I was recently invited to speak to a group of HR job seekers on the topic, “What employers are looking for in candidates”. The question of the night was, “how do I differentiate myself from other applicants?” As the group talked about trying to stand out, it became clear that there is a disconnect between what employers are looking for and what job seekers think are their most valuable attributes.
Several participants suggested that sought after characteristics include patience, good listening skills, and the ability to make others feel comfortable when speaking to them, while many said they really don’t know how to articulate this in a cover letter, resume or during an interview.
How can you identify and highlight the traits that employers want in a way that will set you apart? The first place you need to distinguish yourself is on your resume and cover letter. This is the first impression you will make, so it better be good. Most business owners are concerned with productivity and their bottom line. You want to communicate your strengths in a way that addresses your ability to increase productivity and either lower costs or increase revenue for the company.
Some questions that might help you decide which accomplishments to include:
- How does the company measure success?
- How have you contributed to improving productivity and accomplishing company goals?
- What can you deliver from a results-perspective?
- How did your contributions affect the company from a dollars and cents standpoint?
Here are some tips for highlighting your accomplishments in a way that communicates something beyond what is already expected of you:
- Describe your work history in terms that clearly state how you provided and delivered solutions to the company’s problems in quantitative terms as much as possible. For example, “I developed a robust employee referral program that increased candidate quality and decreased recruiting costs by 15%.”
- Show how you have been involved in the strategic planning and decision making process.
In addition to the content of your resume, you’ll want to make sure it is visually appealing and easy to scan for information. You only get about 30 seconds of the recruiter’s initial time therefore, it’s critical to quickly articulate through your resume that you have the basic requirements outlined in the company’s job posting. The recruiter should be able to easily comprehend that you are a person they need to speak with within the first half of the first page.
Some other basic things to remember are to use only one font and no more than two font sizes throughout the resume; to leave enough “white space” on it so that it appears balanced and not crowded and to balance the number of bullets you provide for any given position. Do not worry as much about keeping your resume on one page as on making sure it is accurate and easy to read. A brief two sentence description about what your prior employers do provides a nice touch. I love to see a quick description in quantitative terms to set the stage for what I am reading. Here is a recent example that stuck out to me: “X Company is a software solutions provider for the healthcare industry and has 200 employees and $100M in revenue. I currently supervise a staff of 6.”
Always have another person look at your resume before sending it out. I cannot stress this point enough! Since you are so close to it and have spent so much time writing and reviewing it, there are things you might miss. You may also lose the perspective required to notice very significant but small items on your resume that can make the difference between going in the “to Interview” file and the circular file!
Don’t forget the cover letter!
The cover letter is where you can spell out in specific detail how your skills and abilities match the job. This is your opportunity to draw the direct lineage between the job requirements and your work history or education. Be careful though, because while important, a cover letter is also quite tricky because you want to speak directly to the person reading it. I am personally not a big fan of most cover letters because they tend to be too fluffy. I like cover letters to be straight forward and to the point. Some of the cover letters I’ve especially liked are those that include grids or bulleted information about what you are looking for and what experience you have that makes you a good fit for the job. I like simplicity and directness in a cover letter. For this reason, it is essential that you write a customized cover letter for each position you apply for. If it is possible to get the name of the hiring manager, it is a nice touch to personalize it.
For more tips on job search success, READ Jobs Search Success- Tips for landing the right job