Get the Interview, Get the Job: A 3-part Series for the Interviewing Inept (1 of 3)
When it comes to finding and landing a job these days, it goes without saying that education, experience, and even personality is not enough any longer. These days you have to have all the above and then some. Now you need that little something extra that separates you from the rest of the fish in the proverbial unemployed sea. So I thought I’d share with you my personal motto when it comes to landing “the gig”: If I get the interview, I get the job. Albeit sounding rather cocky, it really is an attitude that must be taken in today’s economic climate. And I can only think of two times in my working adult life (17 years) where such self prophecy has not paid dividends. Therefore, this article is the first in a 3 part series designed to help you stand out from the other unfortunate job seekers. When all is said and done you will have been fully briefed on how to leave an indelible imprint on the memory of those responsible for finding the next great employee for their company. Now pay attention!
In real estate there is mantra that goes “location, location, location”; emphasizing the importance of where a property is located as it relates to that property getting sold. So when attempting to get yourself sold (so to speak) and ultimately landing the gig, the following is just as important: presentation, presentation, presentation! Remember this wise SEEG proverb: It takes 3 seconds to make a first impression, 30 minutes to change it, and a lifetime to maintain it. So every opportunity you have to present yourself, make it count! In the process of acquiring the job there will be 3 opportunities to do this: 1) the cover letter, 2) the interview and 3) the follow up. Master these 3 areas and I promise you you’ll make it extremely hard for the powers that be not to hire you.
The Cover Letter
Is it possible to make a relevant first impression with mere words on a piece of paper? Absolutely! But most people tend to think that this is done through their resume: a superficial listing of one’s education, awards, degrees, experience and licenses. Boring! Not downplaying its importance. But definitely boring! Especially today when the average hiring manager has probably scanned over literally hundreds of resumes before and after yours comes along. Nowadays, everybody is educated. Everybody is going to graduate school. And everybody has the experience. So what can you do to differentiate yourself effectively? - The cover letter. The cover letter is the first true glimpse your future employer will have of you. It is your opportunity to make that first impression without ever even being in the room. So how can you skillfully develop a memorable cover letter?
Be content conscious. Research the firm or business thoroughly. Make sure to identify their mission and/or principals. After you’ve done your research, compose your letter and talk about how you value those same principals. Mention how your experiences, not your experience can help the firm achieve its long term goals (Your experience and education will speak for itself in the resume and really only tells them whether you can perform the job, not if you are the solid choice for integration into their firm’s culture). Briefly talk about how spending a summer cleaning up local city parks helped you appreciate teamwork. Or mention how you developed leadership skills when having to rally a team of herders to rescue a goat from a sinkhole during your Peace Corps tenure in Peru (I just made that up). Whatever it is, endeavor to expose the synergies between you and the firm and make sure to manifest a confident humility when doing so.
Make it easy to read. If your cover letter is too long the reader might tend to not read it through its entirety. I know I mentioned talking about your experiences in the last segment, but I prefaced it with “briefly”. Even though your goat rescuing story is pretty awesome, the cover letter is not the time or place to relate the whole story (save that for that first happy hour). So try and keep your letter under 225 words. Also, divide it into 2 to 3 paragraphs. This will make the letter appear to be lighter reading and therefore keep the attention of the reader. Finally, be sure to thank the reader for their time and let them know you look forward to speaking with them in person.
Create a focal point. Just as careful thought should be given to a gentleman’s attire when presenting himself for the interview (stay tuned for part 2), so the same amount of careful attentiveness should be given to ones cover letter. In other words, the content of the letter is just as important as how it’s presented.
The concept behind the successful presentation of a cover letter (and resume for that matter) is having a focal point. Think of your cover letter as an expertly designed home. The focal point draws your eye to a certain area but ultimately leaves you wanting to explore more. What should be the focal point for your cover letter: You. So why not highlight you. After creating a simple, clean, and easy to read format and font (see Tips 1 & 2), clearly identify from whom the letter was sent [you] by slightly increasing the font size. For a more striking effect, change the color to something that draws the eye but remains more of a detail than a distraction. Feel free to explore this technique and adjust to your liking. Using a splash of color on an otherwise bland canvas of black letters and white background, you create a simple focal point that pulls your reader in. It will inevitably leave a memorable point of reference for when decision making time comes around.
Be certain that the cover letter is not to be taken lightly. It shows your attention to detail and willingness to go the extra mile. If done right, you will have created a memorable first impression that most certainly will land you on the short list ‘Call to schedule interview’. Then you can expound on your goat rescuing heroics…but only if he asks.
Tip 1: There are usually 2 types of fonts: Serif and Sans Serif. Try using a more modern Sans Serif font style like ‘Tahoma’ or ‘Arial’. Whatever your font of choice, try to keep your cover letter font size between 9 and 12. For a more nerdy explanation of fonts, go here.
Tip 2: The font and general format of your resume should match your cover letter. To make sure they complement each other best, try formatting your resume first. Once you’ve created the look you want, then type your cover letter using the same basic elements. For help in formatting a sexy resume, go here.