As I stated in Part 1 of this series, employers in this economy can be picky because supply of qualified workers is outpacing demand. That means that hiring managers often develop conscious or subconscious criteria about what resumes get pulled from the pile for an interview. Even small things like tone in an email or typos on a resume may make a difference in whether you get the interview or not. Here is my list of what I’ve been told by HR managers and head hunters about how to impress an hiring manager:
1. Know your passion and be able to articulate your objective. As I stated in Part I, employers do not want to hear that you are flexible or “open to anything.” That sounds desperate, and it sounds like you are unclear. If you are unclear now, you may bolt on the job in six months when something else becomes more interesting to you. So be very clear about your essential vocation (calling) or passion in life. For example, if an hiring manager were to ask me this, I would say, “My passion is to be a communicator and teacher on behalf of great ideas and the betterment of the world.” Then be able to articulate your objective clearly and succinctly, “Given my ten years of public service and government experience, I would like to serve an entertainment company in Los Angeles as a government affairs or external affairs representative.” Now, truthfully, I have two or three different objectives that include energy and health care industries too. But if I am interviewing at Warner Brothers Studios, that’s my objective. Vocations and passions don’t change. Objectives do. Be that specific and be brief.
2. Succinct cover letters that address your “issues.” Cover letters ideally should not exceed one page, and they should do three things: a) Mention any connection you have to the company whether an employee connection or past experiences, b) demonstrate that you understand the qualifications of the position and then show how your qualifications are on point for each aspect of the qualifications they say that are important to them, and c) address difficult issues or glaring issues in your background that may prevent you from being considered for an interview. For example, if you are applying for a job in Los Angeles but you live in Omaha, you need to mention that you are willing to relocate and will pay for relocation expenses. If you experienced a year of unemployment, you need to address it. Don’t ignore obvious issues that will cause HR to pass over your resume.
3. Cover letters and resumes without typos and grammatical errors. Make sure that the font and punctuation are consistent on your resume. Include all information and do not intentionally leave off information that is basic to any resume to hide a flaw. For example, if you are 50, and you don’t want an employer to know it, you can’t leave off the year of your college graduation. If you only worked for a company for six months, say it. An hiring manager’s eyes automatically notices resume tricks and missing information, so don’t do it. If there is something you are tempted to avoid, address it in your cover letter creatively and forthrightly.
4. Have an online presence. Over 70 percent of employers review employee profiles on LinkedIn. If you do not have a complete LinkedIn profile, along with references, you are missing a grand opportunity. LinkedIn allows you to control what an employer sees about your career, target your keyword usage and allows you to post the recommendations of former employers. Employers may just skip some reference checks if these recommendations are present on LinkedIn, or they at least may call the ones you prefer. I always send a link to my LinkedIn profile on resumes, cover letters or emails. If you need an example, mine is here:
5. Respond to HR or hiring manager requests before the deadline or at least by the time you said you would do it. If you say that you will send a two page strategy by Thursday, send it on Wednesday. You will look great. Don’t ever send it on Friday, or particularly without an explanation. There will be no more interviews.
6. Return emails and calls in a timely manner that demonstrates your interest and enthusiasm for the job. In no case should you allow a call or email from an interested employer go unanswered for over 24 hours. A delayed response will cause an hiring manager to think, “If they can’t respond to me now, how will they respond when they work here?”
7. Don’t be too formal or too uninterested. Especially in this economy, you have to stand out from the rest. Employers can find employees with passion for their field of work or for the mission of the company, so you have to show that you are that person. Show enthusiasm without seeming desperate. That means you can call a few days after an interview to check the status of the job, cold call an hiring manager to introduce yourself, or call HR once to see if they received your resume. That shows interest and some courage. But don’t call twice. That looks needy.
8. Make it easy to check your references. You should have a one page document with your references listed, along with addresses, phone numbers and email addresses. Don’t list people that are hard to reach. It’s great that you worked for President Bush in 2004, but your hiring manager won’t call W. for a reference. If your reference sheet has out of date information or phone numbers, the hiring manager will question what kind of work you will do once you are hired.
9. Don’t be afraid of the phone. If you want to work for the VP of Marketing at GE, Google search the department to find out the name of the VP. Search for a company name under LinkedIn to see employee listings, or do a “people” search on LinkedIn and search for the title and company (e.g., “Vice President Marketing GE”). Find the company’s phone number, and call the person directly. Be ready with your elevator speech and your objective statement that you can deliver quickly or leave on a voice mail. You often will at least be given the opportunity to speak on the voice mail or be passed on to another helpful person. Be creative, interesting and get their attention from the start. Another way to make this contact is to email the contact through LinkedIn or ask a person you have in common on LinkedIn to introduce you. This is a powerful way to connect with the hiring manager, and one of the best uses of LinkedIn. Your courage will be rewarded.
10. Be the person you want to work with. Most likely, they want to work with a smart, creative, fun and nice person too. So be that person in all of your communication with the company. You will be irresistible.