Your Network Rocks, But…

LinkedIn Network

Try InMaps to see your network’s spread

Let me start this off by making it crystal clear I do believe getting a warm referral to a job can make a huge difference. It tells a prospective employer that someone they believed in enough to hire and keep around, someone who knows more about you than they will learn from your resume, thinks you would be great at this job.

However, unless you’re very well connected, your network is not the holy grail of job searching, and should definitely NOT be the only tool you use. As preferable as it is to just ask around for a job, here’s why it may not be enough:

  1. Your connections are not endless. Great jobs you will be great at and that will make you happy are out there, but the odds you know someone who can help you get it are directly dependent on your network (and I don’t mean knowing recruiters.) How many people do you know who work in a company or an industry you really want to work in? That’s probably what your network is limited to.
  2. People only remember you’re looking for a week. Or maybe two. The deal is though, unless you see someone every week and talk about your job search, they may not think of you the next time someone tells them about a job. That doesn’t make your 2nd and 3rd connections on LinkedIn sound so promising all of a sudden…
  3. You party with your friends. It’s sad, but true. Friends see you at your worst sometimes and that can affect how they perceive you’ll be at work. A stranger who interviews you, on the other hand, will only see what you want to show them. I’m not advocating being deceitful, just putting your best foot forward and being the person you want to be.

In short, definitely leverage your network when looking for work, but don’t forget to explore all of the other avenues out there. I’ve gotten most of my jobs so far just by applying in.

How to Make Yourself Stand Out (AKA How to Get an Interview)

First of all, let me apologize for not writing in a few weeks. My new job has been awesome and I’ve been so focused on making sure I do a good job there that a few things have had to fall to the way side. So thanks for sticking it out with me!

Now on to the good stuff =]

Recruiters, sourcers, hiring managers, etc., who does everyone you want to impress look for? Rock stars. It’s the recruiting #buzzword of the day. So are you a rock star? I bet there’s something that makes you a rock star. Whether it’s a cool hobby, some impressive expertise in a domain, or your ability to just make something look easy. I won’t write about figuring out what that special something is just yet, maybe that’ll be good for another post.

So, assuming you’ve already followed the first few common-sense steps to applying for a job… (in no particular order)

  1. Make sure you’re actually qualified for the jobs you’re applying for
  2. Follow directions
  3. You’ve got a resume and a cover letter draft ready to go (yes, you are supposed to tailor them to each job you apply to…)

…you should be ready to rock star up your resume and cover letter.

What makes a rock star? Outstanding accomplishments, deep expertise, an unquenchable thirst to learn…. oh and some crazy notion that challenges are fun and exciting. So how do you show people you’ve got a little (or a lot!) of that?

You tell them a story. Not a long, 10-pager mind you. Just enough to help them see what’s so special about you. Your story starts at the objective line.

  • Are you a recent grad?
  • Do you have 10 years of experience?
  • Do you have an unquenchable thirst for learning
  • Do you love challenges?
  • Are you just way too excited to change this industry?

Point it out! Your objective line is a great place to do that! “Recent grad with 1 year of experience in PCB design for consumer electronics looking to take on new challenges and make company XYZ’s products even better!”

Make sure whoever’s reading your resume doesn’t miss that because it’s drowned out in some not-so-glittering details about all the super technical, in-depth things you did. 

  1. Cut out the jargon. Does your mom understand what you do when she reads your resume? If yes, you’re on the right track. If not, consider changing some of your verbage…
  2. Bring out the meaning in the tasks you did. Did your technical jargon accomplish something like creating a new product for your company? And oh, you were in charge of doing everything from A to Z all by yourself? Well, make sure you write that clearly and simply! I sure as heck don’t that’s what your “oscillometer design, integration and validation” experience means.
  3. Don’t undervalue your college triumphs. Winning some cool competition or working on an electric car in college is just as valid once you graduate as it was when you were trying to flirt with the not-so-geeky sorority girls (although I would continue to do cool things after college, especially if it’s been several years since you did anything that exciting. You want to continue being a rock star!)
  4. Show off a little. There’s nothing wrong with dedicating a few lines to some cool personal/research projects you undertook or having a section where you list all of your accomplishments and awards. Heck! Have both (just stick to the 2 page rule. Less is more.)

The point is – don’t be afraid to show off, and write it all in a way that makes it easy to understand for everyone who did not sit in those mechanical engineering courses with you.

