Cover letters. Are they outdated or a necessity? In this fast-paced high information age, hiring managers are spending less time reviewing a candidate’s qualifications in order to get through the stack.
With more and more job seekers submitting their qualifications online, hiring managers are finding that fewer cover letters are being sent. What does that mean for you? If the submission form allows it, you should send a cover letter.
And not a cookie-cutter format you found in 2 seconds on Google, either. Write a cover letter unique to the position and company you are applying to – show that you’ve done your research and present your case for why you are the best candidate for this position.
Make sure that your cover letter doesn’t just state past positions. The cover letter shouldn’t be a copy of your resume in narrative form; it should be an introductory narrative that gives you the space to express your values and assets that a resume can’t capture. Give a specific project example or leadership moment, show how your values align with the company’s, and present new information in addition to the experience listed on your resume.
This will make you stand out, and when you’re competing against hundreds of other applicants, standing out is a good thing. According to Matt Linder at the Chicago Tribune: “a well-written cover letter could be the difference between getting your foot in the door and getting one of those dreaded generic response letters from a company telling you that those in charge of hiring are impressed with your qualifications but have decided to pursue other candidates at this time.”
Now that you’ve got their attention with your well-written cover letter, make sure that your resume won’t flop.
Copyedit for spelling, grammar, and layout errors. Have several different people proofread for you to catch any missed mistakes. Snap judgments are made by hiring managers in seconds and any glaring errors can earn you the recycling bin. (This goes for that awesome cover letter you just wrote, too.)
Your resume should list your experience and qualifications. Don’t waste valuable paper space with trivial details: the hiring manager really doesn’t need to know you are an avid horseback rider unless you are applying for a job that involves horses.
The hiring manager reviewing your resume will spend about 5-7 seconds on it, and during that time they are scanning for your job history – titles, companies, dates. Keep information easy to find and avoid unnecessary description. Your resume should tell the reviewer what you specifically did in each prior position, not what the job description listed as the responsibilities of the job. State accomplishments and top projects to show that you have talent and initiative.
And don’t forget to include your contact information! The quickest way to frustrate a hiring manager is to bury your phone number or email, or forget to include them at all. Make it easy to reach you. You should also brush up your social media profiles, too, especially your LinkedIn page – 60% of employers research social media accounts!
Research. Prior to any interview, whether telephone, virtual, or in-person, do your research. Know about the company, its values, its location, and its history with its employees. Know about the position, the basic requirements that you’ll be expected to meet, and most importantly, the average salary of someone with the same or a similar title in that area.
It’s obvious in an interview when the candidate has done their research; they can speak confidently about the position and their ability to meet its needs, and they can demonstrate a basic knowledge and interest in the company itself.
Practice. Search for typical interview questions, and prepare your answers for them. Practice speaking out loud, so that in the moment you’ll be more confident in your answers. Have examples ready for leadership experience, teamwork, successes, and failures.
Make sure to also prepare your questions – and yes, you should have questions. You should be asking not only focused questions about the position, such as asking for details regarding the benefits package offered or a typical workload for the position, but also have broader questions prepared, such as asking the interviewer their favorite part about their position or why they enjoy working for the company.
Present yourself: dress to impress. You should look professional and put together. Show up 5 to 10 minutes early for the interview so you can calm nerves and enter the building collected and ready. Remember to walk tall, sit up straight, and provide a firm handshake – non-verbal cues are just as important in any first meeting as the conversation.
Remember that the goal of the interview is to essentially “sell” yourself to the company; you need to convince the hiring manager(s) that you are the best candidate for this position. Own your accomplishments, and own up to failures or setbacks. Present your knowledge of the industry and willingness to work together on their team. Be confident and enthusiastic; know your self-worth.
Follow up. Don’t forget to send a thank you message to everyone who interviewed you for their time and consideration. Underscore the highlights of your qualifications, and express enthusiasm for joining the team. Be polite, even if the message back isn’t the one you wanted. Networking and making connections are other important aspects of the interview process, so even if the answer is no right now, it might open new doors for you or turn into a yes later.