You Must, MUST, Customize Your Approach if You Want to Get the Job

Needle in a HaystackFor one moment, imagine you’re a recruiter. Your responsibility is to take a job requisition and its list of desired skills, experience and personality traits, review hundreds of resumes, and connect the dots between the skill set you’re looking for and thousands of work histories.

Now imagine one candidate jumps out from all those resumes. There’s a list of your top requirements and a corresponding list of the candidate’s skills and abilities, demonstrating a perfect solution to your needs. You pick up the phone and call the candidate, hoping your search is finally over.

Now come back to reality: You’re a job seeker. What did you glean from your brief time in the recruiter’s shoes? Simple: Connecting the employer’s needs and your solutions will make it easier for them to see you as the perfect match for the job. You do this by customizing your approach to the candidate-selection process. That shows recruiters and hiring managers that you aren’t generic. In fact, you might be the very candidate they had in mind when posting the job.

“Employers want it all, even though they know that they really can’t have it all,” says Deborah Brown-Volkman, a career coach based in East Moriches, N.Y. “They also don’t want to take any risks when they hire someone, so candidates really can’t keep throwing that same generic resume online, hoping for different results.”

Do Your Homework

The first step in customizing your approach is to do your homework. You want to demonstrate that you’re a match on all levels for the position, not just in your technical skills. Generally, employers want a fit with these categories when they select a candidate to interview:

  • Hard skills and experience match
  • Personality and soft skills compatibility
  • Cultural and environmental fit
  • Ability to solve their problems

In addition to reading the job description, review the company’s website, including news releases, mission and vision statements, earnings releases and the chief executive’s message in the annual report. You want to know about the tone set by corporate executives, the corporate values and current business priorities.

To begin understanding the firm’s culture, run a Google search for information about the organization and its executives, and also check social networking sites and blogs written by company employees. If you’re referred by an agency, talk to the recruiter about the company’s present challenges and what the interviewer is looking for. Your goal is to know what’s desired and required for each of the decision categories.

Customized Resumes and Cover Letters

The next step is to create a cover letter and resume that demonstrate both your knowledge of the position’s requirements and why you’re the best candidate for the job. “Employers want candidates who can think, so it’s important in the cover letter to reference something that needs solving and then explain how you can help,” says Brown-Volkman.

Consider using a bulleted cover letter, first stating the company’s need and then following with a one- or two-sentence summary of your qualifications for meeting it. You can also show your match with the company’s culture by repeating language you found during your homework session.

“As candidates are doing their homework, they should make a list of the key words that have appeared throughout their research, and they should mimic those on their resumes and in their cover letters,” says Jim Lanzalotto, vice president of strategy and marketing for the outsourcing firm Yoh.

Also, adjust your resume’s objective to match the job requirements and company culture, and tailor the descriptions of your experience so they match the position. Consider bolding words that show why you’re a good fit for added emphasis, such as adaptable or budget-conscious.

The Interview and Follow Up

If you’ve done your homework, you can anticipate the kind of challenges the company is facing and prepare by finding examples of where you’ve encountered similar problems — and how you solved them. Knowing the examples you want to reference will make you much more confident during the interview. And place some of your key words at the top of your note-taking page so you can use them as a cheat sheet.

“It’s okay to ask the interviewer at the outset what challenges they are facing, because then you can apply your experience in a way that demonstrates that you are a problem solver for their specific needs,” says Brown-Volkman.

Finally, customize your follow-up letter by going beyond the typical thank you note. Briefly summarize what was discussed during the interview and repeat why you’re the best match for the job. Consider finding a news story about the company and include it with your letter, connecting the dots between your discussion and the contents of the clip.

“Employers bring you in for the interview because they already think that you can do the job,” says Brown-Volkman. “You can get to the interview stage and beyond by demonstrating that you are the best candidate to accomplish the top three to five objectives on their list.”

First Published Aug. 31, 2009

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