by Carolyn Campbell, MA, CPPC

This is a great question. Generic resumes and cover letters are far too common. If you are a job seeker, you know all too well how tough today’s job market can seem. The people who are succeeding at getting ‘good’ jobs are looking at the process more like building a business.

Here are a few tips:

1. Apply for positions that you are passionate about. Without a doubt, it can be disheartening to apply for jobs and not get them. However, I find that when you hone your focus and build your confidence in going after what truly excites you, the process of finding a job is more engaging and the results far more positive.

2. Communicate your passion! Whether writing a cover letter or speaking in person, demonstrate your passion and your interest. I am often stunned by the lack of enthusiasm I see in cover letters. In a competitive market, employers have lots of folks to choose from. Think about this from their perspective. Who would you hire: the well-qualified person who views the position as just another ‘job’, or the person who is invested in the work and needs a little bit of training?

3. Ask for help. Most good jobs are found through contacts and referrals. For many, asking for help can be a delicate encounter. If you know people in the field you are interested in, talk with them candidly about your search. Before talking with them, identify why they are a good connection. What do you appreciate about them? Use that appreciation to reinforce your connection with them. If they recommend a company or organization, ask who they suggest you talk to and ask if you can mention that they referred you. Remember, when someone refers you, they are putting their reputation on the line. Make sure you thank them—regardless of the outcome.

4. Be able to specifically name what you are looking for. People want to help. To do that, they need you to be as specific as possible. For example, “I’m looking for consulting opportunities” is vague. “I’m looking for leadership consulting opportunities with progressive technology companies” lets them know exactly what you have in mind. I suggest creating a few specific descriptions so that you can adapt to the various communities/friends and colleagues you meet.

5. Tailor your resume. I’m surprised by how many people send a ‘stock’ resume to all prospective clients or employers. You need to demonstrate your value for them, so take a wee bit of extra time and tailor your resume to suit their needs. I suggest beginning by making a ‘master’ resume with all your qualifications and experience…just so you can lay out your ‘bragging rights’. Then, when you craft a resume for a company, check out their website and use language relevant to their needs. Choose the skills from your master resume that best feature what they’re looking for. Yes, without a doubt this takes more time. (For more info on resumes, click here.)

6. Personalize your cover letter. As with your resume, personalize your cover letter to address the specific needs of the company. Make sure that you demonstrate your expertise by minimizing the “I” statements and highlighting how your skills relate to their needs. (For more tips on writing cover letters, click here.)

Taking a bit of time up front can set the stage for an effective and productive search. The key is balance—being clear about what you are looking for and then taking the time to understand their needs and sharing how your skills will help them.

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Carolyn Campbell has more than 30 years’ experience working with non-profit and for-profit businesses. In creative and connecting ways, Carolyn melds her expertise in community outreach, education and business development to help clients expand their reach and increase their impact…using their unique approach to life. Her areas of specialty include leadership, visioning, outreach and community building.