Friday, October 10, 2014

The Rules of Reply

You see a job posting and reach for a resume and an envelope or attach it to an on-line application. You put it in the post or hit the send button. No wonder you wonder why no one responds.

When it comes to replying to job postings the word of the day is customization. It’s going to take some extra time but if your next career move isn’t worth that time investment, what is?

First, think about any connections you have to this employer, whether you know someone who works there or even know someone who knows someone. A personal introduction is invaluable so now is the time to use your network. LinkedIn might help here but be cautious as your LinkedIn connections are not all actual acquaintances and may not have much incentive to give you an in.

Next is your cover letter. The two most important rules for your cover letter are: 1) highlight those aspects of your experience that are on point to the job being advertised and 2) show that you have done some homework on the employer and have a specific interest and ability to enhance their business. Employers are first and foremost looking to advance their own interests so you need to tell them how hiring you will do this rather than expressing how much you’d love to have the job. This level of cover letter customization should make it clear that resume mailing services are largely a waste of money. Hiring managers can spot a generic cover letter a mile away.

Finally, there’s your resume. If you think that’s a static document, you’re making as big a mistake as a generic cover letter. Half of hiring managers will read the cover letter first and the other half go straight to the resume. Some never get to the second document. For that reason the resume has to do the same work as the cover letter. It must highlight those elements of your experience that are on point to the job at issue. For generalists especially it is very important to rearrange their resume so the most on-target parts of their experience jump out to the reader. While every version of your resume must be factually defensible, it must speak as directly as possible to the interests of the specific employer and that implies a level of customization. In this day of word processors this is not an undue burden, certainly considering what’s at stake.

P.S. This may be obvious but bears repeating: resumes and cover letters don’t get you a job. They get you an interview. You get the job via the interview where the technical aspects of your background intersect with personality and chemistry. To get there make sure your documents say “you really ought to meet with me.”

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