its work.
✺I contacted the person who used to have the job I was seeking and asked her about the company’s culture and challenges.
✺I asked a friend of mine who knew the organization and had done contract work for them to recommend me for an interview.
I wanted to be ready, if contacted, to talk about how I fit into their operation.
And it’s what I want to explain now in more depth.
Let’s start here:
Point A: What IS a resume?
Sounds like a basic, maybe ridiculous, question.
Except, sometimes I’m not so sure that the job seekers I meet or encounter online really understand its purpose. I read comments like, “Why didn’t I get the job? My resume clearly shows I have the experience.”
Thing is, the resume is just a snippet to get the employer interested. It’s a summary of what you have done for other employers; something quick to help the recruiter or manager decide if there’s anything that signals you deserve a second look.
Lots of people write really crappy resumes. They don’t do a good enough matching of their achievements to the job in question (or talking about results, which is paramount). So, they get ignored.
But even when it hits the mark, understand this:
Your resume is not your interview.
(Read that again.)
Not even close. It’s the pre-pre-pre-interview. Maybe.
The real work starts when you get that call.
Therefore, Point B: Know why you’re qualified and prepare to explain it.
✺When I was competing for the role, I first revised my resume to describe what I had accomplished doing similar work. I knew that when I submitted it, its language would have to match the terminology they used in their job ad (and of the industry), so it would signal that, at the very least, I was qualified and worth an interview.
✺The top of my resume contained key details about me that I wanted them to see right away. So they wouldn’t have to dig to find them. (But more about that at another time.)
A word about the candidate selection process:
You see, when most applicants submit their resumes, software scans them to see if they contain (among other things) the same type of professional language that was used in the job ad. They want to see that the resume addresses the work in question, with the same types of skills and deliverables.
If the answer is “yes,” then their resumes stand a good chance of being selected for human screening.
Generally, at this stage, a recruiter (or perhaps someone in Human Resources) looks at the database to scan what’s in there.
Then, they pull out initial likely candidates’ materials and look at them briefly, probably for about 6-10 seconds, skimming it to see if all the needed requirements are there, and what else you are providing about your achievements and skills.
Another popular way they find you is LinkedIn. When you use the language of the industry, have a great headline that explains what you solve and deliver, and you are listing the right skills, you stand a chance of getting picked up in a recruiter keyword search. (Following your target company doesn’t hurt, either.)
But you also need to be ready for the next step. When you do get found, it’s your job to do multiple things:
Find out more about the role to see if you’re still interested.
Demonstrate that you understand what the company does.
Show that you know the industry and its problems and have proof that you can solve them.
Continue, as you move through the interview process, to match your value with what the company is expecting.
A resume is important; don’t misunderstand. If you can’t get in the door, it’s all over.
But if all you are concentrating on is how good your resume is, you will falter after that. Lots of people spend the greater bulk of their energy on this initial stage and forget that it’s the top part of the iceberg.
When I was in the market, I always did as much as possible to stand out. And my preparation consisted of the following. These will help you, too:
✺Research the company: Know what it does. See what it’s known for. Read its website. Read articles about it. Talk to someone who works or who has worked there. What problems has the company faced? What challenges? Find out what you can. Ask about the work culture. (Heck, ask about the interview process!) Why? You want them to be a good fit. You also want to explain why you are.
✺Play the matching game: Make a list of what you have found out. What is the company asking for in the ad? What are its apparent challenges? Now match each of these to evidence that you can meet that challenge. What problems have you solved that will be familiar to them? You will have a great list to refer to.
✺No blind applications: Before you apply, contact the job poster. Message the recruiter. Tell them you’re interested in the role, have worked in the industry for X number of years, and ask how you can go about scheduling a chat.
Not getting an answer? You also can contact the hiring manager (use these tips if you can’t find that person) and say the same thing. In fact, do this anyway! And, you can offer to email over your resume!
After you have that chat, then submit your materials in the portal. By then, you will know what tweaks you can make to your resume and cover letter before you do. By then, the people vetting the resumes will know who you are and can look for your materials.
✺Prepare thoroughly for your interview! This means reviewing your notes, talking to people who know the organization, and researching your interviewers to understand their priorities and personalities. Assemble some great questions to ask the panel.
I hope this makes sense!
What I’m saying is that you need to do more than just write a resume if you want to get a new job. You need to know the industry and the company and contact someone on the inside. You need to paint a picture of yourself sitting in that job.
How did it turn out for me? 12 hours of prep work later, I got the job!
And you can, too.