Freebie insider tip: Don’t apply to a whole bunch of jobs at one company – the recruiters and hiring managers can see the list of the 10+ openings you applied to. Let’s face it, how likely is it you’re a good fit for ALL of those roles?

*** Like this article? Check out my Job Search Toolbox for more great tips! ***

Writing a Kick-Ass Cover Letter

Don’t spend hours working on your cover letter, follow these tips!

*The single, most important thing about a cover letter is…

It needs to be clear.

Clear about what? About how great of a candidate you are for this job. About why the hiring manager should give the job to you and not someone else.

So how do you do that? Here’s another handy-dandy bullet list O=]

  • Tell your reader the things you’ve done, the qualities you possess … the most important reasons you have what they’re looking for (ie. what they wrote in their job description) — this means, that first you need to look at that job description closely! It tells you everything you need to know: the qualities and experience they want. Once you know that, take a look at all your experience and determine which are most relevant. Once you’ve got that…
  • Don’t drown your most important facts out. A cover letter is not a novel, nor is it a resume. It shows your reader 1.) you have good communication skills (proofread!), 2.) you understand what they’re looking for, and most importantly, 3.) you have what they want. This is not where you list everything you’ve done, this is where you highlight your most important / relevant achievements and qualities. Keep it short — you want your reader to focus on the good stuff.
  • Use a good outline (to organize your cover letter.) The standard one goes: 1.) Why your company is amazing, and wonderful, and the bestest! (aka the suck-up), 2.) Why I’m the greatest thing since sliced bread, and 3.) Call me, maybe! Instead… let’s try this: I have what it takes to do this position because 1.) I’ve done this before, so I know what it takes, 2.) I’m hardworking and willing to learn what I may not know yet, 3.) I am free for interviews at this and this time and will follow up with you next week if I don’t hear back from you.
  • What if you don’t have previous experience? Use the key words in the job description and highlight the things you’ve done that helped you develop those skills. It can be community service, it can be a school project, just make sure you’re very clear and use an example to show you’ve got the skill(s) they’re looking for.
  • Be concise. The ONLY point of this letter is to convince your reader that a.) they should read your resume, and b.) you would make a great employee for that specific position. Stay on task: don’t go on and on about unrelated experience you have (they won’t care and may even resent you wasting their time = no interview) and don’t spend more than a few lines showing you did some research about the company. Yes, you do want to show you did research, but it’s not the most important thing you have to tell them.
  • Tailor it to each position you’re applying for. Do they all ask for exactly the same thing? Most likely not… so why send all of them the same cover letter? I know it sounds like a lot of work, so I recommend picking only the ones you’re really interested in and doing 1-3 per day. Sound feasible?

Thought you might wonder what that looks like, so here is a copy of the one I wrote when I applied to my current position (recruiting coordinator)

Details on the job description: I no longer have a copy of it, but it mentioned they were looking for someone with recruiting experience, an interest in tech / IT, international experience as well as experience working with Google Apps and SalesForce.

Now, for the cover letter ;D

To whom it may concern,

I’m writing you because I am very interested in your Recruiting Coordinator position. I read the job description on Craigslist and immediately thought it sounded like a great opportunity.

Your ad stood out because it seemed like an exciting, rewarding position with a lot of potential. As you can read in my resume, I have taken part in recruitment at Contract Live, a technology startup in Paris, France, as well as during my two and a half years volunteering for AIESEC. It was not supposed to be one of my main tasks, but I enjoyed it so much that I took care of it on the side anyway.

Your ad also caught my eye since I almost felt like it was written for me. I’ve worked for two technology startups and like to attend tech and startup events. I also have international experience: I did a summer internship in Bahrain (in the Middle East) two years ago and also worked in Paris for 6 months this year. I speak French fluently, Japanese very well, and have started Mandarin and know how to use Google Apps and SalesForce from my year doing sales for AIESEC. I hope this cover letter gives you enough confidence in my written communication skills to convince you I’m worth bringing in for an interview!

Thank you for taking the time to read this letter and for your consideration. I will be available for an interview Wednesday and Friday this week.

Looking forward to hearing back from you,
Sophie Bousset

Hope this helps! Please leave questions in the comments section (I often get the same ones, so this way I can answer each one once and y’all can read my answers ;D)

*This post is not about form, you can find plenty of good resources on that all over the internet. It’s about something that’s a littler more difficult to get right, content.

*** Like this article? Check out my Job Search Toolbox for more great tips! ***