Customize Your Approach to Make Startups Notice You

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Imagine for a moment that you’re the founder of a startup, sifting through resumes in search of the developer who can plug the hole in your company’s team. Of them all, one stands out: The skills listed match your needs and almost all of the candidate’s experience in one way or another touches your company’s business. Finally, you may have found your solution.

OK, now come back to being the candidate. What’s the lesson? When you connect their needs to your skills, you make it easier for a company to see you as someone they have to talk to. Customizing your resume and cover letter shows that you’re not generic–and in fact may be the very person they had in mind when they posted the job in the first place.

Do Your Homework

“Employers want it all, even though they know that they really can’t have it all,” says Deborah Brown-Volkman, a certified 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.”

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 are looking for a fit in these areas categories when they select a candidate to interview:

To glean what the company’s looking for, go beyond reading the job description. Review the company’s website, including news releases, mission and vision statements, and background about the company’s founders and investors. You want to know about the tone the company sets, its values and business priorities.

To begin understanding the firm’s culture, run a search on Google for information about the organization and its executives, and also check social networking sites and blogs written by company employees. Your goal is to know what’s desired and required for each of the decision categories listed above.

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- to 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. While you’re doing your research, make a list of the key words you keep running across, and work them into your resume and cover letter.

Also, adjust the objective on your resume 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 perfect match for added emphasis, such as adaptable, budget-conscious and highly motivated.

The Interview and Follow Up

“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.

If you’ve done your homework, you can anticipate the kind of challenges the company is facing and prepare by providing examples of where you’ve encountered similar problems before–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.

Finally, customize your follow-up email 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 including a link to an article that covers points discussed during your discussion.

“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.”

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