In any target sport, hitting your mark is a matter of disciplined preparation, careful aim, and a perfect release. Targeting job applications is no different. If you take the time, each application you send will have a greater chance of hitting the bullseye and landing you an interview.
As I write this, there are thousands of job-seekers across North America who are hitting ‘send’ on the exact same resume and cover letter in response to every single job posting … and wondering why they’re not getting many calls to interview. If that’s what you’re doing, then think of this as an intervention. You and I going to make a change for the better, and we’re going to do it today.
Let’s start by assuming you’ve found a job posting where your background and experience appears to meet most of the criteria. Not necessarily all – 75% or more is good. Great start. Now, read it again. And again. Absorb every line in the job posting, and think about how your qualifications and previous work links into what the company is looking for. You might find it helpful to make notes. At this stage, also keep a keen eye open for specific application instructions in the posting, or key pieces of information they’re looking for. Highlight them, you don’t want to miss them later.
Narrow your focus on the company even further by going beyond the job posting. Do they have a website? Check out the ‘About Us’ page, learn a bit about their products or services. If they’ve got a page with information about their staff, you might get a better sense for where the position fits into the mix. If they have a social media presence, check that out as well. You can learn a great deal about a company’s ‘personality’ by seeing what they post – especially photos and videos that they choose to share.
Now – only after you’ve thoroughly done the first two steps – it’s time to start editing your resume and cover letter. Where the skills and qualifications are an exact match for yours, use a few of the same words and phrases as they’re written in the job posting. Can you highlight specific accomplishments in your work history that directly relate to something the company is looking for? In your cover letter, if there’s an opportunity, make reference to something specific you learned in your research that makes you a great fit.
When all of this is done, go through your documents one more time with a fine-toothed comb. If you copied and pasted from an earlier version, make sure you’ve updated your cover letter with your target’s information – the company name, the job title you’re applying for, any contact information. Proofread every line, to make sure you haven’t left any typos or grammar issues behind. When you’re sure, hit ‘send’.
This may sound like a lot of work, possibly more than you’ve ever done to apply to a single job post. You’re right, it is. Trust me on the process. The end result is worth it, and the more often you do this the more natural it will become.
In the end, you may end up sending fewer job applications because you discover as you go through these steps that the fit isn’t what you thought it was to begin with. If you feel like you’re working too hard to make the connections, if you’re drawing a blank when it comes to matching your background with the posting, that could be a sign that it’s not the right fit for you. Don’t get down on yourself for this; sending a smaller number of excellent applications will serve you better than sending any number of mediocre, cookie-cutter applications.
When I’m reading an application from a candidate who’s done this work, I can tell. The resume and cover letter show me that they took time and effort to do it right. The skills and experience I’m looking for are right there in black and white, and the little details throughout tell me that you’ve done your homework, that you care as much as I do that this job is a good fit for you. That’s the kind of application that makes me think I could have found the person I’m looking for, and makes me want to learn more in an interview.